The Gospel of Jesus in Jonah

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What does Jonah have to do with Jesus? Here is one thought…

“The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has provided a way of salvation. Jesus (though He did not deserve it like Jonah did) hurled himself into the storm of God’s wrath so that you and I might be saved. When Jesus sunk to the depths of death on our behalf, he made it possible for us to arrive safely on the shore of eternity. That is not only good news for us; it’s also good news for those around us.”

This is an excerpt from a reflection on the gospel of Jesus in the book of Jonah that I wrote for The Gospel Project. You can read the whole thing here.

Is Sunday School Still An Effective Ministry?

I recently sat down with The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina to talk about the role of Sunday School in church ministry. Here is one short video from our time together.

Free eBook from The Gospel Project and Ligonier Ministries

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Sign up to download the eBook here. 

In 2014, LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries partnered to learn what Americans really believe in seven key doctrinal areas—and the resulting study paints a sobering picture about the state of American theology.

The Gospel Project just released a new, free eBook, The State of American Theology: Knowing the Truth, Loving the Church, Reaching Our Neighbors, collecting the research and thoughtful essays from renowned theologians.

This was the last project I led at LifeWay before entering the pastorate. I am thankful to see it available online. The eBook features essays and articles such as:

  • Why Theological Study Is For Everyone by Jared Wilson
  • The Love of God by D. A. Carson

  • Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by JD Greear
  • The Marks of the Church by Mark Dever
  • All Nations and Church Planting by Ed Stetzer
  • The Pillar of the Truth by Steve Timmis
  • Not So Fast by Trevin Wax
  • Soli Deo Gloria by John Piper
  • Bible Believing. Bible Obeying by Burk Parsons
  • What Should We Say? by Jonathan Akin

  • Dealing with Doubt by Randy Alcorn

  • Lust and Chastity by Thabiti Anyabwile
  • Ordinary Christian Work by Tim Challies
  • Christian Parenting by Elyse Fitzpatrick
  • Pain: God’s Megaphone by Alistair Begg
  • A Teachable Spirit by Justin Taylor

  • The Blessings of Humility by Jerry Bridges
  • Sabbath Rest by Sinclair Ferguson
  • The Holy Love of God by R.C. Sproul
  • The Breath of God by Derek Thomas

  • Bearers of God’s Image by Trillia Newbell

  • The Biblical Evidence for Hell by Christopher Morgan
  • The New Heavens and New Earth by Dennis Johnson
  • What Is The Gospel? by Ray Ortlund
  • Preach the Gospel, and Since It’s Necessary, Use Words by Ed Stetzer
  • Only One Way by Bruce Ware

  • And many more…

Sign up to download the book here!

The Bible and Spiritual Formation

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This blog was origionally posted at The Gospel Project.

Bible Reading and Spiritual Formation

We consume countless messages day in and day out. It has been estimated that the average American is exposed to more than 5,000 marketing messages a day—most of them involuntary. It’s also been estimated that most Americans voluntarily consume 9-11 hours of media a day. That is a lot of information consumed both voluntarily and involuntarily.

The messages we are exposed to tend to shape our thoughts, feelings, and decisions over time. As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Accordingly, it follows that lasting spiritual change comes from the prayerful study of God’s Word as God’s Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ (see Heb. 4:12).

Therefore, it is important that we take time to consider carefully how we ought to listen. I fear that far too many Christians allow God’s Word to pass through their eyes without changing their heads, convicting their hearts, or conforming their hands. So here are three intentional ways to approach Bible reading that will shape your spiritual formation.

Allow God’s Word To Change Your Head

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2

In Romans 1, Paul talks of the pagans who exchanged the truth of God for lies and were conformed to the patterns of the world. Implicit in Paul’s argument through Romans is that the present evil age still threatens the formation of those who belong to Christ. That which forms our minds affects our lives.

As our minds are made new as we “discern” God’s will through the study of God’s Word, we thus pattern our lives after God’s will. The first step in reflective Bible reading, therefore, is allowing God’s Word to register in your mind. The command “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” is just that—a command.

We must focus our minds on God’s word so that over time transformation will take place. So when we read God’s Word, our minds must be fully engaged. Being attentive requires self-discipline. If God is speaking to us through His Word, we should listen.

Allow God’s Word To Convict Your Heart

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. – 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

In this portion of 2 Corinthians, Paul focuses in on the work of the Holy Spirit. In this passage, Paul contrasts the old covenant, in which God wrote on tablets of stone, to the ministry of the Spirit that writes on the tablets of the human heart when the word of God takes root.

The Spirit’s work of changing the Christian’s hearts is a result of the ministry of the Word. There is a spiritual connection between what’s in our hearts and what comes out in our behavior. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus tells us that we live out of our hearts and uses the example of a tree. There is an unbreakable connection between the roots of the tree (heart) and the fruit of the tree (behavior).

In the Bible, the heart represents the center of our being. Out of the abundance of the heart our lives speak. God’s Word must take root in our heart for change in our behavior to take effect.

Allow God’s Word To Conform Your Hands

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. – James 1:22-25

The central theme of this section in James is everyday Christianity guided by “the word of truth.” James argues that true Christianity is characterized by deeply “hearing” and then decisively “doing” what God’s Word calls for. Being doers of the Word, and not hearers only is the only proper response to the Word of God.

Obedience to the Word is the mark of the true child of God. Looking intently at one’s face in a mirror and then forgetting what he was like demonstrates the foolishness of examining oneself in the mirror of God’s Word and then doing nothing about it. When one sees imperfections (as when looking in a mirror), common sense says something should be done.

If we are honest, there are times that we do not want to be obedient to God’s Word. However, the Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel. Pastor and author Eugene Peterson argues that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quickly than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Being obedient, even when we do not feel like it, will eventually reshape our hearts from seeing God’s commands as mere duty to enjoying them with genuine delight.

Strategies for Spiritual Formation in Bible Reading  

There is always something God wants us to do in response to His Word. We must allow God’s Word to change our heads, convict our hearts, and conform our hands. Here are a few strategies to let God’s Word richly dwell in you (Col. 3:16).

Prayerfully take notes as you read. This is an excellent way to stay focused while studying. It is also a valuable aid to memory. The physical act of writing something down helps to fix it in our minds.

Talk about God’s Word with others. We gain added benefit from studying the Bible when we talk about it with someone else. Moreover, working out the implications of a Bible passage in conversation with others can not only help reaffirm those truths in your own mind but can also benefit you by hearing the insights of others.

Allow the Spirit to search your heart as you read. In other words, apply Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.” While studying God’s Word we should be asking the Spirit of God to search us at our very root, deep in our souls, and reveal sin and teach us godliness.

Events at 2015 The Southern Baptist Convention

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Are you planning on attending the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus? If so, here is a list of events happening during the annual meeting that would be worth your consideration. As you can see, they are organized by meal time…since we are baptist.

Monday, June 15th

Tuesday, June 16th

Wednesday, June 17th.

  • Breakfast: SBC Men’s Breakfast sponsored by LifeWay and NAMB, focused on how you can invest in the lives of the men of your church. The speakers include JD Greear, Matt Carter, Michael Catt, Mark Dance, Jason Ellerbrook, Michael Lewis. Register here.
  • Breakfast: Women’s Leadership Breakfast by SEBTS and NAMB. A panel discussion from gifted leaders who will share their expertise and wisdom about the importance of equipping for leadership. Panelists include: Lizette Beard (moderator), Denise O’Donoghue, Elicia Horton, Kathy Litton, and Selma Wilson. Register here.

Other Considerations

It is possible to know Bible stories, and miss the Bible story.

There are great stories in the Bible…but it is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story.” – Ed Clowney

A Fellowshipping People

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This was origionally posted at The Gospel Project blog.

In the Book of Genesis, we read that after God created everything on earth He declared that it was good. However, after God created Adam, He declared that it was not good for man to be alone. This break in the pattern of the creation narrative indicates something significant. Each and every one of us was made for fellowship. While Genesis 2:18 refers specifically to the marriage relationship between Adam and Eve, I think we can infer that all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve were created for relationships beyond ourselves. Like Adam and Eve, we are all created in the image of the Trinitarian God, a relational God, who exists in three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) who are in perfect fellowship with one another. At our very core, we are relational beings. We were created for fellowship. It is not good for us to be alone. This explains why each and every one of us desires fellowship.

The word fellowship literally means “sharing in a common life.”  As Christians, we understand that the Christian community offers a “common life” much deeper than that of any other type of communal association on earth. For example, the car club may gather and fellowship around their mutual love of the automobile, but in most cases that is about as far as it goes. When Christians gather, their basis of fellowship reaches into every aspect of their lives. Fellowship centered on one’s love for cars might never get beyond what sits in their garage. Two individuals whose fellowship is centered on Christ are able to apply the gospel to every area of their lives—to their friendships, marriages, work, family, and even to their own individual struggles. What’s even more unique about Christian fellowship is that two Christians from very different background, ethnicities, and social status are able to experience the deepest of fellowship solely based on the work of Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, Christian fellowship “…is not something that we must realize, it is a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” (Life Together).

In Christ we are able to enter fellowship with other Christians just as we are because our fellowship is based on our connection through Christ, not on anything else. There is a freedom in Christian fellowship that does not exist in any other type of community. We are free to be who we are, even in our brokenness, because we are accepted by God in Christ, and thus also accepted in the Christian community. Not only does fellowship around Christ add more freedom and depth to our relationships, it also makes Christian fellowship more lasting than any other type of fellowship in this world. The author of Hebrews makes it clear that together, the people of God long for a better country—a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16). The apostle Paul speaks of joining other believers who have fallen asleep before him when Christ returns (1 Thess. 4:13-14). The Bible indicates that we will not only be with God in eternity, we will also be with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

While other relationships, associations, and communities will pass away, our Christian fellowship lasts for eternity. Our deep, free, and lasting fellowship is more central to the Christian life than we might have previously imagined. Consider the quality of fellowship in the life of the church. Some of the most formative, meaningful, and memorable Christian fellowship in this life is experienced when we mourn with those who mourn, or rejoice with those who rejoice. Some of the most fruitful fellowship is experienced when we use our individual spiritual gifts to contribute to the life of the community. Our fellowship as the body of Christ not only has a sanctifying purpose for us as we move toward our heavenly home, it also has a missional purpose for the world around us. Our quality of fellowship can be a means for gospel demonstration when we display the beauty of Christian fellowship to the world in our love for one another. It should be no surprise that the early church in Acts 2 is described as devoted to fellowship.

As we have already seen, the church has a distinctive form of fellowship when compared to the “fellowship” the world offers. In fact, one could argue that the experience of fellowship as God intended it is impossible in this fallen world without the power of the Holy Spirit. How else would the biblical writers expect us to live out the more than thirty one “one another” passages we find in the New Testament, if not by the power of the Spirit? So, the type of fellowship mentioned above must be grounded in the gospel and lived out among the people of God. Our fellowship is not only important for our Christian life together, it can also be a means to God’s mission in the world. We were created for fellowship. The church is a fellowshipping people, from now into eternity.