Are You Going To(o) Fast? (Matthew 6:16–18)

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Are You Going To(o) Fast? (Matthew 6:16–18)

Fasting.

If you have read the Bible, you’ve probably come across it. It’s mentioned about 75 times. Maybe you’ve even tried to it. But what is it?

Some testify to the miraculous results of this ancient practice. Others just skip over it, an impossible practice that is for “major league” Christians. And still others may be confused by the whole thing, or practice it for the wrong reason(s).

In Matthew 6:16–18, fasting for the wrong reason is what Jesus is targeting. Still, his words are not just relevant for his first century context; they also teach us important truths about denying ourselves and seeking God’s reward.

The truth is, everyone fasts every week, but I suspect most of us don’t think of it as fasting. Yet, how we deny ourselves and indulge ourselves is one of the most important things about who we are and who we are becoming.

Therefore in this week’s sermon I sought to answer a number of questions related to fasting and how Jesus’s words instruct all of us how to tune our fasting to seek the reward of knowing God. You can listen to this sermon online. Further resources about fasting can be found below, along with a few discussion questions. Continue reading

A Repentant Prayer or a Faithless Fake? What Jonah 2 Teaches Us About Our Hearts

kristine-weilert-88989-unsplash.jpgEarlier this week, I observed the way Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving cited or alluded to many Psalms. Today, I want to consider what this may mean for Jonah and for us who read his book.

To get a handle on the meaning of Jonah’s prayer, we must answer this question: Is Jonah’s prayer a genuine word of repentant thanksgiving, one that faithfully cites many Psalms? Or is his prayer a faithless fake that masquerades under a smokescreen of Scripture? To answer that big question lets look at four smaller questions.

  1. What do we know about the historical Jonah?
  2. What do the Minor Prophets indicate about Jonah?
  3. What does the book of Jonah say about Jonah?
  4. What does the prayer itself reveal about Jonah?

By answering these questions, we should have good chance of rendering a verdict on Jonah’s prayer and what it is intended to communicate to us. Continue reading

Nine Spiritual Disciplines from Charles Octavius Boothe (1845–1924)

dexter avenueAs our church finishes up a month-long study on the spiritual disciplines—personal and public—I turn to Plain Theology for Plain People by Charles Octavius Boothe (1845–1924). In chapter 6, entitled “How Christians Should Live and Labor,” Boothe lists nine “spiritual disciplines” that should mark the life of the believer.

In what follows I will introduce the man and his work, as well as the nine spiritual disciplines that should mark every believers’ life. I encourage you, if you are looking for a short, readable book on doctrine that is heavy on Scripture and clear on doctrine, take up and read Boothe’s Plain Theology for Plain People. Continue reading

A Parade and a Pacemaker: Getting Into the Psalms, So That the Psalms Get Into You

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A Parade and a Pacemaker: Getting Into the Psalms, So That the Psalms Get Into You

After three weeks away from preaching, and hearing three faithful sermons on Psalms 22–24, Psalm 73, and Psalm 88, I took to the pulpit again yesterday. And instead of jumping into Book 3 of the Psalms, I sought to answer one question: How do we get into the Psalms? Or more precisely, how does a canonical approach to the Psalms apply to our daily devotions?

Comparing the Psalms to Christ-anticipating parade, I made the case that we must read the Psalms

  1. With Christ as our guide,
  2. Consistently,
  3. Prayerfully,
  4. Canonically,
  5. Consecutively, and
  6. With Christ as our goal.

You can listen to the message here or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are a few resources. Continue reading

Discipleship Fever: Disciple-Making as Treasure-Seeking (Luke 12:32–34)

rhythms-of-holiness

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
— John 15:7–8 —

Yesterday I preached a message on disciple-making that, for me, is the culmination of about 15 years of thinking on discipleship and Christian hedonism.

In college God used two ministries to shape the core of theological convictions. The first was Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru). Through men like Phil Gillespie, Chris Sarver, and Robert Coleman (via The Master Plan of Evangelisma Cru staple), God gripped my heart with a passion to make disciples.

A few years later, after grappling with some theological questions related to God’s sovereignty and personal holiness, the Lord brought John Piper and the ministry of Desiring God into view. His book (Desiring God) was an answer to prayer, in that gave me a biblical vision for the glory of God that most satisfies the soul. As Piper puts it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

After college the fusion of disciple-making and Christian hedonism continued. And while in Chattanooga, Tennessee the discipleship pastor at my church showed the relationship between glory-seeking and disciple-making from John 15:7–8. What is the pinnacle of glorifying God? As in creation, it is the making of an image-bearer who is learning how to live and love like Jesus—i.e., a disciple. Hence by making disciples who reflect the glory of God, God is most glorified in us. The question is, will we be most satisfied in disciple-making?

That was the focus of my sermon yesterday. For the last fifteen years, this paradigm of glorifying God via disciple-making has undergirded so much of my thinking. But I don’t think I have preached on it much—until yesterday.

In our series on spiritual disciplines, I made the argument from Luke 12:32–34 that the primary way we store up treasure in heaven is to make disciples. Just like the Israelites of old “stored up” treasure in the tabernacle (Exodus 25 and 35) and temple (1 Chronicles 29), so disciples of Christ store up treasure in heaven, God’s heavenly temple, by investing their lives in others. As we use our lives to help others walk with Christ, we become Spirit-filled instruments in Christ’s temple-building hands. Discipleship therefore includes evangelism and encouragement, leading others to Christ and helping them walk with him. This in turn magnifies the work of Christ and the glory of God.

All of this I argued is the way in which we store up treasure in heaven—by sharing God’s view that disciples are the greatest treasure. And therefore setting our heart on making disciples, so that God’s glory is magnified and our joy is multiplied. You can listen to the sermon online or read the notes here. Discussion questions are below, as well as a few resources to help you multiply your joy by making disciples.

Luke 12:32–34

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Discussion Questions

1. We have included disciple-making as a spiritual discipline. Why is that? Why is disciple making a discipline (and not a gift)? Why is not often included in lists of disciplines?

2. What is a disciple? What are the characteristics of a disciple? What do disciples do? What does a disciple need to know about discipleship? How does Luke 12 help us be disciples?

3. What is the context of Luke 12? How do we see discipleship in Luke? Luke 12? While the word ‘disciple’ is not in verses 32–34, what indicators are there that disciple is in view? Cf. Luke 9:57–62 and 14:25–34.

4. In our passage, what is the comfort (32), the challenge (33), and the counsel (34)? Why is it vital to mediate on the comfort of our identity as disciples (= sheep, heirs, children of God) before considering calls to follow and make disciples?

5. What does it mean to store up treasure? What makes this difficult (or easily missed)? How much do you think about storing treasuring? Making disciples? How can disciple making as treasure seeking help you follow the Lord?

6. Practically, what can you do to make disciples? How can you grow in your love for discipleship?  And how can you keep that vision of disciple making before you?

For Further Study

Randy Pope is the lead teacher at Perimeter Church (Atlanta, GA). His book on discipleship is called Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local ChurchOther books on personal disciple-making that are worth your consideration are

  • Robert ColemanThe Master Plan of EvangelismThis is the gold standard of disciple-making. To date, its abridged version has sold 3.5 million copies. Coleman is father of the modern “spiritual multiplication” movement. This is the first book you should read on disciple-making.
  • A. B. BruceThe Training of the TwelvePre-dating Coleman, this larger volume looks at the life of Jesus with this disciples and picks up a number of the same features as Coleman.
  • Christopher AdsitPersonal Discipleship-MakingChristopher is a Campus Crusade for Christ guy who gives a step-by-step approach to leading new believers to maturity in Christ.
  • Robby GallatyGrowing UpRobby the senior pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has an infectuous desire to make disciples and to help others make disciples too. His leads Replicate Ministries, a ministry devoted to inspiring and equipping others to help make disciples.
  • Bill Hull has written a number of important works on discipleship. To date, I have not read them, but have heard great things about them. They are Jesus Christ, Disciplemaker; The Disciple-Making Churchand The Disciple-Making Pastor .
  • Finally, a recent book that is at the top of my list for discipleship is Mark Dever’s DisciplingMark is a personal example of discipleship and his book makes the complexities of discipleship simple. If you read any book on this list, start here (or with The Master Plan of Evangelism).

May God gives us discipleship fever and be faithful make disciples.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

‘Cardiac Discipleship’: Five Ways to Pursue the Heart in Spiritual Formation

you-areYou Are What You Love is a needed corrective to overly cerebral approaches to discipleship. It is a challenge to followers of Christ to evaluate how ‘secular liturgies’ are training our hearts to love things other than God and our neighbor. And it presents a vision of discipleship that does more than just cement spiritual disciplines in new believers; it calls us seek first the kingdom and to live with hearts enlarged for Christ and his glory.

In what follows I share a few quotes where Smith speaks directly about discipleship. I hope they will whet your appetite for your book and pique your interest in how discipleship is a matter of heart cultivation.

1. Discipleship cultivates the appetite and curates the heart.

While discipleship is a matter of learning, it is more like learning how to cook than to read code. Disciples hunger and thirst for the things of God and know how to feed on him, and good ‘disciplers’ seek to cultivate cravings in the heart of new believers. So,

Discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our love and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand ‘the Kingdom of God.’ (2) Continue reading

Praying with Passion (Psalm 126)

rhythms-of-holinessAs we begin 2017, our church has taken January to focus on a handful of spiritual disciplines—personal and public. The first in our series is prayer. But instead of just commending its importance and techniques to help, I took the route of seeing how God forms desire for prayer in our hearts.

By drawing near to God, by remembering the promises of his Word, and by desiring with increasing anguish Christ’s kingdom to come, we grow more passionate in our prayer. Indeed, passion is not a word that simply means “with heighten emotion.” Rather, its original sense relates to suffering (hence “Christ’s passion”), and this is what we do when we pray—we entering into the sufferings of Christ and weep for his will to be done.

At first glance, this kind of praying may seem off-putting, but I believe, Scripture—Psalm 126 especially—teaches us that this is the kind of prayer that endures. So if you want to grow in prayer in 2016, consider what Psalm 126 says and how it fuels prayer. You can read the sermon notes or listen online. Discussion questions and resources are below. Continue reading

Spiritual Desire: The Key to Cultivating Spiritual Disciplines

sun-heartOften, when we come to spiritual disciplines we list them, plan for them, and then labor to perform them. In the best scenario, we realize—sooner rather than later—we can’t do them apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. And so we pray and ask God to help us.

Yet, such approach may go wrong from the start. Why? Because we put the law (and its list) in front of the gospel (and its power). In other words, when we devote ourselves to discipline, we “covenant” with a bank of rules we trust to make us better—better people, better Christians, better (you fill in the blank). But of course, the law never brings life and can only be a delight after God has written his law on our heart.

The problem with any law-full approach to discipline, however, is not that it contains laws. The gospel is not antinomianlawless. The third use of the law is a gift to the growing disciple. The problem is when we call upon the Spirit to assist us after OUR plan is put in place. Now granted, if you set out to read the Bible, pray, and fast, you have already taken your cues from the Spirit’s inspired Word—especially, on that last discipline. But still the root cause of burnout remains. What is that? The problem of desire. Continue reading

The Making of a ‘Theologian’: Twelve Ways to Grow in Grace and Knowledge of the Lord

lutherA few weeks ago I wrote a blogpost, “Theology is not Just for Theologians.” This week Edmond Sanganyado ran a post (“Becoming a Better Theologian“) on the same subject, where he queried more than twenty theologians on how to grow in knowing and loving God (i.e., theology). He received responses from Jonathan Leeman, Kevin Vanhoozer,  Tim Challies, to name a few. He also included a few thoughts I shared.

I’ve developed those reflections further below, and laid out twelve aspects to growing as a ‘theologian’ (i.e., one who thinks about God). These are addressed to individuals in the church but could easily be adapted by pastors to encourage his congregation to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), which is the aim of spiritually-enriching theology.

Twelve Ways to Grow in the Grace and Knowledge of the Lord

1. Delight Yourself in the Lord. 

Good theology begins with a soul satisfaction in the Lord. This includes conversion, but goes further. Because understanding is enhanced or hindered by our loves, the first thing a good theologian must do is love God in and through the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4) is not just a command for decision-making, it is also necessary for doctrine-making.

Often heresy and errant theology (which are not exactly the same) are produced by men who are embittered towards God or trying to win the approval of others. In other words, because biography shapes theology (as in the case of Friedrich Schleiermacher), it is possible for bad theology to crop up from some misunderstood crisis in life. At the same time, good theology is sweetened by the grace given in times of suffering. Martin Luther said suffering was essential for making a theologian. A good theologian, by implication, must think rightly about God in trying times. And thus he or she must begin with delighting in the Lord. Continue reading

How Jesus’ Poverty Enriches Us to Give Sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:9)


graceIn the middle of his instruction about giving to the Jerusalem church, Paul drops this theological gem:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

In context, Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to fulfill (“finish doing” and “completing,” 8:11) what they started. Apparently, a year before Paul penned 2 Corinthians, the church in that city promised to give generously to the poor in Jerusalem (8:10; cf. Romans 15:25–26). In chapters 8–9, Paul recalls their promise and prepares them for the forthcoming delegation to collect the offering (see 9:3–5). His words are not threatening but motivating, as he  speaks repeatedly of their “readiness” (8:11, 12; 9:2), “zeal” (9:2), and genuine, generous love (8:7, 8, 24).

In fact, it is because of his confidence in their generosity that Paul encourages them in their giving. And one of the principle means of motivation is Jesus’ substitionary death. In leaving heaven to suffer and die on earth, Paul likens Jesus’ experience to that of losing his riches and becoming poor. And by speaking of Christ’s death in terms of “rich” and “poor,” Paul teaches the Corinthians and us how to give. To understand how Jesus humiliation motivates our giving, consider four points.

  1. Jesus’ Poverty Was Self-Appointed
  2. Jesus’ Poverty Was For the Sake of Others
  3. Jesus’ Giving Motivates Our Giving
  4. Our Giving Manifests and Amplifies Jesus’ Grace

Continue reading