Disappointment and Boring Bible Study

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In the course of my ministry discipling other men, I’ve found no habit more difficult to pass along than Bible study. For some, sharing the gospel comes naturally. The extroverts dig right in. For others, confession becomes a habit of life that is a constant life-giving source. I can name off many that have become selfless servants, gifted encouragers, worship leaders, self-styled theologians or even the near-mythological oft-spoken-of “prayer warriors”.

Perhaps no habit of Christian discipline has left them all more frustrated than regular Bible study. Maybe you have been a part of a mentoring relationship or accountability group before where conversations enter the shame spiral when the question comes up: “How’s your time in the Word?” or “Have you been reading your Bible?” I sure have been.

There’s a lot of reasons that regular Bible reading is hard. Sin. Lack of proper past teaching. Laziness. Distractions.

But I think there’s an even bigger factor holding many people back from vibrant Bible study.

Disappointment.

Do you remember the first time you really got the gospel of grace? When you heard it like you had new ears and saw it like you never had eyes until just that very moment. When the gospel was so real and tangible that you felt like it was wrapping you up in a hug.

And they told you then that to meet with this God every day — the way to hear from God himself — was to open up your Bible. And so you did. At first it was ok, then really great and then it was a legal manual. Then it was chronologies. Then it was Tiglath-Pileser (who?) and exiles. Then it was prophecies in metaphors you didn’t understand, with backgrounds you didn’t know. Then your Study Bible made it less “hearing from God” and more “you better have that homework done before school.”

And you felt disappointment. I get it. You heard the famous preachers and teachers talk about their rich, deep times in the Word. You heard about tears and joy and being filled with the Spirit, and you thought that if you ever cried over those pages it was because of frustration and not filling, shame and not surprising joy.

Our disappointment tells us that when Beth Moore or Rick Warren, Billy Graham or John Piper, J.D. Greear or Kay Arthur open up their Bibles in the morning, the pages glow. A cloud of understanding—the shekina glory itself—descends upon them. They meet over those pages with God like Moses met with him in the tabernacle: face to face. They’re special and for them it’s always been that way. And what’s more: it is not and never will be for you.

Let me tell you something important: that’s not true. Bible reading isn’t a spiritual gift. It’s a spiritual discipline. These men and women, as well as every believer from the widow’s Sunday School class to the church fathers, have learned to love and revere the Bible through discipline. Paul knew this. He did not tell Timothy  “one day it will just come to you,” but “Train yourself for godliness.

Meet Disappointment with Discipline

In our Bible study, we will all have days where we feel as if we are hearing nothing and understanding little. We will all have days we are tempted to read Philippians again for the 32,413th time. Some days, we should give in to that urge. Above all, however, we need to press into the whole Word of God. Seek intimacy over newness. We need to refuse to come to the Word expecting something new, shocking, or entertaining. Instead, we need to come to the Word of God for God. Intimacy with God is the prize.

In those difficult times of Bible study, we need to follow the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-8:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Ask. Seek. Knock.

There is no promise that the moment we ask, the instant we set our hearts to seek Him, or that when our hand is still upon the knocker that He will reply. But He will reply. Everyone who loves their Bible and loves time with the Lord in Bible study has gotten there through struggling, praying, seeking. There is no other way. Days where it seems the heavens are shut up are sowing for us a bounty of glory in ordinary, boring Bible study. We need to wrestle with the Word like Jacob wrestled with God: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” We must train ourselves for godliness.

It’s hard. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. There’s a reason attack of the yawns happens when we sit down in front of the Word. There’s a reason everything else suddenly seems pressing and interesting. But if we will discipline ourselves to be in the word, what awaits us on the other side is glory. In 2 Corinthians, we read that when the covenant words (The Scriptures) are read that, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” 

That’s why we press in. Intimacy with God in His Word changes us. When we discipline ourselves to look into His Word to see Jesus, the Word itself changes us more and more into his image. Jesus is on every page. It will take countless days, failed attempts, successes, frustrations, and joys. Over time, you will see the beauty of Bible study, because of your prolonged exposure to the beauty of Christ. That’s what we ask for, seek for, knock for: that by the Spirit we would see Jesus and become like him.

The pages won’t glow. But you might.

 

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?” 2 Corinthians 3:7-8

 

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

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Compassion is More than a Merit Badge

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Here’s something I wrote a while back for Radical, the resource ministry of IMB President David Platt, about how the gospel shapes our compassion:

Compassion is More Than a Merit Badge

As a part of my foster care advocacy work, I am constantly sharing with people about how the church should meet the needs of foster children. One trend I’ve noticed is how people will rush to tell me about the mission trip they went on years back, or how they watched a documentary on the subject, or how they know someone who did fill-in-the-blank kind of ministry once and how impressed they were by it. But, as everyone I’ve ever met in the non-profit world of compassion ministries (foster care, adoption, homeless, addiction rehab, etc.) can attest, the overwhelming response of self-proclaiming born again Christians is that these ministries are for someone else. God simply has not called them.

Click the link above to read the whole thing.

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Bible Reading: An Invitation To Meet With Jesus

I am grateful for an invitation from Radical, the resource ministry of IMB President David Platt, to write about Bible reading plans here at the beginning of a new year.

Bible Reading Is An Invitation, Not A Burden

Preview :

“…why start again? Life hasn’t gotten any less busy and no amount of willpower has succeeded so far. When we think about our Bible reading this way, we risk making Bible reading a burden instead of an invitation. So many of us act as if God sent his Son to earth to live a perfect life and die an atoning death, only to rise from the grave and wag a finger at us saying, “You’ll never be good enough for me unless you read your Bible every day!” Nothing could be further from the truth!

Click the linked title above to read more.

Fields of Faith

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I preached this sermon for my friend John Thweatt at FBC Pell City, AL on October 16, 2016. The sermon is from Jeremiah 32. In this Scripture, Jeremiah buys a field in Israel even as the nation is on the brink of destruction. Let’s look together at how this episode in Jeremiah’s life can teach us about God’s promise, God’s character, and God’s plan for Resurrection.

Listen in: 

Our Engagement Story

[Taken from our wedding website]

DSC_0700.jpgFrom the moment Griffin saw Rachel, he knew she was special. After their first date, Griffin made a note to himself: “I am going to marry this girl.” Just 8 months later, the two had fallen in love, learning much about love, sacrifice, repentance, and commitment even in that short period of time. This is the story of their engagement.

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Rachel had become suspicious. For a couple of months, she and Griffin had been talking seriously about marriage. In that time, the engagement had become an inevitability. This was a problem for Griffin.Griffin is a man who loves surprises. There had not been a single date in the entirety of their relationship where Rachel was told the plan. Griffin would tell Rachel when to be ready and how to dress, but otherwise every date was a complete surprise. That made the certainty of the engagement a problem: how do you surprise someone you have been in serious talks about marriage with for months?

Rachel’s suspicions began in November. She and Griffin had discussed rings, but he had made it clear that no ring would be purchased until the end of the year or later. He constantly hinted at an early to late February engagement, but Rachel knew he wouldn’t be able to make it that long. Griffin is not a naturally patient man, nor is he able to pass up sentimental seasons like Christmas. But she didn’t know when. The calendar had begun filling up. The only open date she knew of was December 10, and Griffin had asked her to go see the Nutcracker that day. Griffin had made a comment about the 2:30 show being “the best one”–which of course is untrue (the night show is the best!)–and so Rachel had become convinced that they would be getting engaged that evening. Not only that, a friend (Melissa Munn) had asked Rachel that week to get their nails done together for Melissa’s graduation. Rachel wasn’t buying it.

Melissa went into crisis mode. She called Griffin and told him that Rachel is onto them. So Griffin met the problem head on. The week of the engagement, Griffin asked Rachel, “Do you think we are getting engaged after the nutcracker?” Rachel blushed and sheepishly admitted she did, so Griffin informed her that this was not the case. She shouldn’t get her expectations up. Then they made plans for dinner that night with some friends. Of course, Griffin wasn’t lying. They weren’t getting engaged that night. They were getting engaged that morning.

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The morning of the engagement, Griffin got up early. He drove to a florist and picked up a dozen white roses. From there he drove to Raleigh Avenue Baptist Church where his friend Nic Seaborn had volunteered the beautiful RABC sanctuary for the event. He met Nic there, as well as Hillary Dickey (Rachel’s roommate) who would photograph the event. It was beautiful. They set up the sanctuary for the proposal, and Griffin laid out the “supplies”: a new Bible for Rachel, the flowers, the ring, and a letter. A letter was an important part of their relationship. During a short breakup early on, Griffin had written a letter to Rachel that brought them back together. That letter had implied how much he loved her. This letter would tell her.

Griffin got back in his car to pick Rachel up. Then he turned around, because he left the ring at the church instead of in his pocket. Then he got back in the car to pick her up. Rachel was ready when he got there (Hallelujah!) and they got in the car. The plan was for Nic to call Griffin and tell him to swing by the church and get a book. Nic calls. Griffin says he’ll swing buy. But then, Rachel and her wonderful curiosity kicks in.

“Do we have to get the book now?” Yes.

“We’ll be late for lunch!” No, we won’t.

“I’ll just stay in the car then.” You are not going to be rude to my friend. (Griffin begins to panic.)

“Why is he at the church on a Saturday anyway?” He’s setting up for Advent things tomorrow.

“Advent started last week.” *silence from Griffin*

At this point Griffin realized he only had to drive 5 minutes without letting the cat out of the bag and he is failing. Rachel, who is wearing a beautiful ring of her Mammy’s, slipped her ring off her finger and put it in her purse. Griffin fell silent.

They get to the church and walk into the foyer of the sanctuary. Griffin stopped Rachel and grabbed her by the hand: “Rachel. I love you.” Rachels eyes got huge and she nods. I love you too. Griffin took Rachel by the hand and began to walk her up the left aisle where a small pew had been set up between the Christmas tree and the communion table.

“Nic isn’t here, is he?” No, baby. Nic isn’t here.

Griffin walked Rachel to the pew and sat her down there. “Hillary is taking pictures in the balcony. Don’t look at her, look at me.” Rachel nodded. Griffin walked over to the table and picked up the letter. He sat beside Rachel on the pew and read to her as they both laughed and cried while Griffin retold fun times they had, and told her of all the reasons he loves her. Griffin stood and walked back to the table and left the letter there. He picked up the Bible and walked back to Rachel. Squatting before her, he told her of the life he wanted with her serving the Lord together, and then he read to her Psalm 34:3:

“Magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!”

After reading it, Griffin set the Bible on the pew and asked Rachel to stand.Rachel stood, and as she did Griffin reached into his back pocket and pulled out the ring box. He went to one knee, and asked Rachel to marry him. Rachel quickly said yes, and Griffin quickly stood and kissed her. They stood in a long embrace until finally Griffin said, “Would you like to see your ring?” He put the ring on her finger and they began to celebrate! He told her all about her new Bible, ring, and engagement setup, and Hillary took them for a proposal photoshoot right then.

After an hour or so, they went to have a celebratory lunch with their parents. Then they spent the afternoon together where they called friends, reminisced, and prayed together for their marriage. That night, nearly 75 friends and family gathered together to celebrate them at a dear friend’s home who volunteered to throw the party. It was a full day, but it was a perfect day.

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Griffin and Rachel aren’t perfect, but they are perfect together. They are in love, but not the sort of love that flutters up and down depending on the day. Their relationship is marked by mistakes, victories, failures, forgiveness, repentance, celebration, laughter, and friendship. They can not wait to celebrate this love with their closest friends and family members on April 29. Regardless of the weather, the food, or the festivities, it will be a perfect day. Why? Because it will be the day that God unites Griffin and Rachel for a life together, exalting Jesus and serving one another.

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Keeping the Cross at the Center of our Gospel Presentation

 

cross imageHere’s something I wrote a while back for Radical, the resource ministry of IMB President David Platt, about cross-centered evangelism:

Keeping the Cross at the Center of our Gospel Presentation

Many Christians have found that it is far easier to tell people of the great love of God by pointing to Jesus’ miraculous acts of mercy or God’s desire to know us as friends. After all, is it not easier for modern man to think of God in his benevolence and relate-ability rather than crucified and bleeding upon a cross? Isn’t the point simply that God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us? Why do we need to talk about the cross? For many, good intentions have hung the curtain over the bloody cross, hiding it and putting it in the background. We don’t want to turn people away. We don’t want to make things uncomfortable. We don’t want people to think we are like those Christians.

Click the link above to read the whole thing.

“High and Lifted Up For Salvation” | A Sermon on John 3:1-16

In December I preached this sermon at FBC Jackson, AL at the invitation of the pastor (and my friend), Pastor Ben Stubblefield. I hope you are encouraged by the message of Christ, who tells us to be born again, and then dies our death in order that we might be. The God of the world dying for the sins of the world in order that we may have eternal life with him! What could be better than that?

12 27 15 FBC Message from First Baptist Church on Vimeo.

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