Be Slow to Judge and Quick to Make Peace: What Pastors Can Learn from Doubting Thomas

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19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
— James 1:19–20 —

In the Bible Thomas gets a bad rap. In the face of seeing Christ’s death on the cross and not seeing Christ’s resurrection, the apostle, who previously volunteered to die with Christ (John 11:16), is unable to believe. For a whole week this beloved follower of Christ is kept in the dark, and not until Jesus returns to the Upper Room does he believe. But when Thomas does believe—he offers one of the most illuminating testimonies of Christ’s identity: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

There are many lessons we can draw from Thomas’s delayed faith, but one of the most important is that faith is based on evidence. The Christian faith is not a leap in the dark; it is based on the evidential history that Jesus rose from the grave, walked on the earth for forty days, so that he could teach his disciples about the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:1–8; Acts 1:1–8). In that time, Jesus revealed himself to 500 disciples at one time, before his ascended to heaven in the presence of his followers (Acts 1:9–11). In short, God granted to those who saw the resurrected Christ.

With respect to Thomas’s doubt, his request for the physical body does not deny his faith; it ensures his faith is placed rightly in the resurrected Christ. Even today, faith is dependent on the eye-witness account of Christ’s physical resurrection (1 John 1:1–3). Thomas did not have that yet, and thus his delayed faith testifies to the need for eye-witness testimony.

At the same time, there’s second lesson to be learned from Thomas and his doubt. It relates to faith and evidence too, but it is not about believing the gospel but believing other believers. Until Jesus showed himself to Thomas, there was a division in the household of faith. Ironically, this is a division caused by Christ himself, as he revealed himself to his disciples at different times. But it is a division nonetheless, and one Jesus remedied when he returned to the Upper Room a week later.

Truth Takes Time to Perceive

Today, believers do not find themselves in the same position as the original disciples. For us, the gospel has come fully formed. Christ is exalted to God’s right hand of God, the Spirit has been poured out, and the New Testament has been finished. Hence, the transitional nature (which led to the temporary division between Thomas and the disciples) is not repeated today.

What is repeated are events in the life of the church where one member or one group come to see or understand something that others have not (yet) understood. This knowledge and belief may be a theological truth, a decision for ministry, or a situation of church discipline.

In such cases, believers may come to understand a doctrine or a situation at different times. Like runners traversing the same course, they may have different opinions on the race—not because they are on different paths but because they are looking at different sections of the course. In such instances, painful divisions can occur and tear apart the body of Christ. But unlike the division which Christ intended in the days following his resurrection, this division is not intended by Christ. Or is it?

Could it be that God plans temporary divisions in the church that cause his people to learn how to listen to one another? Could it be that various churches or individuals have different degrees of theological understanding or practical wisdom on various issues? And could it be that God wants his people not only to be at peace, but to learn how to make peace with one another?

Indeed, if we listen to the Bible, we see that God’s children are not just at peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and one another (Eph. 4:1–3), we are to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). And pastors are to be the ones who lead in making peace in the church. Continue reading

Putting the Prophets in Their Place: An Introduction to the Historical Background of the Minor Prophets

mick-haupt-eQ2Z9ay9Wws-unsplashThere are four “major prophets” in the Old Testament—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve. While the first three major prophets are each associated with one prophet, the Minor Prophets (i.e., the Twelve) is a collection of twelve different prophets. Together, the twelve Minor Prophets compose a book of prophecy approximately the same size as the other Major Prophets.

Focusing our attention on the Minor Prophets, we can see that these twelve books originated over the course of four centuries (approx. 770 BC to 430 BC). Through this chronology, the Minor Prophets provide a unique perspective on the spiritual welfare of God’s people over time. While there are challenges to discerning the unity of the twelve, their chronology is especially important for understand God’s message.

Because the prophets are forth-tellers of God’s law, more than fore-tellers of God’s future, the prophets addressed the sinfulness of Israel/Judah, called for repentance, and promised mercy in a time to come. To rightly perceive their message, we must know the historical setting. Indeed, because prophets are given to Israel throughout their history (Jer. 7:25), it is vital to learn some basic events in Israel’s history if we are to learn the message of the prophets. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? How Names in the Bible Reveal Meaning and Lead Us to Trust in the Name above All Names

namesFor to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government
shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  
— Isaiah 9:6 —

What’s in a name? In the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, we find a helpful introduction to the way names are used in the Old Testament. Here’s what it says,

In the OT names not only looked to the circumstances of a birth (e.g., Jonathan means “Yahweh has given [a son] ”; Reuben means “Look! A son”) but could also wish a blessing (e.g., Isaiah means “Yahweh’s salvation”; Immanuel means “God be/is with us”). Royal names could change when a person attained the throne. Several Israelite kings had their names changed by their overlords, showing that they were under authority of an outside power (e.g., the name of Eliakim was changed to Jehoiakim by the Egyptians, 2Ki 23:34). Others seem to have adopted their own throne name, as some have suggested for Azzariya/Azariah (meaning “Yahweh aided”) adopting the name Uzziah (meaning “Yahweh is my strength”). King David was identified at his death by four titles: son of Jesse, man exalted by the Most High, anointed by Jacob’s God, Israel’s favorite singer (2Sa 23:1).

Sentence names in the ancient Near East. Most names in the ancient world make statements, i.e., they are self-contained sentences. Many of the statements are about a deity. One can easily recognize the deity name in names such as Ashurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, or Rameses. Anyone even casually familiar with the Bible has noticed how many Israelite names end in -iah or -el, or start with Jeho- or El-. All of these represent Israel’s God. This type of name is called a theophoric name, and affirms the nature of the deity, proclaims the attributes of the deity or requests the blessing of the deity. One way to interret the titulary of this verse [Isaiah 9:7] is to understand it as reflecting important theophoric affirmations: The Divine Warrior is a Supernatural Planner, The Sovereign of Time is a Prince of Peace. (Note: the word “is” is not used in such constructions, as all names demonstrate). Continue reading

Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: More Than 120 Notes on the Book of Joshua

joshua07This week we finished up our series on the book of Joshua. Here is a run down of all the notes, sermon, and related resources that we put together for that marvelous book.

120 Notes on (Almost) Every Chapter of Joshua

  1. Getting to Know Joshua, Son of Nun, and Joshua, Son of God: Or, 10 Things About Joshua 1
  2. Rahab’s Redemption: 10 Things About Joshua 2
  3. Baptism in the Jordan River: 10 Things about Joshua 3–4
  4. 10 Things about Joshua 5:1–12**
  5. A Text Filled with Types: 10 Things About Joshua 5–6
  6. How God’s Judgment upon Achan’s Sin Teaches Us to Find Grace in Christ: 10 Things about Joshua 7
  7. 10 Things about Joshua 8**
  8. His Mercy is More: 10 Things about Joshua 9
  9. Under His Feet: 10 Things About Joshua 10
  10. The Last Battle: 10 Things About Joshua 11–12
  11. 10 Things about Joshua 13–19**
  12. The Wisdom of God at Work in Israel and the Church: 10 Things About Joshua 20–21
  13. Old Testament Instruction for the New Testament Church: 10 Things About Joshua 22
  14. Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23
  15. Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: 10 Things about Joshua 24

** Placeholders for future ’10 Things’ on these chapters. Continue reading

Keep Zion in View: Help for the Beleaguered Reader of Isaiah

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If you have started the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan, you may be thinking about now: Isaiah a big book—a big, confusing book. If so, have no fear, you are not alone. One of the first times I read Isaiah—Isaiah 13–19 in particular—I just gave up.

This post is written so that you won’t follow that same path.

When I gave up reading Isaiah, I had no idea how to read Isaiah, or any other Prophet. I was trying to read Isaiah like I read Paul or John. I was looking for a nugget of truth or application in every verse, or at least one in every paragraph. However, that’s not the way to read Isaiah. Isaiah is like climbing a mountain—literally and literarily!!

In the book of Isaiah, Mount Zion is the goal and each section of the book keeps coming back to his holy hill. The effect is a pronouncement of salvation and judgment in surround sound. Yet, you wouldn’t know that the first time you read the book. (However, Isaiah 2:1–4 does supply a help key to the rest of the book). And thus, to get the most out of reading Isaiah, you will need to see the big picture.

Indeed, reading Isaiah can feel like putting a puzzle together without the box top, if you don’t have the big view in mind. But if you have the boxtop, i.e., a picture of what the whole book is about, it makes the reading understandable and far more enjoyable.

That’s the goal of this post—to give you a few boxtops for Isaiah. The following videos, sermons, and literary outline, therefore, are a few ways to get your bearings in Isaiah. May they help you read this big and wonderful book with less confusion. Continue reading

The Vexation of Vanity: A Word from Richard Sibbes about New Year’s Resolutions

new years.jpegVexation always follows vanity,
when vanity is not apprehended to be where it is.
— Richard Sibbes —

In his treatise The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, Richard Sibbes, notes many causes of despair. Among them is vainglory, the pursuit of passions which are intended to elevate the soul with earthly things.

On the first day of the year, when New Year’s Resolutions abound—our own family wrote down goals for 2020 this morning—Sibbes words are a good tonic to prevent ascribing too much hope to our earthly abilities and how they might achieve “glory” for ourselves in 2020.

On this first day of the year, I am glad I read Sibbes’ words and I share them with other glory-seekers. He states that one “positive cause” of soul conflict comes from . . .

When men lay up their comfort too much on outward things, which, being subject to much inconstancy and change, breed disquiet. Vexation always follows vanity, when vanity is not apprehended to be where it is. In that measure we are cast down in the disappointing of our hopes, as we were too much lifted up in expectation of good from them. Whence proceed these complaints:

    • Such a friend hath failed me;
    • I never thought to have fallen into this condition;
    • I had settled my joy in this child, in this friend, &c.

But this is to build our comfort upon things that have no firm foundation, to build castles in the air, Continue reading

Twelve Passages in Isaiah for Scripture Memory and Meditation

img_3712.jpgIf you are following the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan, here are twelve passages to meditate on in Isaiah that will help you understand the book and stir your affections for its heavenly promises.

Practically, you might consider reading these passages each week during the month, or memorizing one of them for the month or one of them per week. For help on memorizing, here are three resources,

  • Andy Davis’s memory plan is essential reading. You can find a free PDF here.
  • Here is a PDF of all these Scriptures to print out too. Or you can copy and paste verses from esv.org to make your own Scripture memory.
  • You can also make use of the Fighter Verse App to work on Scripture memory. Whatever verses you choose to memorize, you can plug into this App to help you memorize on the go.

The Seven Songs of Zion 

If we follow a seven-cycle reading of Isaiah (see below), each section closes in Zion. Meditating on these passages will help you learn your bearings in Isaiah. They will also instruct your heart to see what the whole Bible is about—namely, the union and communion of God and man on his holy mountain—Mount Zion.

Isaiah 2:2–4

2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, 3 and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. Continue reading

Seven Ways to Read Isaiah

IMG_3712Tomorrow begins the first day of the Via Emmaus Bible Reading plan. However, because one facet of this plan is the absence of daily requirements, you could start today. You could also start on January 5 and not have to “catch up.”

At the same time, because there is not a prescribed daily regiment, I am writing this blogpost to offer a variety of ways to read Isaiah—a formidable first book with sixty-six chapters—so that you can have a sense of progress and planning in your reading this month. (First time Bible readers might find that the New Testament (Track 3 in this plan) is the best place to begin. This year, however, this blog will resource Track 2, which is comprised of the Prophets and Writings).

Not to be daunted by Isaiah’s sixty-six chapters, there are many ways to read Isaiah once or more than once this month, especially when we define ‘reading” as reading and listening to God’s Word. To help you plan read Isaiah within in the month of January, here are seven approaches. Continue reading

A Short Introduction to the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

rod-long-DRgrzQQsJDA-unsplashLast week, I introduced a new reading plan called the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. As I described it, the goal of this plan is to saturate ourselves with Scripture through repeated readings, listening, memorizing, studying, and discussing in community what we are learning.

The name of the plan from the fact this website (Via Emmaus) will, Lord willing, provide resources to a different focus book each month. In 2020, we will begin in Track 2 and offer resources on the Prophets, Writings, Mark, and Luke. Here’s the full layout.

Tracks[1] Old Testament 1

Law + Prophets

Old Testament 2

Prophets + Writings

New Testament
January Genesis Isaiah Matthew
February Exodus Jeremiah Mark
March Leviticus

Psalms

Ezekiel Luke

Psalms

April Numbers The Twelve[2] John
May Deuteronomy Psalms Acts
June John Proverbs Romans
July Joshua

Judges

Job 1–2 Corinthians
August 1–2 Samuel The Five Scrolls[3] Galatians–

2 Thessalonians

September 1–2 Kings

Proverbs

Daniel Pastorals

Proverbs

October Ezra-Nehemiah 1–2 Chronicles Hebrews
November Psalms Mark General Epistles[4]
December[5] Matthew Luke Revelation

If you are need of a Bible reading plan for 2020 or if this plan sounds like it would be helpful for your Scripture reading, please join us for reading the Bible in 2020.

You can learn more about the aims of this plan here and practical ways to put it into practice here. You can also find a printable Via Emmaus reading plan here. Tomorrow, I will outline a variety of ways to read Isaiah—something I will do each month for each focus book.

Also, if it helps, you can receive emails from Via Emmaus by signing up on the side bar. These emails will direct put in your inbox all the forthcoming resources on Isaiah, as well as other biblical-theological content from this website.

I started reading Isaiah this morning and I am looking forward to sharing this book with you and those in my local church family who will be following this plan.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

________________________

[1] Pick 1, 2, or 3 tracks. The number of tracks you read at once determines the pace of your reading. You may consider starting with Track #3 if you want to begin with the New Testament. Alternatively, you may want to read two tracks, one from the OT and one from the NT. Whichever you chose, the goal is to read one book for one month. This allows for longer readings and more detailed study. Details on this approach will come out tomorrow.

[2] ‘The Twelve’ are the Minor Prophets read as one book, rather than 12 isolated books. The Minor Prophets include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

[3] The ‘Five Scrolls’ (Megilloth) are a collection of “shorter OT books, brief enough to be read publicly at an annual religious festival: Song of Songs (Passover), Ruth (Pentecost), Lamentations (the ninth of Ab), Ecclesiastes (Tabernacles), and Esther (Purim).”

[4] The ‘General Epistles’ are the Epistles not written by Paul, namely, James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude.

[5] We will also supply a Advent Reading Plan each December. These Old Testament selections will complement and support the reading of Matthew, Luke, and Revelation—each of which testify to the birth of Christ (Matt. 1–2, Luke 1–2, Revelation 12).

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

 

How to Use the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

bible 2.jpegYesterday I introduced the Via Emmaus Reading Plan. Today I want to share a few aims of this reading plan, as well as ways to customize it for your personal reading. If what follows sounds like a personal trainer talking, it is. My undergraduate degree (Exercise Science) and one of the most recent books I read (Hearers and Doers by Kevin Vanhoozer) both contribute to the belief that pastors should be fitness instructors for the church. Vanhoozer even calls them “body builders”—very witty and very true!

So here’s a Bible reading plan complete with various stages for different “fitness” levels. For those who have never read the Bible before, there is a way to start reading the Bible and learn about Christ with God’s people. And for those who have been reading the Bible for decades, this approach will hopefully incorporate many familiar practices to help saturate yourself with biblical truth.

For sake of order, I will answer four questions to explain how this Bible reading plan works and how you can tailor it to match your time, interest, and desires. Here are the four questions:

  1. What is the aim of this Bible reading plan?  Or what makes the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan unique?
  2. How does this plan work? Really?!?
  3. How do I read in community? Where can I find a community?
  4. What sort of supplements should I take (read) with my Bible reading? Or, how do I increase of decrease the load?

Let’s take each in turn. Continue reading