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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Spiritual Leadership Boot Camp

From the very earliest pages of the Bible, it is clear that God has designated men to be the spiritual leaders of their homes. Several features of the text of Genesis 2 indicate that this was God’s design from before the Fall. For example: the man was created before the woman (Gen 2:7, 15-17; cf. 1 Tim 2:11-13); the woman was made for the man (Gen 2:18; cf. 1 Cor 11:9); the woman was made from the man (Gen 2:21-22; 1 Cor 11:8); and the man named the woman, not once but twice (Gen 2:23, 3:20).
Each of these features of the Genesis 2 narrative reveals a clear difference of role between the man and the woman. From the beginning man was called to bear the responsibility of headship, while the wife was called to be the man’s perfectly suitable helper.  Male spiritual leadership in the home is God’s original ideal.
I am so thankful that at Providence Bible Fellowship this theology is accepted as the norm.  There are many churches in the world where it is not.  Our membership embraces what has been called complementarianism – the view that God has created both men and women in His image, equal in status before God and in importance to the family and church, but distinct in role.  Men are to lead in the family and church, and women are to help them.  This is widely accepted in our local body.
But there is a big difference between believing the right things and living the right things.  It may be the case that we all agree wholeheartedly that God has woven a complementarian structure into the family, but that does not automatically mean that our homes reflect it.  In fact, if there is one thing that I hear consistently from men and women in our congregation about their homes, it is that this ideal of male spiritual leadership is not being lived out.  I frequently hear from men that they know they are called to lead their families and that they want to but that they are not doing it well. I also frequently hear from women that they long for spiritual leadership from their husbands, but that it simply isn’t happening.
So what is the problem?  It may be that in some cases there are men who simply don’t want to lead or for whom it is uncomfortable, but it seems that the most common issue is that they simply don’t know how.  Most men have not been raised in homes where this was modeled for them by a father figure.  Additionally, it is an area of discipleship that has been all but ignored by the church in recent decades.  Consequently, we have several generations of men in the church who have the strong conviction that God calls them to lead but who aren’t leading or who aren’t leading well because they just don’t know what that leadership should look like in everyday life.  Typical questions that men wrestle with include:
·      What is spiritual leadership?  What does it look like? 
·      Should a man’s leadership in his wife’s life look different than his leadership in his children’s lives?  
·      Should man’s leadership of his children change as they get older?
·      Are there certain tasks or activities associated with spiritual leadership, specific things that a man should be doing on a regular basis? 
·      Why doesn’t this just come naturally to a Christian man?
·      Are there any helpful resources out there, like a “Spiritual Leadership for Dummies”?
·      How does God’s Word equip a man for this?

We need to be trained for this.  For that reason, we are going to begin what could be thought of as a spiritual leadership boot camp for the men of PBF early next year.  Our objective will be to answer the above questions so thoroughly that everyone knows exactly what spiritual leadership is and how to do it, and we’ll be working together to implement these principles in our homes.  The training will run for eight consecutive Saturdays beginning on February 7 and going through March 28.  We’ll gather together each Saturday morning from 7-8:30. 
Men, if you love your families, put this on the calendar now and make a commitment to come.  You may already have things squared away in your home – that’s great – you can come and mentor others who have yet to begin the journey.  Women, if you love your families, encourage your husbands to make this a priority and do what you can to free them up for those eight Saturdays.  These could be the most consequential two months ever for the spiritual health of your home.
There will be more details to come in the next few months.  But right now, while you’re thinking about it, get out the calendar.  Seriously, right now.  Jot down (or type in) “spiritual leadership boot camp” every Saturday AM (7a-8:30a) from Feb 7 to Mar 28.  I’m praying for 100% participation.  Will you pray, too?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Some Thoughts on Application

 As we have been studying Colossians together on Wednesday nights, I’ve been encouraged by the thoughtfulness of the participants as we have sought to apply the Scriptures to everyday life.  Thus far, we have only studied the more doctrinal sections of the book, and yet everyone has offered helpful insights into how those sections can be applied to real life. 
Unfortunately, many in the modern church do not take Bible study to its proper final step of application.  How easy it is to study a passage intently and diligently, to find its proper interpretation, to thank God for His beautiful truth, and then to walk away with nothing but a bigger head and duller heart. You know, the devil can use God’s Word as a tool to work pride ever deeper into our hearts, and he does that by tempting us to focus on the process of study and not the goal of study.  Most of us have probably fallen for this trick at some point in our Christian lives.

What is the goal of Bible study? Some may be tempted to say “knowledge.”  Bible knowledge is a good thing as long as it produces something else, but it is not the ultimate goal.  Others may say, “a transformed life” or “sanctification.”  This also is good, but it is not the main thing.  The ultimate end of all things, including bible study, is the glory of God.  How does bible study glorify God?  Through the knowledge we attain, we apply the Scriptures to our lives which causes us to grow in Christlikeness which brings glory to God (Matt 5:14-16).
 The Holy Spirit has given us the Holy Word for the purpose of knowing God and being transformed into the image of the Son for His glory. That goal – that God would be glorified – should be kept at the forefront of our minds as we study the Bible. Our desire to understand should serve our desire to become more like Christ, which should serve our desire for God to be glorified. If I find myself studying and digging into the Scriptures simply to have a better grasp of doctrine rather than to be sanctified for His glory, I need to spend some time on my knees confessing that and asking for a heart that hungers for much to be made of Him.  God is not glorified in my study until application has happened.  

Once we have interpreted a passage soundly, our final question should be, “how do I live this?” 2 Tim 3:16 is a helpful guide for breaking down truth to see how it should be applied: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

Teaching is doctrine. It is what the Word says about any given subject. The epistles are heavy in teaching. Let’s use Ephesians as an example. The first three chapters are all doctrinal teaching. How do you apply that? Well, one common misconception about application is that we have to do something external in order to obey the Word. But sometimes what we really need to do is change our thinking on a certain issue. For example, Ephesians 1 makes a very strong case for the absolute sovereignty of God. He chose us (v4) and predestined us (v5) according to his purpose (v9) and plan (v10), and He is working all things after the counsel of His will (v11). How do I apply that? By deciding to believe it and incorporate it into my understanding of God. I obey that truth by accepting it.

The same could be said for the depravity and inability of man in chapter 2. Man is unwilling and unable to turn from His sin (vv1-3). His faith is a gracious gift from God (v8). The whole of his salvation and sanctification is God’s work (v10). How do I apply this? By believing that my salvation has nothing to do with my own will to follow Christ. I believed because it was given to me to believe. So I humble myself and give all glory to God. That’s application.

Reproof and Correction work together to expose our sin and to correct our course. When we arrive at a proper interpretation of any passage, we should pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal to us where we are missing the mark in relation to the truths we’ve found. When we hold that text up to our lives like a mirror, we may find that we are thinking ungodly thoughts, exhibiting ungodly attitudes, harboring ungodly desires, or engaging in ungodly acts. Sin is not simply outward actions. We can be in grievous sin without showing any visible signs. It is important to prayerfully meditate on the truths we found, using them like a torch to expose any iniquity in our lives. We then apply that truth through confession, repentance, seeking forgiveness, putting off & putting on, and renewal of the mind.   

Training in righteousness refers to positive instruction from God’s Word. The text we have studied may not show that we are in sin, but it may give us promises, exhortations, or warnings. If there are promises, we cherish them. If there are exhortations, we follow them. If there are warnings, we heed them. If there are positive examples in the lives of biblical characters, we emulate them. If there are negative examples in the lives of biblical characters, we learn from them. We seek to use these truths to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness like an athlete running so as to win the prize (1 Tim 4:7; 1 Cor 9:24-27).

Studying the Bible is hard work. It takes much time, energy, and commitment. But once we have finished the process of actual study and begin to apply truth to our lives, the work has only begun. …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Getting Into The Word

In our Wednesday night bible study this week, we briefly discussed how important it is to be constantly refreshing our minds with the Scriptures in order to guard against adopting the thinking of the world.  It prompted me to consider the importance of several different avenues of Bible intake.  Below are my thoughts, most of which will not be news to you, but could perhaps prompt you to reincorporate a discipline that may have fallen by the wayside.
A primary tool that God has granted for the purpose of transforming us into the likeness of Christ is the intake of His Word. One of Jesus’ primary concerns for the disciples on the night before His death was that the Father would use His Word to make them holy. He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Indeed, it is the God-breathed Scriptures that are uniquely and sufficiently able to make us mature in Christ, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). The Spirit uses His Word to expose our hearts and to transform our minds (Heb 4:12; Rom 12:2).
This means that if a believer is going to grow in godliness, he must make intake of the Word a major discipline of his life. R. Kent Hughes offers this: “You can never have a Christian mind without reading the Scriptures regularly because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know. If you are filled with God’s Word, your life can then be informed and directed by God—your domestic relationships, your child-rearing, your career, your ethical decisions, your interior moral life. The way to a Christian mind is through God’s Word!”[1] The apostle Paul exhorted the Colossians to “let the word of Christ dwell” in them richly (Col 3:16). The only way this can happen is if we are intentionally taking in the Scriptures.
The simplest form of Bible intake is hearing the Word, which would include listening to sermons, participating in Bible studies, and listening to audible recordings of the Scriptures. At the very least, this discipline entails becoming a part of a New Testament church where the Bible is taught on a regular basis.[2] 
One text that demonstrates the importance of hearing the Word is 2 Timothy 4:1-2: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” While most would regard this as an imperative to the preacher, and rightfully so, it also holds an implied imperative to the listener. If it is crucial that the content of the pastor’s preaching be the Word of God, it also must be crucial for the church to hear the Word of God. The necessity of hearing the Word is founded upon the previous passage in which, Paul notes that the Word of God is able to make the believer complete and equipped (2 Tim3:16-17). As God has commanded the preaching of the Word to the people of God, certainly it is intended to be a vital part of the believer’s diet.
A second essential method of intake is Bible reading. With the wide availability of electronic and print copies of the Word, reading is perhaps the most convenient and most readily available method of taking in the Scriptures. The Word itself seems to assume that believers will read the Bible. For example, Jesus frequently questioned people’s knowledge of the Word, beginning with the words, “have you not read…?”, implying that it is to be expected that God’s people would read God’s Word.[3] Given the repeated references in the Bible to the role of Scripture in our sanctification, it is difficult to imagine a person growing in godliness without spending regular time reading the Word.
George Mueller provides an excellent example of the power of consistently reading the Bible:
“It is absolutely needful…we should read regularly through the Scriptures…  For the first four years after my conversion I made no progress, because I neglected the Bible. But when I regularly read on through the whole with reference to my own heart and soul, I directly made progress. Then my peace and joy continued more and more. Now I have been doing this for 47 years. I have read through the whole Bible about 100 times and I always find it fresh when I begin again. Thus my peace and joy have increased more and more.”[4]
Mueller would live to the age of ninety-two, never changing his pursuit of satisfaction in God through the reading of the Scriptures.[5] He noted in his later years, “I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord…I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God.”[6] He view the reading of the Word as the primary means by which he grew in the knowledge of God, which led to his being happy in God.[7] Regular Bible reading is a crucial part of the spiritual diet of a Christian.
Another method of Bible intake championed by the Scriptures is memorization. The Bible notes numerous benefits of memorizing God’s Word, just a few of which will be noted here. First, it supplies spiritual power to deal with temptation. The psalmist proclaimed, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11, cf. Matt 4:1-11). Second, it can strengthen one’s faith. Proverbs 22:17-19 exhorts the reader to internalize God’s Word “that your trust may be in the Lord.” Donald Whitney comments, “Memorizing Scripture strengthens your faith because it repeatedly reinforces the truth, often just when you need to hear it again.”[8]  Third, Scripture memorization can be a means of God’s guidance. Psalm 119:24 reads, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” When the Scriptures are internalized, these counselors become constant companions able to give guidance at any time of day or night. Fourth, memorization facilitates Scripture meditation. Indeed, memorization is the only way to be like the psalmist, meditating on the Word “all the day” (Ps119:97). With verses of Scriptures tucked away in one’s memory, the believer can meditate no matter the time or place. Memorization is a vital method of Bible intake for the Christian.
Meditation, a fourth method of taking in the Word, consists of “deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.”[9] The Bible has much to say about the significance of this discipline. It promises success and spiritual fruitfulness to those who meditate on God’s Word (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:1-3). It indicates that Scriptural understanding comes through meditation (Ps 119:27, 99). It also teaches that love for the Word results from meditation on it, which motivates further meditation (Ps 119:14-16, 48, 97).
It is possible that meditation is the most important of all the methods because in it the believer takes what he has heard, read, and memorized and thinks deeply about what it means and how it should be applied to his life. Meditation makes the other methods truly useful, for it is conceivable that one could take in the Word by other methods but without ever pondering them for the purpose of application. For this reason, it is critical that a believer discipline himself to regularly meditate on the Word of God. (For several suggested methods of meditation, see this post.)
So what about you?  Have you made Bible intake a priority lately?  Why not find another brother or sister and challenge one another to get into the Word, hearing it, reading it, memorizing it, and meditating on it?  Let us strive to be people of the Word, understanding that it is food for our souls (Matt 4:4, cf. Deut 8:3).

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, Rev. ed.; 10th anniversary ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 77.
[2] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 29.
[3] Ibid., 32.
[4] George Muller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Muller. Written by Himself. (Muskegon, MI: Dust and Ashes, 2003), 2:834.
[5] John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 119.
[6] Muller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Muller. Written by Himself., 1:271–272.
[7] Ibid., 2:740.
[8] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 43.
[9] Ibid., 48.