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“But every common devotion should include the word of Scripture, the hymns of the Church, and the prayer of the fellowship. 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together44.

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“For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his awakening Word.

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together, 43.

“The Psalter is the great school of prayer.”

Image result for the psalter bonhoeffer

Through my work with the Christian Standard Bible, I came across some stats about Bible reading: 88 percent of American households own a Bible, but only 37 percent of people read it once a week or more. People said they don’t read their Bibles because they don’t have enough time, and they struggle to understand the words.

These two frustrations are understandable, and we’ve all struggled with them. But are they the real reasons people aren’t reading their Bibles?

Root Issue

When you think about it, we should get really excited about Bible reading. The God of the universe has given us his Word. He could’ve tapped out when we disobeyed him in the garden, but he didn’t. He went looking for us and talked to us (Gen. 3). Knowing our gracious God gave us his Word should make us want to read it, but often that’s not enough.

We don’t read the Bible regularly because we don’t understand how it works. We often think it’s all about us, and that opening Scripture is only useful when we think we need it. We don’t understand how amazing the Bible really is.

Word that Lives

We shouldn’t read the Bible like we do any other book, or treat it like a source of entertainment. Instead, we should consider what makes Scripture special. Paul tells Timothy:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16–17)

Notice the verbs: Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable. It’s not that Scripture was inspired but now isn’t as relevant. It was and is and will be inspired and profitable.

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9 Things You Should Know About the ESV Bible

Last month the publisher and translator team that produced the English Standard Version (ESV) announced the “text of the ESV Bible will remain unchanged in all future editions.” But after public debate about making the latest edition the “permanent text” they announced this week, “We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake.”

Here is what you should know about the ESV, one of the most popular English translations of Scripture:

1. The idea for the ESV Bible originated in the early 1990s when Lane T. Dennis, president of the nonprofit book publishing ministry Crossway, discussed the need for a new literal translation of the Bible with various Christian scholars and pastors. Near the end of the decade, the translation committee began work. The ESV was released in 2001, with minor revisions being released in 2007, 2011, and 2016.

2. The starting point for the ESV translation was the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Each word of the text was also checked against and based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983), on the Greek text in the 1993 editions of the Greek New Testament (4th corrected ed.), and Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.). Crossway adds that in “exceptional, difficult cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, and other sources were consulted to shed possible light on the text, or, if necessary, to support a divergence from the Masoretic text.”

3. The three general philosophies of Bible translation philosophy are formal equivalence, functional equivalence, and optimal equivalence. As Dave Croteau has explained, formal equivalence (“word-for-word” translation) attempts to translate the Bible as literally as possible, keeping the sentence structure and idioms intact if possible (examples: NASB, KJV); functional equivalence (“thought-for-thought” translation) attempts to translate the text so it has the same effect on the current reader as it had on the ancient reader (example: NLT); and optimal equivalence falls between the former approaches by balancing the tension between accuracy and ease of reading. As an “essentially literal” translation, the ESV most closely aligns with a formal equivalent translation philosophy in that is “seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer.”

4. The translation was overseen by a 15-member Translation Oversight Committee (including TGC Council member R. Kent Hughes) and another team of more than 50 Translation Review Scholars (including TGC Council member Ray Ortlund).

5. On the Christian Booksellers Association 2014 listing of top selling Bible translations, the ESV ranked fifth in dollar sales and fourth in unit sales. During the past 15 years, he ESV has distributed more than 100 million print copies as well as more than 100 million electronic copies.

6. In 2013, Gideon’s International—a ministry that distributes free Bibles to locations including hotels, motels, hospitals, convalescent homes, medical offices, domestic violence shelters, prisons, and jails—announced it would be transitioning its modern English version from the New King James Version (NKJV) to the ESV. This change will make the ESV one of the most widely distributed versions in the world.

7. The readability level of the text of the ESV is around 8th grade (7.4 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and 74.9 on the Flesch Reading Ease). In comparison, the NIV is also at the 7th-8th level, the KJV at the 12th grade level, and The Message at the 4th-5th grade level.

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While beginning to sense God’s call to ministry in February of 1998, I joined a car full of college-aged men to travel north from Mobile, Alabama, on I-65 to Birmingham, to attend the Conger Lectures on Preaching at Beeson Divinity School. ‘The Supremacy of God in Preaching’Friends described that year’s lecturer as the “John MacArthur of the North.” His name was John Piper.

So there I sat in the Hodges Chapel at Beeson, hanging on his every syllable. With each word, my call to ministry intensified. The Minneapolis pastor spoke as one having authority—an authority rooted in God’s Word and accentuating God’s glory.

It was an introductory dose of what all who’ve heard Piper have come to expect—an unveiling of the majesty and supremacy of God. That day I grabbed a copy of his book The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Baker). I quickly devoured, marking up every page. I’ve since re-read it every few years, and now, 25 years since its initial publication, it deserves renewed attention. (Baker recently published a revised and expanded edition to mark the anniversary.)

6 Takeaways from an Enduring Volume

How has the volume stood up over a quarter-century? It remains as powerful, convicting, and encouraging as at the outset.

Here are six takeaways:

1. To preach is to put one’s deepest beliefs on display.

For better or worse, what comes out in the pulpit each Sunday will, over time, reveal what the preacher truly believes and prizes. At the most foundational level, this begins with his theological presuppositions. Mark it down: the preacher’s presuppositions always shape the sermon. Luther and Spurgeon’s Christ-centered hermeneutic impacted their exegesis and their preaching. Calvin’s God-centered approach did the same.

Piper’s God-centered “Christian hedonism” radiates throughout his preaching. It also drives this book. Piper puts preaching on a higher ground—pointing preachers to engage the true, deep longings of the human heart. As he observes, “People are starving for the greatness of God, but most of them don’t even know it.”

2. The preacher should point his people to the grand truths of God.

In doing this, it is not that the preacher dismisses felt needs; he eclipses them. Piper writes:

My burden is to plead for the supremacy of God in preaching—that the dominant note of preaching be the freedom of God’s sovereign grace, the unifying theme be the zeal that God has shown for his glory, the grand object of preaching be the infinite and inexhaustible being of God, and the pervasive atmosphere of preaching be the holiness of God. . . . Then when preaching takes up the ordinary things of life—family, jobs, leisure, friendships; or the crises of our day—AIDS, divorce, addictions, depression, abuses, poverty, hunger, and, worst of all, unreached peoples of the world, these matters are not only taken up. They are taken all the way up to God.

3. The preacher should be relentlessly and precisely biblical.

After all, the preacher is to be God’s mouthpiece—his human spokesman—and it is high treason to misquote, misrepresent, or under-dignify the King and his Word. When the preacher vaguely references Scripture, Piper warns:

We are simply pulling rank on people when we tell them, and don’t show them from the text. This does not honor the Word of God or the work of the Holy Spirit. I urge you to rely on the Holy Spirit by saturating your preaching with the Word he inspired.

4. Balance gravity and gladness in the pulpit.

Reading The Supremacy of God in Preaching is a refresher on the majesty of God and the gravity of preaching. It is simply impossible for a warmhearted, thinking preacher to finish the book without sensing anew the weightiness of the preaching task. But Piper couples the call to gravity with a plea for gladness, rooted in the character of God:

Gladness and gravity should be woven together in the life and preaching of a pastor in such a way as to sober the careless soul and sweeten the burden of the saints.

There is a difference between being glad and being giddy, between being weighty and being dour. Strive for the former; reject the latter.

5. Preach to stir up holy affections within your people.

Piper perceptively observes:

Good preaching aims to stir up “holy affections”—such emotions as hatred for sin, delight in God, hope in his promises, and tender compassion. The reason is that the absence of holy affections in Christians is odious.

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There’s a good piece by Andrew Walker in First Things on a popular international church network called Hillsong’s apparent equivocation on marriage. At a recent New York press conference, the ministry’s leader, Brian Houston, declined to answer whether the ministry affirms the biblical position. Instead, he stresses the church’s need to stay “relevant.”

Earlier this year the pastor of Hillsong’s New York’s congregation, the ultra hip Carl Lentz, shared similar views with CNN. His wife added: “It’s not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That’s their journey.”

Hmmm. If it’s not the church’s place to tell anyone how to live, then what is the church’s purpose? Entertainment? Affirmation? Socialization? And if it’s not the church’s role to counsel how to live, then who or what should? Perhaps it’s the central message of our age that each autonomous individual chooses his/her own path without reference to others.

But of course, absent transcendent authority, individuals, no matter how independent, hearken to temporal influences in their life choices, often the passing fads of their culture and age. Typically transient fads are not helpful, reliable guideposts for life fulfillment. So most of humanity does and has looked to religion, at least at times, for more permanent guidance.

All religion, even its most permissive forms, aims on some level to tell its adherents how to live. Otherwise it has no purpose. Certainly Hillsong preachers must fill their sermons with admonitions. A sermon from Lentz in 2013 spoke of complete surrender to Christ: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” He added: “When you take a bite of me, when you really follow me, everything in me goes in you—you can’t pick and choose.”

Indeed, but the more recent Hillsong comments imply there can be some picking and choosing, at least on sexual ethics. Perhaps the Hillsong preachers still privately adhere to Christian teaching on marriage but don’t want to risk public controversy. At his New York press conference, Pastor Houston explained:

“And to me, the world we live in, whether we like it or not is changing around and about us. Homosexual marriage is legal in [New York City] and will be probably in most Western world countries within a short time. So the world’s changing and we want to stay relevant as a church. So that’s a vexing thing. You think, ‘How do we not become a pariah?’ So that’s the world we live in.”

The challenge is that the Cornerstone, Founder and Lord of the Church was crucified as the ultimate despised pariah, and He warned that His followers would often be pariahs. Yet somehow this collection of pariahs, across the centuries, in every culture, preaching the Gospel of an executed but risen pariah, has made His message the most “relevant” message of all time, everywhere.

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Why have a quiet time?

Recently I read “Why I Don’t Pray or Study the Bible (Much),” a Patheos blog post by Ellen Painter Dollar. She recounts how her time in an evangelical college fellowship was her first exposure to the discipline of daily Bible reading and prayer. “As a friend explained in a talk,” Dollar writes, “if you want to have a good relationship with somebody, you spend time with that person. Likewise, if you want to have a relationship with God, you must spend time with God, and ‘quiet time’ is how you do that.”

Dollar pushes back against this idea of building a relationship with God through dedicated personal prayer and Bible reading. “I think my college friend was right, that we draw closer to God by being deliberate about our relationship with God. But I’m not so sure that 30 or 60 minutes of prayer and Bible study is the only or primary way to do that,” she writes. She then explains how, in human relationships, closeness is built through shared (and often ordinary) life experiences, and defends her own practice of simply experiencing fellowship with God throughout her day in the normal situations of her life.

Some of Dollar’s skepticism about prayer and Scripture-study comes from her underlying assumptions about the nature of both. I believe the Bible is complete truth, God’s perfect revelation of himself, and essential for a Christian’s life and godliness. Likewise, I have a high view of prayer as one of God’s primary means for communion with his children, for glorifying himself, and for accomplishing his purposes.

Dollar would probably acknowledge theological disagreements with me on these points. But I think even among theologically conservative Christians, the priority of regular personal worship is not well understood. A recent national survey found that while 56 percent of Americans believe the Bible to be “the actual or inspired word of God,” only 37 percent read it at least once a week. And deliberate daily times of individual Bible study and prayer (what the Westminster Confessioncalls “worship . . . in secret” and what Dollar calls “quiet time” and what I grew up calling “devotions”) are sometimes viewed skeptically as legalistic or as a potential idol by even Reformed brothers and sisters.

While affirming the whole of life as worship, and also proclaiming the primacy of corporate worship, we sometimes neglect to press ourselves and others to daily private worship.

Dollar’s narrative reveals how a common evangelical argument (“If you love Someone you want to spend time with him”) can be inadequate. And I’ve taken her words as an opportunity to consider a better explanation that I can give to others—and preach to myself.

So why should we study the Bible and pray as a dedicated, daily event?

(1) God commands it.

No, the Bible doesn’t contain chapter-and-verse Thou Shalt Have 45 Minutes of Devotions Every Day. But the Bible is filled with direct imperatives to pray and compelling incentives to meditate on Scripture.

We are commanded to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17), to overcome anxiety with prayer (Phil. 4:6), to intercede for other Christians (Eph. 6:18), and to receive encouragement from the One who prays for us (Heb. 7:25).  About the Scriptures, God tells us they are sweet, valuable, and necessary for wisdom (Psalm 19); they are the right subject of our meditation (Psalm 119); they contain every truth a Christian needs (2 Tim. 3:16-17); and they are a powerful Spiritual tool (Heb. 4:12). We dedicate ourselves to praying and studying the Bible because in those activities we obey the Lord and benefit our own souls.

Much of this benefit, of course, comes to Christians through our most important spiritual discipline: the worship of God by his gathered people on the Lord’s Day. (I would agree with Dollar that personal devotions are not the “only or primary” way to draw near to God; the Westminster Confession upholds public worship as more solemn and obligatory than secret worship.) But a Scripture-and-prayer-shaped life will also necessarily include specific quiet times.

(2) We are weak. 

These days, my children are learning catechism about the three offices of Christ (prophet, priest, and king). One of the questions asks, “Why do you need Christ as your prophet?” The answer applies as much to 35-year-olds as to 5-year-olds: “Because I am ignorant by nature.” We have no native wisdom about God on which we can rely.

As Jen Wilkin writes in her new book, Women of the Word, “How can we conform to the image of a God we have not beheld?” I would love to go through my days, witnessing the hand of God in every moment of the mundane, praising him for every blessing from his throne. But the truth is I am ignorant. I don’t even know what to look for, how to trace the providential kindness of my Father on my calendar, or where to expect his frown or his smile. Though God is certainly present in my to-do lists and my interactions with my children, he is best revealed through his chosen means: the Bible. And unless I have hidden his Word in my heart, unless I have meditated on Christ my prophet—he who is the Word incarnate—I will go through the hours always seeing but never understanding.

I would also love to spend my days in communion with my listening Father, making every breath an exhaled prayer. But, again, I am weak. If I do not dedicate myself to times of prayer (and I cringe to think how often I do not) I forget that I depend on spiritual realities in the midst of temporal realities. As the hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” I pray and read my Bible because without it my heart, soul, mind, and strength will always immerse in the visible and forget entirely the One who is invisible.

(3) Jesus did it.

This example is where we best see the truth in the relationship argument for personal devotions. In his excellent book Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves writes, “The Christian life is one of being brought to share the delight the Father, Son, and Spirit have for each other.”

Jesus has a perfect love for the Father and the Spirit and perfect union with them. If anyone could have practiced a relationship with the Father while simply acknowledging him throughout the day, it would be Jesus. But how did he, the God-man, outwardly demonstrate his love for the persons of the Godhead and his desire for Trinitarian relationship while living on the earth?

He prayed, and he read the Bible.

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Scripture remains as vital and useful today as ever

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2014 

I’ve finally gotten around to the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography by Eric Metaxas. And while reading this amazing book, I’ve reflected often on the importance of ideas and how essential is truth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a hero to many for his bold, uncompromising stand against Hitler and the Nazi regime in 1930s and early 40s Germany. He is a champion for others because of his commitment to and passion for quality Christian community. Foundational to Bonhoeffer’s character and values was his insight into the Bible and dedication to the Word of God. At a time when most leaders were acquiescing to evil that would destroy their nation, Bonhoeffer stood boldly against the tide. He raised his voice on behalf of weak and vulnerable who the regime plotted to destroy. He called evil by its name and resisted it for all he was worth.

Not all ideas are of equal value. Some are so noble and beneficent, we are almost sure they come from the heart of God. Others are so destructive, treacherous and merciless we wonder if they were born in the pit of hell. The great majority of ideas are stuck somewhere between the extremes and only great wisdom will be able to forecast their outcomes or discover their direction. Bonhoeffer knew painfully, that he dare not trust contemporary social morality to guide his mind. He needed a higher touchstone to measure thought and theory and he believed he had it in the scriptures. His unpopular stand against the ideals of Nazism was founded, informed and energized by the truth he found within the pages of the Bible. Bonhoeffer wrote the following to a brother-in-law who saw little value in scripture.

“First of all I will confess quite simply – I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer. One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the bible God speaks to us…

“And I would like to tell you now quite personally: since I have learnt to read the Bible in this way – and this has not been for so very long – it becomes every day more wonderful to me. I read it in the morning and the evening, often during the day as well, and every day I consider a text which I have chosen for the whole week, and try to sink deeply into it, so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer.”

– Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Metaxas, Eric, 2010, p 136-37.

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My surgery began earlier than scheduled. I was on the operating table by 12:10 pm. The anesthetist had me sleeping soon after that. The operation lasted one hour and five minutes. When I woke up, I had no idea where I was. It was such a deep sleep. The surgeon told me in post-op that there was a major tear in the meniscus in my right knee. Now, it is rest, elevation and ice.

And prayer and the Word!

The Lord has slowed me down!

God is good, all the time!

Bryan

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