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  • 22 Oct 2021 8:20 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    The Need to Overhaul Our Evangelism Paradigms

    Something is missing today in our approach to evangelism. Methods and tools used in the sixties and seventies don’t have the impact they once did. Our models for evangelism need an overhaul. While proclaiming the Gospel may be relatively simple, getting to that proclamation is not. Worse yet, we now live at a time when people may think we are evil for believing there is only one way to heaven. As a result, it’s imperative that we modify our existing models to include other elements necessary for success. Such a paradigm shift is needed for at least three reasons.

    Many People Are Less Interested in a Simple Presentation of the Gospel

    First, there is less and less interest in the Gospel message itself. Consequently, Christians today find their traditional approaches to evangelism somewhat limiting. It was common 30 to 40 years ago to use a simple tract to share the Gospel with others, especially on college campuses. Many baby boomers were won to Christ back in their youth because someone shared the Gospel with them in this way. Today it is much more difficult to reach people by just sharing a simple four-point Gospel presentation. This is true of people in the East or West.

    The director for a large Christian ministry on a campus in the US once confessed to me (David), “Only on a good day do I help someone take a step closer to Christ.” Expectations have changed, even among college workers in the last 30 years. A former seminary student of mine in Singapore suggested that something is missing in our approach to reaching students in the East. She said, “As a campus ministry staff person, I am trained in using a simple Gospel presentation and some apologetic skills, but I have problems trying to integrate them during evangelism. When people indicate that they are not interested, I can only ask them for the reason and then invite them for an evangelistic Bible study or share my personal testimony.” She felt limited in her ability to reach students with the training she had received in evangelism, especially with those who were not yet ready to hear about Christ.

    A former country evangelism director for a large college ministry in Asia confessed how the training we gave her and her staff have helped her to be successful, now that she is back in the workplace. After using some traditional approaches in witnessing to her colleagues and seeing some resistance, she remembered what she had learned and, as a result, saw greater spiritual openness. “The more I thought about what happened,” she said to us, “the more I realized that in today’s generation, people would generally not give Christians a full uninterrupted ten minutes to share the Gospel with them. It is more likely that we share the Gospel through injecting it into normal conversations of everyday life.”

    We are not advocating that we get rid of all the evangelistic tools we’ve used in the past. God can and does use these tools with those who have some receptivity to the Gospel. What is needed today, however, is a tool that can supplement what we already know about evangelism, especially when presenting the Gospel to those who are indifferent, skeptical, or even hostile to the claims of Christ. Not everyone is at the same point in their openness to the Gospel, and we need to use different approaches depending on someone’s spiritual openness.

    The World We Live in Has Changed

    The second reason we need to develop a new model of evangelism is that the world we live in has changed in ways that often create barriers to the Gospel. The world today can be characterized by a rejection of moral absolutes, a deep religious skepticism, and an indifference or outright rejection of objective truth.

    The Rejection of Moral Absolutes. Sheryl Crow’s song, “Every Day Is a Winding Road,” sums up the situation well in these words: “These are the days that anything goes.”1 We live in a different world than our parents did, a different world with a different and relativistic value system. Unfortunately, our young people have discarded many of the moral values that make up the fabric of our society. This rejection of moral beliefs has caused some major repercussions to our effectiveness in evangelism.

    Cultural anthropologist Gene Veith says, “It is hard to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to people who believe that, since morality is relative, they have no sins to forgive … It is not the lunatic fringe rejecting the very concept of (absolute) truth, but two-thirds of the American people.”2 Another has said, “As we approach the twenty-first century, it does not take a rocket scientist to recognize that our entire culture is in trouble. We are staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, and we can no longer afford to act like it’s loaded with blanks.”3

    One of the characters in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic novel The Brothers Karamazov contends that if there is no God, everything is permitted. Unfortunately, this pervasive perspective has led to many serious consequences. Newspapers remind us daily of the painful repercussions of a culture teetering toward not only financial bankruptcy but more importantly moral bankruptcy.

    It is especially difficult to share Christ with those who have been brought up in an atmosphere of relativism. An increasing number of non-Christians regard our message as irrelevant, judgmental, or no better than any other perspective. As a result, many in our culture are pre-disposed to not even give the message of Christ a hearing. This makes our task in evangelism more difficult than ever. Those who have been inoculated against the very concept of ultimate truth may be indifferent to the “Good News” if they do not realize there is such a thing as “bad news.” Consequently, we must defend the concept of absolute truth as we try to explain more clearly to those we witness to why we believe that Christianity is true and other religions are false.

    But it is not just the irreligious we need to worry about today. Even many church people are having a difficult time swallowing the idea that absolute truth exists. More Bible-believing, self-described “evangelical Christians” than ever before now think there are ways to heaven other than Jesus.4 Some who call themselves Christians also have a hard time believing that God’s standard for reconciliation is perfection (Matthew 5:48; James 2:10), a standard impossible for any human to attain. Rather than seeing this as a motivation to embrace the cross of Christ and His atonement for our sins, many will lower God’s standards and try to convince themselves that if their good deeds outweigh their bad, this will create a big enough crack to allow them through the door of heaven.

    Skepticism Toward Truth. We also live in a world that is becoming increasingly more skeptical about objective truth, especially religious truth. This skepticism is especially prevalent in the academic community. We must follow the lead of the biblical men of Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Part of understanding the times we live in is to realize that people generally do not take at face value what we say is true, especially if it is religious truth. It is common to believe that something cannot be known to be true unless it can be verified through the scientific method of repeated observations. Furthermore, a great number claim that we can’t come to any conclusion about any religious truth.

    This skeptical disposition has led many to question whether we can really know that what was said about Jesus actually happened 2000 years ago. After I gave a student some evidence for Christ’s resurrection, he said, “If I were living at the time of Christ, I could make decisions about who Jesus is, but it’s been 2000 years. So, we cannot really make decisions like that anymore.”

    In the last ten years, with the onslaught of books, movies, and documentaries such as The Da Vinci Code, The Gospel of Judas, and The Lost Tomb of Jesus, and with the resurgence of atheism in our culture, skepticism about the history of the Christian faith is at an all-time high. In general, people in the first century did not have the obstacles that we have 2000 years later to believe what the New Testament writers recorded about the life of Christ. Even some non-Christian writers at that time acknowledged that Jesus was a wonder worker.5

    The apostles and disciples also did not have to prove the existence of God or the possibility of miracles to their Jewish and god-fearing Greek audiences; most of them already believed in a theistic God. They also believed that something miraculous happened as evidenced by the empty tomb. This was common knowledge of the time.

    Nonbelievers nowadays struggle with the question, “Can we know truth at all, even if it does exist?” Some people today deny that we can even know historical truths of recent times, such as the Holocaust, even though there are still people alive who survived Nazi prison camps.6 This overarching skepticism of reality itself in our society has made our task of evangelism more difficult in this new millennium. I remember one day trying to witness to a college student who was trying to convince me he didn’t even exist. So I wasn’t surprised that he had difficulty taking seriously anything the Bible had to say about him or about Jesus.

    An Indifference Toward Truth. Our society has not only rejected truth and moral absolutes and developed a deep skepticism, especially regarding religious matters, but it has also developed indifference toward truth in general. The main problem in evangelism today is the “ever-increasing number of people who are simply not interested in hearing about Jesus because they are quite happy with their own views.”7 As a result, some will say, “It’s nice for you that you believe in truth,” or “It’s nice that it works for you, but it doesn’t work for me or mean anything to me. It may certainly be true for you, but not for me.”8

    One international student said, “I agree with the point that religion is good for society … but what that religion is is not that important. It’s better to have people believe in something, rather than nothing. After I came to the US, I found that people who believe in God are generally better off than those who believe in nothing. But it has nothing to do with the existence of God. It’s a kind of social psychology.”

    These events should be no surprise to those who believe the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:3–4, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” This was true in the first century, but it is even truer today. As the moral fabric of our society deteriorates, we will need to do more to supplement our evangelism just to get a hearing.

    These are global changes. The sad truth is that the tsunami of postmodernism is sweeping from the West to the East with devastating impact. Today Eastern and Western cultures are looking more and more alike and losing their distinctions in an increasingly pluralistic world.

    A former seminary student in the East, who is a college worker at a church in Singapore, sent the following urgent email one day about her difficulties in witnessing to college students.

    Many students [in Singapore] don’t think that there is a standard of right and wrong. Rather, they believe that this is up to the individual. This means they do hold a standard of right and wrong themselves, but they feel that each person’s standard of right and wrong differs from the other. Personally, I feel stuck as to how to proceed on with the conversation. It’s like saying that this food is nice for me but may not be nice for you. They relegate the standard of right and wrong to personal preference. I find that I’m shaken. Not in terms of my faith, but in terms of how to answer such questions.

    It is clear that our approach needs an overhaul. Is the church ready to respond to these postmodern influences, especially in the way it goes about doing evangelism today?

    An Increasing Intolerance Toward Those Who Believe in Absolute Truth

    Third, the world’s perspective on those who believe in an absolute truth has also made our task more daunting. Not only do we live in a world characterized by a rejection of moral absolutes, deep skepticism, and an indifference to or rejection of truth, there is also intolerance toward those who claim to know the truth. For us as Christians to claim that Jesus is the only way to God sounds arrogant and intolerant to our non-Christian postmodern friends.9 We are considered arrogant to even proclaim that we know the truth. Worse, it proves that we claim to be better than others or at the very least that we are intolerant of other beliefs.

    If you add up all these factors, it is clear that our evangelistic task today is more daunting than ever before. It is also clear that our approach to evangelism in the new millennium needs to be repackaged to be more effective. Specifically, we need to add a new element to more effectively communicate the Gospel to this postmodern generation. This essential element to be added is pre-evangelism, or what we call here conversational pre-evangelism.

    David Geisler and Norman Geisler, Conversational Evangelism: How to Listen and Speak so You Can Be Heard (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2014), 19–25.

  • 21 Oct 2021 2:07 PM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    Sixth, we should actively seek for opportunities to transition from pre-evangelism to direct evangelism and share the Gospel. Here we can integrate this pre-evangelism model into whatever method we are using to explain the Gospel. Sometimes when transitioning from pre-evangelism to evangelism, it is helpful to ask, “Has anyone ever explained to you the difference between Christianity and all other religions? I can explain the difference using just two words—do versus done.”21 This is a helpful approach because it likely will create some curiosity with those you are speaking to. They may wonder how you can explain the difference using only two words.

    All the religions in the world, except for Christianity, say “do this” to get to heaven (or the equivalent). Muslims say, “Your good deeds have to outweigh your bad deeds.” Hindus say, “You have to overcome karma and reincarnations by doing good works.” Buddhists say, “You need to get rid of desire through an eight-fold path.” All the religions of the world say you have to do something.

    Christianity, on the other hand, is not about doing something but about what has already been done. The Bible teaches us that there is nothing we can do to earn a relationship with God. No matter how good I am or what I do for God, it will never be enough to earn the right to have a relationship with Him (Ephesians 2:8–9; Titus 3:5). That is why the focus in Christianity is not on do but done. Jesus provided the sacrifice to atone for my sins (Romans 5:8). My responsibility is to accept what God has done for me and allow Christ to come into my life (John 1:12) and change me from the inside out—not in my own power, but in His strength (Philippians 2:13; 4:13).

    If the analogy of “Do versus Done” causes your nonbelieving friends to be open to talk about Christ, you can then offer them a more detailed explanation of the Gospel, whether you use a Bible or maybe a tract you’re familiar with. Your pre-evangelism becomes seamlessly and effectively woven into your evangelism and witnessing style.

    In order to build a bridge to the Gospel, it is helpful to keep these six steps in mind:

    • find the right balance in your approach
    • find common ground
    • construct a bridge (both head and heart)
    • memorize an outline
    • remember the goal
    • actively seek to transition from pre-evangelism to direct evangelism

    By utilizing these six steps over time, you may find your nonbelieving friends making real progress in their spiritual journey to the cross.

    Conversational Evangelism in a Nutshell

    In brief, Conversational Evangelism involves listening carefully to others, learning their story, and hearing the gaps in their beliefs and then illuminating those gaps by asking questions to help clarify their beliefs and surface uncertainty and expose the weaknesses of their perspective. Then, we want to dig up their history and uncover their underlying barriers to Christ and build a bridge to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 3:6).

    We must always begin with hearing conversations. Yet knowing what to do next is more of an art than a science. We may want to ask illuminating questions about the discrepancies we hear or we may next want to dig up their history a little to find out how they came to be on their current path before we ask any questions that help them to surface the truth for themselves. Each situation is different, and one approach may not work as well as another. We need to be sensitive to God’s leading and ask Him for wisdom (James 1:5).

    The most important thing to remember about the pre-evangelism process is that it should involve at least four different aspects: hearing, illuminating, uncovering, and building. These correspond to four kinds of roles that we can play in the life of our nonbelieving friends: musician, artist, archaeologist, and builder. Understanding how to integrate these aspects of pre-evangelism into our evangelism training can play an important part in helping us to more effectively reach the skeptics, pluralists, and postmodernists of our day.

    May God help us all to understand, like the men of Issachar, the times in which we live and to know what we should do (1 Chronicles 12:32).

    David Geisler and Norman Geisler, Conversational Evangelism: How to Listen and Speak so You Can Be Heard (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2014), 150–152.

  • 21 Oct 2021 11:37 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in Him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how to live in a way that is pleasing to God as well as best and most fulfilling for ourselves. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be Godly, we must know the Word of God—intimately.

    However, many who yawn with familiarity and nod in agreement to these statements spend no more time with God’s Word in an average day than do those with no Bible at all. My pastoral experience bears witness to the validity of surveys that frequently reveal that great numbers of professing Christians know little more about the Bible than Third-World Christians who possess not even a shred of Scripture.

    Some wag remarked that the worst dust storm in history would happen if all church members who were neglecting their Bibles dusted them off simultaneously.

    Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 28.

  • 20 Oct 2021 9:48 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow him. This revealed immediately the direction his evangelistic strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. Men were to be his method of winning the world to God.

    The initial objective of Jesus’ plan was to enlist men who could bear witness to his life and carry on his work after he returned to the Father. John and Andrew were the first to be invited as Jesus left the scene of the great revival of the Baptist at Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:35–40). Andrew in turn brought his brother Peter (John 1:41–42). The next day Jesus found Philip on his way to Galilee, and Philip found Nathanael (John 1:43–51). There is no evidence of haste in the selection of these disciples, just determination. James, the brother of John, is not mentioned as one of the group until the four fishermen are recalled several months later by the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:19; Matt. 4:21). Shortly afterward Matthew is called to follow the Master as Jesus passed through Capernaum (Mark 2:13–14; Matt. 9:9; Luke 5:27–28). The particulars surrounding the call of the other disciples are not recorded in the Gospels, but it is believed that they all occurred in the first year of the Lord’s ministry.1

    As one might expect, these early efforts of soul winning had little or no immediate effect upon the religious life of his day, but that did not matter greatly. For as it turned out, these few early converts of the Lord were destined to become the leaders of his church that was to go with the gospel to the whole world, and from the standpoint of his ultimate purpose, the significance of their lives would be felt throughout eternity. That’s the only thing that counts.

    Men Willing to Learn

    What is more revealing about these men is that at first they do not impress us as being key men. None of them occupied prominent places in the synagogue, nor did any of them belong to the Levitical priesthood. For the most part they were common laboring men, probably having no professional training beyond the rudiments of knowledge necessary for their vocation. Perhaps a few of them came from families of some considerable means, such as the sons of Zebedee, but none of them could have been considered wealthy. They had no academic degrees in the arts and philosophies of their day. Like their Master, their formal education likely consisted only of the synagogue schools. Most of them were raised in the poor section of the country around Galilee. Apparently the only one of the Twelve who came from the more refined region of Judea was Judas Iscariot. By any standard of sophisticated culture then and now they would surely be considered as a rather ragged collection of souls. One might wonder how Jesus could ever use them. They were impulsive, temperamental, easily offended, and had all the prejudices of their environment. In short, these men selected by the Lord to be his assistants represented an average cross section of society in their day.2 Not the kind of group one would expect to win the world for Christ.

    Yet Jesus saw in these simple men the potential of leadership for the Kingdom. They were indeed “unlearned and ignorant” according to the world’s standard (Acts 4:13), but they were teachable. Though often mistaken in their judgments and slow to comprehend spiritual things, they were honest men, willing to confess their need. Their mannerisms may have been awkward and their abilities limited, but with the exception of the traitor, their hearts were big. What is perhaps most significant about them was their sincere yearning for God and the realities of his life. The superficiality of the religious life about them had not obsessed their hope for the Messiah (John 1:41, 45, 49; 6:69). They were fed up with the hypocrisy of the ruling aristocracy. Some of them had already joined the revival movement of John the Baptist (John 1:35). These men were looking for someone to lead them in the way of salvation. Such men, pliable in the hands of the Master, could be molded into a new image—Jesus can use anyone who wants to be used.

    Concentrated on a Few

    In noting this fact, however, one does not want to miss the practical truth of how Jesus did it. Here is the wisdom of his method, and in observing it, we return again to the fundamental principle of concentration on those he intended to use. One cannot transform a world except as individuals in the world are transformed, and individuals cannot be changed except as they are molded in the hands of the Master. The necessity is apparent not only to select a few helpers but also to keep the group small enough to be able to work effectively with them.

    Hence, as the company of followers around Jesus increased, it became necessary by the middle of his second year of ministry to narrow the select company to a more manageable number. Accordingly Jesus “called his disciples, and he chose from them twelve, whom also he named apostles” (Luke 6:13–17; see Mark 3:13–19). Regardless of the symbolical meaning one prefers to put on the number twelve,3 it is clear that Jesus intended these men to have unique privileges and responsibilities in the Kingdom work.

    This does not mean that Jesus’ decision to have twelve apostles excluded others from following him, for as we know, many more were numbered among his associates, and some of these became very effective workers in the church. The seventy (Luke 10:1); Mark, the Gospel writer; and James, his own brother (1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 2:9, 12; see John 2:12; 7:2–10), are notable examples of this. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that there was a rapidly diminishing priority given to those outside the Twelve.

    The same rule could be applied in reverse, for within the select apostolic group Peter, James, and John seemed to enjoy a more special relationship to the Master than did the other nine. Only these privileged few are invited into the sick room of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51); they alone go up with the Master and behold his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2; Matt. 17:1; Luke 9:28); and amid the olive trees of Gethsemane casting their ominous shadows in the light of the full Passover moon, these members of the inner circle waited nearest to their Lord while he prayed (Mark 14:33; Matt. 26:37). So noticeable is the preference given to these three that had it not been for the incarnation of selflessness in the person of Christ, it could well have precipitated feelings of resentment on the part of the other apostles. The fact that there is no record of the disciples complaining about the preeminence of the three, though they did murmur about other things, is proof that where preference is shown in the right spirit and for the right reason, offense need not arise.4

    Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2006), 21–25.

  • 19 Oct 2021 1:08 PM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    Being in meaningful relationships is life-giving in the most literal sense.

    One of the most thorough research projects on relationships is called the Alameda County Study. Headed by a Harvard social scientist, it tracked the lives of 7,000 people over nine years. Researchers found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections.

    People who had bad health habits (such as smoking, poor eating habits, obesity, or alcohol use) but strong social ties lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated. In other words, it is better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone. Harvard researcher Robert Putnam notes that if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, “you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.”

    For another study, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 276 volunteers were infected with a virus that produces the common cold. The study found that people with strong emotional connections did four times better fighting off illness than those who were more isolated. These people were less susceptible to colds, had less virus, and produced significantly less mucous than relationally isolated subjects. (I’m not making this up. They produced less mucous. This means it is literally true: Unfriendly people are snottier than friendly people.)

    John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal till You Get to Know Them (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).

  • 19 Oct 2021 9:45 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    Having called his men, Jesus made a practice of being with them. This was the essence of his training program—just letting his disciples follow him.

    When one stops to think of it, this was an incredibly simple way of doing it. Jesus had no formal school, no seminaries, no outlined course of study, no periodic membership classes in which he enrolled his followers. None of these highly organized procedures considered so necessary today entered into his ministry. Amazing as it may seem, all Jesus did to teach these men his way was to draw them close to himself. He was his own school and curriculum.

    The natural informality of this teaching method of Jesus stood in striking contrast to the formal, almost scholastic procedures of the scribes. These religious teachers insisted on their disciples adhering strictly to certain rituals and formulas of knowledge which distinguished them from others; whereas Jesus asked only that his disciples follow him. Knowledge was not communicated by the Master in terms of laws and dogmas, but in the living personality of One who walked among them. His disciples were distinguished, not by outward conformity to certain rituals, but by being with him, and thereby participating in his doctrine (John 18:19).

    To Know Was to Be With

    It was by virtue of this fellowship that the disciples were permitted “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:10). Knowledge was gained by association before it was understood by explanation. This was best expressed when one of the band asked, “How know we the way?” reflecting his frustration at the thought of the Holy Trinity. Jesus replied: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:5–6), which was to say that the point in question already was answered, if the disciples would but open their eyes to the spiritual reality incarnated in their midst.

    This simple methodology was revealed from the beginning by the invitation that Jesus gave to the men he wanted to lead. John and Andrew were invited to “come and see” the place where Jesus stayed (John 1:39). Nothing more was said. Yet what more needed to be said? At home with Jesus they could talk things over and there in private see intimately into his nature and work. Philip was addressed in the same essential manner: “Follow me” (John 1:43). Evidently impressed by this simple approach, Philip invited Nathanael also to “come and see” the Master (John 1:46). One living sermon is worth a hundred explanations. Later when James, John, Peter, and Andrew were found mending their nets, Jesus used the same familiar words, “Come ye after me,” only this time adding the reason for it, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17; see Matt. 4:19; Luke 5:10). Likewise, Matthew was called from the tax collector’s booth with the same invitation: “Follow me” (Mark 2:14; Matt. 9:9; Luke 5:27).

    The Principle Observed

    See the tremendous strategy of it? By responding to this initial call, believers in effect enrolled themselves in the Master’s school where their understanding could be enlarged and their faith established. There were certainly many things which these men did not understand—things which they themselves freely acknowledged as they walked with him; but all these problems could be dealt with as they followed Jesus. In his presence they could learn all that they needed to know.

    This principle, which was implied from the start, was given specific articulation later when Jesus chose from the larger group about him the Twelve “that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14; see Luke 6:13). He added, of course, that he was going to send them forth “to preach, and to have authority to cast out devils,” but often we fail to realize what came first. Jesus made it clear that before these men were “to preach” or “to cast out devils” they were to be “with him.” In fact, this personal appointment to be in constant association with him was as much a part of their ordination commission as the authority to evangelize. Indeed, it was for the moment even more important, for it was the necessary preparation for the other.

    Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2006), 33–35.

  • 05 Oct 2021 4:01 PM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    For some, it seems an endless trip, filled with thankless responsibilities and relentless tasks, disappointments and deadlines, and daily demands.

    Being imperfect doesn’t help. Every so often we make stupid decisions. We say things we wish we could retrieve. Selfishly, we look out for number one and later regret it. We act impulsively and realize, after the fact, how foolish we were, how dumb we looked. On top of all that, we hurt the ones we love the most. All this stuff caves in on us at certain times, and we wonder how anybody could ever love us . . . especially God.

    When we start thinking like this, we need to turn our mind to the “one anothers” in the New Testament. Here’s just a sampling: Love one another, build up one another, live in peace with one another, confess your sins to one another, speak to one another, admonish one another, comfort one another, pray for one another.

    I deliberately saved my favorite for last: “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).

    Imagine two mountain hikers trudging along, each carrying a backpack. The one on the left has a tiny, light pack that a kid could carry, while the poor soul on the right is so loaded down we can’t even see his head or his body.

    Let’s imagine what he might be lugging in that pack down that long road. It could be a long-standing grudge that’s poisoning his insides. It might be a broken relationship with his wife or one of his kids. That pack could be loaded with unpaid bills, all of them overdue.

    The question is, Where can that fella on the right go to unload so the fella on the left can help “bear the burden”? By sitting in church alongside a few hundred or a couple thousand other folks? Hardly. What he needs most is to be involved in an adult fellowship in a small-group setting, a place where there is person-to-person caring and the opportunity for authentic sharing. Where he will feel free, without embarrassment or shame, to tell his secret or state his struggle; where someone will listen, help him unload, and give him fresh strength.

    Adult fellowships and small groups are not miniature church services. They are pockets of people who love Christ and believe in helping one another. They don’t point fingers or preach or compare. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Once you begin unloading that pack, you’ll discover how much easier the journey seems.

    Charles R. Swindoll, Day by Day with Charles Swindoll (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005).

  • 01 Oct 2021 10:42 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    May I read you a few lines from Tolstoi’s War and Peace?

    When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. “Alright. Please wait!” he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood—what he had already guessed—that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and a more real system—the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris. Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system.6

    When you invite a middle-aged moralist to address you, I suppose I must conclude, however unlikely the conclusion seems, that you have a taste for middle-aged moralising. I shall do my best to gratify it. I shall in fact give you advice about the world in which you are going to live. I do not mean by this that I am going to attempt a talk on what are called current affairs. You probably know quite as much about them as I do. I am not going to tell you—except in a form so general that you will hardly recognise it—what part you ought to play in postwar reconstruction. It is not, in fact, very likely that any of you will be able, in the next ten years, to make any direct contribution to the peace or prosperity of Europe. You will be busy finding jobs, getting married, acquiring facts. I am going to do something more old-fashioned than you perhaps expected. I am going to give advice. I am going to issue warnings. Advice and warnings about things which are so perennial that no one calls them “current affairs.”

    And of course everyone knows what a middle-aged moralist of my type warns his juniors against. He warns them against the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. But one of this trio will be enough to deal with today. The Devil I shall leave strictly alone. The association between him and me in the public mind has already gone quite as deep as I wish; in some quarters it has already reached the level of confusion, if not of identification. I begin to realise the truth of the old proverb that he who sups with that formidable host needs a long spoon. As for the Flesh, you must be very abnormal young people if you do not know quite as much about it as I do. But on the World I think I have something to say.

    In the passage I have just read from Tolstoi, the young second lieutenant Boris Dubretskoi discovers that there exist in the army two different systems or hierarchies. The one is printed in some little red book and anyone can easily read it up. It also remains constant. A general is always superior to a colonel and a colonel to a captain. The other is not printed anywhere. Nor is it even a formally organised secret society with rules which you would be told after you had been admitted. You are never formally and explicitly admitted by anyone. You discover gradually, in almost indefinable ways, that it exists and that you are outside it, and then later, perhaps, that you are inside it. There are what correspond to passwords, but they too are spontaneous and informal. A particular slang, the use of particular nicknames, an allusive manner of conversation are the marks. But it is not constant. It is not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. Some people are obviously in and some are obviously out, but there are always several on the border line. And if you come back to the same divisional headquarters, or brigade headquarters, or the same regiment, or even the same company after six weeks’ absence, you may find this second hierarchy quite altered. There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in; this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration; it may be called “you and Tony and me.” When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership, it calls itself “we.” When it has to be suddenly expanded to meet a particular emergency, it calls itself “all the sensible people at this place.” From outside, if you have despaired of getting into it, you call it “that gang” or “they” or “so-and-so and his set” or “the Caucus” or ‘the Inner Ring.” If you are a candidate for admission, you probably don’t call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself. And to mention it in talking to the man who is inside, and who may help you in if this present conversation goes well, would be madness.

    Badly as I may have described it, I hope you will all have recognised the thing I am describing. Not, of course, that you have been in the Russian Army or perhaps in any army. But you have met the phenomenon of an Inner Ring. You discovered one in your house at school before the end of the first term. And when you had climbed up to somewhere near it by the end of your second year, perhaps you discovered that within the Ring there was a Ring yet more inner, which in its turn was the fringe of the great school Ring to which the house Rings were only satellites. It is even possible that the School Ring was almost in touch with a Masters’ Ring. You were beginning, in fact, to pierce through the skins of the onion. And here, too, at your university—shall I be wrong in assuming that at this very moment, invisible to me, there are several rings—independent systems or concentric rings—present in this room? And I can assure you that in whatever hospital, inn of court, diocese, school, business, or college you arrive after going down, you will find the Rings—what Tolstoi calls the second or unwritten systems.

    All this is rather obvious. I wonder whether you will say the same of my next step, which is this. I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside. This desire, in one of its forms, has indeed had ample justice done to it in literature. I mean, in the form of snobbery. Victorian fiction is full of characters who are hagridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society. But it must be clearly understood that “Society,” in that sense of the word, is merely one of a hundred Rings and snobbery, therefore, only one form of the longing to be inside. People who believe themselves to be free, and indeed are free, from snobbery, and who read satires on snobbery with tranquil superiority, may be devoured by the desire in another form. It may be the very intensity of their desire to enter some quite different Ring which renders them immune from the allurements of high life. An invitation from a duchess would be very cold comfort to a man smarting under the sense of exclusion from some artistic or communist côterie. Poor man—it is not large, lighted rooms, or champagne, or even scandals about peers and Cabinet Ministers that he wants; it is the sacred little attic or studio, the heads bent together, the fog of tobacco smoke, and the delicious knowledge that we—we four or five all huddled beside this stove—are the people who know. Often the desire conceals itself so well that we hardly recognise the pleasures of fruition. Men tell not only their wives but themselves that it is a hardship to stay late at the office or the school on some bit of important extra work which they have been let in for because they and So-and-so and the two others are the only people left in the place who really know how things are run. But it is not quite true. It is a terrible bore, of course, when old Fatty Smithson draws you aside and whispers, “Look here, we’ve got to get you in on this examination somehow” or “Charles and I saw at once that you’ve got to be on this committee.” A terrible bore … ah, but how much more terrible if you were left out! It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons, but to have them free because you don’t matter, that is much worse.

    Freud would say, no doubt, that the whole thing is a subterfuge of the sexual impulse. I wonder whether the shoe is not sometimes on the other foot. I wonder whether, in ages of promiscuity, many a virginity has not been lost less in obedience to Venus than in obedience to the lure of the caucus. For, of course, when promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something that other people know. They are uninitiated. And as for lighter matters, the number who first smoked or first got drunk for a similar reason is probably very large.

    I must now make a distinction. I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions, and it is not only not a bad thing, it is (in itself) a good thing that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together. And it is perhaps impossible that the official hierarchy of any organisation should quite coincide with its actual workings. If the wisest and most energetic people invariably held the highest posts, it might coincide; since they often do not, there must be people in high positions who are really deadweights and people in lower positions who are more important than their rank and seniority would lead you to suppose. In that way the second, unwritten system is bound to grow up. It is necessary, and perhaps it is not a necessary evil. But the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous. As Byron has said:

    Sweet is a legacy, and passing sweet

    The unexpected death of some old lady.

    The painless death of a pious relative at an advanced age is not an evil. But an earnest desire for her death on the part of her heirs is not reckoned a proper feeling, and the law frowns on even the gentlest attempt to expedite her departure. Let Inner Rings be an unavoidable and even an innocent feature of life, though certainly not a beautiful one; but what of our longing to enter them, our anguish when we are excluded, and the kind of pleasure we feel when we get in?

    I have no right to make assumptions about the degree to which any of you may already be compromised. I must not assume that you have ever first neglected, and finally shaken off, friends whom you really loved and who might have lasted you a lifetime, in order to court the friendship of those who appeared to you more important, more esoteric. I must not ask whether you have ever derived actual pleasure from the loneliness and humiliation of the outsiders after you yourself were in; whether you have talked to fellow members of the Ring in the presence of outsiders simply in order that the outsiders might envy; whether the means whereby, in your days of probation, you propitiated the Inner Ring were always wholly admirable. I will ask only one question—and it is, of course, a rhetorical question which expects no answer. In the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most.

    But I said I was going to give advice, and advice should deal with the future, not the past. I have hinted at the past only to awake you to what I believe to be the real nature of human life. I don’t believe that the economic motive and the erotic motive account for everything that goes on in what we moralists call the World. Even if you add Ambition, I think the picture is still incomplete. The lust for the esoteric, the longing to be inside, take many forms which are not easily recognisable as Ambition. We hope, no doubt, for tangible profits from every Inner Ring we penetrate: power, money, liberty to break rules, avoidance of routine duties, evasion of discipline. But all these would not satisfy us if we did not get in addition the delicious sense of secret intimacy. It is no doubt a great convenience to know that we need fear no official reprimands from our official senior because he is old Percy, a fellow member of our Ring. But we don’t value the intimacy only for the sake of convenience; quite equally we value the convenience as a proof of the intimacy.

    My main purpose in this address is simply to convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it—this whole pell-mell of struggle, competition, confusion, graft, disappointment, and advertisement, and if it is one of the permanent mainsprings, then you may be quite sure of this. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care. That will be the natural thing—the life that will come to you of its own accord. Any other kind of life, if you lead it, will be the result of conscious and continuous effort. If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will in fact be an “inner ringer.” I don’t say you’ll be a successful one; that’s as may be. But whether by pining and moping outside Rings that you can never enter, or by passing triumphantly further and further in—one way or the other you will be that kind of man.

    I have already made it fairly clear that I think it better for you not to be that kind of man. But you may have an open mind on the question. I will therefore suggest two reasons for thinking as I do.

    It would be polite and charitable and, in view of your age, reasonable, too, to suppose that none of you is yet a scoundrel. On the other hand, by the mere law of averages (I am saying nothing against free will) it is almost certain that at least two or three of you before you die will have become something very like scoundrels. There must be in this room the makings of at least that number of unscrupulous, treacherous, ruthless egotists. The choice is still before you, and I hope you will not take my hard words about your possible future characters as a token of disrespect to your present characters. And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still—just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig—the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play; something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand; something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about, but something, says your new friend, which “we”—and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure—something “we always do.” And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage, and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

    That is my first reason. Of all passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.

    My second reason is this. The torture allotted to the Danaids in the classical underworld, that of attempting to fill sieves with water, is the symbol not of one vice but of all vices. It is the very mark of a perverse desire that it seeks what is not to be had. The desire to be inside the invisible line illustrates this rule. As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion; if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.

    This is surely very clear when you come to think of it. If you want to be made free of a certain circle for some wholesome reason—if, say, you want to join a musical society because you really like music—then there is a possibility of satisfaction. You may find yourself playing in a quartet and you may enjoy it. But if all you want is to be in the know, your pleasure will be short-lived. The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic. Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humour or learning or wit or any of the things that can be really enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow’s end will still be ahead of you. The old Ring will now be only the drab background for your endeavour to enter the new one.

    And you will always find them hard to enter, for a reason you very well know. You yourself, once you are in, want to make it hard for the next entrant, just as those who are already in made it hard for you. Naturally. In any wholesome group of people which holds together for a good purpose, the exclusions are in a sense accidental. Three or four people who are together for the sake of some piece of work exclude others because there is work only for so many or because the others can’t in fact do it. Your little musical group limits its numbers because the rooms they meet in are only so big. But your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.

    The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public, nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain. And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside, that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric, for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ringer can ever have it.

    We are told in Scripture that those who ask get. That is true, in senses I can’t now explore. But in another sense there is much truth in the schoolboy’s principle “them as asks shan’t have.” To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of “insides,” full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them. But if he follows that desire he will reach no “inside” that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction. It is like the house in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

    C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 141–157.

  • 10 Sep 2021 8:24 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    For a lifetime of growth, continual learning is an essential. Experience alone will not guarantee learning. It’s what you learn from your experiences that will transform your future. Your future is not comprised of the sum total of all your experiences—it will consist of how you have defined them.

    So what life-learning dictionary do you use? What meaning do you give to each event?

    Remember that suffering will change you, but not necessarily for the better. You must choose to grow better not bitter.

    Consistently make your learning greater than your experience by defining each occurrence and setback biblically. It will save you years of cleanup and miles of burned bridges.

    The Bible is God’s choice for a life-dictionary. Joseph will help you convert family betrayal into a future of promise. King David will help you through a child’s rebellion. Moses will help leaders with complaining staff. Abigail will encourage those with foolish husbands.

    ONE PREREQUISITE TO LEARNING

    At New Hope we’ve done any number of things over the years to help our church grow, but one thing we’ve done stands head and shoulders above everything else.

    It has nothing to do with demographics.

    It doesn’t depend on location.

    It isn’t triggered by worship style.

    It’s developing a self-feeding program, using a simple system of daily devotions.

    Some time ago I read in a medical magazine these poignant words: The health of twenty-first-century America will no longer be determined by what people get the doctors to do for them, but rather by what doctors can get people to do for themselves.

    Self-feeding will be the heart of a healthy Christian, the heart of a healthy twenty-first-century church. It will be each of us, on a daily basis, recording biblical instructions that contain centuries of wisdom and applying them like an unguent to relational grievances and to life’s cuts and bruises.

    At the heart of journaling is an easy-to-remember acrostic: SOAP.

    S = Scripture

    O = Observation

    A = Application

    P = Prayer

    Let me describe how SOAP works. It’s a basic system that can have profound results. It will help you be productive right out of the chute.

    To set the stage, allow me to quote the beautiful words of Psalm 19:9 in the King James Version. It helps us to remember what SOAP is all about: “The fear of the Lord is clean.”

    S = SCRIPTURE

    In the last chapter you read how a Bible bookmark (or some other reading plan) will give you an extended reading from both Testaments for every day of the year. As you peruse the entire scheduled reading for a given day, ask the Lord to bring home to your heart one text in particular.

    That is a prayer the Holy Spirit loves to answer.

    He will highlight one verse or thought that momentarily stops you in your tracks or seems to shine out from the page. He will whisper, “This is for you—this is a promise you can hold to” or “This instruction will get you back on track.” Whatever the text is, write it down in your journal. Copy out the verse at the top of your entry for that day.

    Why is it so important to focus on one short text or verse rather than several? Why do I strongly encourage you to find one thing the Spirit is saying to you? It’s quite simple, and I’ve seen this borne out time and again: If you try to catch more than that, I guarantee that at the end of the year you’ll remember none of them. But if you focus on just one a day, by the time December 31 rolls around, you’ll have more than three hundred sixty gems packed away in your heart. And that’s priceless!

    By interacting in this way with the Lord through His Word, you’ll be hearing His prophetic voice. You will begin making permanent decisions based on eternal wisdom, not on temporary setbacks.

    Let God’s Word hold you up! Develop a daily discipline of devotions that is unshakable.

    During the time I almost dropped out of ministry, I ended up spending some time at a “no talking” monastery in California to regain my physical and spiritual equilibrium. Even though my psyche was fried and my energy depleted, I continued my devotions. If it weren’t for the disciplines I’d developed over the years, I doubt I would have found my way home.

    It was there, on the verge of cashing it all in, that the Lord spoke once more through Jeremiah: “But as for me, I have not hurried away from being a shepherd after You.”2

    That was His prophetic word for me.

    In the midst of that dark, dry time, that single verse spoke more to my heart than volumes of eloquent verbiage. And that verse will always illustrate for me the truth of this one: “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”3

    Allow God to speak that apt word to you by focusing on one main thought from your daily reading—not five, ten, or a baker’s dozen.

    One thing.

    O = OBSERVATION

    The question is never “Does God speak?” but rather “Am I listening?” To best hear what God has to say to you, you must still your heart.

    Set aside your pressing demands.

    Turn off all your electronic distractions.

    Rarely does God shout to make himself heard!

    As the Spirit highlights that one single thought, observe carefully what the verse says. Think about to whom the passage was originally addressed and why it was written. Ponder its meaning, its tone, its purpose. Take several moments to meditate on it, to let its message soak clear through to your heart.

    The first and most important commandment of all, according to Jesus, is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”4 That means He doesn’t want you to disengage your brain as you listen for His voice.

    Have you ever noticed how often in Scripture God requires His servants to “observe” something in order to learn a divine lesson from it? Ponder just a few examples:

    • “Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace.”5
    • “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”6
    • “Consider Abraham: ’He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.”7
    • “He [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins.”8

    Now it’s your chance to do some careful observing and considering of your own. Ponder the message God has highlighted for you.Write out in manuscript form what you observe. It may be only a paragraph or perhaps a few sentences. The important thing is to put pen to paper and make an observation in your journal. Take into context the setting and the situation. Make an observation of what’s happening, who’s affected, what’s taking place. This will increase your comprehension and develop your observation skills.

    A = APPLICATION

    After you’ve carefully observed what the text says, take some time to write out how you plan to put into practice the lesson the Divine Mentor has just brought to your attention. How will you be different today as a result of what you’ve just read? Application answers the question, “How does this verse or thought apply to me?”

    Application is a crucial part of this process, for without it, all you’re doing is amassing facts, trivia, and bits of knowledge. Do you remember what the Lord Jesus thought of that kind of practice? In a classic confrontation with the Pharisees, He said: “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.”9

    Have you ever pondered the amazing irony of the Pharisees’ relationship with Jesus? They were bona fide Jews with prodigious pedigrees. Yet they plotted how to violate the sixth commandment, and then schemed a cover-up by making sure the Romans committed the murder and took His body down from the cross before the Sabbath arrived so the Jews wouldn’t defile the day.

    Astonishing. The Pharisees had extensive knowledge of and intimate familiarity with the details of God’s Word … while missing the whole point!

    Amassing biblical knowledge without a commitment to applying it to life leads only to massive miscomprehension. Paul agrees: “We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.”10

    James created an unforgettable metaphor to say much the same thing:

    Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.11

    Application is what seals God’s Word to our hearts. Application makes the difference between hearing His will and doing His will. Application is what sets apart a disciple from a dabbler, a follower from a fan. Application states how you will live differently because of what you’ve just read.

    A powerful force comes into play when we bring “what we believe” and “how we live” closer together. One of Christendom’s greatest maladies is the phenomenon of living inconsistently with what we believe. Incongruence is one of the foremost causes of anxiety. We espouse one thing yet live another.

    • We know all there is to know about love, but we aren’t known for being loving.
    • We know all there is to know about joy, but there is no joy in our homes.
    • We know all there is to know about forgiveness, but we still can’t forgive.

    Some years ago a pastor friend of mine was carrying on an illicit sexual affair. When it finally came to light, he was reprimanded, summarily dismissed, and put under discipline and counseling. As a friend, I called him one day and asked, “How could you do that?”

    “Wayne,” he replied, “I don’t need more people to condemn me.”

    I reassured him of my friendship and my heart, but I told him I needed to know how he could tolerate the pain sustained by the massive inconsistency of his lifestyle with his message.

    I’ll never forget his answer. “Wayne,” he said, with a heavy sigh. “I wasn’t reading the Bible for life. I studied the Bible only to get sermons out of it. I would find one and immediately give it as a message on Sunday. As soon as I could extract enough lesson material to hand out, I was done for the day. It was never routed through my heart, so it left me starving even though I was overseeing an orchard.”

    Knowledge alone is no guarantee of growth. But with God’s help we can dial in the two lenses of knowledge and application. Clarity appears, and focus results. One of the greatest blessings is promised to those who consistently apply what they know: “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”12

    P = PRAYER

    The final stage of your journal entry is recording your prayer. It could read as simply as: Lord Jesus, help me to be a person who listens to Your Word. Today I will take time to hear what You are saying to me. Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.

    Finish your time in the Word with a thoughtful prayer to God. Ask Him to help you apply what you’ve just learned. And don’t forget to tell Him how thankful you are for the power of His Word!

    Some people object to writing out their prayers, but I’ve found this to be a wonderful way to cement everything that’s just happened in my mind and heart. Avoid writing your entry in notation form. No CliffsNotes! Write out everything God said to you; when it comes time to pass along what you learned, everything will come back—even the prayer you offered to Him.

    Sometimes when I return to an old journal entry, I read the prayer portion—and soon I feel convicted by my own prayer. How often I’ve asked God to return to me the heart I had when I first heard Him. Over the years, our heart can change; it can harden and become calloused. Rereading our own prayers reminds us to keep a supple heart, one that’s always pliable in the hands of the Maker.

    Once you’ve written out your prayer, I suggest you return to the top of your entry and give it some descriptive title. Maybe you’ve highlighted Matthew 10:27, which says: “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.”

    Give your entry a title like “Listening” or “Ears That Hear.” Write it at the top of your entry for that day. Now you have captured a gem in the making. Applying it into the daily-ness of life will make for a vibrant and verifiable faith.

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    Finally, it’s important to provide a quick notation in the front of your journal about what God spoke to you, and when. The Life Journal has a ready-made place for that, in the very front under “Table of Contents.”

    In your table of contents, write out the title you gave to your entry, along with the Scripture reference, the date, and the journal page where your entry is found.

    If three months later you were to ask me what God has been saying to me, I can go to the Life Journal’s table of contents and find it in seconds. Everything God spoke to me will return. There I have a treasured record of His wisdom, personalized directly to my heart, and it can never be taken away from me.

    When God highlights a verse or thought from your daily reading, put some SOAP on it—Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer! Then record it in your table of contents. You will hereby give God’s truth roots into your soul, and you’ll be building a spiritual resource that will enrich your life for years to come.

    WHEN YOU’RE AT YOUR BEST

    Over the years many people have inquired as to the best time for daily devotions.

    I have a very basic answer.

    The best time for devotions is when you’re at your best.

    I’m a morning person, so I do my devotions early, about six-thirty. That’s when I’m at my best.

    On the other hand, Anna comes alive in the evening. So she usually does her devotions after the sun has gone down, because she wants to give the Holy Spirit the prime moments of her day. In this way she grows more, retains more, and comprehends more.

    While her brain is going full speed at 7:00 P.M., mine is shutting down—I’m losing functionality by the second. By the time 10:00 P.M. rolls around, I’m comatose.

    My wife and I have different time schedules and different body rhythms. There is nothing wrong with that. I don’t buy the one-size-fits-all idea, the concept that if you want really good devotions, you have to do them early in the morning.

    Do your devotions at whatever time is your best time. When you give God your best, that’s when class is in session … for you.

    CREATE SOME FERTILE SOIL

    By using this simple SOAP method to journal every day, you’ll create fertile soil in your heart. God will plant a seed there, and soon a tree will take root and fruit will come forth:

    How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

    Nor stand in the path of sinners,

    Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

    But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

    And in His law he meditates day and night.

    He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,

    Which yields its fruit in its season

    And its leaf does not wither;

    And in whatever he does, he prospers.13

    Wayne Cordeiro, The Divine Mentor: Growing Your Faith as You Sit at the Feet of the Savior (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2007), 101–110.

  • 30 Aug 2021 6:03 PM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    What Is Zion? What Is Mount Zion? What Is the Biblical Meaning of Zion?

    Psalm 87:2–3 says, “The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, O city of God.” Occurring over 150 times in the Bible, the word “Zion” essentially means “fortification.” In the Bible, Zion is both the city of David and the city of God. As the Bible progresses, the word “Zion” transitions from referring primarily to a physical city to having a more spiritual meaning.

    The first mention of the word “Zion” in the Bible is 2 Samuel 5:7: “Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David.” “Zion,” therefore, was originally the name of the ancient Jebusite fortress in the city of Jerusalem. “Zion” came to stand not only for the fortress but also for city in which the fortress stood. After David captured “the stronghold of Zion,” Zion was then called “the City of David” (1 Kings 8:1; 1 Chronicles 11:5; 2 Chronicles 5:2).

    When Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, “Zion” expanded in meaning to include the temple and the area surrounding it (Psalms 2:6; 48:2, 11–12; 132:13). “Zion” was eventually used as a name for the city of Jerusalem, the land of Judah, and the people of Israel as a whole (Isaiah 40:9; Jeremiah 31:12; Zechariah 9:13).

    The most important use of the word “Zion” is in a theological sense. “Zion” is used figuratively of Israel as the people of God (Isaiah 60:14). The spiritual meaning of “Zion” is continued in the New Testament, where it is given the Christian meaning of God’s spiritual kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 14:1). Peter refers to Christ as the Cornerstone of Zion: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6).

    Got Questions Ministries, Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2002–2013).

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