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July 18, 2017, 3:35 PM

Hear What This King Has Written to You

Image result for bible earbuds
Written by Dr. Robert Smith, Beeson Divinity School

The Psalter is the songbook of the Scriptures, meant to make our hearts and our mouths sing the praises of God and lament the brokenness of the world. C.S. Lewis says, "The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance." From the majestic creation song of Psalm 19, to the plea for restoration in Psalm 51, to the marathon exaltation of God’s Word in Psalm 119, the Psalter engages the hearts and minds of those who read it and directs their gaze to the faithfulness of God.

Often, the God of the Old Testament is sketched as a cold, angry God in contrast to the loving, saving God of the New Testament and today; the Psalter shows this theological understanding could not be more incorrect. Throughout the Psalms, the intimacy of Israel and Yahweh’s relationship is clear. Despite the disobedience of His people, God is faithful as he loves and delivers his people from their self-inflicted wounds and the consequences of their hard-headedness and sin. God is the ruler over all creation, and he oversees all that he has made with justice and compassion. His people know this and plead for Him to act in accordance with his character. Alongside the wrong understanding of the Old Testament God being different from the God we see in the New Testament is the erroneous thought that the Old Testament is too far removed to be applicable to us today. The songbook of the Old Testament begs to differ.

Why would we Christians in the 21st century want to study a songbook from the Old Testament? What could the lyrical words of the adulterer-King David have for us as we look to follow Christ? In the Psalter, we see David weep with sadness and dance with joy. We see him worship God as King and proclaim God as sovereign. The God of the Psalter is not separate from the God of the New Testament or the God of today. Theologian Mark Futato writes, "The message of the book of Psalms is that our God is King and our King is coming to transform our suffering into glory and to bless all who take refuge in him." We see this reality in the Psalms, but we see it fulfilled when the God-man Christ comes to take our suffering on himself for our eternal joy.

This summer, I invite you to study the Psalms with me through Explore the Bible. Join thousands of churches as we unearth the songbook of Scripture and see what it might have to tell us about the goodness of God and the weight of our sin. But, in addition to inviting you to read and digest the Psalms with us, I want to invite you to sing the Psalms with us. The Explore the Bible team has put together three songs based on Psalm 51, Psalm 42, and Psalm 95. Let’s sing the Psalms together this summer as we focus our eyes on the glory of God and his promises to deliver us from valleys of darkness and death.

Dr. Robert Smith is the General Editor for Explore the Bible Summer 2017 - Psalms
Reprinted with permission from Explore the Bible at LifeWay.




June 26, 2017, 2:25 PM

Adjusting Your Daily Bible Reading Moves Your Horizon


Adjusting Your Daily Bible Reading Moves Your Horizon
by Jesse Campbell

We asked Twitter about the quantity of Scripture covered in their daily Bible readings and the results are fascinating. While this poll is not scientific, it does reveal an urgent need. It provides a glimpse into how much of Scripture people read each day – of those who have daily devotions. The minority of church-goers read the Bible daily, but if these results are any indicator, nearly half of those who do will currently not finish reading the Bible in 10 years’ time. Here are the results:

Social Media Survey Results from @ExploreTheBible

There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible. Even if respondents’ interpretation of “A Few Verses at a time” is 8 full verses (the colloquial definition of “few” is around 3), the reader will not finish the whole Bible in 10 years. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible, so the 31% of respondents who chose the second answer in the list above will finish reading the Bible through in about 3.5 years. Hopefully, those who chose these first two responses have read through the Bible in its entirety already and intend to do so again in the future, but are currently focusing on smaller portions at a time each day. Those who selected the fourth and final option are on-track to read through the Bible 5.5 times each year. This sounds amazing, but are they fully grasping everything Scripture has to offer as they move at such a pace?

There is a difference between reading through the Bible and having a daily devotion.

Each genre of Scripture calls for a different approach. For example, the first chapter of the book of James is a parade of life-changing verses in a row; each calling for meditation and introspection. Books like Ephesians that unpack doctrine deliberately and systematically need to be savored. On the other side of the spectrum are narrative and historical books that tell the story. If you ingest these only a few verses at a time over the course of days, you lose track of the narrative. You forget the setting, the tension, the context.

When I watch Ravi Zacharias speak, I pause it every few minutes to make sure I understand what he is saying. When I watch The Lord of the Rings, I pop my popcorn beforehand so that I don’t have to pause it and can let the story unfold. I have found benefit in the same approach to Bible reading. I read the Sermon on the Mount in deliberately sized portions at a time. I read the book of Acts in halves; Peter in chapters 1-12 and then Paul in chapters 13-28.

So, under the conviction that it is better for Christians to read the entire Bible, knowing that not all Scripture can be plowed-through quickly, and knowing that the Bible is a huge book, what approach ought we take?

For what it is worth, here is what I do. I read through my thin-line copy of the Bible each year and annotate it as I do; marking passages to return to for deeper meditation on them. Then, in my study Bibles, I dive deep and reflect on these few verses at a time. It’s painful sometimes to just stick a tab in my thin-line and move on, but the need to grasp the overarching picture of Scripture drives me forward in the text. My personal devotion times allow me to return to these markers and press their truths to my heart. This is when I memorize Scripture. This is when I incorporate Explore the Bible’s Reading Plan into my personal time in the Word.

 Reading through the Bible quickly each year provides the literary context for my slower and more deliberate devotion times each day.

Consider the long-term ramifications of a lack of a plan. You could, as many of the respondents to our social media quiz likely will, go years without reading the entire Bible. You could neglect entire books of the Bible without realizing it; thereby missing the Christ connection between the books you know and the books you don’t. Consider what would change on your horizon, that is your future, if you adjusted your Bible intake higher and then lower. Are you speed reading through Scripture and missing the life-changing truths? Are you moving at a snail’s pace, forgetting the larger context, and projected to finish in 30 years?

A fusion of these fast and slow approaches has helped me see Jesus in every passage. It has been a beautiful blessing for me. Hopefully, it blesses you too, my friends.

From Explore the Bible Leader Extras
Reprinted with permission.

 




June 13, 2017, 5:28 PM

Teaching the Next Generation:4 Critical Questions

Teaching the Next Generation:
4 Critical Questions
(Session 2–Psalm 78:5-8, 32-39)

An old photograph hangs on the wall of my office. Taken in 1959, when I was barely a year old, the black and white photo shows my father sitting at his desk in the pastor’s study. On his desk are an open Bible and a world globe. I love this photo because it captures the greatest passions of my father’s life, outside of his family—the Word of God, the local church, and world missions.

I’m thankful for a father and mother who taught me, by word and example, to love God, treasure His Word, serve His church, and live on mission. This is what the psalmist writes about in Psalm 78. Asaph addresses the importance of the home and the vital role of parents and grandparents in leading the next generation to know, love and serve God. The psalm answers four critical questions regarding our responsibility to future generations: who, what, why, and how?

Who?

Who’s responsible for teaching the next generation? Take a look at verses 5-6: "He [God] commanded our fathers to teach … their children so that a future generation—children yet to be born—might know. They were to rise and tell their children." Notice at least three, possibly four generations are mentioned in these verses—fathers, their children, the children yet to be born, their children.

From the time God established His covenant with Israel, He commanded parents (dads are to take the lead) to teach their children, who in turn would teach their children, who then would teach their children. The "command" to which the psalmist was referring in verse 5 is likely Deuteronomy 6:6-7. The same command is found in the New Testament, "bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). The responsibility to disciple children falls squarely on the shoulders of parents, and this requires a strong intentionality on our part. Charles Spurgeon said, "Let no Christian parents fall into the delusion that Sunday School is intended to ease them of their personal duties. The first and most natural condition of things is for Christian parents to train up their own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

What?

What must we teach the next generation? Again, the answer is in verse 5: "He established a testimony in Jacob and set up a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children."

The first two lines of verse 5 are parallel, meaning "testimony" (or "statutes," "decrees") is synonymous with "the law." The word testimony is sometimes used in the Old Testament to refer to the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written (Ex. 25:16). This word relates to what God has required of His people. The word for law here is torah and means "instruction. In this context, it refers to the commandments in the Mosaic law. The emphasis in verse 5 is clear: it is God’s inspired and authoritative Word we must teach to our children.

Why?

Psalm 78 also answers the "why" question. "So that" in verses 6-7 means "to the end that" and points to the desired outcome of an action.

So that they "might know" God through His Word (v. 6)  

So that they might trust Him ("put their confidence in God," v. 7)  

So that they would obey Him ("keep his commands," v. 7). Stated negatively, so that they would not become another "stubborn and rebellious generation" who are not faithful to God (v. 8; see vv. 32-37)

We teach so that the next generation will know, trust, and obey God. This desired outcome goes beyond just hoping our kids will stay out of trouble. For us, it means we seek to raise up faithful and passionate followers of Jesus Christ.

How?

How are we to teach the next generation? Again, Psalm 78 provides answers.

Tell the stories of things God has done ("the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, his might, and the wondrous works he has performed," v. 4).  

Teach what God requires of us (v. 5, "a testimony … a law").  

Warn against sinfulness (v. 8)

All of the above requires that we be intentional about our responsibility to make disciples of the next generation.

In what specific ways can you be involved in equipping the next generation to be bold followers of Christ?

Mike Livingstone is a content editor at LifeWay for Explore the Bible resources.
Reprinted with permission from Explore the Bible at LifeWay.

 




May 17, 2017, 12:28 PM

3 ways to Equip Your Church for Personal Devotions

Written by Ken Braddy

According to an important discovery during the research phase of the Transformational Discipleship project, the number one indicator that a person was in a posture to grow spiritually was their practice of self-feeding. This means when people immerse themselves daily in God’s Word, they grow. Self-feeding leads to spiritual transformation, yet so many people do not spend time daily in God’s Word. “Only 19 percent of churchgoers read their Bible every day…81 percent do not read daily” (Transformational Groups, 72). Because self-feeding is an important daily discipline, church leaders should consider carefully their role in equipping church members for personal devotional time. Church leaders have 3 good options for helping their people immerse themselves in God’s Word:

  1. DevoHub – You probably haven’t heard about this new online tool from LifeWay. DevoHub has a free app in the iOS and Google Play stores that can be downloaded to your smartphone. When a church subscribes to the DevoHub service, it can set up an activation zone around the church. Once on campus, members and guests can activate their daily devotionals just once using the free DevoHub app and receive daily devotionals as long as the church is a subscribing member. There are daily devotional options for men (Stand Firm), women (Journey), kids, students, and families. There are also versions for all adults (Open Windows, Renew Daily). Plus there is a Spanish option, Quietud. You can get a free trial subscription by visiting devohub.com.
  2. Explore the Bible – This ongoing Bible study by LifeWay seeks to help people explore Scripture a book of the Bible at a time. Over the course of 9 years, all 66 books of the Bible are studied. Because it is impossible to study every verse in 9 years (it would actually take just over 40 years to study every verse in the Bible!), the team that creates Explore the Bible has placed a daily reading schedule at the front of each Personal Study Guide (PSG). Although the weekly Bible studies cannot touch on every verse in a book, the daily reading plan does. This is a great way to bring affordable devotional reading options to church members and guests through their ongoing Bible study materials!
  3. Discipleship In Context – Another option for creating devotionals for your church members is to choose a customized option. LifeWay has a new resource Discipleship In Context. This highly talented team of people create customized content based on a church’s needs. Devotionals can be crafted to coincide with the pastor’s sermons or any other criteria. You can learn more at discipleshipincontext.com.

Find out more at http://blog.lifeway.com/explorethebible/blog/1616/




March 7, 2017, 12:30 PM

BUT WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?

The world is more tumultuous than I have ever seen it in my life time. Our own nation is in societal upheaval. Demands are made for rights and space. Tolerance is passé. Peace seems lost forever. Therapy, puppies and crayons are not the true answers for peace. Declaring safe zones won’t bring lasting peace. We know that even in the midst of chaos and upheaval real peace can only truly be found through a genuine relationship in Jesus Christ.   

I confess that I find myself frustrated with the continual unrest, the growing hatred towards the church, and disdain for spiritual truth. I find that I must intentionally seek God to stay focused on His truth and experience the peace He can bring into my life. This is critical for the church if we are going to effectively share the gospel with those around us.

At a time when Jesus’ world was growing intolerant towards Him and His teachings, and He knew that His crucifixion was drawing near, He had the following conversation with His disciples.

13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He began asking His disciples, saying, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
18’And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.’” Matthew 16:13-20 NAS

Two things stand out to me concerning this conversation:

  • First, the church is to proclaim Christ to a lost and chaotic world. Christ directly asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” He makes them forget those things that they have been hearing in the world about who Jesus is and to declare who they have experienced Jesus to be. Peter’s response was, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The church must make this same proclamation to the world today. The resurrected Christ is the only hope for true peace.
     
  • Also, the church must remember that Christ has empowered the church. With 70% of our churches in regression we have relegated ourselves to survival mode. We wag our heads and blame the world for our failure to be empowered by our living Savior. Jesus encourages us by saying, “the gates of Hades shall not overpower the church.” Jesus empowers us and has given us a message of hope to share with those who have no hope.  In faith, we must rise up and move into our communities in His strength and power and proclaim Christ the risen Lord as the answer to all that is broken and in chaos. 

Are you effectively proclaiming the risen Christ to the world around you? Who do you say Jesus is? Not in just words, but in attitude and actions as well. 

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