Monthly Archives: January 2015

Key Concepts from “The Way of the Master”

Way of the Master 2A few years ago I took my Sunday School class through  The Way of the Master Basic Training Course. Overall, it was a good experience for us, even though we did not complete every aspect of the course. Since my class was not composed of people who elected to sign up for the course knowing what it would require, I did not push them all to complete every assignment. But we did gain a clearer understanding of the gospel and how to present it more effectively.
Below is a short summary of key ideas from the course.
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Central idea: the “Modern Gospel” is not the biblical gospel.

The foundational idea of The Way of the Master evangelism program is that there is a difference between the “modern gospel” and the biblical gospel. The modern gospel presentation, which Ray Comfort says grew in the early 1900’s, begins this way: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” This is an appeal to the non-Christian for life enhancement, which basically says, “Jesus will make your life better if you embrace him as Savior.” The biblical gospel presentation, according to Ray Comfort, starts with a warning: “You are a sinner and will face judgment one day.” We can see this starting point in the ministry of Jesus in his conversation with the woman at the well (see specifically John 4:16-20) and the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22). In both accounts, Jesus holds up the standard of God’s Law to them, helping them see their own sin. For the woman, he holds up (implicitly) the seventh of the 10 Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14, ESV). For the rich young man, he (implicitly) holds up the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3), which the young man had violated by giving wealth first place in his life. The Apostles essentially did the same thing when they held up God’s law and coming judgment to help people see their urgent need for forgiveness (i.e., Acts 17:30-31).
The difference between the two gospel presentations is illustrated well with Ray Comfort’s story of the two parachutes. A man on an airplane is approached by a flight attendant and is offered a parachute. She argues persuasively that if the man puts on the parachute, it will enhance his flight. After some consideration, the man decides to give the parachute a try, so he straps it on. But when he sits back down, he finds that he cannot sit upright in his seat because of the parachute, and finds it generally uncomfortable. But he wants to give it a good try, so he keeps it on. After a little while, he notices that others on the flight are pointing at him and snickering. Finally, when his back and ego have had enough, he takes off the parachute and throws it on the floor and says, “Stupid parachute!” As far as he is concerned, he gave it a good try and he won’t get duped like that again. The promise was that the parachute would improve his flight, but in reality it only made it more difficult. He was looking for a better flight, but only received discomfort.
A second man on the flight is approached by the flight attendant and is offered a parachute. The flight attendant explains that the plane is having mechanical problems and the pilot expects it to crash land very soon, and the best hope of survival is get off the plane while it is still in the air. The man eagerly receives the parachute and straps it on tight and even asks for some pointers on how to deploy it properly. He sits back down in his seat and occupies himself while waiting for the right time to jump. The parachute is uncomfortable and he cannot sit fully upright like the first man, and some of the passengers snicker at him, but he does not care! He did not put on the parachute to enhance his flight, but to save his life! If anything, the hardships of wearing the parachute make him look forward to the jump!
The modern gospel is like offer to the first man, a promise of life enhancement. The biblical gospel is like the offer to the second man, salvation from dire consequences. Only the second man understood his parachute to be essential and accepted the discomfort that came along with it.
Why is this so important? There are several reasons. (1) If we begin the gospel presentation with the idea that “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” the sinner may simply “test drive” Jesus, but not truly depend up him in faith, which does not result in salvation. (2) Also, if after we begin with “God has a wonderful plan for your life” and then later begin to talk about sin and the cross, the sinner may feel tricked at this bait-and-switch. (3) What is more, when a sinner hears that “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” they think that means God will eliminate or at least greatly reduce suffering in their lives, for what could be more wonderful than that? The problem is, Jesus promises things like persecution and the Bible nowhere promises easy life to those who follow Christ. In fact, in many ways life may get far more difficult after conversion. (4) Furthermore, the message of the cross will be offensive and foolishness to the sinner. Offensive, because the typical non-Christian hears the evangelist implying that he is a sinner when he does not think he is, and foolishness, because there are plenty of people far worse than him. The solution of the cross will not make sense to such people because they do not see the urgent problem of their own sin and upcoming judgment.

Central method: use the Law of God to help the sinner self-diagnose

So how do we help them see their sin and desperate need for forgiveness? We use the Law of God as a mirror to help non-Christians self-diagnose. The main tool for this is the 10 Commandments, and it is all handled with questions such as, “Do you consider yourself to be a good person?” This is a crucial question, because most non-believers will say yes, sometimes even emphatically. This is because the criteria they use to evaluate their own behavior is something they have made up and/or adopted from society, not gleaned from the Bible. In other words, the standard they are using lets them off the hook.
The Way of the Master method gently yet directly walks people through enough of the 10 Commandments to help sinners see their own need for forgiveness. The goal is to prick the sinners’ God-given conscience with the Law of God. God has given people a conscience and the Holy Spirit appeals to that God-given sense of right and wrong and the reasonableness of judgment through the Word of God. This is crucial because it is part of sinful human nature to minimize sin and think of ourselves and not all that bad. So questions like, “Do you think you have kept the 10 Commandments?” with a walk-through of several of them helps the non-Christian self-diagnose themselves as liars, idolaters, murderers, thieves, and more. When this is carefully handled, and the non-Christian person is receptive, the Law of God will undercut their self-righteousness and ignorance and prepare them for the message of grace. With their sin and consequent guilt embraced, for the first time the message of the cross will make perfect sense to them, and they will be ready for the parachute of the gospel.

Thoughts for us Wesleyans

Wesleyans have understood the gospel to be about far more than forgiveness and escaping hell (as does Ray Comfort). We do not want to simply say to people, “If you repent and believe in Christ, God will forgive you and grant you eternal life.” We want to put it this way: “If you repent and believe in Christ, God will forgive and transform you in this life, and grant you heaven after this life is over.” Historically, Wesleyans are all about the transformation of the sinner into one who loves and serves God in holiness of heart and life. So it is important for us to emphasize both forgiveness and transformation. We believe whole-heartedly in the necessity of forgiveness, but for us forgiveness is simply the doorway into what God is really after, and that is a transformed, sanctified life.

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Bible Reading with Children: Some of the Best Books

As you know, I have been pushing myself and others to read more of the Bible in 2015 than 2014. My desire to know the Scriptures was formed though my mother’s faithful practice of reading Bible stories and other devotions to me and the family from the time of her conversion when I was about two through my high school years. But what did she read to us that worked? Reading straight from the Bible to toddlers can work if you are very selective and brief in the chosen readings and want to offer A LOT of explanation, but most prefer some type of story Bible for children that summarizes key stories of the Bible. Here are a few of the books that I have used and still use with my daughter, some of which my mother used with us growing up.

The Bible in pictures for little eyes classicKenneth Taylor’s The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes is a classic. It works for toddlers and preschool aged children. On one side of the page is a large picture of a Bible scene, and on the opposing page there is a short summary of the Bible story. The sentences are short, basic, and are followed with a couple of discussion questions. I can still see many of the pictures in my mind. At right is “old” edition that I grew up with. At left is a picture of the new edition with new illustrations. I have not looked through the neThe Bible in Pictures for little eyes neww edition, but I have heard good things about it. It might be worth owning or at least inspecting both before purchasing.

My favorite book, though, and the one my mother read through to us repeatedly, and the one I have read through repeatedly with my daughter, is The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine F. Vos. I grew up on one of the old editions. The original was published in 1935. A fifth edition was published in 1984. I have studied and considered may different story BibChildrens story bibleles and have never found one that is better at summarizing Old Testament stories, teaching biblical history through the reigns of the kings, and linking everything to Christ. It is still popular because it is that good. Sure, you will quibble here and there with a few of Vos’ theological remarks and a few old-fashioned ways of putting things, but the good so far outweighs those small problems you will likely stick with the book. This is the one to read every night to your child, one story at at time, from beginning to end. When you finish the book, you will know your Bible stories better, you will probably do something else for Bible reading for a while, and then you will probably start working through this book again. It just draws you back to it. This book works with kids frA Children's Garden of Bible Storiesom about five  years old through high school.

Other helpful books that are in a series are A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. Each one has a set of Bible stories with accompanying illustrations. I read through one with my daughter when she was in 2nd grade and was impressed with the clarity of the story summaries and the gentle applications of them. These books are published by Concordia, which is the publishing arm of the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Concordia has a reputation of publishing top-notch educational materials, and these books are no exception.

Another good story Bible that would be great to start using with a child who has outgrown The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes is The Story Bible, published by Concordia. This story Bible has 130 Bible stories, each beautifully illustrated with discussion questions, suggested activity, and a prayer. This book is highly recommended until your child is ready for more detail. Even then, the book is ESV Illus family Bibleworth keeping for use in children’s ministry at church.

 The Story Bible ConcordiaThe last good story or family Bible I will mention is the ESV Family Bible. This book has actual excerpts from the ESV text connected by the editor’s summary statements. It is quite good in content, but more than once my daughter and I were frustrated with the brevity of the stories or detail that was left out. Yet, it is well-done; it just won’t give you the big picture of the Bible’s story line like The Child’s Story Bible will. But oh, the art! The illustrations are fabulous in this book.

Why use one of these story Bibles with children? Simple: all people need to be grounded in biblical stories and their teachings, and learning these stories thoroughly as a child will produce a million spiritual benefits. Children will catch biblical allusions in literature and movies, they will grasp sermons better because they will be already familiar with the Bible, and they will build a biblical worldview. So get some of these books and read steadily, faithfully, and systematically to your kids.

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What the Written Word of God Can Do

As I strive to read more of the written word of God in 2015 than I did in 2014, Bible reader young womanI find it motivating to meditate upon what the written word of God can do. Here are just a few of things it can do:

1.  Satisfy – The Scripture satisfies the core of who we are in a way that no other spiritual food can do.

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat.
3 And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.
(Ezek. 3:1-3 ESV)

…the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart (Psa 19:8 ESV).

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (1Jo 5:13 ESV).

2. Equip

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2Ti 3:16-1 ESV).

3. Enable Victory
11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psa. 119:11 ESV).

4.  Convert/Lead to Repentance
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17 ESV).

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
(Act 2:36-37 ESV).

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.
2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God
(Neh 9:1-3 ESV).

5.  Transform

2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2 ESV).

6.  Reveal

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12 ESV).

7.  Give Wisdom

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts (Psa. 119:98-100 ESV).

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple (Psa 19:7 ESV).

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More of the Word in 2015 – Exhortation and Plans

Last Sunday I challenged my congregation to give themselves over to regular, faithful Bible reading in 2015. With the growth of biblical illiteracy even among Christians coupled with the facts that spiritual formation and forming a biblical worldview are dependent upon regular engagement with the written word of God, such a challenge fits the start of a new year.Bible dusty

After expounding many of the benefits and effects of the Scripture to whet the appetite for Bible reading, I unpacked the following exhortations:

  • If your Bible reading is irregular, inconsistent, or just not there, start.
  • If your Bible reading is often, but not enough, push for more consistency.
  • If your Bible reading is steady, regular, and healthy, then keep it up!

That is all well and good, but most of us need some kind of plan or system to work in order to be successful. So, I encouraged them to:

  • Establish a routine
  • Work some kind of plan (see below)
  • Use a modern Bible translation with study notes. Who does not need clarity and helpful commentary to work through difficult or confusing passages?
  • Have reasonable expectations. Sometimes people want to go from no regular Bible reading to reading through the Bible in one year. Their aspirations are great, but once life sabotages their daily routine a few times they get behind, get frustrated, and just quit. As Matt Smethurst put it,
    “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars!”This hackneyed high school yearbook quote is bad advice for most things, Bible reading plans not excepted. If you shoot for and miss the “moon” of six chapters a day, you won’t quietly land among the “stars” of three. You’ll just be lost in space. It’s better to read one chapter a day, every day, than four a day, every now and then. Moreover, the value of meditation cannot be overstressed. Meditation isn’t spiritualized daydreaming; it’s riveted reflection on revelation. Read less, if you must, to meditate more. It’s easy to encounter a torrent of God’s truth, but without absorption—and application—you will be little better for the experience

    My counsel is to commit to an amount that you can reasonably do daily and get the habit fixed in your life. Hey, you can always start reading more each day when you ready.

  • Expect resistance (the world, the flesh, and the Devil)
  • Enjoy the results

In regards to plans, there are so many great ones available these days. Some guide you through the whole Bible in one year, which requires reading about four chapters a day. Some plans complete the Bible in two years, etc. There are many variations and patterns to choose from, so check out several before committing. Both Crossway and Ligonier list multiple plans to choose from on their websites. You can print out the plans to use with your paper or electronic Bible, and many of the readings from the plans can be emailed straight to your smartphone or computer! Several plans allow you to complete the readings through a website where you can keep track of your progress. This year, I am using a simple, go-at-your-own pace chart to keep track of my Bible reading. Other great plans include the ESV Bible Daily Plan or a chronological one. Each year, I change it up somehow to keep it interesting.

Will you commit to regular, faithful Bible reading for 2015? What good things God will do in your heart, mind, and life if you do!

 

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