Category Archives: Theology

How to read well. . . or at least better

I am gifted (and I mean that word in the fullest sense of the word for it has nothing to do with me) with an ability to read fast and comprehend well. It made a very full schedule in seminary, work and ministry very workable in that I usually had all my semester’s reading done no later than the first month. I honestly had a sense of guilt when I would watch fellow students groan as they saw the reading requirements in each class knowing that it was a crushing burden for some of them.

Having said that I also read for a living. I have piles of books everywhere you might look. My kindle is full of them, not to mention my truck seat, my wood shop, my office both at home and church as well as scattered all around my house. So though I read fast and well I have also learned over the years to read better. That is what I want to share here.

There is nothing I can do personally to help a person read faster. The best tip is to not let yourself sound out the word with either your mouth or mind. Just let your eyes go over it. The moment you start pronouncing you dramatically slow down. See? Easy, just stop doing that.

But the reality is that it isn’t easy so I decided to give you a few pointers on how to read well rather than to read fast. For those of you checking out already because you are saying you are too busy read this.

1.    Have a pencil and take notes.
To those who are believers of keeping your pages clean I say in the words of Nero Wolfe, “Pfui!” Keep your fiction clean. But a serious book needs serious notes. Develop your own system but make notes. I have a hierarchy of marks I do in my margins. I seldom underline anything. An asterisk is very important. A check mark is a key point in a larger point in the paragraph so that I can find it quickly without rereading the whole paragraph. Draw a line down the side of the paragraph that is useful. If the author says that there are three reasons for something, stop reading and skim read to find where each of them are noted and highlight them. I usually circle them or make a small “1,” “2,” and so on. Then go back and read through carefully now that you know he is making and argument. Note conclusions (I usually put a “concl” in the margin). Just doing these little things will allow you to engage the author rather than be a passive reader led down any path the author desires.  Click on the image to see a larger view of a sample page.reading

•    Be awake.
Sounds obvious but it is amazing how many people will try to read near the end of the day after working hard. That is silly. Plan a time to read. For most at work it would be during lunch or one of the mandated 15 minute breaks. It means you stop working for just a short time and intentionally read. For mothers it means reading while naps are taking place or once dad comes home.

•    Don’t get too comfortable.
But don’t be uncomfortable. Reading is a task so get a good chair and sit properly. Don’t dismiss this too quickly either. I get better reading done on a dining room chair (all wood) than I ever do lying on a couch (which is my position for reading fiction). When I need to study I am always, always upright in a chair.

•    Good lighting.
Ummm, you have to be able to see the pages.
Four free, cheap ways to improve how you read. You are welcome.

Convictions Must Flow from Somewhere

I recently returned from a trip to Brazil to teach a group of young seminarians the subject of apologetics.  The first part of the curriculum is essentially  an overview of the various systems of apologetics out there.  For those who don’t know about what I am writing, apologetics is essentially the defending and declaring of the Christian faith to a non-Christian world.  In many ways it is a subset of evangelism though in many ways it has become a way to gather a following and sell books.

The various schools of thought on this is not important to my article so I will spare you of a description of each.  Frankly it can be very boring as you read and interact with many writers who argue their points and then you try to interact with them.  The reason for it is simple, there is no basis for the average student to properly interact with the positions.  Read that sentence again because it is very important.  The men are being introduced to a huge subject and they usually do have sufficient knowledge to have a good, thoughtful opinion, much less a conviction.

The second part of the coursework is then a proposal for a specific type of apologetics that is borne from a sound exegesis of the key biblical texts related to the nature of man, especially due to the presence of sin, the ability of man to make a free decision unaffected by sin, and the nature of the way God converts a soul.  These are not merely theological ideas that we should place on a table and all talk about like they are objects picked up off of the seashore.  These are biblical statements and they mean something.  And again this is where conviction comes into play.

As I taught the second half of the course I watched to see what types of reactions, comments and questions were raised in light of passage after passage being unfolded and laid before them.  It is same thing I do when I preach.  I labor to unfold the biblical passage before the people and I watch.  Especially when it is on a subject over which I know there is dispute.  When I say something like, “Notice the way Paul wrote this . . .” I want to see how many look down to examine the text.  I can say that for the most part my church is eager to do so, making my job in preaching much easier than other pastors.

But I also see the one who will sit with their arms folded and are unmoved.  They are convinced and nothing will change that.  With my students in Brazil it was the same thing.  I wanted them to raise questions but I wanted those questions to flow from the biblical text.  Not some author and certainly not from their own thoughts.  And this is where I now make my point of this post.

Convictions exist in every human.  But for a Christian those convictions ought to flow from a willful submission to the biblical text.  And if it doesn’t then those convictions come from something other that God’s Word.  When you learn to submit yourself to the bible then you become a person in a consistent state of change.  As you mature and as you learn you realize that certain texts were misunderstood by you.  Others become more clear and certain and you see that your first thoughts were good but not as deep and full as they could have been.  Regardless, a healthy Christian is one whose first question on anything is, “What does the bible say?”

I remember years ago finishing a sermon and a person came up to me visible angry.  He told me that what I was teaching that night was not what the majority of the church believed.  I looked at him and asked one question, “Did I properly deal with this passage or not?”  He said that I did but that he did not like it nor approve of it.  I put my hand on his shoulder and told him that his problem wasn’t with me but with the Lord.

Convictions.  Powerful things they are.  Just make sure they flow from the Word of God and not anything of this age.

Interesting Things Going on At TGC

The Gospel Coalition is involved in all sorts of interesting activities right now.  If you are unaware of the recent withdrawal of Tullian Tchividjian from the organization you can read some interesting and frankly important information here where Kevin DeYoung does a nice job giving a synopsis (maybe) of the issues.  They are not little ones and they center around the nature of how a Christian deals with sin and the commands of the Scripture.  Tchividjian essentially makes any serious obedience unnecessary because we are under grace.  Though I appreciate his love of grace in all that I read of him I find that he misses the point almost completely on how grace now frees us and empowers us to obey our Lord.  Secondly, I see him having an inappropriate understanding of the relationship between Law and Grace which makes any movement forward in this whole thing essentially a waste of time.

The following are a few useful articles for you to read if this little post piques your interest (honestly, just following the links on DeYoung’s article will keep you busy):

  • Todd Pruitt He has several more excellent links and some very useful comments after them.
  • Tullian Tchividjian We see here some of his ideas.  “Are we free to fail?”  “Are we free to be ordinary?”  Of course we are, Jesus did it all.  And therein lies the problem.  Note how this article is filled with skin-tingling thoughts but really light on clear biblical exposition to support it. Here he gets irritated with the claim that he is pushing a view that celebrates failure though he doesn’t really address it in reality.
  • Jen Wilkin This is the article that seemed to irritate Tullian.
  • Jared Oliphant Responds to Tullian’s response.
  • Carl Trueman Asks some very, very, very, very practical questions.  The kind that tend to not get asked but should in debates like these.  I have to invite him to preach at our church some day.

If you are interested, here is a three part series I did on the doctrine of sanctification.  If you listen to them you will see the great chasm between myself (along with others) and Tchividjian.  Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Regarding Josh Harris and CJ Mahaney stepping down, I am glad they did.  Many troubling things over several years have caused me to take a big step backward to wait until more comes to light.  Pretty shocking and sobering to read that a pastor and brother-in-law of Mahaney now admits under oath that he knew of the molestation and never contacted the authorities. One wonders if this is truly the very first time he admitted it to anyone.  My mind is boggled.

Personal Intimacy or True Knowledge?

My son-in-law wrote a solid piece over at his blog where he entertains the question of what  is the focus of the bible for the Christian in relationship to God.  Is it focused upon our personal intimacy or upon a right and true knowledge of God? What do you think?  Below is a bit of his post, I encourage you to read it all.

Are the New Testament authors more concerned with believers understanding proper theology and doctrine (knowledge), or are they more concerned that believers maintain a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus? What is their tone? What is their burden? The question itself is a bit misleading because it implies, in some sense, the pursuit of proper knowledge is mutually exclusive from a personal relationship with Jesus, or at the very least, presupposes a proper relationship with Jesus can be found outside of a proper knowledge. Perhaps Paul can weigh in.

Read the rest here . . . .

The Stump of Sin

I had a large black walnut tree in my backyard.  Sadly it overwhelmed the whole yard and was very messy so finally I decided to have it cut down.  We are still waiting for the stump to be ground away and in the meantime I noticed something very interesting.  The whole stump is constantly weeping water.  The roots are still doing what roots do and trying to nourish a tree that is not there anymore.  It is dead but not dead.  And as I thought about it I realized it was a good illustration on the nature of sin in the life of a Christian.

The New Testament uses a term to describe the reality of sin for a believer.  It is called “flesh.”  It has nothing to do with the physical body, though often it is misunderstood that way.  What it is is the lingering effects of what used to be our reality.  Ephesians 2 says it in a painfully succinct way, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NAS).

That state is now forever broken.  That is part of the good news found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus overwhelms sin.  Therefore we read in Romans 6 that we are dead to sin and therefore we are to have that as our mind set as we go about life.  We no longer are slaves to it; rather, we are free in ways we really don’t comprehend.  But . . . .

We still do sin.  And that is where the flesh comes into play.  “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Galatians 5:16-17 NAS).  The flesh was described to me as a sin hangover.  The power it once had is broken.

It is dead, but not dead.  It is like the stump in my backyard.  It seeks to draw water into the fulness of the tree, but there is no tree.  It is gone.  And eventually the stump will be gone and the roots will return to dirt.  In the same way the flesh seeks always to draw sin and death into our lives.  But the power of sin is gone.  And in the power of the Spirit I, and you, can resist and reject these efforts of the flesh to bring us into bondage.  And in the end, when our Lord returns He shall make all things new, the stump of our old nature will be ground away and true life will be ours in fulness.


An Easter Prayer

Here is my pastoral prayer for this Easter based off of my Scripture reading from Ephesians 2.  I introduce it first with a beautiful song performed by Fernando Ortega.  Blessings.

Eternal Father,it is with gratitude and joy we come together today to remember your infinite gift in Jesus Christ.
We who were dead in our sins were shown grace the is beyond our true ability to perceive as the Holy Spirit enlivened us.
We who were worthy of your wrath instead are embraced by you as children.
We who were weak and helpless instead are healed and lifted up to stand in your presence.
We who had no hope are now born again to a living hope through the resurrection of your Son.
We who worshiped anything and everything but You alone are instead ushered into the Holy of Holies in heaven because of our faithful High Priest.
We who walked in shame instead are a holy people because of Jesus who bore our shame upon the Cross.
We who were mockers and revilers are instead now a kingdom of priests according to your grace and kindness.
We who were once held captive by our lusts and desires are instead now dead to our sins in our union with the Son of Man.
We who could only name Satan as our true father now are able to with absolute confidence call you our eternal Father.
We whose hearts were veritable idol factories are instead now being built up into your dwelling place by the Spirit.
We were once far off, separated from your prophets, priests, and word are instead now sharers in the New Covenant brought about by the blood of Jesus Christ.
We who could not hope to come into your presence are instead now given full access in One Spirit.
We who were once not your people are now truly your people, a holy nation, and a chosen race.
With thanksgiving in our hearts we remember and confess today that Christ is risen.
He is sown into the grave in dishonor but He has been raised unto glory and power and authority.
He who offered Himself to be our substitute as sin-bearer is shown to be that acceptable sacrifice through your raising Him from the dead.
He who was to drink fully the cup of wrath that was ours to drink is now raised and is seated at your right hand in glory.
He who went to the Cross with a vision of the joy that was His through that Cross despised the shame and was our faithful High Priest and Sacrifice.
Oh Father may we now rejoice!
Let us sing with voices convinced of so rich a salvation.
Let us praise you with tongues made for that very purpose.
Let us lift hands, hearts and voices in exultation that we stand forgiven, adopted, sanctified, justified, purified, and even glorified.
We are your people because we have trusted in the salvation that is found only in Jesus Christ.
We are your people because we have been made alive together with our Lord and Savior.
We are your people because that life was given through the new birth by the Holy Spirit.
We are your people for you have called us by your holy, sovereign Name.
May this day be a day of worship and remembering.
May we see you continue to bring those redeemed by Jesus into full faith.
May we see your grace to be all the more sufficient.


The Mystery that Is Not A Mystery

The incarnation of Jesus our Lord is a mystery.  Such a mystery that we cannot comprehend it and yet sadly it is often not regarded as such.  Why?  I don’t really know for certain but I have a suspicion that it has to do with how we tend to look at ourselves.  There is a thought in our hearts that often views all things as centered around us.  Or to be more specific, all things centered around ME.  We can see this in how so often our songs are in the first person rather than the second person.  Songs of how I love the Lord or how He died for me.  Nothing overtly wrong with these but they can often turn our minds toward how our Creator and Sustainer, the Lord of Heaven and Earth exists for our blessing and our purposes.

So when we then think about the incarnation we lose sight of the vastness between us and God.  We have a greater connection backwards with a dog or an ant then we do with God.  Not because of some evolutionary basis but because we are creatures and God is not.  We are part of a vast creation and God is “outside” that creation (however that works).  We are connected to Him through the imago dei but we still are creatures.  The terms in the OT and NT that are often translated as “flesh” speak to that creaturely weakness that is part of the human experience.

Add sin to the mix, where we now stand as rebels against our Sovereign.  Fools who believe that they do not need their Creator and decide that He does not even exist, all the while we breathe His air and we eat because of His goodness.  The sun that we enjoy and the rain that refreshes us are enjoyed by all even though most shall not give thanks nor honor Him as God.

Then we come to the mystery.  God in human flesh.  The incarnation where Jesus enters into our weakness and our deadness and walks among us.  Not as some demi-god nor as some shining being, but as the Son of Man.  The scripture says that He sympathizes with us for He was tempted in every way but without sin.  He is aware that we are but dust.  He becomes our sin-bearer and He takes on our death and destroys them both.  God in human flesh bringing us life that is beyond the here and now and moves us into a whole new sphere, the life that is His alone—eternal, full, complete life.

The puritan Thomas Goodwin says this of the incarnation:

What a wonder is it, that two natures infinitely distant , should be more intimately united than anything in the world; and yet without any confusion! That the same person should have both a  glory and a grief; an infinite joy in the Deity, and an inexpressible sorrow in the humanity! That a God upon a throne should be an infant in a cradle; the thundering Creator be a weeping babe and a suffering man, are such expressions of mighty power, as well as condescending love, that they astonish men upon earth, and angels in heaven.

We sang a song Sunday that made me think of this whole thing.  One of the lines goes like this, “Come behold the wondrous mystery in the dawning of the King.  He the theme of Heaven’s praises, clothed in frail humanity.  In our longing, in our darkness now the light of life has come. Look to Christ who condescended, took on flesh to ransom us.”

A Must Read about The Noah Movie

I have never read such a solid and fun movie review ever.  And this one was all about the upcoming movie about Noah.  It is truly worth your time.

All The “One-Anothers” of The Bible [Infographic]

I have a file where all of the “one another” passages are put together.  One day I may, or may not, create a sermon and preach through them.  However, I really think I never will.  However, there is much value in reading and thinking about that little phrase, which is just one word in the Greek.  In this great infographic we see how they stack up with each other and what are the key points that are emphasized.  Shout out to the Overview Bible Project who put this together.  Lord knows I would just mess the whole thing up.

Infographic: all the one another commands in the New Testament

The Hole in The Reversal of World Vision

Well that was fast.  Shortly after the news of World Vision’s decision to redefine marriage and hire same-sex couples, they now have reversed that decision. On one level that is fine and good.  I am glad they did it but I am not impressed by it.  Consider how it is framed:

  • “they made a mistake. . . .”
  • we were merely trying to serve the poor but in the process “we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith”
  • “We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent.”
  • “While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.”

I spend a lot of time helping Christians who sin and need to properly repent think through the process.  I would never counsel anyone who has sinned to use this type of terminology.

Note first how it is framed in “oops” terminology.  We made a mistake.  You know, like turning left instead of right at the intersection.  Or maybe it is like taking down measurements of a room and writing down 12 1/2 feet instead of 12 feet.  We all know there was no mistake.  No one in that room who crafted and approved the change of policy that created this whole mess looked at it later on and said, “Dude!  Where did those words about homosexual Christians and marriage come from?”  An organization that size doesn’t write formal policy changes on a whim, it flows from many strategy meetings and discussions at the highest levels.

Second, note how it keeps this whole discussion on a interpersonal level.  There is no sense in any way that there was sin even though the board was approached in a Matthew 18 sort of way.  Where is the sense of dismay because they sinned against God?  Read it in its entirety and you will find nothing there.  This is the most egregious aspect of the whole thing.  A couple of days ago they decide that marriage is something that man defines and they don’t want to tear apart churches on such a divisive thing such as same-sex marriage.  You see, it is all about Christian love and unity.  They decide that you can be gay and Christian.  But then, when all hell breaks loose they decide it was an oopsy and they are sad that people are sad and hurt.

When you find yourself on the wrong side of what the bible says you are not resisting man, culture, or belief systems.  You are resisting God.  You sin against Him and you are accountable to Him to repent and actively turn from that sin.  You are to embrace what He calls true and you are to hate evil.  I am glad they reversed their decision.  But I am not impressed.  Nothing at all has really changed if we are judge this through the lens of their apology.  The same convictions that ultimately led to their first policy change are still there, they just pulled back on policy so that they could not be smacked about anymore.

Here are a couple of other posts from men who speak well on this whole subject.  Dr. Trueman and Dr. Jones.

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