Podfasting |pód-fãs-ting| Noun – Abstaining from mega-church podcasts so as to hear more clearly the voice of the Holy Spirit

I’m not a fan of New Years resolutions, but the first day of this month I decided to try an experiment. I stopped listening to podcasts. I felt like I was hearing too many voices; I was subscribed to 4 podcasts, would look at 5 others to see if I was interested in what they were preaching on that week, and had Wayne Grudem’s entire Systematic Theology podcast series completely un-listened to. All told, I had over 500 unplayed podcasts and they were piling up way faster than I could listen to them.

I had been getting so much teaching so rapidly for so long that for several months I felt as though I needed to start digesting all that I was eating. I started to feel like a theological-chipmonk who was stuffing his cheeks without ever actually digesting anything.

Add to that an ongoing seminary education and I was getting more than enough head knowledge. Knowledge wasn’t the problem; obedience was. I felt like I was focusing on all head with no heart; all information with no transformation; all data with no devotion. So I stopped listening to podcasts for (at least the first month of) 2012.

I feel like it’s been very, very helpful. I hear God’s voice more clearly and feel closer to Him as a result of narrowing my input to just His Word–the Bible–and whatever else my coursework brings my way. For my Greek class, I’m translating substantial (or at least substantial to me) passages and really mediating on them as much as I can. I feel like I’ve been able to focus on the voice of the Holy Spirit instead trying to hear Him in the midst of a cacaphony of mega-church pastors. Instead of filling “empty time” (i.e. my drive to work or the time I walk the dog) with a podcast, I’m now using it to think about the Bible verses I translated that day, how to apply a passage of Scripture I read, and catching a quick prayer. It’s been good and I think it’s becoming more and more necessary in our day of celebrity pastors.

So here’s the challenge: for the next 30 days, stop listening to whatever it is that you use to fill your “empty time.” Maybe it’s music, maybe you call people on the phone, or maybe you’re like me and you listen to podcasts, but stop! Instead, try to focus more specifically on the Bible and use that “empty time” as an opportunity to meditate on God’s Word and pray to your Father. You won’t regret it.

One of us

Joan Osborne once inanely crooned the question, “What if God was one of us?” She sang this as though it had never been answered. Well, if God was one of us, He would have come full of grace and truth (John 1:14), speaking the truth in love. He would have been a perfect, exact image of the Invisible God (Col 1:15). In our blindness we would have rejected Him (John 1:11, Colossians 1:21). Yet in His grace, He would have reconciled all things to Him through His blood on a cross and made peace between a rebellious people and a Holy God (Col 1:20). He would have done this to make us sinless, spotless, and blameless (Col 1:22). In fact, he would have gone so far as to give us the privilege to be call ourselves the children of a God against whom we had once rebelled (John 1:12). He would have, once and for all, delivered us from darkness to light (Col 1:13). He would have taught us what our Heavenly Father was like (John 1:18) because he has been with Him since eternity past (John 1:1).

How do I know all this? Because God was one of us! God did come down to earth. Because Joan Osborne’s question was answered almost 2 thousand years before she was ever born. Joan Osborne opens her song by asking, “If God had a name what would it be?” If God were one of us, His name would be Jesus. And, although He was equal with God the Father, he humbled Himself and became a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). He lived the life we were supposed to, paid the penalty we earned, conquered the death we deserved, rose from the grave by which we were imprisoned, and now grants us a gift we could never purchase:  reconciliation and peace with God. And one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).

5 Reasons to Study Church History

Although I wouldn’t consider myself a history buff (yet), I’m becoming increasingly convinced that it’s absolutely essential for us to study and know our history. I’m beginning to think that history only repeats itself because we fail to learn from it. We can change that! Therefore, I wrote for a guest post for my seminary blog about just that topic, you can read it here: http://www.transformedblog.com/2012/01/28/5-reasons-to-study-church-history/

Would you go?

If I’m completely honest with myself, I have two expectations:

  1. God desires me to be “successful” in my service to Him.
  2. If I obey His leading, He will make me wildly “successful” in my ministry.

As Americans, it would be unthinkable for us to say something like, “God has called me to a small, obscure ministry that will never bear much fruit; instead, I’ll actually pour my life into just a few guys and then one or two of them will have ministries that far exceed anything I ever could have accomplished.” Of course, if you really think about it, isn’t that what Christ did? Didn’t He just focus on 12 men who took His message much farther than He ever did? Interesting… but I digress, back to my two expectations.

It’s easy for us to think that God will be so amazed by our passionate devotion that He’ll have no choice but to make us the main catalyst for the next Great Awakening! But as I’ve been reading through the Prophets, I see something a little different happening. To understand what I mean, take a look at the “commissioning” of some of the prophets.

Isaiah’s Commission from the Lord

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the LORD removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. (Isaiah 6:8-12)

Do you see what just happened? Isaiah answered God’s call and God told him to go preach to a people that would absolutely refuse to listen. Isaiah asked how long he is supposed to do this, and God tells him to keep preaching until the entire land is a desolate waste! That hardly sounds like the modern promise that God has a wonderful plan for your life. Let’s look at how cheerful Jeremiah’s commissioning is, I’ll just underline the parts that I want to emphasize.

The Call of Jeremiah

14 Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. 15 For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the LORD, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. 16And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. 17 But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. 18 And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, forI am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:14-19)

We see the same thing: Jeremiah is sent to fail. God doesn’t say something like, “Go to my people and save them from disaster.” Instead, he says “My people will be destroyed and I want you to spend your days calling them to repent. They’ll never do it, but that’s not your responsibility.” The same thing happens with Ezekiel.

Ezekiel’s Call

4 And [God] said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. 5 For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— 6 not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. 7 But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. (Ezekiel 3:4-7)

God tells Ezekial, “Although I could send you to a foreign nation, and although they would listen to you and worship me, I’ve called you to the house of Israel. They will reject you.” And don’t forget what God tells Hosea: “Marry a prostitute so she can cheat on you and have other men’s children. I will use this as an example to show Israel how they have cheated on me” (Hosea 1:2).

Do you see what’s wrong with my original two expectations? They’re completely wrong! If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that those two expectations are really just a spiritual-sounding twist on the American dream. So here’s the question that is haunting me (and I want to share with you so you’ll be haunted too): If you knew that God was not calling you to a successful ministry would you still go? The thing is, if I’m honest, I’ve created a formula that goes something like this:

God’s calling + my obedience = ministry success

But the truth is, as we’ve seen, God doesn’t call anyone to be successful, He doesn’t owe anyone success, nor does He promise anyone success. God calls us to faithful obedience, no matter what. We aren’t called to success, we’re called to obedience. I pray that God will give me the courage to obey Him unconditionally. So here’s my question for you: Would you go?

We can worship God forever.

The greatness of God’s being, the perfection of all His attributes, is something we can never fully comprehend, but before which we can only stand in awe and worship.

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 221.

Grace and Then Truth

For a long time now, I’ve been giving a lot of thought and prayer to what it looks like to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). So I wrote a guest post over at a friend’s blog called Grace and Then Truth, take a look here: http://graceandtruthblog.com/2012/01/26/guest-post-grace-and-then-truth/

Imaginary gods

In Acts 17:29, Paul says that because we are made in the image of God, “we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” A common critique of many religions, not just Christianity, is that they were all created out of a need to understand the universe; a divine being was the best explanation our ancient, primitive ancestors could come up with based on their limited understanding of how the universe really works. We of course are much more enlightened and clearly understand more than they did.

I completely disagree with this notion. The truth is, there is a deep desire in this world that nothing can satisfy. We were created to experience intimate, unbroken fellowship with God and yet that communion has been severed by sin. We all search for something to fill that void. It may be sports, it may be romance, it may be promotion, it may be wealth, it may be power, it may be influence, or it may be another idol from our modern-day pantheon of false gods, but in the end, we’re all looking for something to fill an infinite void. The problem with an infinite void is that it could only be filled with something—or by Someone—of equal size. An infinite void must be filled with an Infinite Being. As Augustine once so rightly said, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

God is beyond our ability to manufacture. He exceeds the scope of our wildest imagination. He fills the deepest longings of the human heart. How could we hope to manufacture such a Person? Indeed, we could never. And thus we run from idol to idol, hoping to fill an infinite void, we ruin relationships hoping they will satisfy the deepest longings of our heart, and we miss out on the fact that, as Paul so eloquently put it, God “is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

You gotta serve somebody

One thing I’ve noticed while reading different translations of the Bible is how different one of Paul’s introductions often sounds despite the fact that the translation committees are all using (mostly) the same Greek manuscripts. Normally, Paul introduces himself as an Apostle (2 Corinthians 1:1, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, and 2 Timothy 1:1). But elsewhere, in Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:10, Philippians 1:1, and Titus 1:1, Paul introduces himself with a different Greek word: doulos (pronounced “do-loss”). This is also the word the authors used to describe themselves in James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1, and is even used to refer to all Christians in Revelation 1:1.

What I find interesting is that this word usually has two different translations:  bondservant or servant. In the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, and King James Version all use the word “servant” or “bond-servant” and then they usually put “slave” somewhere at the bottom of the page as a footnote.) These are all considered fairly conservative translations. Yet in two of our more liberal translations, the New Living Translation and The Message, we find the word doulos translated a little accurately. They use the word “slave.” (The lesser-known Lexham English Bible also uses the word “slave.”)

So which is is? What are Paul, James, Peter, Jude, John, and all Christians? Are we servants or are we slaves? In The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans, R. C. Sproul helpfully writes:

In the Greek text, the word that the apostle uses is doulos which is not properly translated ‘servant’. A servant in the ancient world was a hired employee, a person who could come and go at will, who could resign from one job and seek employment elsewhere if so inclined. But a doulos was a slave owned by a kyrios, a master or a lord. Frequently in the New Testament this type of imagery is used to portray the relationship between Christ and his people: ‘You are not your own; you were bought at a price.’ Christians are those who belong to Christ. He is our Lord, he is our kyrios, he is our Master.
Paul will explain in the book of Romans that man, out of Christ, is in bondage to sin and a slave to his own evil impulses, inclinations and desires. This is man’s natural condition in the fallen state. Yet Paul wrote elsewhere that where the Spirit of the Lord is, where the Spirit of the kyrios is, where the Spirit of the Master is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17). How are these truths to be reconciled?
Paul had learned that man is only free when he becomes a slave to Christ. Outwith Christ, he is a slave to sin; but when enslaved to Christ, he knows the royal liberation that only Christ can bring. Paul, in citing his own credentials, regards as his highest virtue that he is a slave of Jesus Christ.

In John 8:34, Jesus says that whoever sins is a slave to sin. Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John all knew that the only way to become free from sin was to become slave to Christ (John 8:36). That’s why Paul the “slave” mentions that he is free in 1 Corinthians 9:1. As Bob Dylan once sang, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” The only question you can answer is who you’ll serve. Will it be a harsh taskmaster bent on your destruction? Or will it be a kind, gentle Lord?

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus in Matthew 11:28–30.

David Platt compares the modern-day “gospel” against the Biblical Gospel

We are not evil, we think, and certainly not spiritually dead. Haven’t you heard of the power of positive thinking? I can become a better me and experience my best life now. That’s why God is there–to make that happen. My life is not going right, but God loves me and has a plan to fix my life. I simply need to follow certain steps, think certain things, and check off certain boxes, and then I am good.

Both our diagnosis of the situation and our conclusion regarding the solution fit nicely in a culture that exalts self-sufficiency, self-esteem, and self-confidence. We already have a fairly high view of our morality, so when we add a superstitious prayer, a subsequent dose of church attendance, and obedience to some of the Bible, we feel pretty sure that we will be all right in the end.

Note the contrast, however, when you diagnose the problem biblically.The modern-day gospel says, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved.” Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, “You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less it cause yourself to come to life. Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do.

The former sells books and draws crowds. That latter saves souls. Which is more important?

David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream(Colorado Springs:  Multnomah Books, 2010), 32.