People Of The Word

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Haggai appears on the historical scene for just five months, but what a bright light he shines! He is the first of three post-exilic prophets to encourage the Israelites who have returned to Jerusalem.

Before we talk about Haggai’s ministry, we need a brief grammar lesson. Specifically, let’s look at two prefixes: un- and non-. Both of them ultimately mean “not,” but there is a distinction that we need to consider when it comes to the Bible: 

    • unbiblical would mean something contrary to the teaching of the Bible 
    • non-biblical is something that may or may not be correct, but it’s not specifically mentioned in the Bible 

Let me give you an example from my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter. Chris asked me whether I preferred the title senior pastor or lead pastor. This is a non-biblical issue; that is, it doesn’t really matter to me because neither of those titles are found in the Bible. Technically, the word pastor isn’t in the Bible either. The word that is usually translated “pastor” is really a herdsman or a shepherd. 

The problem is that if we put too much focus on non-biblical things, those things can end up becoming unbiblical pursuits. Like when Jesus took the Pharisees to task for their focus on traditions over Scripture (see Matthew 15:1-6). I wrote Shepherd Leadership mainly to get pastors and church leaders to spot non-biblical metrics which may have sneakily turned into unbiblical pursuits, so that they could return to pure biblical principles. In the Preface of my book, I wrote—

“My larger concern is that churches, parachurch organizations, and nonprofit ministries that are largely founded to fulfill a biblical mandate are straying from the simple, freeing truths found in the Bible. Or maybe I should say that they are adding things to their ministries that aren’t in the pages of Scripture. Whichever way you want to say it, the result is the same: We are using the wrong metrics to define ‘success’ for our ministries. I fear that in our focus on unbiblical practices, we are missing the joy of really doing ministry.”

Haggai calls God’s people to return to God’s Word. This is the second-shortest book in the Old Testament (at just 38 verses long), yet Haggai says something like “this is what God says” 28 times in these 38 verses! 

Haggai also records five times that God says, “Give careful thought to your ways.” This phrase literally means to take a strong hold on each thought and examine it intensely. This idea is always connected to a phrase like, “This is what the Lord Almighty says” (1:5, 7; 2:14-15, 17-18). In other words, we are to thoughtfully examine our lifestyle with God’s Word being THE standard of measurement. 

Paul made a similar connection in the New Testament: We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

Jesus did this too. When speaking to the religious leaders, He said, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor God’s power” (Matthew 22:29). And even with His own disciples, He had to open their minds to see how the Scriptures pointed to Him and were fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45). 

Indeed, the phrase “it is written” is used 75 times in the New Testament! 

That’s why Haggai’s words still ring true to us today: “Give careful thought” to how you live in light of how God says you should be living. Christians need to…

  1. Hear the Word of God every day 
  2. Consider their lives in light of the Word of God
  3. Obey what the Word of God is saying to us 

(check out Acts 17:11; Psalm 139:23-24; 1 Samuel 15:22) 

We must become people of the Word of God or else we run the very real risk of letting our non-biblical decisions spiral downward into a sinful, unbiblical lifestyle that grieves the heart of God. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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Major Lessons From Minor Prophets (concluded)

Sometimes the naming of things gives us an inaccurate picture of the thing being named. For instance, many people think the “old” in Old Testament means outdated or perhaps updated by the “new” in the New Testament. When in fact, both Testaments are needed to give us the full picture of God’s love and glory. 

A similar thing happens with the headings “major prophets” and “minor prophets.” It makes it sound like the major prophets have something major to say to us, while we could take or leave the minor messages of the minor prophets. 

In reality, they were given these headings simply because of the volume of writing—the five major prophets consist of 182 chapters, whereas the 12 minor prophets only have 67 chapters. The volume of their writing may be minor, but their content carries major messages of meteoric power! 

Join me this Sunday as we rejoin this highly informative series.

If you have missed any of the messages in this current session, check them out here:

10 Quotes From “Reading The Bible With The Founding Fathers”

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

For any students of American history or of the role the Bible has played in affecting world affairs, Reading The Bible With The Founding Fathers is an eye-opening book. You can check out my full book review by clicking here. Unless otherwise noted, quotes are from author Daniel Dreisbach. 

“Following an extensive survey of American political literature from 1760 to 1805, political scientist Donald S. Lutz reported that the Bible was referenced more frequently than any European writer or even any European school of thought, such as the Enlightenment or Whig intellectual traditions. Indeed, the Bible accounted for about one-third of all citations in his sample. According to Lutz, ‘Deuteronomy is the most frequently cited book, followed by Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws.’ … Saint Paul is cited about as frequently as Montesquieu and [William] Blackstone, the two most-cited secular authors, and Deuteronomy is cited almost twice as often as all of [John] Locke’s writings put together.”

“The founders often quoted the Bible without the use of quotation marks or citations, which were not necessary for a biblically literate society but the absence of which fail to alert a biblically illiterate modern audience to the Bible’s invocation.” 

“Increasing unfamiliarity with the Bible makes it harder and harder for Americans to understand their origins and their mores, or to put words to their experiences. … Lacking knowledge of the Bible, Americans are likely to be literally inarticulate, unable to relate themselves to American life and culture as a whole.” —Wilson Carey McWilliams

“Knowledge of the Bible and its place in the American experience, in short, helps Americans better understand themselves and their history.” 

“In regard to this Great Book [the Bible], I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.” —Abraham Lincoln 

“[T]he Bible has had a literary influence not because it has been considered as literature, but because it has been considered as the report of the Word of God.” —T.S. Eliot 

“[William] Tyndale, who was the first to translate the Bible into English from the original Hebrew and Greek, can be rightly called the father of the King James Bible. Approximately ‘eighty percent of his Old Testament and ninety percent of his New Testament’ were adopted by the King James translators. …  

“There is much truth in the remark that ‘without Tyndale, no Shakespeare.’ It is also true that ‘without Tyndale, no King James Bible.’ ‘Without the King James Bible,’ Alister McGrath observed, ‘there would have been no Paradise Lost, no Pilgrim’s Progress, no Handel’s Messiah, no Negro spirituals, and no Gettysburg Address. … Without this Bible, the culture of the English-speaking world would have been immeasurably impoverished.’” 

“The size of the vocabulary found in the King James Bible is not extensive. [William] Shakespeare, it is estimated, used between fifteen and twenty thousand different words. Milton’s verse draws on a lexicon of about thirteen thousand words. The Old Testament, in the Hebrew and Aramaic, has approximately fifty-six hundred words. The New Testament, in the Greek, has around forty-eight hundred words. In the entire King James Bible, by contrast, there are only about six thousand different words, according to one accounting.” 

“The opinion that human reason, left without the constant control of divine laws and commands, will preserve a just administration, secure freedom and other rights, restrain men from violations of laws and constitutions, and give duration to a popular government, is as chimerical as the most extravagant ideas that enter the head of a maniac. … Where will you find any code of laws, among civilized men, in which the commands and prohibitions are not founded on Christian principles? I need not specify the prohibition of murder, robbery, theft, [and] trespass. … Every wise code of laws must embrace the main principles of the religion of Christ.” —John Adams 

“Moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. These principles and precepts have truth, immutable truth, for their foundation; and they are adapted to the wants of men in every condition of life. They are the best principles and precepts, because they are exactly adapted to secure the practice of universal justice and kindness among men; and of course to prevent crimes, war and disorders in society. No human laws dictated by different principles from those in the gospel, can ever secure these objects. All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible. … For instruction then in social, religious and civil duties resort to the scriptures for the best precepts and most excellent examples of imitation.” —Noah Webster

The Value Of Journaling

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Do you keep a journal? I’m not talking about a diary of your daily events, but a journal of your ongoing dialogue with God. This is a discipline I began over 25 years ago, and it’s been immensely helpful to me. 

Every time you read the history of Israel in the Old Testament, you are really reading a written history—a journal—of what God did for His people.

In Luke 1:46-55, we read Mary’s song about the soon-to-be-born Jesus that someone journaled to record for posterity. The same thing is true for Zechariah’s song about his son John in Luke 1:67-79. I am sure that many people found great comfort in reading and recalling these songs, perhaps even Jesus Himself and John the Baptist. 

Even Jesus told His disciple John to journal the words He spoke to him about events still to come (Revelation 1:11, 19; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 14:13; 19:9; 21:5). 

Journaling has helped me at so many crucial points in my life. Especially when I needed to look back to be reminded of something God had spoken to me. I shared one example of this in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter

       The board was making a major decision. They were considering a change in their leadership to one who had completely different credentials and training from all of their previous leaders. Because this change would be so momentous, the board interviewed me for more than four hours. When they finally felt they had deliberated long enough, they asked me to leave the room while they prayed and voted. I stepped out into the lobby for just a couple of minutes when the door opened again and they asked me to step back inside. 

       “Well, Craig,” the spokesman began, “we prayed and we feel you are the one God has selected for this position.” I told them I would be happy to accept their offer. After they prayed over me, I began to pack up my things to head home. 

       “Hold on a minute,” one of the board members said to me, “we’re about to discuss the budget, and we think it would be good for you to be a part of this discussion.” I agreed and resumed my seat at the table. 

       I was handed both the year-to-date financial report and the projected income and expenses for the remaining quarter of the year. “As you can see,” the treasurer began, “we are projecting a $70,000 loss for this year.” Then he turned to me and asked, “What are you going to do about that?” 

       I gulped, tried not to show that my stomach was doing flips, and said, “Honestly, I don’t know.” I paused, and since no one else said anything, I continued, “But I’ll let you know what we come up with.” 

       All the way home, I kept thinking, “What have I gotten myself into? I’m walking away from a successful business to oversee an organization that’s going to go bankrupt before I even get started?!” But then I began to remind myself of something else: God chose me. 

       When I returned home, I immediately went to my journal. I flipped to the page where I had written down all of the reasons why I had concluded that God chose me for this position. I looked at the way God had spoken to me and to my wife, and the way friends who knew nothing about this decision spoke a confirming word to me. I looked at the pages where I had written down the vision I believed God had given me for this new organization, and how the board chairman’s handwritten vision for the organization matched mine thought-for-thought. Looking at these words—at the specific dates and ways God had spoken, and confirmed, and re-confirmed His direction—gave me the confidence to step into this assignment, even when facing such a huge financial mountain. (excerpt from chapter 5 “A Humble Leader’s Attitude Adjustment”) 

If you haven’t journaled in the past, I encourage you to begin this spiritual discipline today. I can tell you from both what I read in the Bible and my own personal experience how valuable this will be for you. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—A Word To Preachers

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

A Word To Preachers

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9) 

     Paul is a laborer, Apollos is a laborer, Cephas is a laborer, but not so much as a foot of the farm is Paul’s, nor does a single parcel of land belong to Apollos, or the smallest allotment to Cephas. ‘You are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s’ (1 Corinthians 3:23). The fact is that in this case the laborers belong to the land and not the land to the laborers, ‘for all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas’ (3:21-22). … 

     Brothers, a laborer may work very hard at a whim of his own and waste his labor, but this is folly! Some discourses do a little more than show the difference between a Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and what is the use of that? … 

     All God’s laborers must go to Him for their seed, or else they will scatter tares. All good seed comes out of God’s granary. If we preach, it must be the true word of God or nothing can come of it. … A sermon is vain talk and dreary word spinning unless the Holy Spirit enlivens it. … 

     Here we have mention of a personal service and a personal reward: ‘Each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.’ The reward is proportionate, not to the success, but to the labor! Many discouraged workers may be comforted with that expression. You are not to be paid by results, but by endeavors.

From Farm Laborers

My dear preacher friend, God sees you. He has placed you in the field where He needs you to be, and He has given you the skills you need to have to labor for Him. Never doubt that! 

You may be the one breaking up hard ground, or the one sowing seed, or the one watering, or the one bringing in the harvest. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, rely on the strength God gives you. He will illuminate His Word to your heart first so that you can share a timely word with those under your care. Then He will send the Holy Spirit to enliven all that you preach. 

God has given you the tools and skills, now you must diligently supply the effort. Don’t become discouraged by what seems to be a lack of “success.” As God tells us through Paul, He will reward your faithful labor in His field. 

My book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter elaborates on this point. The thoughts in this book will remove from you the burden of trying to live up to any unbiblical metric of “success” in your ministry. I hope you will get a copy of this book! Check out ShepherdLeadershipBook.com for more details.

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The Circle Of Love And Hate

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Oh, how I love Your law! … Therefore I hate every wrong path (Psalm 119:97, 104). 

These bookend verses of the section called Mem form the conclusion of a logical argument, and in between are each step of the progression. Notice the word “for” (in vv. 98, 99, 100, and 102) and the words “so that” in v. 101. 

This progression forms a circle from love to hate, and back to love again. Check this out—

I love Your law so I meditate on it all day. 

Meditating on Your law makes me wiser than my enemies and my teachers. 

This wisdom helps me obey Your laws. 

Obedience keeps me on the right path. 

I stay on the right path because You Yourself teach me while I’m on that path. 

Because You are my Teacher, Your laws are sweet to me. 

Because Your laws are sweet, I hate anything contrary to Your laws. 

Hating everything that is not found in Your law helps me love Your law even more. 

[Back to the top] Since I love Your law, I keep on meditating on it all day. 

Far too often I believe Christians are known more for what they’re against than what they’re for. The author of Psalm 119 urges us over and over and over again to not only fall in love with God’s Word but to fall more deeply in love with the God revealed in His Word. When we are brimming full of love for God, we cannot help but show the world what we are for, and that is for everyone to have a personal relationship with this loving God for themselves. 

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The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Full disclosure: I’m a bonafide Bible study geek! I’m always on the hunt for any study tool I can get my hands on that will help me dive deeper into God’s Word. Quite possibly the gold standard for biblical study aids is The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible. 

As a young person, I would hear pastors talking about their Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, so I always assumed this was merely a “preacher’s Bible,” and as a result, I never really looked into it. Now I’m kicking myself as I think about all of the rich study material I had missed out on previously. 

Check this out: the back portion of this Bible contains 800 pages of cross-referenced study materials! Dr. Frank Charles Thompson (after whom this study Bible is named) spent almost 20 years compiling the notes that went into this Bible’s first printing in 1908. Since then, the improvements have only made using this study tool a richer experience. Because of Dr. Thompson’s detailed work, following the “chain” of scriptural references for a biblical character or a biblical theme is literally at your fingertips. There are even “chains” you can follow within each book of the Bible. 

If you love studying the Bible as much as I do, this fascinating work is a must-have for your library. 

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I am a Biblegateway Blogger Grid book reviewer. If you would like to read more about how to use this Bible, please check out this link on the BibleGateway Blog.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Context Is King

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Context Is King

And the glory that You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are One: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (Jesus in John 17:22-23)

     Some words serve many uses and have many meanings. We are very apt to make mistakes if we give the same sense in all places to the same word. The word world throughout Scripture is used with a very remarkable variety of meaning, and one had need to have his wits about him and to read carefully in order to know what is the precise source of the term in each place where it occurs. …  

     I say again, the word world, therefore, has many shades of meaning ranging from that jet black meaning in which the world lies in the wicked one—‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world’ (1 John 2:15)—upward to the milder sense in John 1:10, ‘He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.’ And yet higher to the bright meaning, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ’ (Revelation 11:15). It is not in the worst sense that our text speaks of the world, but in the same manner as we find it used in such passages as these: ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). And again in 1 John 2:2, ‘And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.’ 

     It is certain that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16), and we cannot suppose that the great Redeemer would refuse to pray for those whom He was given. I understand in this particular place by the word world the whole mass of mankind upon the face of the earth who are not as yet converted. … 

     For the sake of the world, He would have the church in a high state of holy beauty and strength. May His gracious prayer be answered in all of us by the working of the Holy Spirit! … Our wish is to bring multitudes to the Savior and to conquer province after province of this revolted world for King Jesus. ‘Let the whole earth be filled with His glory’ (Psalm 72:19) is a prayer that we cannot, we dare not, we would not fail to pray! 

From The Glory, Unity, And Triumph Of The Church

When we are studying our Bibles, we must remember that context is so vital. We have to read each inspired word in its proper context so that we know how to believe, think, live, and pray. I urge you to slow down in your Bible reading—aim for better and richer comprehension than to just try to read a lot in one sitting. Sometimes in my own personal Bible study time, I may spend several minutes just thinking about one phrase, and that may be the only part that I read on that particular morning. 

I would also counsel you to use some trustworthy Bible study tools. I have a list here of 8 must-have Bible study tools, and you can find some new ways to use these tools in this post about three types of Bible studies you may not have considered before. 

However you read your Bible, make sure you are reading each part in its proper context. Pray before you begin reading and ask the Holy Spirit—Who inspired the Scriptures—to illuminate them to your heart and mind. These thoughtful Bible studies will do more to grow your spiritual maturity than simply rushing through your reading time.

Holy Sexuality And The Gospel (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

I’m not sure there could be a more timely book for our current generation than Christopher Yuan’s Holy Sexuality and The Gospel. 

My wife was reading Dr. Yuan’s memoir, which he co-wrote with his mother, called Out Of A Far Country, and she continually raved to me about the powerful message in their story. As I began to look at that book, I saw his more recent release—Holy Sexuality—and immediately got pulled into its timely message. 

It appears dialogues about sexuality, sexual orientation, and what God condones or condemns regarding sex are taking place everywhere. Dr. Yuan clearly addresses these issues by taking us back to the foundational truths of the Scripture. 

Dr. Yuan’s clear message is not about heterosexuality or homosexuality, but about holy sexuality. That is, what does God say about sexuality, and how does this tie in to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? This book is unabashedly Bible-centric, but it’s presented in concepts and language that everyone can grasp. 

In my opinion, this book is a must-read for pastors, youth pastors, and parents who engage the younger generations in conversations about sexuality. Pop culture has a message they are promoting in every movie, TV show, and music album, so thoughtful, loving Christians need to be armed with the truth from God’s Word on how to get to the root of both the cultural message and the biblical message. Dr. Yuan will help you be more attuned to the message in our current culture, as well as how to have loving and meaningful conversations about what is a very sensitive subject for many people. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Basis Of Our Hope

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

The Basis Of Our Hope

     If there is no resurrection, apostolic preaching fails. ‘If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty’ [1 Corinthians 15:12-22]. … If Christ was not raised, the apostles were false witnesses. When a man bears false witness, he usually has a motive for doing so. What motive had these men? What did they gain by bearing false witness to Christ’s resurrection? It was all loss and no profit to them if He had not risen. They declared in Jerusalem that He had risen from the dead, and straightway men began to haul them to prison and to put them to death! Those of them who survived bore the same testimony. They were so full of the conviction of it that they went into distant countries to tell the story of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead. … They were brought before Roman emperors again and again, and before the proconsuls, and threatened with the most painful of deaths, but not one of them ever withdrew his testimony concerning Christ’s resurrection! …  

     If Christ is not raised, your faith is in vain. If it is in vain, give it up! Do not hold on to a thing that is not true! I would sooner plunge into the water and swim or wade through the river than I would trust myself to a rotten bridge that would break down in the middle. If Christ did not rise, do not trust Him, for such faith is in vain! But if you believe that He did die for you and did rise again for you, then believe in Him, joyfully confident that such a fact as this affords a solid basis for your belief! …  

     If [Jesus] died for you and rose again for you, that is the groundwork of your confidence, and I pray you keep to it. … Go your way and sing, ‘The Lord is risen indeed,’ and be happy as all the birds in the air, till you are, by and by, as happy as the angels in heaven through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From If There Is No Resurrection 

I shared a series of messages that said, “I know Jesus is A.L.I.V.E. because of…” and each of the letters of ALIVE reminded us of a convincing proof of His resurrection. I would especially direct your attention to two of those letters. 

The “L” stands for lives changed. When someone has a complete about-face life change because of their interaction with Jesus, that is pretty strong proof that their encounter was with a living Savior. 

And the “E” stands for the engagement of Christ’s followers. It’s astounding to see how much of our world’s history has been positively impacted because of the influence of Christians. Their lives had become so radically different because of the life of Jesus in them that they could not help but change the culture around them. 

As I said last in the last Thursdays with Spurgeon installment, always remember that the one with a personal experience is never at the mercy of the one with an argument. If your life has been changed by personal and ongoing interactions with Jesus Christ, don’t keep that good news to yourself. Let that assurance you have be a bright and winsome witness to all who are around you.

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