“If Only…” – A Sermon on Ecclesiastes

“Fulfillment is not found under the sun, but in the One who made the sun.”
  1. If only I could gain… (1:3-7)
  2. If only I could be satisfied… (1:8)
  3. If only I could be remembered… (1:9-11)

August 7, 2014 at 9:02 am Leave a comment

6 Tips for Small Group Discussion

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My friend Jeremy Maxfield recently wrote this post for the Explore The Bible blog, enjoy.

Yogi Berra once said, “It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”

Most groups have one of two problems when it comes to meaningful spiritual conversation: discussion can feel like pulling teeth or herding cats. Either people won’t talk, or they won’t stop talking about things unrelated to the Bible study.

Leading a meaningful conversation that engages the hearts and minds of people takes practice. But healthy discussion can be the difference between people going to a group and growing througha group. A life-changing discussion has the following characteristics.

Everyone participates. Encourage everyone to ask questions, share responses, or read aloud. Discussion isn’t one-sided. Seek balance.

No one dominatesnot even the leader. Be sure that what you say takes up less than half of your time together. Ideally, good questions will result in group members speaking at least twice as much as the leader. Politely redirect discussion if anyone dominates.

Nobody is rushed through questions. Don’t feel that a moment of silence is a bad thing. People often need time to think about their responses to questions they’ve just heard. They may also need to gain the courage to share what God is stirring in their hearts. Give room for others to move—including the Spirit.

Input is affirmed and followed up. Always point out something true or helpful in a response. Don’t just move on. Build personal connections with follow-up questions, asking how other people have experienced similar things or how a truth has shaped their understanding of God and the Scripture you’re studying. People are less likely to speak up if they fear that you don’t actually want to hear their answers or that you’re looking for only a certain answer.

God and His Word are central. Opinions and experiences can be helpful, but God has given us the truth. Trust Scripture to be the authority and God’s Spirit to work in people’s lives. You can’t change anyone, but God can. Continually point people to the Word and to active steps of faith.

Ask for action. Discussion is the starting point. Action is the goal. Ask people how they need to respond to what they have heard. Based on what they’ve said, what will they do?

Pay attention to these 6 things during your next group discussion. If your desire is to see lives changed, intentionally engage each person with the truth of God’s Word.

photo credit: Susan NYC via photopin cc

August 5, 2014 at 7:05 am 1 comment

The Ten Commandments

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I have enjoyed The Gospel Project’s summer study – God’s Way: A Journey Through the Ten CommandmentsWith every study we run a corresponding blog series as an additional resource for churches and groups using The Gospel Project. Here is the series on the Ten Commandments.

  1. Daniel Davis – Do not have other gods besides me
  2. Aaron Armstrong – Do not make an idol for yourself
  3. Micah Fries – Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God
  4. Mark Rooker – Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
  5. Jani Ortlund – Honor your father and your mother
  6. Mary Jo Sharp – Do not murder
  7. Jeremy Pierre – Do not commit adultery
  8. David Jones – Do not steal
  9. Jason Duesing – Do not give false testimony against your neighbor
  10. Tim Brister – Do not covet

I also wrote one post on Jesus and the Ten Commandments for this series. Enjoy.

July 22, 2014 at 9:35 am Leave a comment

The Gospel According To Jonah

Philip Nation and I are preaching our way through the book of Jonah at The Fellowship in Nashville. One of the things I love about preaching Jonah are the clear hints of the gospel throughout the story.

A few years ago Stephen Witmer of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary wrote a post at The Gospel Coalition that captured these hints well. Enjoy!

419wLgnluDL “Jesus himself invites us to look for hints of the gospel in the Book of Jonah.

He does so by referring to his own death and resurrection as “the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:39) and by comparing Jonah’s experience with his own (“for just as Jonah . . . so will the Son of Man”). This suggests that the shape of Jesus’ experience is roughly similar to Jonah’s experience. If we know the stories of both Jonah and Jesus, we can immediately see the similarities. The raging sea and the cross are both places of desperation and death. The fish and the tomb (in which both Jesus and Jonah lie for “three days and three nights”) are (quite unexpectedly in each case) a step along the way toward life after death. In both cases, God is the one responsible for this new life—he tells the fish to deposit Jonah on dry land (Jonah 2:610) and he exerts his great power to raise Jesus Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Jesus sees Jonah’s experience as analogous to his own. You might say that in this case, the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament (i.e. Jesus’ reference to Jonah) actually points to the Old Testament’s use of the New (i.e. Jonah’s story embodying hints of a greater story to come—the redemptive events most central to the gospel itself).

Are there other hints of the gospel in Jonah’s experience? Jesus’ self-comparison with Jonah invites us to ask this question. I think the answer is yes. Most of these hints, however, come by way of contrast between Jonah and Jesus rather than comparison. This is not surprising. It’s easy to imagine that the story of a wayward and disobedient servant of God would more naturally point by negative example toward the perfect servant of God who perfectly fulfilled his mission. Jesus himself says he is “greater than Jonah” (Matthew 12:41). The similarities between Jonah and Jesus show us the glory of Jesus and the gospel, but the differences cause the gospel to shine even more brightly.

And the differences are many. For instance, although Jonah describes his experience in the sea and the fish in terms that sound like death (Jonah 2:15-7) he didn’t actually die in the raging sea or the hungry fish. That’s because his mission was to preach, not to die. By contrast, Jesus’ mission was to preach and also to die. Thankfully, Jesus had more than a near-death experience. He really did die (John 19:341 Corinthians 15:3). Because he did, there’s a gospel to preach.

Moreover, the reason Jonah came close to death was because of his own sin. He himself says this to the sailors on his ship: “I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you” (Jonah 1:12). In fact, throughout the book of Jonah, we see the pagans in the story acting more honorably and righteously than the prophet. The prophet who despises non-Jewish peoples and wishes them harm (Jonah 4:1-2) is the recipient of their sacrificial kindness (Jonah 1:13). The prophet who is slow to experience a change of heart (and it’s not clear that his heart has changed even by the end of the book) sees pagan sailors (Jonah 1:16) and pagan Ninevites (Jonah 3:10) repent and draw closer to God. Jonah’s near-death experience is clearly because of his own sin. The cause of Jesus’ death is utterly different. He dies not because of his own sin but because of the sins of others (2 Corinthians 5:21). The righteous dies for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18).

Jonah didn’t willingly choose to enter the raging sea or the belly of the fish. He was thrown into the sea by the hands of the sailors (Jonah 1:15), but he knew it was actually God casting him into the sea (Jonah 2:3). And it was God’s decision, not Jonah’s, that Jonah would enter the fish: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (Jonah 1:17). In the case of Jesus, it is clear that God sent him to the cross (Acts 4:27-28Romans 3:258:32). But it is equally clear that Jesus willingly chose the cross: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18).

Jonah grudgingly obeyed God after his near-death experience in the fish and went to Nineveh to preach, although his heart still wasn’t in it (Jonah 4:1-3). Jonah’s almost-death was intended by God to win his obedience. But Jesus’ death was his act of obedience: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). After the fish, Jonah’s work was just beginning; God gave him a second chance to fulfill his commission (compare Jonah 1:1-3 and 3:1-3). But at the cross, Jesus could say his work was finished (John 19:30). God’s redemptive plan was accomplished through Jesus’ obedience. With less-than-ideal material to work with in the person of the prophet Jonah, God sovereignly used Jonah’s disobedience to draw people to himself (Jonah 1:16).

What happened to Jonah and Jesus after the fish and the grave? Jonah’s “resurrection” left him in an inglorious pile of fish vomit on the shore (Jonah 2:10). Jesus rose gloriously from the dead (Romans 1:4) and ascended into heaven, to the right hand of God (Ephesians 1.20-23). So although Jesus went lower than Jonah (he actually died), his ascent was infinitely higher.”

To read the whole thing click here.

July 17, 2014 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

Are some Christians being unfairly shamed out of the public sphere?

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Alan Noble is the managing editor and co-founder of Christ and Pop Culture and is an assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University.

Noble recently wrote a thought provoking article on Christians and the public square for The Atlantic titled Is Evangelical Morality Still Acceptable in America?

Is evangelical Christian morality still viable in American public life?

…There is a fear that in an increasingly secularized society, there will be less tolerance for people who wish to act upon their deeply held religious beliefs, except in narrowly defined, privatized spaces. This is a fundamentally American concern: Will I have the right to serve God as I believe I am obligated to?

Often, Christian claims to religious liberty are framed as homophobia and misogyny, rather than disagreement grounded in morality.

Often, the Christian defense of what they believe is their religious liberty is framed as fundamental hatefulness, homophobia, and misogyny, rather than disagreement grounded in morality. Much to the shame of the faith, a few who claim to be Christian really are motivated by hate. Those who disagree with them see little point in engaging with them on these issues, which is understandable, but it’s unfair and counterproductive to extend that attitude to all evangelical Christians. If the evangelical worldview is deemed invalid in the public sphere, then the public sphere loses the value of being public. American discourse will be marked by paranoid conformity, rather than principled and earnest disagreement. And our ability to prophetically speak to one another and to our nation’s troubles will be restrained.

I encourage you to read the whole thing.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

July 15, 2014 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

Russell Moore on The Kingdom of God

Russell Moore, the president of the The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, explains the significance of God’s kingship and the foundational nature of God’s Kingdom to all of Christianity. This video is from Ministry Grid, a video based leadership development platform for the church.

July 10, 2014 at 10:50 am Leave a comment

Jonah and The Mission of God

This is the first message in a series on the book of Jonah that Philip Nation and I are preaching at The Fellowship in Nashville, TN. The sermon starts at around 23:30 (and ends at 54:40…Boom! Almost 30 minutes on the dot.)

July 8, 2014 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

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