Finding My Place in the Story

The Bible comes to us in various forms of literature: history, poetry, and letters, just to name a few. But essentially, the Bible tells one epic story from beginning to end, using all the various genres.

Eugene Peterson, writing the introduction to Matthew in The Message, said:

“Every day we wake up in the middle of something that is already going on, that has been going on for a long time, genealogy and geology, history and culture, the cosmos – God. We are neither accidental nor incidental to the story. From it we get orientation, briefing, background, reassurance. Lacking such a context, we are in danger of seeing Jesus as a mere diversion from the concerns announced in the newspapers. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The challenge is to find myself and my place in God’s great story of Redemption and Restoration.

Outline of Biblical History

I have learned that I am one who learns best from outlines. Perhaps not in all subjects, but I think certainly when it comes to learning history. I can often recall many of the stories, but I am sometimes slow to remember how things played out and how things connect. Outlines helps to remind me of the the bigger picture, the broader narrative, which is vital to understanding.

The outline below is one I have found helpful for remembering the narrative of Biblical history. It comes from the book, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, by Australian Anglican scholar Graeme Goldsworthy.

(See chart in .pdf)

No Other Gospel

After learning I would be beginning a new sermon series this week, a study of the book of Galatians, a friend and colleague who is an Army Chaplain asked me if I had read the relatively new book, No Other Gospel.  Though I had seen it, I admitted I was not really familiar with it.  He suggested it would be a good parallel book to coincide with the series of messages we will be offering at Grace Covenant between now and Easter.

I picked it up, skimmed it this afternoon, and expect to commend it to our congregation – at least to No Otherthose who want to do a little digging of their own over the next few months.  (I’ll read it more thoroughly as well.)

In the video above Justin Taylor interviews the author of the book, Josh Moody, who serves the historic College Church of Wheaton.  Moody explains the basis and the gist of the book.

About Bible “Admissions”

HAPPY Strawman

When first reading an article featured in Relevant Magazine by John Pavlovitz, 5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible, I found myself feeling a mixture of mild reactions: chagrined by the banality, and indifferent because of the banality.  While the magazine does occasionally publish some thoughtful pieces, the majority seem to be either old fashioned theological liberalism dressed up in contemporary Millennial angst, or shallow pragmatism desperately wanting to be considered poignant and profound.  This particular article managed to qualify for both categories, as Pavlovitz offered his handful of wishes that people would understand:

  1. The Bible Isn’t a Magic Book
  2. The Bible Isn’t as Clear as We’d Like It to Be
  3. The Bible Was Inspired by God, Not Dictated by God
  4. We All Pick and Choose the Bible We Believe, Preach and Defend
  5. God is Bigger Than the Bible

Really going out on a limb there, with such staggering assertions. (Note sarcasm.)

It was not until I read a post by Blake Deal, What We Will Not “Admit” About the Bible, that I even gave it a second thought.  What had seemed unworthy to receive much consideration had now been given a thoughtful, appropriate corrective.   After reading Deal’s rebuttal, I started thinking to myself: “I wish I’d written that”.

Whether one takes the time to read Pavlovitz’s piece or not, I think Deal’s observations are worth the few minutes it  takes to read them, both for their succinct affirmations of the historic faith, and as an example of a good way to address other straw man allegations levied against historic Christian orthodoxy in the name of becoming relevant to this present generation.

Finding Your Place in God’s Story

Knowing scripture is vital. But it is not the essence of Christianity.  That may sound surprising, but it really should not be.  Knowing the Bible is foundational, even essential, to vibrant faith and life. But it is also possible to have great knowledge yet have little understanding. The essence of the Faith is not information but formation.  It is understanding who God is, what he has done and is doing, and what he expects from you and me.  It is, borrowing a good popular phrase, finding your place in God’s story and living it out in light of the gospel.

I started reading D.A. Carson’s The God Who Is There.   This is a tremendous resource.  Carson does a wonderful job in walking the reader through the narrative of the Bible, or what he calls “the Big Story of Scripture”.  He touches on the major themes, comprehensively yet easily readable. And in doing this, Carson helps us understand the grand narrative of scripture, thus assisting and enabling us to more easily find our place in it.

As it so happened, in February 2009 Carson presented a 14-part seminar  at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. The book was developed from those messages.  And thanks to The Gospel Coalition, the MP3s and videos of the conference that closely correspond with the book are available for all 14 chapters:

  1. The God Who Made Everything | MP3 | Video
  2. The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels | MP3 | Video
  3. The God Who Writes His Own Agreements | MP3 | Video
  4. The God Who Legislates | MP3 | Video
  5. The God Who Reigns | MP3 | Video
  6. The God Who Is Unfathomably Wise | MP3 | Video
  7. The God Who Becomes a Human Being | MP3 | Video
  8. The God Who Grants New Birth | MP3 | Video
  9. The God Who Loves | MP3 | Video
  10. The God Who Dies—and Lives Again | MP3 | Video
  11. The God Who Declares the Guilty Just | MP3 | Video
  12. The God Who Gathers and Transforms His People | MP3 | Video
  13. The God Who Is Very Angry | MP3 | Video
  14. The God Who Triumphs | MP3 | Video

A Word From a VBS Valedictorian

Trekking incognito along the Emmaus Road, shortly after his resurrection, unrecognized even by the few of his own disciples who walked with him, Jesus challenged the groans of perplexity and faithlessness:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24.25-27)

All of the Scriptures speak about Jesus? Really? Yep.  And in the video above, this young guy recounts the overarching reflections of the Messiah revealed in every book of the Bible.


Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

In the Preface to Joe Thorn‘s book, Note to Self, Sam Storms penned a paragraph that strikes at the heart of the difference between those with a vital Chrisian faith, and those who show little if any hint of actually being a follower of Jesus Christ.  Here is what Storms says about the functional place of Scripture in the life of a Believer:

Merely affirming the Bible is inspired accomplishes very little.  Asserting it’s authority isn’t much better.  The inspiration and authority of the Scriptures are of value to us only so far as we change our beliefs to conform to its principles and alter our behavior to coincide with its imperatives.  The Bible is meant to govern our lives, to fashion our choices, to challenge our cherished traditions, and ultimately make us more like Jesus.

The question for each of us, then, is whether the Bible actually functions in this way.

  • Do we submit to its dictates?
  • Do we put our confidence in its promises?
  • Do we stop living in a certain way in response to its counsel?
  • Do we embrace particular truths on its authority?
  • Do we set aside traditional practices that conflict with its instruction?

In other words, for the Bible to be of value to us it must actually function to shape how we think, feel, and act, as well as what we believe, value, and teach.

I think Storms nails it here; hits it square on its head.

A number of dialogues I have recently had broached the subject of the differences of maturity levels between professing Christians. What Storms addresses is one of the most vital dynamics that explain the differences.  In fact, since we who believe have all been given the same Spirit, perhaps the differences in the way we approach and apprehend the Scripture may be THE most important explanation for such differences.

Some see the Scriptures as they are to be seen, as a revelation of what is good and a mirror to show us what needs addressing in our lives, which in turn drives us to the Cross, where the power of transformation rests.  Here they find the promises of God to be true: He is making us beautiful, to become a Bride for the King.

Others also see the Scriptures as a mirror. But, for these folks, this mirror is more like the one used by that witch in the story Snow White, who declared: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”  All she wanted was to hear how good she was; how much better she was than others. Sadly some people look to the mirror of Scripture only willing to see whatever appears to validate them.  Failing to see, by the mirror, the ugly-fying effects of sin in their hearts and lives, they see no real need to return to the Cross.  Thus they seem to never be changed.  They never become truly beautiful.

How to – or NOT to – Read Your Bible

How should we read our Bibles? There are a number of good ways.  But Dane Ortland offers some suggestions about how not to approach it:

  • The Gold Mine Approach – reading the Bible as a vast, cavernous, dark mine, in which one occasionally stumbles upon a nugget of inspiration. Result: confused reading.
  • The Hero Approach – reading the Bible as a moral hall of fame that gives us one example after another of heroic spiritual giants to emulate. Result: despairing reading.
  • The Rules Approach – reading the Bible on the lookout for commands to obey to subtly reinforce a sense of personal superiority. Result: Pharisaical reading.
  • The Artifact Approach – reading the Bible as an ancient document about events in the Middle East a few thousand years ago that are irrelevant to my life today. Result: bored reading.
  • The Guidebook Approach – reading the Bible as a roadmap to tell me where to work, whom to marry, and what shampoo to use. Result: anxious reading.
  • The Doctrine Approach – reading the Bible as a theological repository to plunder for ammunition for my next theology debate at Starbucks. Result: cold reading.

This post is excerpted from Ortland’s post on The Resurgence blog: Transform Your Bible Reading.  The expanded article offers some valuable insights.

Misusing the Proverbs

Great post by John Armstrong on Proverbs.  Armstrong asserts:

Perhaps no part of Holy Scripture has been more frequently abused… than the book of Proverbs.

Armstrong goes on to explain what the proverbs are and are not, and their God-intended purpose.

Not long ago a friend and I were discussing this very same problem, after some pastors he knew had thrown around a proverb or two, wielding them as if they were laws.   But proverbs are not laws. They are expressions of wisdom.   Sometimes they are even contradictory wisdom.

Now I do not believe, as many assert, that the Bible “contradicts” itself.  The laws and promises are consistent in all ways.  One has to remove them from their intended context to make a case that they are contradictory.  But when it comes to the book of Proverbs it is reasonable to see that some sayings offer different outcomes for similar actions.  That is easy enough to explain.  Again, proverbs are not laws or promises, they are expressions of wisdom to help us navigate life.  I’ve heard R.C. Sproul says about Proverbs, essentially, in life “sometimes this will happen, and sometimes that will happen.”  Proverbs prepares us for “this” and “that”.

Check Out: Misusing the Proverbs

Bible in 6 Minutes

Is there a particular theme that runs through the whole Bible?  No doubt there are many stories and lessons, but is there a central message by which we can connect all else?

Dane Ortland asked several pastors and scholars if they could summarize the Bible in one sentence. Here are some notable responses:

John Frame:

God glorifies himself in the redemption of sinners.

Kent Hughes:

God is redeeming his creation by bringing it under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Tom Schreiner:

God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation.

Mark Dever:

God has made promises to bring His people to Himself and He is fulfilling them all through Christ.

Kevin DeYoung:

A holy God sends his righteous Son to die for unrighteous sinners so we can be holy and live happily with God forever.

And, finally, my favorite…

Ray Ortlund:

The Lover of our souls won’t let the romance die, but is rekindling it forever.

In the above video Bible scholar D.A. Carson provides a concise, comprehensive, and comprehensible, summary of the theme that permeates the entire Bible.

Of Paramount Importance

Take a moment to ponder these observations about the paramount importance of God’s Word:

Since there is a more excellent appearance of the Spirit of God in the holy scripture than in any other book,  it has more power and ability to convey the Spirit and make us spiritual, by imprinting itself upon our hearts.

Since there is more of God in it, it will acquaint us more with God, and bring us nearer to Him, and make the reader more reverent  and godly.

Let scripture be first and most in your hearts and hands, and other books used as subservient to it.

The endeavor of the devil… is to keep it from you, which is evidence that reading it is most necessary and desirable, and beneficial to you.

Adapted from the Works of Richard Baxter.

Bible Reading Plans for 2011

New Years Day has come and gone, and 2011 is trudging along.  You want to do some things different this year.  You’ve always wanted to read through the Bible, but you’ve never been quite sure how to do it.  Or, you have read through the Bible before but you are looking for a different approach.

If one of your Resolutions for 2011 is to make Bible reading a regular part of your daily disciplines, you are in luck (err, you are in Providence)!  It is not too late to get started. (It’s never too late.) There are several plans available from the publishers of the ESV.

Click: Bible Reading Plans