Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Transforming Love (August 2013 Newsletter)

About a year and a half ago some friends of mine made a wild request to God, “God would you just drop two babies off on our door?” They had wanted their family to grow, but had a very difficult pregnancy history and the adoption process was long and expensive. God had already performed miracles for their two boys, but they believed God had still bigger plans for their family. That week a social worker mentioned to the wife, “You wouldn’t be interested in adopting two babies would you?” God answered their prayer in a miraculous way. Within two weeks a little boy and girl two and a half years and 17 months old joined their home. The adoption was finalized within six months. Their health, emotional, and mental state was in bad shape as they had suffered in the home of their addicted parents who could not take care of them. There were large challenges, but God’s love worked quickly. Today those same children, after only one and half years are transformed. They’re healthy, happy, and growing in the love of God.
Love transforms us. Love never fails. Love is the greatest power to effect change that the world has ever seen. The love of God compelled the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to sacrifice Himself on the cross for us, and that incredible love transforms us into His image. As we look into the face of love we are changed. We love God because He first loved us. The revelation of God’s love birth’s that love in our own hearts and begins to compel us to sacrifice our own lives, desires, and rights in order to please the one who loved us and washed us from our sins. We begin to give ourselves for the people that Christ died for. We no longer live for ourselves but the one who paid for us. The cry of my heart is to be transformed by this love into this love: to be changed into the perfect image of God who is love.
When I first met P____, he was convicted by the gospel but unwilling to change his life. He was interested but obstinate. The second time I met him, he was drunk, high, and furious. He shouted and waved a knife around making threats toward his girlfriend and those who he felt had done him wrong. Andrew and I were there to do a Bible study, but tempers were explosive and no one was prepared to listen. After finally listening to a half hour of drug affected ranting, I had had enough. Forgoing the traditional Bible study method, I jumped off the couch, opened my Bible and preached the simple gospel and repentance, being as confrontational as possible. The situation would either blow up or dissolve. Conviction set in, and those present began to acknowledge their need to change. Andrew took over and we began to settle back into more of a Bible study structure. The Spirit was at work and the next week through Andrew’s continued witness and the evangelistic gifts of a dear friend from our church, P____ and his girlfriend accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, repented of their sins and were baptized.
As I watched Andrew immerse them in the Detroit river, I thought about the presence and power of God’s love in our lives. In a few short weeks P____ and his girlfriend have changed a lot. Joy and purpose has come into their lives. They’re donating their time to the church, working on construction projects, and getting into the Bible multiple days per week. They still have major issues to overcome. Things have not been perfect, but I see love and grace moving in their lives. In the same way that those small children were transformed by the love of God flowing through their new parents, these two new believers are experiencing the transforming power of the love of their heavenly Father.
Our Father loves us. As we run to Him and find our home in His arms, His nature transforms us. Who He is becomes who we are as we are fathered by love. My prayer is that everyone I encounter engages with the uncompromising love of God that pulls us from the corruption and selfishness of sin and transforms us into the purity and selflessness of love.

Read the rest of the August 2013 Newsletter.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why I Love and Hate Study Bibles

I  often feel conflicted about study Bibles. When I first started this blog, I was recovering from being heavily influenced by fundamentalist revival, prayer, and holiness movements. I have been greatly blessed by leaders within these movements. However within these movements a certain type of religious pride can infiltrate. Some took serious offense at those who were using something other than a simple King James Version Bible and seriously disliked study Bibles. They made such resources seem "carnal," suggesting that study Bibles inhibited the reader from hearing the Holy Spirit, understanding the Scripture for themselves, or interpreting the Bible without worldly compromise. When the A.W. Tozer Bible came out I heard many protestations from those who appreciate Tozer's writings, arguing that he would have been appalled by such a thing. While Tozer may not have appreciated his name on the front of a Bible, I doubt he would have condemned study Bibles as a whole. Breaking free from that kind of judgment opened up a world of Scripture knowledge and new avenues to explore and enjoy the Word of God.

Study Bible reviews have become a popular part of this blog, and I browse study Bibles often. When I want more insight on interpreting a verse from an external resource, the first thing I grab is a study Bible. Study Bibles are great because they contain the entire Bible text. The notes come surrounded by the full context of the Word of God. I don't have a full commentary set and being able to compare study Bible notes has been enormously helpful to me.

I do not use study Bibles on a regular basis, nor do I use a study Bible for my daily reading. I use them exclusively for reference, and I am extremely cautious about giving them to new believers. Though I love biblical resources, christian books, sermons, and teaching, I am convinced that new believers should focus on the Bible itself. My feelings were recently reinforced while reading Neil Cole's book Ordinary Hero:

I used to get a little offended by some study Bibles that have a famous teacher's name on the cover, as if that author wrote the book. Then one day I opened one and realized the author did write at least half of it. It used to be that when you opened a Bible in the middle, you would be in Psalms or Proverbs; today you are in Leviticus! There are so many notes explaining everything that in some of these study Bibles half of every page is Scripture and the other half is some scholar's interpretation of what it all means. What ends up happening is that the scholar's words become as important as the Scriptures for the Christian's growth and understanding of God's voice. I am sure the Scholar would object to this idea, but the subtle reality of the situation is that Christians are trained to think that the Bible is too difficult to understand without help. As a result, many would not venture to try to read it without a theologian's notes.
I am all in favor of study helps and study Bibles, but we have unintentionally separated people from a simple approach to God's Word. We have placed so many filters between God's voice and God's flock that they can no longer simply hear and obey. They need others to supply definition, application, and illustration. We need to make sure that the Scriptures stand alone. All  the helps are indeed useful but only after people have spent time in God's Word without anyone aiding their understanding. It seems that Christians are no longer able to listen to God's Word without help. They need others to take in the nourishment, digest the meal, and regurgitate the understanding for them in simple language.
-Neil Cole, Ordinary Hero p. 181
 Western Christian culture has largely succumbed to an unhealthy trend where knowledge has become more important than obedience and even faith relationship with Jesus. We feel that if we know our doctrines and are learning new things about the Scripture that we are growing in our relationship with Jesus. 1 Corinthians 8:1 says that knowledge puffs up but love builds up. We are meant to be in a love relationship with our Creator, Lord, and Savior and that goes far beyond academic knowledge. We might have a leg up walking into a relationship with a detailed knowledge of a person's history and character, but we will have a far shallower relationship than someone who spent years with the person learning those same facts. Sometimes we need to struggle to learn and discover things for ourselves. We need to know that we can really know Jesus for ourselves. This process of walking with Him and knowing Him is more valuable than having all of our biblical interpretations correct. Going to Jesus with our questions will do more for us than reading all the answers in the study Bible notes.

In the end, study Bibles are not the problem. I like study Bibles, and I use them. The question is who are we depending on for understanding? We must be dependent on His voice and His Spirit, not on scholarship. You can understand the Bible. Not because you have the wisdom or the knowledge or the understanding, but because the Author is with you.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: Do What Jesus Did by Robby Dawkins

Chicagoland pastor Robby Dawkins hadn't moved past that question either-until he discovered that the miraculous things Jesus did during His lifetime are not just history. They're today's reality. When he started living the way Jesus did, he started living life, as he says, straight out of a superhero movie.
So can you. In this dangerous book, you'll learn simple, practical ways to take hold of your God-given "power tools"-prophetic ministry, healing, ministering the presence of God and deliverance from demonic power. And through amazing but true stories from the front lines of ministry, you'll see what happens when ordinary Christians harness God's superpower to bring His Kingdom to earth.

This blog is dedicated to the Bible, Bible Study, and interaction with the Bible; however, as I have become more and more immersed in urban ministry and missions this site has become overrun with the same focus. This may be particularly evident in the book reviews. As I see more and more miracles and people giving their lives to Christ I become more insatiable in my desire to see God's kingdom come. I'm reading the Bible more than ever, but I'm reading it more for life and practice than ever before as well. I'm more interested in how to do the Bible than how to study it, and I struggle to turn down review copies of books that inform and inspire readers to minister like Jesus and see God's power change people's lives. Do What Jesus Did by Robby Dawkins is one of those books.

Missionary and Pastor Robby Dawkins does a phenomenal job of blending his story of discovering God's transforming power with practical teaching and examples of how to minister God's power and love to others. His passion to see people transformed by God's love leaks from every page as well as the struggles, pains, and obstacles that this passion has endured. Books on supernatural ministry and miracles are usually only as good as their testimony and practicality, but for once "a real-life field guide to healing the sick, routing demons and changing lives forever" does not do this book justice. It's about so much more than that. While remaining extremely practical and accessible, Dawkins manages to pull us into his own struggles and passions. This is a very personal story, and Dawkins surrounds a core of the gospel and its transformation from the inside out with practical instruction and testimonies of God's supernatural answers to prayer. The inseparable blend of teaching on both character, perseverance, humility, and field guide instruction on healing, deliverance, prophecy, and other spiritual gifts make this book a full and balanced meal.

The author's ability to pull the reader into his own life experience and be honest about both the thrills and challenges of this kind of ministry gives his testimony and instruction an emotional weight. I spent the second half of the book squinting through tears as Dawkins describes the death of his mom, his son's autism and his dependency on his heavenly Father. His perspective on failure and perseverance resonate with both the struggle of war and the peace of kingdom reality.

I have read many books on supernatural ministry and specifically supernatural evangelism. This may be the very best. It is certainly the best holistic description of supernatural ministry I've read, and I will be recommending it to many friends.

My thanks to Chosen Books for providing a complimentary review copy. I have given an honest review.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Reason is Love (July 2013 Newsletter)

Whereas the object and purpose of our instruction and charge is love, which springs from a pure heart and a good (clear) conscience and sincere (unfeigned) faith. - 1 Timothy 1:5 (Amplified)

The end of all of Christ’s commands and instructions is love. This remains the final purpose and result of all of the Holy Spirit’s leadings. Christ calls each and every disciple to lose their own life, to lay down their own selfish desires, and sacrifice their lives that they may find their lives in Him. In laying down our own desires and our own efforts to please ourselves, we please our heavenly Father, and we find pleasure in His presence and eternal life and joy with Him. This is the purpose of all of our evangelism, discipleship, and equipping of the Church: love.

The same self-sacrifice that Jesus showed us when He traded His eternal crown of glory for a crown of thorns is what He desires to birth in us. We are the products of God’s revolutionary love for all of humanity. God is love and we were made in the image of that love for the purpose of love.
Love endures forever. It never fades away. When our works are tried by fire on the last day much of what we have done will burn as hay, wood, and stubble, but the actions of love and self-sacrifice will last forever. What we have done for our God and King, what we have poured out for our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors, the poor, lost, the dying, and the hurting will last forever as silver, gold, and precious stones.

Love never fails. As I enter more and more intimidating ministry contexts with whole congregations looking to me for miraculous results, I lean on the steadfast nature of love. It cannot fail. If I establish my heart in the love of God and root and ground myself in the self-sacrificial love of Christ, I can be certain of eternal fruit in all that I do. I spend time every day giving my heart to the Lord. I know that I’m also giving it to the congregations I stand in front of to preach and the men and women and I stand before as a witness and as a disciplemaker. I know that I’m loved by the Father and that I’m not here to serve myself or my interests. There’s great security in love. When your interests are already laid down and poured out, no one can harm them.

Many days I struggle with the all-encompassing purity of love. I strive to become that. I want to be an uncompromising vision and manifestation of love to the Father and to the world He sent the Son of His love to redeem. I know this is the end of the commandment and the instruction of Christ. This is the purpose of the daily Bible studies, the sermons, the prayer, the striving, the struggle, the good fight of faith, and the race. I want to run well, clinging to faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these  is love. It is the most excellent way: the way that leads to life.

Read the rest of the July 2013 Newsletter.
Read past newsletters.