Basic Training, Bible Study, Sermons

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: Bible Studies and Sermons

Originally published January 25, 2019

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

 

When I started the Basic Training series, I thought I’d be writing about foundational theological concepts and practices in Christianity. You know, like baptism or the sufficiency of Scripture. It never occurred to me that I might someday need to explain something so basic that most lost people could define it as well as (sometimes better than) many professed Christian leaders.

But the more “Bible” studies and sermons I take in, the more I think a remedial course in exactly what those things are supposed to consist of might be very beneficial to the church at large, and an unfortunate necessity for many pastors, teachers, and Christian celebrities.

I could be way off base here, but I’d almost bet that if you went up to ten random people on the street and asked them what a Bible study class is supposed to do, at least nine out of ten of them would answer, “Study the Bible.” If you asked those same people what a sermon is, you might get more varied answers, “It’s when the preacher explains what the Bible says,” or “It’s a pastor telling you how to be a good person,” (remember these are random, probably unsaved, people) or “A sermon tells you about God.” But I’m guessing none of them would answer, “It’s when a preacher gives a stand up comedy routine,” or “A sermon is mostly stories about the preacher, his family, and other people,” or “A sermon is when you watch a movie and then the preacher adds a few remarks at the end about what you can learn about God or life from the movie.”

Yet, that’s pretty much where way too many churches are these days.

So let’s take a look at what Bible studies and sermons are and aren’t supposed to be.

It’s All About The Bible

This is supposed to be a “duh” moment for Christians, pastors, teachers, and churches. If someone is teaching a Bible study or a pastor is preaching a sermon, the first thing he should reach for is his Bible. He is to be preaching or teaching God’s written Word. It’s right there in black and white in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

That’s a very solemn and weighty charge to pastors. In today’s vernacular, it’s almost like placing your right hand on the Bible, raising your right hand, and saying, “As God is my witness, I swear to God I will ______.” (and actually understanding the gravity of that and meaning it). God is witnessing this charge to you pastor – you’d better take seriously your duty to preach His Word.

And notice, there are only two times when a pastor is supposed to preach the Word: in season and out of season. When his people want to hear it and when they don’t. When he feels like it and when he doesn’t. When he’ll be persecuted and when he won’t. When it’s easy and when it’s hard. When it’s a pleasant, encouraging passage, and when it’s a passage that offends people. Pastors, and, by extension teachers, are to preach and teach the written Word of God in every sermon and teaching opportunity. Always.

It’s Not About the Preacher/Teacher/Author

There are a lot of awesome pastors, teachers, and authors out there who labor faithfully to rightly teach God’s Word to His people. I am unspeakably grateful to them and for them.

But let’s face it, there are also a lot of narcissistic gas bags out there who use the pulpit and the pages to pump up their already over-inflated egos by endlessly blathering on and on about themselves, their families, their friends, and their experiences. You can tell by the ratio of personal stories to Scripture who they love best and are most interested in.

I’ve read books and heard sermons that I walked away from thinking, “I know more about that pastor or author, his family, his trips, the charity work he does, and who his important friends are than I do about God and His Word.” (I’ll tell you this, he’s received his reward.)

Pastors, teachers, authors aren’t to preach themselves, they’re to preach the Word.

It’s Not About Gimmicks and Entertainment

A sermon series based on movies. A pastor riding a motorcycle into church. Ziplining during the sermon. Rock concerts and light shows. Raffles and giveaways of cars and other big ticket items. The pastor and his wife promoting a sermon series on sex. On the news. From a bed. On the roof of the church.

Pastors and teachers aren’t charged to entertain people or get them in the doors of the church and keep them there by any means necessary. Pastors and teachers are charged – with God as their witness – to faithfully preach and teach His written Word. Jesus said shepherds who love Him will feed His sheep, not entertain them.

Newsflash – the world isn’t going to find that interesting enough to get out of bed for on Sunday morning. Newsflash – That’s fine. The gathering of the church isn’t for the world. The gathering of the church is for the church – the people who have been saved out of the world and into the body of Christ – to give them an opportunity to worship the Savior they love with their brothers and sisters, to disciple them in God’s Word, and to equip them with God’s Word to go out and share the gospel with the world.

It’s Not About You, Either

The flip side of “it’s all about the Bible” is, it’s not about you. What does that mean? The sermon or the Bible study lesson should not teach us to look down in narcissistic navel-gazing, it should teach us to look up at God, who He is, what He has done, and what He says in His written Word.

Over the years, I’ve had the discouraging duty of reviewing various women’s “Bible” studies. Though some have been better than others, the theme running through the majority of them is “it’s all about you” – your feelings, your hurts, your ego, your opinions, your personal experiences. It’s evident in the way authors insert long stories about their own lives and base their ideas, agendas, and assertions on those personal experiences rather than on Scripture. It’s evident in the questions the reader is supposed to answer at the end of each lesson: “Have you ever experienced _____?” “How does ____ make you feel?” “If you could ____, how would you do it?” “What do you think others’ opinion of you is?”

Good Bible studies give you rightly handled, in context Scripture until it’s coming out of your ears, and then they ask questions like, “What are the attributes of God listed in this passage?” “Verse 3 talks about lying. What are some other verses that talk about lying, and how can we tell from these verses how God views lying and why?” “How does this passage point us to Christ?”

Is there a need for introspection during Bible studies and sermons? Sometimes. But the focus is not you and your feelings and experiences. The focus is on reflecting on the glory of God in the passage you’ve just heard, repenting of the sin the passage you’ve just read has convicted you about, obeying the command in the passage you’ve just heard, and things like that. It’s Bible-focused, driven, and governed, not me-focused, driven, and governed.

Context, Context, Context

It’s not just important to preach and teach the Bible, it’s important to handle the text of the Bible correctly and in context.

You’ve probably heard the old joke about the guy who wants God to tell him what he should do with his life. So he opens up the Bible to a random spot, closes his eyes, puts his finger down on the page, and looks at the verse he’s pointing at. It’s a New Testament verse: “Judas went and hanged himself.” “Hmm,” he thinks, “that doesn’t make much sense.” He shuts his Bible and tries the process again. This time, it’s an Old Testament verse, “Go and do thou likewise.”

We laugh at the silliness of this little story, but it hits frighteningly close to home for far too many pastors and teachers.

Perhaps you’ve read a devotional that quotes a Bible verse (or maybe even just part of a verse) at the top of the page. The author then goes on to teach on that verse or tell a personal story. When you look up the verse and read a little more of the chapter it’s in, you discover it has nothing to do with the author’s story or doesn’t mean what the author was teaching.

Or maybe you’ve sat in a church service where the pastor reads a verse or two at the beginning of the sermon and then basically closes his Bible and shares personal thoughts and stories for the rest of the sermon time that have nothing to do with the verses he read at the beginning. Or a sermon in which the pastor hopscotches all over the Bible (often using a myriad of translations) reading a verse here, half a verse there, in an effort to prove his homespun thesis or support the agenda he’s crafted.

Yes, technically, there’s Bible in all of those teachings, but none of those methods handle Scripture properly or in context. That’s called eisegesis, and it basically means reading your own ideas into the text of Scripture, or twisting Scripture to get it to say what you want it to mean.

The proper method of teaching Scripture is exegesis. Exegesis is taking a passage of Scripture in context, and “leading out” of it- teaching what the passage means. That’s nearly always going to require reading several verses from the passage to catch the reader or listener up on what’s going on in the story she’s just parachuted into.

Good pastors and teachers read and teach the biblical text in an organized way. When you sit down to study, say, a history book, you start at the beginning of the book and you work your way through to the end. You don’t start by reading two paragraphs out of the middle of chapter 7, then move on to the last three sentences of chapter 49, then the first half of chapter 1. That’s how people preach, teach, and “study” the Bible sometimes, and it’s just as crazy to read the Bible that way as it would be to study a history book, or math book, or science book that way, or even to read a novel or a magazine using that helter-skelter method.

Expository vs. Topical

This section is a brief, modified excerpt from my article The Mailbag: Expository or Topical Preaching: Which is better?.

For readers who might not be familiar with the terms, expository preaching and teaching is basically when a pastor preaches (or a teacher teaches) through books of the Bible from beginning to end carefully explaining what each passage means. (Ezra is an example of an expository Bible study.)

Topical preaching can have a couple of different meanings depending on who you’re talking to and what she understands the term to mean. Some people understand “topical preaching” to mean a sermon series, usually in a seeker driven church, that centers around something in pop culture. (For example, popular movies or the Olympics.) Normally, these sermons are very shallow, biblically – sometimes nothing more than a pep talk or self-help tips. This type of preaching and teaching is unbiblical, and if it makes up the bulk of the teaching at your church, I’d recommend finding a new church.

There is, however, a biblical form of topical preaching and teaching that can be very helpful, occasionally. If a doctrinally sound pastor sees an issue in the church that needs to be addressed, or a biblical topic to explore, there is nothing wrong with his taking a break from preaching through a certain book (or when he’s between books) to teach on this issue from the pulpit. (Imperishable Beauty: A Study of Biblical Womanhood is an example of a biblical, topical Bible study.)

In my opinion, the majority of a pastor’s preaching and a Bible study’s teaching should be expository with occasional breaks for (biblical) topical preaching and teaching as needed. There are a variety of reasons for this (more in the linked article):

• Expository preaching models for the congregation the proper, systematic way they should study the Bible at home.

• Expository preaching helps a pastor better preach the whole counsel of God.

• Expository preaching pushes pastors to tackle hard and unfamiliar passages as they come up in the text.

• Expository preaching should keep the Old Testament and certain books of the Bible from being neglected as much as they usually are.

• Expository preaching gives the congregation a better grip on the overall story arc of the Bible and the culture of the period being studied.

Expository and topical preaching are both helpful in their own ways, but the most important thing is that the pastor is “rightly handling the word of truth.”

 

There’s a lot of lousy preaching and teaching out there these days, but if you’ll look for good, solid biblical preaching and teaching (check the Recommended Bible Teachers and Bible Studies tabs above for ideas) God can use it mightily in your spiritual life to grow you to greater Christlikeness.

Basic Training, Salvation

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: The Gospel

Originally published February 3, 2017

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.bt-the-gospel

Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read, you begin with ABC
When you sing, you begin with Do, Re, Mi…¹

And when you talk Christianity, you begin with…

The gospel. It’s the foundation of the Christian faith. The thing all genuinely regenerated believers have in common. And it’s the ABC’s of our Basic Training series.

Without a right understanding of the gospel, none of the subsequent articles in this series will make much sense to you. In fact, you’ll find yourself standing in opposition to biblical teaching because the Bible says that only those who are born again and empowered by the Holy Spirit can embrace the things of God in their hearts:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

But far more important than your reaction to this series of articles,

If you don’t have a clear understanding of,
and response to,
the gospel, you aren’t saved,
and you’ll spend eternity in Hell.

I know that sounds blunt, but that’s just the meat and potatoes of it, ladies. In the same way you can’t get a molecule of water unless you add exactly one atom of oxygen to exactly two atoms of hydrogen, believing whatever you feel like believing doesn’t produce a Christian. You have to “follow the recipe,” so to speak, to the letter. And that recipe is in the Bible. Let’s take a look at it.

♦ You are a sinner (you have transgressed God by breaking His law).

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— Romans 5:12

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; Romans 3:10

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23

♦ The penalty for your sin is an eternity in Hell.

For the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23a

but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. Romans 2:8

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15

♦ You can’t escape Hell by being a good person, having a good heart, or any other effort on your part.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. Isaiah 64:6a

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12

he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5

♦ Salvation (being in good standing with God) is a result of God’s mercy and grace, not something you can earn. It is a gift.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:16

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

♦ The gift God offers you is that, on the cross, Christ took the punishment you deserve for your sin. He will take away your sin and give you His perfect standing before God in exchange.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, 1 Peter 3:18a

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Romans 3:23-25a

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

♦ The way you receive that gift and have Christ’s righteousness “credited to your account” is to repent from (have the heart desire to turn away from and ask God’s forgiveness for) your sin and trust that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection paid the penalty for your sin.

[Jesus said] “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, Acts 3:19

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, Ephesians 1:13

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

That’s it. That’s the gospel. Turn from your sin and trying to earn favor with God by your so-called good behavior and throw yourself on the mercy of God, trusting Christ’s finished work on the cross to forgive your sin and make you righteous in God’s eyes.

That’s what salvation – or becoming a Christian – is. Adding anything to the gospel or taking anything away from it is not salvation or biblical Christianity. It is a false gospel. Believing a false gospel will not forgive your sin, make you right with God, or take you to Heaven when you die. Unfortunately, many people believe a false gospel and there are many people who claim to be Christians, pastors, and Bible teachers who teach a false gospel.

What are some of those false gospels?

If you’re basically a good person, or your good deeds outweigh the bad, you’re OK with God, and you’ll go to Heaven when you die.

If you’ve been baptized at any point in your life and for any reason, you’re saved.

If you go to church regularly, you’re a Christian.

If you participate in communion or the Lord’s Supper, you’re a Christian.

The reason we come to Jesus is to have a better, more comfortable, or more successful life.

The reason we come to Jesus is to get healed from a medical condition, because He will make us wealthy, or because He will do cool supernatural signs and wonders in our lives.

Simply saying you’re a Christian, or believing that you are a Christian, makes you one.

If you were born in America and you’re not Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, or some other religion, you’re a Christian.

If you believe in God, you’re a Christian.

If you give mental assent to the facts about Jesus (without repenting and trusting Him), you’re saved.

If, at some point in your life you repeated the words of a “sinner’s prayer,” “accepted Jesus,” or “asked Jesus into your heart,” (even if you didn’t know what you were doing, and without true repentance and faith) you’ve been born again.

You can become a Christian without repenting from your sin.

You can believe in a “Jesus” of your own making, rather the one described in Scripture, and still be a Christian.

Are you a Christian? Have you ever felt the weight of your guilt before God and asked Him to cleanse you and make you right with Him? Do you believe and embrace that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection satisfied God’s wrath against you for your sin?

The Bible says we should examine ourselves to discover whether or not we are truly in the faith. Take some quiet, undistracted time alone with God today and search your heart. What do you really believe? Is it the true gospel of Scripture, or something else? (If you need some help, this might be a useful tool.) Don’t put it off, it’s too important.

If you find that you’re not in Christ, talk to Him. Confess your sin and your need for Him to save you. Ask His forgiveness and declare your trust in Him.

Don’t wonder and guess any more about where you stand with God. Know.

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:1-2


¹Do-Re-Mi. Rodgers and Hammerstein, The Sound of Music, 1959.

Basic Training, Prayer

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: 8 Things You Need to Know about Prayer

Originally published May 26, 2017

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

When I was a little girl, I remember one of my Sunday School teachers saying, “Prayer is just talking to God.” With all the complex, confusing, convoluted, and even conflicting resources out there today on prayer, that sounds rather simplistic to our adult ears, but it’s still the best definition of prayer I’ve ever heard. Prayer is, indeed, simply talking to God.

And, along with studying God’s word and being a faithful member of a local church, it’s one of the three legs of the stool we call sanctification, or growth in Christ. Yet prayer is the leg that tends to be most neglected in our churches, our families, and our personal walk with the Lord.

Why is that? Why don’t we want to sit down and just talk – no frills, no weird machinations, just talk – to the most interesting, powerful, loving, and kind Being in the universe? If you received an invitation to sit down and chat with the President, your favorite celebrity, or a long lost loved one, you’d jump at the chance, right? I would, too. So what is it about our broken brains and hardened hearts that causes us to say, “Nah, not today,” to a simple monologue with our King? Those broken brains have learned some unbiblical things about prayer, and those hardened hearts have some ungodly attitudes toward prayer.

1. We don’t NEED God enough
Western Christians are pretty prosperous and self-sufficient people. We don’t have to cry out to God to provide food so we don’t starve. We have jobs and grocery stores. We don’t have to pray that we won’t be arrested for reading our Bibles or going to church, because that’s not happening where we live (yet). Except in the most dire of circumstances, we don’t have to plead with God to heal. We have doctors, hospitals, and medicine. Don’t get me wrong, those are all tremendous blessings, but one of the pitfalls of being blessed is that we start trusting in the blessing rather than trusting in the Blesser. And when that happens, we tend to pray less often and more superficially. Daily prayer is part of our battle to be dependent on God.

2. We’re idolaters
My husband’s uncle used to say, “You do what you want to do.” In other words, you spend your time and resources on the things you value most. I’m a Type A personality: workaholic, git ‘er done, ain’t got time to die. One of the reasons I neglect my own prayer time is that I don’t want to take time out of my busy schedule to stop and do nothing but pray. When I operate that way, I’m demonstrating that I don’t want to pray- that I love something else more than I love obeying God and spending time with Him. That’s idolatry.

3. We don’t trust God and His prescribed methods
When we’re in need, when we want to commune with God, when we want to grow in holiness, God’s way is for us to pray. Not climb the highest mountain or offer some amazing sacrifice or fulfill a bunch of items on a checklist- pray. But, to our fleshly hearts, this just doesn’t compute. It’s not enough. We’ve got to conjure up our own efforts and do something worthy of God acting on our behalf. Our hearts don’t trust God enough to simply take Him at His word, bring all of our requests to Him, and believe that He will take care of us. We don’t pray because we don’t trust God to follow through on His Word.

4. “Fervency” in prayer is qualitative, not quantitative
Sometimes we get it into our heads that being “fervent” in prayer means we have to constantly voice that prayer over and over in order to get God to give in and do what we want Him to do. But God’s provision isn’t dependent on our prayers. He truly does know what we need before we ask. In other words, you could stop praying right this minute for that thing you desperately want, and never pray about it again, and God is not going to forget that that’s what you want, or move it to a lower priority level on His prayer-answering list, or punish you by denying your request simply because you stopped praying about it. There are things God blesses us with that we’ve never spent a moment praying for. There are things we stop praying for that God finally gives us years later. And there are things we pray constantly for that God says “no” about. God is going to do what is best for you and what brings Him the most glory, and that doesn’t hinge on whether you pray about that specific thing every day or not. “Fervency” doesn’t mean repetition. It means an intense trust and dependence on God to do what is right in His eyes in response to your prayer. Sometimes it helps to examine a few good translations side by side:

5. Prayer isn’t a letter to Santa Claus
Back in the stone age of my childhood there used to be this thing called the Sears catalog. It was kind of like Amazon, but on paper. Every year, a few months before Christmas, they would publish their “Wish Book” edition that had all the toys in it. My sister and I would go through that catalog and circle all the things we wanted for Christmas and then hand it back to my parents, hoping that, this year, we’d get everything we asked for (and we asked for practically everything).

If this is how you approach prayer, you’re doing it wrong. God is not looking for you to provide Him with a list of stuff your greedy little heart desires so He can wrap it up in a bow and leave it under your tree. He’s not a wish-fulfillment center.

6. Weird stuff and unbiblical beliefs- knock it off
♦ Prayer is not a two-way conversation. We talk to God through prayer. He talks to us through His all-sufficient Word. Yes, while you’re praying, the Holy Spirit may remind you of Scripture that’s relevant to what you’re praying about, or bring to mind someone you should pray for, or you might think of a way you can help or bless someone, but prayer is not a dialogue. You don’t say your piece and then sit there and wait for God to say something back. That’s often called listening prayer or contemplative prayer, and it’s unbiblical. Likewise soaking prayer, sozo prayer, etc. In fact, if you see the word “prayer” preceded by an adjective not found in Scripture, it’s most likely not biblical.

♦ Prayer doesn’t require any special accessories. You don’t need to draw a circle to stand in, build a “war room,” blow a shofar, stroke a prayer cloth, or lay your hands on a prayer list, picture, object, etc. Scripture doesn’t tell us to do any of these things, and many of them are patently unbiblical.

♦ Prayer is not about you doing something, it’s about humbly beseeching God to do something. Nowhere in Scripture does God say that the purpose of prayer is for us to assert any power over anything through our words. He does not give us the authority to “bind” Satan, demons, or anything else, or “decree” or “declare” anything as though we could make something happen by doing so. These are false and unbiblical teachings of the heretical Word of Faith and New Apostolic Reformation movements.

7. Watch your language
♦ Having a “private prayer language” (speaking in “tongues”) as it is practiced today has zero basis in Scripture. None. When the disciples point blank asked Jesus to teach them to pray, there wasn’t a single “honda shonda” in His instructions, and nothing in Scripture says your prayers will be more meaningful to you or more likely to be heard by God if they’re in gibberish than if they’re in your native, real language.

♦ If you grew up fundie or old school, you might feel like you have to use “King James” lingo when you pray. You don’t. If you want to use “thee’s” and “thou’s” when you pray, you can, but you don’t have to. You can use the same vocabulary – respectful and pure speech, of course – you’d use when talking to a friend or loved one.

♦ If you’re tacking the phrase “in Jesus’ name” on to your decreeing and declaring and binding and rebuking as some sort of way to harness the power of God into making your words a reality, you’re taking God’s name in vain because you’re doing the same thing witches and pagans do when they use incantations and cast spells. “In Jesus’ name” isn’t the Christian version of “abracadabra.” To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray that what God wants – not what we want – will be done.

8. It isn’t about getting what we want. It’s about God getting what He wants.
We tend to think of prayer as a means to an end that centers around us. It’s a time to tell God what we want and need and for Him to fulfill those wants and needs, and that’s that. But is that how God thinks about prayer? God tells us to come to Him, to present our requests to Him, ask Him for daily bread, forgiveness, give thanks to Him, and a number of other things. But we also know that He is sovereign. He already knows what we need and what’s best for us, and He does what He pleases. So if God knows better than we do what we need, and if He’s going to do whatever He wants anyway, why bother praying, right?

We say things like that because we think the point of prayer is to get God to do what we want Him to do. But it’s not. The point of prayer is for God to get us to do what He wants us to do. He wants us to pray, not because He needs a “honey do” list, but because coming back to Him time and time again in prayer teaches us to depend on Him and trust Him. It strengthens our understanding of His power and sovereignty. It grows us in humility and submission. It conforms our will and our wants to His. It reminds us of our sin and the cross. It keeps us from taking God’s blessings for granted as we thank and praise Him. It helps us to want what God wants more than what we want.

Ultimately, prayer is not about what we want God to do for us. It’s about what He wants to do in us. So bow your head and close your eyes and make that daily time communing with the Lord your highest priority. God working through prayer to conform you to the image of Christ? That’s not something you want to say, “Nah, not today,” to.


Additional Resources

Prayer

After this Manner, Therefore Pray

Can We Talk?

Listening to God Without Getting All Weird About It by David Appelt

Praying Backwards by Bryan Chapell

Abortion, Basic Training

Basic Training: Abortion

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

 

I rarely write on abortion. But it’s not because I don’t feel strongly about it. It’s because it seems like it should be a given. That Christians shouldn’t have to be told that we don’t support abortion any more than we have to be told to breathe or eat. When I think about writing about abortion, I think, “What could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said a million times, and by people who have more experience in this arena than I do?”.

But the more I look out over the landscape of contemporary Christianity, the more I realize we can’t take any aspect of theology for granted. Because when we take the basics for granted, they don’t get taught to the next generation and we end up assuming they know things they don’t actually know. And that’s on us – those of us who knew and didn’t properly and explicitly train those who came behind us.

So if you’re recently saved and you’ve just walked in to this brand new, unfamiliar, and counter-intuitive worldview of biblical Christianity, or if you grew up around some form of evangelicalism but nobody ever took the time to sit you down and teach you properly, let’s look at some of the basics about abortion.

🍼 Abortion is murder. When you intentionally and unjustly end an innocent human life, that is murder. Abortion takes a living human being (it’s not a chicken or a hippo or a platypus) and intentionally and unjustly causes the death (causes heart, brain, and all other organ functions to cease) of said human being. That’s not even a theological argument, that’s a medical fact.

🍼 A baby in utero is not part of the “mother’s body.” The pro-abortion side often makes comments like, “No one has the right to tell a woman what she can and can’t do with her body.” This argument is beneath the intelligence of most of the people who make it for a couple of reasons: 

First, we tell men, women, and children what they can and can’t do with their bodies all the time. Children can’t use their bodies to drive a car or serve in the military. Men can’t use their bodies to rape. Women can’t use their bodies for prostitution. People can’t sell their kidneys for transplant. See how that works?

Second, this isn’t the twelfth, or fifteenth, or eighteenth century. Modern science has left in the dust any notion that a baby is an appendage of his mother’s body like her arm or her liver. Pre-born babies have their own unique DNA, blood type, heartbeat, organ systems, and so on. When we say a woman shouldn’t have an abortion, we aren’t telling a woman what to do with her own body … except in the sense that we are telling her she can’t use her body to murder someone else. (Which, technically, is already a law that pertains to both men and women.) A pre-born baby may be dependent on his mother for food, shelter, and care, but so is her two-year-old, and, so far, no one is using that line of reasoning to suggest it’s OK to kill a child of that age. Yet.

And, finally, if you’re a genuinely regenerated Christian who is holding on to the “my body my choice” mantra, your body, your life, and your eternity were bought and paid for by Christ. He owns you, and He has every right to tell you what to do with your body. It doesn’t matter one whit what people say you can or can’t do.

🍼 Abortion is never necessary to save the mother’s life. Numerous OB/GYNs and other medical professionals have stated this publicly. In cases in which the mother’s life and/or health are at stake, the biblical approach is to make every attempt to save both the mother and child (which can often be done through early delivery, not abortion). If the child dies during the attempt to save him and his mother, that is a grievous tragedy, but it is not an abortion. Abortion is the intentional, proactive killing of a child.

🍼 Rape and incest are horrible sins that no one should ever be subjected to, but in the tiny number of pregnancies that result from these heinous crimes, we do not execute the child for the sin of his father. The Bible is clear on that. And the practical results of obeying this biblical mandate bear out its truth. The overwhelming majority of women who get an abortion after having been raped regret it and say it caused additional trauma, while women who go through with their pregnancies after rape do not.

🍼 Because abortion is murder, it is a sin. If you have ever performed, assisted in, encouraged, or received an abortion, you have committed the sin of murder. You are a murderer. It is good and right for you to feel guilty about that and to grieve over both the sinful person you are who has offended a holy God, and to grieve for the life of your baby. Don’t try to skip feeling your guilt and grief over this sin. It’s a vital part of the process of dealing with it biblically and in an emotionally healthy way.

🍼 If you’re counseling someone post-abortion, I know it can be painful to watch, but you must let her process through the guilt that comes with this sin. Don’t immediately skip ahead to forgiveness. She can’t get to repentance and forgiveness if she has nothing to repent of and ask forgiveness for. 

🍼 Also if you’re counseling someone post-abortion, do not just give her blanket absolution. I recently heard a pastor (with the best of intentions, I’m sure) stand in the pulpit and rightly call abortion a sin, and also rightly offer women Christ’s forgiveness of that sin. But he skipped the middle part where you have to confess and repent of your sin and ask Christ for forgiveness. That’s not a step that can be skipped for abortion or any other sin.

🍼 If you repent of the sin of abortion, Christ will forgive you and make you clean. He delights to cleanse the foulest of sinners and welcome them into His Kingdom with open arms of grace and mercy. Trust Him to keep His promise to forgive you.

🍼 Christians should support doctrinally sound pro-life endeavors. Volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers, donating to pro-life causes and services, adopting, housing and providing for pregnant women who need assistance, supporting Christian orphanages, etc. Just be discerning and check out the theology of the organization first.

🍼 Christians should not join with apostate “churches” or other religions in pro-life causesThe Bible is absolutely clear that we are not to partner in ministry endeavors with unbelievers, especially those who claim to be Christians or teach false doctrine(Yes, this includes Catholics. They may be very nice people and they’ve been fighting the pro-life fight for a long time, but Catholic doctrine as contained in church documents teaches many false and anti-biblical doctrines including anathematizing {condemning to hell} those who hold to the biblical teaching of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Those who hold to such doctrines are not Christians despite what they may claim.) Partnering with unbelievers who claim to be Christians is an even more dangerous sin than abortion because it confuses people about what salvation is and muddies the gospel. It sends the message that you can believe things contrary to Scripture and still be saved, and that is a message that sends people to an eternity in Hell. Plus, it doesn’t make any sense to commit one sin in order to fight against another sin. That is not God’s way nor is it in keeping with His Word.

🍼 For Christians, abortion should be our highest priority litmus test when it comes to deciding whom to vote for. If you’re willing to have children murdered so you can get more money back in your tax refund, or better highways, or more social programs, or whatever, your attitude is anti-Christ. Where would we be if Jesus had had such a selfish, self-serving worldview? Christianity says, “I’ll lay down my life for you,” not, “You lay down your life for me.”. Besides, if your candidate is so ensconced in evil that he advocates murdering children, he won’t think twice about a lesser sin like breaking the very campaign promises that caused you to vote for him in the first place.

🍼 Pastors, youth pastors, and teachers in our churches need to clearly and proactively preach and teach what the Bible says about sex and abortion through the lens of the gospel. Having a largely regenerate congregation will prevent abortions primarily through girls and women getting saved, but having a gospel-saturated culture in your church will also encourage those who do sin sexually and get pregnant to reach out to a brother or sister – instead of an abortion clinic – for help.

🍼 God is the creator, sustainer, and giver of life. If He values life so much, how can we who claim to be His followers treat a human life as inconvenient, cheap, and expendable when it suits our own selfish purposes?

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:13-16

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Psalm 127:3

Abortion is the murder of a human being. You cannot support that at any level if you truly belong to Christ. If you’re a Christian, you must submit your attitudes and actions regarding abortion to the teaching of Scripture, and obey God’s Word.

Basic Training, Bible Study, Sermons

Basic Training: Bible Studies and Sermons

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

 

When I started the Basic Training series, I thought I’d be writing about foundational theological concepts and practices in Christianity. You know, like baptism or the sufficiency of Scripture. It never occurred to me that I might someday need to explain something so basic that most lost people could define it as well as (sometimes better than) many professed Christian leaders.

But the more “Bible” studies and sermons I take in, the more I think a remedial course in exactly what those things are supposed to consist of might be very beneficial to the church at large, and an unfortunate necessity for many pastors, teachers, and Christian celebrities.

I could be way off base here, but I’d almost bet that if you went up to ten random people on the street and asked them what a Bible study class is supposed to do, at least nine out of ten of them would answer, “Study the Bible.” If you asked those same people what a sermon is, you might get more varied answers, “It’s when the preacher explains what the Bible says,” or “It’s a pastor telling you how to be a good person,” (remember these are random, probably unsaved, people) or “A sermon tells you about God.” But I’m guessing none of them would answer, “It’s when a preacher gives a stand up comedy routine,” or “A sermon is mostly stories about the preacher, his family, and other people,” or “A sermon is when you watch a movie and then the preacher adds a few remarks at the end about what you can learn about God or life from the movie.”

Yet, that’s pretty much where way too many churches are these days.

So let’s take a look at what Bible studies and sermons are and aren’t supposed to be.

It’s All About The Bible

This is supposed to be a “duh” moment for Christians, pastors, teachers, and churches. If someone is teaching a Bible study or a pastor is preaching a sermon, the first thing he should reach for is his Bible. He is to be preaching or teaching God’s written Word. It’s right there in black and white in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

That’s a very solemn and weighty charge to pastors. In today’s vernacular, it’s almost like placing your right hand on the Bible, raising your right hand, and saying, “As God is my witness, I swear to God I will ______.” (and actually understanding the gravity of that and meaning it). God is witnessing this charge to you pastor – you’d better take seriously your duty to preach His Word.

And notice, there are only two times when a pastor is supposed to preach the Word: in season and out of season. When his people want to hear it and when they don’t. When he feels like it and when he doesn’t. When he’ll be persecuted and when he won’t. When it’s easy and when it’s hard. When it’s a pleasant, encouraging passage, and when it’s a passage that offends people. Pastors, and, by extension teachers, are to preach and teach the written Word of God in every sermon and teaching opportunity. Always.

It’s Not About the Preacher/Teacher/Author

There are a lot of awesome pastors, teachers, and authors out there who labor faithfully to rightly teach God’s Word to His people. I am unspeakably grateful to them and for them.

But let’s face it, there are also a lot of narcissistic gas bags out there who use the pulpit and the pages to pump up their already over-inflated egos by endlessly blathering on and on about themselves, their families, their friends, and their experiences. You can tell by the ratio of personal stories to Scripture who they love best and are most interested in.

I’ve read books and heard sermons that I walked away from thinking, “I know more about that pastor or author, his family, his trips, the charity work he does, and who his important friends are than I do about God and His Word.” (I’ll tell you this, he’s received his reward.)

Pastors, teachers, authors aren’t to preach themselves, they’re to preach the Word.

It’s Not About Gimmicks and Entertainment

A sermon series based on movies. A pastor riding a motorcycle into church. Ziplining during the sermon. Rock concerts and light shows. Raffles and giveaways of cars and other big ticket items. The pastor and his wife promoting a sermon series on sex. On the news. From a bed. On the roof of the church.

Pastors and teachers aren’t charged to entertain people or get them in the doors of the church and keep them there by any means necessary. Pastors and teachers are charged – with God as their witness – to faithfully preach and teach His written Word. Jesus said shepherds who love Him will feed His sheep, not entertain them.

Newsflash – the world isn’t going to find that interesting enough to get out of bed for on Sunday morning. Newsflash – That’s fine. The gathering of the church isn’t for the world. The gathering of the church is for the church – the people who have been saved out of the world and into the body of Christ – to give them an opportunity to worship the Savior they love with their brothers and sisters, to disciple them in God’s Word, and to equip them with God’s Word to go out and share the gospel with the world.

It’s Not About You, Either

The flip side of “it’s all about the Bible” is, it’s not about you. What does that mean? The sermon or the Bible study lesson should not teach us to look down in narcissistic navel-gazing, it should teach us to look up at God, who He is, what He has done, and what He says in His written Word.

Over the years, I’ve had the discouraging duty of reviewing various women’s “Bible” studies. Though some have been better than others, the theme running through the majority of them is “it’s all about you” – your feelings, your hurts, your ego, your opinions, your personal experiences. It’s evident in the way authors insert long stories about their own lives and base their ideas, agendas, and assertions on those personal experiences rather than on Scripture. It’s evident in the questions the reader is supposed to answer at the end of each lesson: “Have you ever experienced _____?” “How does ____ make you feel?” “If you could ____, how would you do it?” “What do you think others’ opinion of you is?”

Good Bible studies give you rightly handled, in context Scripture until it’s coming out of your ears, and then they ask questions like, “What are the attributes of God listed in this passage?” “Verse 3 talks about lying. What are some other verses that talk about lying, and how can we tell from these verses how God views lying and why?” “How does this passage point us to Christ?”

Is there a need for introspection during Bible studies and sermons? Sometimes. But the focus is not you and your feelings and experiences. The focus is on reflecting on the glory of God in the passage you’ve just heard, repenting of the sin the passage you’ve just read has convicted you about, obeying the command in the passage you’ve just heard, and things like that. It’s Bible-focused, driven, and governed, not me-focused, driven, and governed.

Context, Context, Context

It’s not just important to preach and teach the Bible, it’s important to handle the text of the Bible correctly and in context.

You’ve probably heard the old joke about the guy who wants God to tell him what he should do with his life. So he opens up the Bible to a random spot, closes his eyes, puts his finger down on the page, and looks at the verse he’s pointing at. It’s a New Testament verse: “Judas went and hanged himself.” “Hmm,” he thinks, “that doesn’t make much sense.” He shuts his Bible and tries the process again. This time, it’s an Old Testament verse, “Go and do thou likewise.”

We laugh at the silliness of this little story, but it hits frighteningly close to home for far too many pastors and teachers.

Perhaps you’ve read a devotional that quotes a Bible verse (or maybe even just part of a verse) at the top of the page. The author then goes on to teach on that verse or tell a personal story. When you look up the verse and read a little more of the chapter it’s in, you discover it has nothing to do with the author’s story or doesn’t mean what the author was teaching.

Or maybe you’ve sat in a church service where the pastor reads a verse or two at the beginning of the sermon and then basically closes his Bible and shares personal thoughts and stories for the rest of the sermon time that have nothing to do with the verses he read at the beginning. Or a sermon in which the pastor hopscotches all over the Bible (often using a myriad of translations) reading a verse here, half a verse there, in an effort to prove his homespun thesis or support the agenda he’s crafted.

Yes, technically, there’s Bible in all of those teachings, but none of those methods handle Scripture properly or in context. That’s called eisegesis, and it basically means reading your own ideas into the text of Scripture, or twisting Scripture to get it to say what you want it to mean.

The proper method of teaching Scripture is exegesis. Exegesis is taking a passage of Scripture in context, and “leading out” of it- teaching what the passage means. That’s nearly always going to require reading several verses from the passage to catch the reader or listener up on what’s going on in the story she’s just parachuted into.

Good pastors and teachers read and teach the biblical text in an organized way. When you sit down to study, say, a history book, you start at the beginning of the book and you work your way through to the end. You don’t start by reading two paragraphs out of the middle of chapter 7, then move on to the last three sentences of chapter 49, then the first half of chapter 1. That’s how people preach, teach, and “study” the Bible sometimes, and it’s just as crazy to read the Bible that way as it would be to study a history book, or math book, or science book that way, or even to read a novel or a magazine using that helter-skelter method.

Expository vs. Topical

This section is a brief, modified excerpt from my article The Mailbag: Expository or Topical Preaching: Which is better?.

For readers who might not be familiar with the terms, expository preaching and teaching is basically when a pastor preaches (or a teacher teaches) through books of the Bible from beginning to end carefully explaining what each passage means. (Ezra is an example of an expository Bible study.)

Topical preaching can have a couple of different meanings depending on who you’re talking to and what she understands the term to mean. Some people understand “topical preaching” to mean a sermon series, usually in a seeker driven church, that centers around something in pop culture. (For example, popular movies or the Olympics.) Normally, these sermons are very shallow, biblically – sometimes nothing more than a pep talk or self-help tips. This type of preaching and teaching is unbiblical, and if it makes up the bulk of the teaching at your church, I’d recommend finding a new church.

There is, however, a biblical form of topical preaching and teaching that can be very helpful, occasionally. If a doctrinally sound pastor sees an issue in the church that needs to be addressed, or a biblical topic to explore, there is nothing wrong with his taking a break from preaching through a certain book (or when he’s between books) to teach on this issue from the pulpit. (Imperishable Beauty: A Study of Biblical Womanhood is an example of a biblical, topical Bible study.)

In my opinion, the majority of a pastor’s preaching and a Bible study’s teaching should be expository with occasional breaks for (biblical) topical preaching and teaching as needed. There are a variety of reasons for this (more in the linked article):

• Expository preaching models for the congregation the proper, systematic way they should study the Bible at home.

• Expository preaching helps a pastor better preach the whole counsel of God.

• Expository preaching pushes pastors to tackle hard and unfamiliar passages as they come up in the text.

• Expository preaching should keep the Old Testament and certain books of the Bible from being neglected as much as they usually are.

• Expository preaching gives the congregation a better grip on the overall story arc of the Bible and the culture of the period being studied.

Expository and topical preaching are both helpful in their own ways, but the most important thing is that the pastor is “rightly handling the word of truth.”

 

There’s a lot of lousy preaching and teaching out there these days, but if you’ll look for good, solid biblical preaching and teaching (check the Recommended Bible Teachers and Bible Studies tabs above for ideas) God can use it mightily in your spiritual life to grow you to greater Christlikeness.