On Reading Genesis: Four Approaches with Many Resources

close up photo of bible

January 1, 2021. 

With the new year comes the chance to begin a new Bible reading plan (or to continue your reading plan from last year). If the new year leads you to Genesis, as the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan does, you might be looking for some resources to aid in your reading—especially, if your plan does not give you a day-by-day, play-by-play. To that end I am sharing four reading strategies, with some helpful resources to listen and read. Be sure to read to the end, as some of the most helpful resources come at the end. Continue reading

Reading for Scripture Saturation in 2021: (Re)Introducing the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
11  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —

With 2020 ending and 2021 approaching, you may be thinking about how to read the Bible in the new year. I hope so. The Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). With that in mind, we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!

Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the next year.

Personally though, I wonder if our daily reading plans help us with this idea of Scripture saturation. Often, such plans call for reading single chapters from various parts of the Bible. And the daily routine can invite checking the box without understanding the book. So my question has been: does such reading help us or hinder us in our Bible reading? Continue reading

Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Heaven and the Christ Who Reigns There: A New Year’s Reflection on COVID Regulations and Social Justice

clouds dark dramatic heaven

As we prepare to welcome 2021 this week, this post is meant to consider how the largely unexpected and unprecedented events of 2020 have impacted us, especially the church and its pastors. May the Lord give us wisdom to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and courage to say so.

At the time of America’s founding, heterodox pastors attacked the doctrine of hell, while many of the Founders appreciated religion for its earthly and civic benefits. A century later, theological liberals exchanged the reality of heaven for the earthly message of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind. In the last century, prosperity preachers have promised heaven on earth, while many pragmatic pastors have made earthly success as important as—and often more important than—entrance into heaven.

Looking from the past to the present, it shouldn’t surprise us that the message of heaven has been threatened. Going back to Eden, there have always been those who have doubted God’s judgment and misjudged God’s eternal gospel. Movements like the social gospel, the prosperity gospel, and liberation theology have, in various ways, exchanged the glories of heaven for “Christian” messages that focus on the here and now. And always, when heaven is lost, the lost suffer.

Today, we are seeing a de-emphasis on heaven in a new way. Unlike theological liberals who might affirm universalism where everyone goes to heaven or deny the reality of hell, some evangelicals are mis-stepping with heaven on the basis of their ministerial focus. Without abandoning their orthodox confessions, Bible-believing churches are veiling heaven by focusing their attention on matters related to earth.

In 2020, you don’t have to be a “liberal” to downplay heaven in your daily living. You don’t have to preach a message of prosperity to illicitly transport heavenly blessings to earth. You don’t even have to deny Scripture to lose the heavenly mission of the church. In fact, you can hold firmly to the faith and lose heaven by doing nothing at all. The cultural winds of 2020 are that strong! Here’s what I’m getting at: Unless you realize how the events of this year are causing pastors and churches to focus almost exclusively on earthly matters, you will lose heaven—if not its doctrine, than its declaration.[1]

In what follows, I will highlight two cultural winds that are blowing Christians off course. Instead of preaching the glories of heaven and discipling the nations to obey all the Lord of heaven has commanded, churches are being tempted to give all their attention to (1) COVID regulations and (2) social justice. As a result heaven is assumed and not asserted. My argument, then, is that without Spirit-empowered effort, focus on these earthly concerns will cause us to mute the message of heaven. And if this is not corrected by faithful pastors, the reality of heaven—not just its emphasis—may soon be lost by some too. Continue reading

Thinking Wisely about Sickness and Disease: A Biblical and Pastoral Response to COVID by Brian Tabb

ambulance architecture building business

In preparation for Sunday School this week, I have been reading various articles and books on COVID-19 and how churches should think about the pandemic and respond to it. This week I will try to share a few of these resources that I have found helpful.

The first article to mention is Brian Tabb’s “Theological Reflection on the Pandemic.” In his article, he surveys what Scripture says about sickness. And most importantly he draws the connection between sickness and sin. Eschewing a mechanical connection between sin and sickness, i.e., that sickness is always a result of sin, he rightly avoids the other error—that sickness has nothing to do with sin. He writes,

Thus, the Scriptures do not present disease as morally neutral or “indifferent” like the philosophers.9 Rather, disease and other causes of pain and suffering are part of this broken world infected with sin, and these terrors have no place in the new creation, when God will roll back the curse, wipe away every tear, and make all things new (Rev 21:4–4; 22:3; cf. Isa 25:8). (p. 3) Continue reading

Voting is a Strategy, Not a Sacrament Nor a Sign of Superior Virtue

hands with vote pins

The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps.
— Proverbs 16:9 —

So yesterday, one of my heroes, the pastor-theologian and prolific author, John Piper, posted a compelling argument for why he cannot vote for Trump or Biden. His words are worth reading, and they are worth responding to.

For as much as I agree that the morality of our leaders are of national importance and that the realities of Christ and his kingdom outstrip all earthly elections, I also believe Piper’s estimation of voting is mistaken. And so instead of addressing the sum of his argument, I want to highlight one point—namely, that voting is a strategy, not a sacrament, nor the tell-all signal of our eternal hope. Continue reading

How Did You See That? A Case for Scripture Saturation

david-travis-aVvZJC0ynBQ-unsplashSometimes in a class or after a sermon, someone will ask? How did you see that, which is shorthand for saying: How did you make the connection from Joshua’s baptism to that of Jesus? Or, Daniel in the Lion’s Den to Jesus’s death and resurrection? 

Many times the answer is: Well, I read it. I heard another teacher preach it. Or, a commentary made the connection. Other times, however, I must say: Well, I just remembered it—from reading the Bible last year, this week, or, even sometimes, ten years ago. This latter answer leads the point of this post. 

Good preachers don’t just know and use the good commentaries. They have good biblical instincts; instincts that come from reading, re-reading, studying, discussing, and sitting under God’s Word. Certainly, this means reading good books, but it also means reading the Good Book. A. LOT.

In seminary, this approach to Scripture was given the term: Scripture Saturation. This term comes from David Prince, who in answering this same question said plainly that such connections are found not by reading commentaries, but by saturating yourself with Scripture. No commentary. he argued and I am repeating, can replace the reading of the Bible, for often it is only through Scripture Saturation that various connections are made. Often, it pleases the Spirit to reveal things to us, only as we read the Bible.

Today, this question surfaced again in an online Simeon Trust workshop on Ecclesiastes. In this session, Ryan Bishop showed a connection between Ecclesiastes 8:14–17 and Isaiah 55:8–9. The question came up: How did you see that? And the answer was not that Alec Motyer or Barry Webb showed it to me, but “I remembered it from a sermon I heard a year or so ago?”

That’s how it works: By reading, re-reading, studying, discussing, meditating, stewing over, and sitting under the Word, we become saturated with God’s Truth. And then, with hearts full of the Bible, it comes to mind as we read other portions of Scripture, or prepare a message, or share the gospel with a friend. Many times, the Spirit begins to bring to life connections that we would not see in any other way.

Indeed, commentaries are helpful, even necessary for arriving at a faithful understanding of the Bible. They are typically written by men and women who are saturated with Scripture. But more than reading books about the Bible, reading Scripture again and again is the best way to understand the Bible and to see its contents.

I call this the “parable principle.” God often reveals his biblical truth only through repeated readings. At the same time, he conceals his truth from those who think a singular reading of the Bible will disclose all that Scripture has to say. Such a reality makes reading the Bible imperative and exhilarating, as we continue to see how the whole Bible fits together. Moreover, this principle explains why seasoned preachers will see things that younger teachers do not. Conversely, those who read the Bible as a unified whole (even if young) will be more prepared to see the connections in Scripture before those who read verses and books as isolated compartments in the Bible (even if older).

In practice, sometimes we only see things after we’ve read them a few dozen or a few hundred times. That’s not because they weren’t there in the text from the beginning. Rather, such progressive understanding comes from our minds being renewed by more and more of the Bible. Indeed, just as the apostles were identified because they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13); the same is true for disciples today.  

For this reason, we should give ourselves to reading the Bible and reading the Bible a lot. While preachers can and should certainly focus their devotional reading to their current sermon series. It is also important to read from the whole Bible and to do so regularly. Earlier this year, I outlined a way of reading Scripture that focuses on such saturation.

If interested, you can find the outline here. And if you have kept up with this blog you may see some of the ways I have been reading Scripture this year. And others may notice how I’ve failed to live up to the promise of providing content each month. I do apologize. I’m reading, but haven’t kept up writing. Lord willing there will be more coming. 

Fortunately, the best part about a Bible reading plan is reading the Bible. So brothers and sisters, keep reading God’s Word. Keep delighting in what you find there. Don’t aim to check off a box or get through a plan. Feed yourself on God’s Word and watch how the world of the Bible opens up and reveals to you the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Jesus, the Poor, and the Mission of the Church: Three Truths about the Gospel

black cross on top of mountain

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
— John 12:8 —

What does the cross of Christ have to do with the relief of poverty? Does the gospel address the issue of economic justice? When Scripture speaks of Jesus paying our debt is this spiritual in nature, or material too? How did Jesus think about his cross and what his cross was meant to accomplish? These questions and more can be asked when we think about the gospel and its relationship to poverty and justice—a theme that continues to confront us these days.

Thankfully, Scripture gives us clear direction, recording Jesus’s words about his cross and his concern for the poor. In a passage found in all four gospels, we find Mary anointing Jesus’s feet in preparation for his cross and burial. And from this encounter, we learn much about what Jesus thought about poverty. Let’s see three things. Continue reading

A Few Reflections on Wisdom: Solomon as a Second Adam, Christ as a Better Solomon, and Christians Becoming True Humanity

halacious-OgvqXGL7XO4-unsplashAnd God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. 32 He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. 33 He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. 34 And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.
— 1 Kings 4:29–34 —

In Finding Favour in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom LiteratureRichard Belcher introduces the reader to the world of biblical wisdom (ch. 1). The majority of his book examines the literary and theological aspects of Proverbs (chs. 2–4), Job (chs. 5–7), and Ecclesiastes (chs. 8–10). And he finishes by showing the relationship between Wisdom and Jesus Christ (ch. 11). In all, his book provides a rich resource for studying Old Testament Wisdom.

Still, one of the most helpful parts of his book is explaining the development of wisdom in the first chapter. Contrasting critical approaches which identify wisdom literature with other ancient Near Eastern religions, Belcher connects wisdom literature in the Bible with Solomon, who was granted such wisdom when he boldly asked for the Lord’s help to rule Israel (1 Kings 3).

In his discussion of wisdom’s development, Belcher draws an important connection between Solomon and his royal wisdom and Adam and his royal priestly calling. Here’s what he says, “The account of Solomon in 1 Kings makes allusions to Adam in the garden so that Solomon functions as a second Adam.” He goes on to explain why this is the case, Continue reading

How Justification by Faith Impels Justice: The Biographical Testimony of William Wilberforce

wilberforceAt 4:00am on February 24, 1807, the British Parliament voted to end the British slave trade. With a count of 267 to 16, the House of Commons voted with loud cheers for the abolition of this abominable institution.

Though it would take another 26 years for slavery to be ended in Britain and its colonies,  this decision by the House of Commons, which followed the majority decision of the House of Lords, proved that in the span of 50 years what was unthinkable—namely, the end of the slavery—could be put to an end through a radical change in public and political opinion.

This change raises the question: What led to that remarkable act of liberation? What changed the hearts of the British governors? Was it a war? No, not unless you count the war of words in parliament. Was it a pragmatic argument based upon economics. No, it actually cost Britain a fortune to end slavery. What was it then?

The answer can be given in three words—a man, a mission, and an unusual motivation. Continue reading

A Tragic Irony: What Blacks Lives Matter Means for the Family

Perhaps you have seen this Speak for Yourself  video about the NBA’s decision to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the basketball courts in Orlando. I saw this video last week, as it was sent to me by a handful of family and friends. It’s worth watching, especially the first section with Marcellus Wiley. Here’s the core of what he had to say (You can find a transcript of Wiley’s whole statement here):

I don’t know how many people really look into the mission statement of Black Lives Matter, but I did. And when you look into it, there’s a couple of things that jump out to me. And I’m a black man who has been black and my life has mattered since 1974. And this organization was founded in 2013 and I’m proud of you but I’ve been fighting this fight for me and for others a lot longer.

Two things: My family structure is so vitally important to me. Not only the one I grew up in but the one I am trying to create right now. Being a father and a husband, that’s my mission in life right now. How do I reconcile that with this, the mission statement that says, “We dismantle the patriarchal practice. We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.”

When I know statistics, when I know my reality, forget statistics, I knew this before I even went to Columbia and saw these same statistics that I’m going to read to you right now.

Children from single-parent homes versus two-parent homes. The children from the single-parent homes — this was in 1995 I was reading this — five times more likely to commit suicide. Six times more likely to be in poverty. Nine times more likely to drop out of high school. Ten times more likely to abuse chemical substances. Fourteen times more likely to commit rape, 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and 32 times more likely to run away from home.

I knew that. You know why I knew it? Because a lot of my friends didn’t have family structures that were nuclear like mine, and they found themselves outside of their dreams and goals and aspirations. So when I see that as a mission statement for Black Lives Matter, it makes me scratch my head.

The irony in this statement is thick. Not only does it bring to the forefront the difference between affirming the statement, “black lives matter,” and rejecting the organization Black Lives Matter, a distinction Albert Mohler has helpfully noted. But Wiley’s point also gets at one of the chief aims of the organization, which is to “disrupt” the family and “dismantle” the place of fathers leading in their homes. In this concern, along with others, Black Lives Matter sets forth objectives which have proven devastating to families in and out of the black community. Continue reading