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A "Stretching" Read in Christian Apologetics

An important part of growing spiritually is to practice stretching ourselves through reading. (Listening is also important, but it doesn't replace reading.) To move increasingly in the direction of Christlikeness, we need to expand our knowledge of teaching and content associated with the Christian life.

At Spiritual Maturity Project, we are building a resource to help people go ever deeper in their reading habits. At our web site, if you click on the "Resources" link at the top of the main page (https://www.spiritualmaturityproject.org/), it will take you to another page with several icons, one of which is "Publications." If you click on that icon, and then scroll down past the short video I did on reading the Bible well (take a few minutes to watch the video!), you will find our "Reader's Library" (https://www.spiritualmaturityproject.org/publications). You will see a list of books categorized into various fields of study, such as "Bible" or "theology." Each book comes with a...

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Spiritual Maturity and Fruitful Bible Reading

bible reading job psalms Aug 25, 2022

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help people grow deeply in understanding the contents of the Bible. "Searching the Scriptures," as John Wesley often called the habit, is a means of grace for us to develop in faith, yet something seems to put a chill on this practice for far too many people. One reason has to do with a faulty assumption about the Bible and Bible reading. We have a long history in the West of assuming that the Bible is perfectly clear and that anyone can read and understand with little difficulty. As we gain familiarity with larger and larger swaths, however, the more we find the Bible putting real pressure on these easy assumptions. Consequently, too many people feel very unsure about how to understand the Bible, which inhibits reading, thereby worsening the insecurity and reinforcing the hesitance even to try reading it.

Take this example of two sets of verses, one well-known one from Psalms 8 and another, from Job 7:

(Ps. 8:3-5, NRSV), "When I look...

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King Jesus is Taking Over

One very illuminating way to read the book of Acts is under this theme: "The Resurrected Jesus is King and He's Taking Over." This theme may sound too aggressive, somehow inappropriate for Christian thought, especially with our worries about how the faith is used to promote violence at times. The tricky part, then, is to stay clear exactly how Jesus takes over. A handful of snapshots to illustrate.

The events of Acts 2 through 8 take place in and around the temple area in Jerusalem. Peter preaches the Pentecost sermon there, proclaiming Jesus as Lord (ch. 2). The lame man receives healing and enters the temple with Peter and John, "walking and leaping and praising God" (ch. 3). His healing gets the crowd's attention and Peter preaches another Jesus-as-Lord sermon, which gets him (and John) in trouble with the priests and Sadducees. After an inquiry, in which Peter (with John) once again bears witness to Jesus as Lord, the temple leaders threaten them, but let them go (ch. 4). And...

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Unconquerable Love

Many Christians have wondered, in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' trial before both Jewish and Roman leaders, why he doesn't give his judges a direct answer. In Matthew 26, for example, when Caiaphas, the high priest, demands that Jesus respond to the witnesses who said that they heard him say that he could destroy the temple and raise it in three days (see John 2:18), the text says, "But Jesus was silent" (Mt. 26:63). When the high priest asked him, point blank, "Tell us if you are the Messiah," Jesus' response is maddeningly sideways, "You have said so." Later, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, asks him the same question and gets the same response: "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." The text once again emphasizes, "But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer" (Mt. 27:12). When Pilate pressed him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" the text repeats, with emphasis, "But he gave him no answer, not even...

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The Tougher Side of True Discipleship

The great Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones, in his devotional work, Growing Spiritually, bluntly criticized the view that, as Christians we can expect to gain only partial victory over sin. According to this bias, life remains a cyclical struggle of temptation, sin, confession, and forgiveness. Forgiveness, yes, but always little more than sin and guilt. We should not expect much more.   

To this pessimism, Brother Stanley retorts, "Only a forgiven sinner? The whole thing leaves you with your eyes in the wrong direction--on your sinful self, instead of upon the saving work of Christ." He speaks to what scholars of John Wesley, in whose legacy Jones operated, call the "optimism of grace." Not because of any strength inherent to our own natures do we have hope of full salvation (the going on to full-grown, victorious, Christian adulthood), but because God has freely given us grace to respond faithfully--moment by moment--in loving obedience.

To be sure, life is...

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The Life He Gives Us

We stand on the edge of the end of Christmastide, with Epiphany coming in a couple of days (January 6). Once more, before this season ends, let us think about the meaning of Christmas. It commemorates the Incarnation of the Word of God. God the Son takes on human nature to save us. 

Just how does he save us? And what does "save" mean? The answer to the first question is often lodged in Jesus' death, as well it should be. He saves us by dying for our sins. Yes and amen. But there is oh so much more to the salvation story than the cross, as central and life-altering as it is. Talk of Jesus' saving death (to move to our second question) relates very strongly to forgiveness and restoration to relationship with the Father, or a change in status. This mighty act of divine mercy in Christ is of central importance. It is essential to understanding what becoming a Christian involves.

But again, there is more. And it is that "more" that I want us to ponder. We'll do so by way of...

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Celebrating Christmas, All of It, with Full Conviction

In the opening verses of Luke's gospel, Luke tells Theophilus his reason for writing: "So that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed" (NRSV). As is so often the case with scripture, there is more to this statement than meets the eye. As we race through the final days of Christmas preparations, let us take a few minutes, Mary-like (Luke 2:19), to ponder.

As literal a translation from the Greek as I can make of this Luke 1:4 clause goes something like this: "...in order that, concerning the points on which you have been instructed [catechized], you may know [the truth] with certainty." The Greek word for truth, aletheia, does not appear in the text, but it is clearly implied. The word for instruction or instructed, katekethe, gives us our word, catechesis. Having this additional color to the bare statement helps us get the sense that Luke writes this gospel to help Theophilus - and us - feel the confidence of knowing that we have been...

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Giving Thanks as a Means of Grace

The Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. Let's think about the practice of giving thanks as a means of grace.

First, what do I mean by "grace?" As you may have seen or heard me say elsewhere, grace is the activity of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, through our thoughts, desires, attitudes and actions. Grace for the Christian enables us to move in the direction of Christlikeness, of spiritual maturity. Many of us think of grace mainly in terms of God's gift or divine favor, which is true. But there is more to grace. It is God working in us. 

Second, what do I mean by "means?" Think of ends and means. The end of something is its goal. The means include steps taken toward the goal, what one does and experiences that contributes to movement in the direction of realizing the goal.

In this light, giving thanks is certainly a means of grace. 1 Thessalonians 5:16,18 gets at the point: "Rejoice always...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus...

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What Do You Treasure?

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," Jesus told his hearers (Matthew 6:21). These words are deceptively profound. They speak to something that goes to the very core of scriptural Christianity, but something that also goes against our habits of mind.

It's easy to think of treasure as just having to do with material resources and the context seems to support this conclusion. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and wealth," and off we go with ethical reflections about money. But money is not Jesus' primary concern. His first concern is the heart. If we don't get squared away on our understanding of the heart, we'll never figure out the money thing. So, as I often encourage, let's back up and go over this ground again.

Notice from other scriptures how characteristically Jesus draws attention back to the heart and away from the topic that started the conversation. To scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem who had questioned his loyalty to Israel's...

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The Irony of "Application"

Spiritual Maturity Project
The Irony of "Application"
9:37
 

One of the major goals of the Spiritual Maturity Project is to enhance Bible readers' knowledge of scripture and confidence in reading.  To this end, I have created a course in our Foundations series (three courses), to be launched in a few days.  Watch for the announcement.

Becoming fruitful Bible readers faces one major challenge and it reveals an irony.  In our pragmatic culture (generally a good), we have adopted a practice of "application" that, ironically, gets in the way of the goal it seeks to achieve.  

I'll explain what I mean by way of an example.  In Matthew 9:2-8, we find a version of the story about the paralytic whom Jesus heals.  It's controversial because Jesus says to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," which causes a debate between Jesus and some religious leaders, who think Jesus is committing blasphemy.

Many, many of us have learned to read the Bible with an eye to application.  We want  to know how the passage...

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