Weekly App Review: Reformation Study Bible

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The Reformation Study Bible App is an English Standard Version study Bible edited by R. C. Sproul. The app itself is very stable and easy to use. The Bible texts are easy to navigate and the features are simple to use. The app allows the user to reference over 20,000 study notes, which are generally insightful, intelligent and useful in a pinch. The app allows the user to search the text, take notes, and highlight passages. This app is pretty useful for simple and cursory study of texts.

The app also offers a handful of downloadable resources like a Strong’s Analytical Concordance, a Mathew Henry’s Concise Commentary, a Bible Dictionary and Sproul’s devotional collection. The user can also download several additional translations. This app is feature heavy and the features are generally useful, though some of them, like the Mathew Henry Commentary or the Strong’s KJV concordance, are not. These two resources are ok, but are not the best of the best available.

The most important thing I can say about this app is that it is stable, fast and useful. The in-text notes are easy to pull up and typically give a good information when its needed. As a teacher, I use this app daily. It has replaced my Chain Reference Study Bible entirely.

I have occasionally found the search feature frustrating simply because it tends to be very unforgiving to variations in words. This is a particular detriment for a guy who had never used the ESV translation before now. Occasionally, the app gets hung up in the text preventing the user from accessing the features. This is generally fixed by simply restarting the app.

The Reformation Study Bible’s main weakness is the lack of depth of resources, but this is certainly excusable considering that it is essentially a Study Bible. For deeper study, I use the Logos Bible App. The Reformed Study Bible is faster and tends to be easier to use in relation to handling the scriptures directly. This is particularly the case when offline, which is no issue for the Reformation Study Bible App, but the Achilles heel of the Logos app.

Another weakness is with the fact that you cannot copy and paste text from the scripture you’re referencing. While not a fatal flaw, this feature would definitely be a useful addition to this app.

The Reformation Study Bible works well on both the iPad and iPhone. It’s a little easier to use on the iPad because of the larger screen. For $9.99, it is certainly one of the more pricey options for Bible apps, but I would argue that it is worth the price, particularly considering that most study Bibles will run you $30 plus.

Evangelists with Dirty Hands

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“…dealing with lost people will cause us to get our hands dirty and sweaty just like tending to yard work. Part of evangelism is to clear up misconceptions and misperceptions people have about the gospel. Dealing with people and evangelism is often messy.

Will McRaney’s

 A few weeks ago I ran a Bible study group with a group of teenage drug addicts at various stages of their recovery. All of them are in residential treatment and attend Bible study as a part of their treatment program. In the session I was facilitating we did an open question and answer time. This always proves tricky with these types of kids because they are so worldly that it is almost like working as a translator to teach them basic truths.  Three main themes turned up in the conversation that week. One young man tried to comprehend how God could possibly be fair if he forgives murders and rapists. Another young man assumed God would never love him because he could not fulfill the mandate of not looking at women lustfully. Still a third young man wanted to understand why God didn’t answer his prayers promptly. This 2-hour session of explaining and ministering was the first thing that came to mind when I read McRaney’s quote.

In our increasingly secular culture we need to assume that that ministering to the lost will involve answering difficult questions and teaching then wholly alien concepts. The lost have no idea who God is. To assume we could evangelize without getting our hands dirty seems foreign to evangelism among the lost in this world. As God’s witnesses, we need to be prepared to answer tough questions and we need to demonstrate Christ in our lifestyle and attitudes while we evangelize. Peter speaks to the matter in his first epistle. In chapter 3 he is addressing persecution for the faith. In the midst of his teaching on persecution he says:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. – 1 Peter 3:15-16

The dirty work of evangelism must begin with study and training so that we can be prepared to give an answer. This is the step believers frequently desire to skip over because it is a little boring and requires hard work. Reading, learning and studying are vital to evangelizing effectively. Living under Christ’s discipleship is also fundamental to this process because if we do not, we will not be prepared to act in gentleness and respect, which are fruits of the Spirit. We need to invest in these things to be prepared to evangelize effectively to those who are totally unchurched. In investing in them we need to understand that it is only the Spirit that produces these quality and that only the Spirit can make our evangelism effective. When the time comes to share the gospel, we must be willing to go to unpleasant places at times and answer accusations from those who despise God.

It is my prayer that those who read my posts would use them to defend their faith and to sway the lost and wavering.

Circus Church

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20110814-033944.jpgThe other morning I was driving to work and I heard on the radio “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” by Neil Diamond. Yes, I listened to it and enjoyed it because Neil Diamond may be a cheese ball, but he’s a cool cheese ball. The song is about a traveling evangelist, who sets up a circus tent and puts on a Jesus show for everyone. The whole town turns out because it is entertaining. The lyrics imply that Brother Love is quite the showman. While I was listening to the song, my mind wandered to a discussion I had recently regarding the seeker sensitive movement and whether or not it was a legitimate way to do ministry.

For those not too familiar with the term, the seeker sensitive church model designs the Sunday morning service around reaching non-Christians and bringing them into the life of the church. In an effort to be seeker sensitive, music is chosen because it makes the worshiper feel good, distasteful words like “sin” are replaced with more palatable alternatives like “broken” or some other therapy oriented term. Rather than discuss Christ and atonement, sermons focus on meeting the felt need of the congregation. The general focus is shifted from worshipping God to making guests feel welcome in order to bring them into the life of the church. Ideally, seeker sensitive churches would then move guests to cell groups (groups that meet in the houses of members to do Bible study).

A couple of quick things to note regarding this model: First, it is effective at drawing a big crowd. Go to a mega-church and you will typically find the seeker sensitive model. Second, it is generally very entertainment oriented. It is not uncommon to find seeker sensitive churches doing outrageous things to draw a crowd. Just like Brother Love and his circus, there is a degree of Barnum and Bailey’s at work. These are the churches that talk more about having a great sex life through scriptural principles or feature motocross riders in the service or fire-breathing as a part of the sermon. All of these showman elements are aimed at bringing the unchurched in the front doors for an hour every Sunday. Third, the traditional gospel message is “repackaged” to be more accessible. This sometimes involves changing vocabulary or teaching with parables/stories. Sometimes sermons focus entirely on meeting the felt needs of the congregation. It is common to call them self-help sermons or sharing the therapy gospel. Ultimately, the message shifts from salvation in Christ alone to: how to have your best life now.

20110814-034153.jpgI will begin with a disclaimer: some churches that do this model could potentially do it well and with pure motives. Some seeker sensitive churches teach that we are all sinners and that the only way to avoid the wrath of a just and righteous God is through Jesus, thus doing more than simply teaching people how to feel good. It seems reasonable that some of the thousands of seeker churches that exist clearly proclaim the gospel. Ultimately, this is a method for drawing in unbelievers. The purpose of drawing in unbelievers is to expose them to the Gospel. That having been said, this raises the question of the purpose of the worship service. Is the purpose of worship evangelism? Further still, one of the central tenets of seeker sensitive worship is to focus on the felt needs of the unchurched. How does this gel with worship focusing on God? This question is especially pertinent when we consider the fact that many seeker driven churches soften the Gospel to make it more palatable for the lost that are visiting. This is the constant temptation faced by those who look to grow through seeker sensitive methodology. It is a temptation that results in a broken system on Sunday morning. No man can serve two masters and the seeker sensitive crowd frequently winds up having to deal with meeting the needs to the uncommitted against preaching the Gospel. Thus, we end up with therapy gospel and other messes that turn growth/numbers into an idol we worship rather than God himself.

Another problem with this model is that it often rests on a faulty assumption regarding everyone’s role in the church. In the seeker sensitive model, it easy for the Sunday morning Jesus show to become the primary attraction for the lost, rather than disciples of Christ going out to reach the world for His name. Ministry to the world is often reduced to simple service with no real sharing of the Gospel message of Christ as the one who redeems us. In such cases, serving our neighbor is sufficient ministry and no preaching is ever endeavored upon. Instead, the role of evangelist falls exclusively on the shoulders of the pastor. If a pastor desires to grow his church, but doesn’t so much care to disciple and train members to reach the lost, he is stuck in the role of trying to bring them in through other means. This often manifests itself in the three ring circus that is a seeker church.

One of the central problems, I would argue, is the desire of modern Christians to be served and entertained. They consume church like a product. When they are bored or uncomfortable, they leave and go somewhere else. As a result, congregations are frequently loaded with immature Christians who throw tantrums and leave every few years or throw tantrums and force out the current leadership ‘cause they don’t get what they want.

Sound Biblical teaching and discipleship are the missing ingredients that keeps Christians immature and prevents them from going out to reach the lost. As a result, the seeker service is the only answer for a pastor looking to grow his congregation, stoke his ego or appease a demanding consistory. This means that, at times, seeker sensitive tendencies can be used as a thermometer to measure the disciple-making efforts/health of a church. When a pastor has to entertain or scratch itching ears to keep people in the church, there is something wrong. That “something” is a congregation that lacks maturity and is not producing disciples. The big show should not be the attraction to worship.

I believe at one of the best scriptural illustrations of this concept is found in the Matthew account of the feeding of the 5000 and the day that followed. Everyone knows the story of the miraculous feeding of the 5000 from Matthew. In fact, the story is a favorite amongst seeker driven and health/wealth preachers because Jesus draws a big crowd and meets their needs. After this happens, Jesus crosses the nearby lake (on foot), helps Peter briefly walk on water and sets up camp on the other side. The crowd he had fed the previous day comes to find him the next morning looking for more food. There is a great conversation about Moses and manna, in which the people ask for more bread as proof of Christ’s having been sent from God. Christ responds by telling them that they need to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to gain entrance into heaven. The crowd says his teaching is too hard and abandons him. We see this in the seeker movement today. They are fed and their needs are met, but at the first sign of difficult teaching or challenge, they abandon ship, because they did not want to know Christ. Rather, they wanted to have their needs met. We see the same thing happen with the Israelites in the desert when they demanded manna, meat, etc. and wandered when God didn’t jump to their service like a cosmic maitre’ d. The disciples did not abandon Him. Instead, they said that they had nowhere else to go, because only Christ had the words that bring eternal life. This is the response of a disciple of Christ to difficult teaching.

Now, another quick disclaimer: I don’t like organ music and I believe that living in Christ will change my life. Preaching should point me to Christ; in Christ, God’s Spirit will comfort me and produce fruit in my life. However, worship music must honor and worship God. It need not make me feel warm and fuzzy. The change in my life is not from applying principles and pulling myself up by my bootstraps. Rather, it is Christ and his Spirit living in me that produces changes. I also would argue that it is necessary to preach the good news every Sunday for the lost who are present.

Skipping Out on Milk and Cookies Christianity

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I first began attending church when I was 15 at a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in Montgomery Alabama. One of the staples of the weekly service was the recitation of the creeds. This always took place right before the sermon. I now understand that this took place so that the listener could compare the beliefs of historic Christianity with the message being presented. It kept everything Kosher, so to speak. As a new believer, I found this comforting. I liked hearing the totality of the beliefs of the church summarized succinctly. In addition, I read the creeds and looked up the ideas in the scriptures. The product of this was: I knew what the Christian faith was about and I knew why I believed it. Over time the repetition from week to week began to wear out the joy of hearing the creeds. Eventually, we moved to a new town and the family settled into a Reformed Church, which has less repetition. When I went to college, the creeds disappeared from my worship experience entirely, though I can still recite them from memory.

The last few Sundays, I have listened to a series of sermons on the basic ideas of the Christian faith. These messages have reminded me of how powerful and comforting those creeds are. Last week, Denver preached on the Trinity. I will admit that it has been over a decade since I have heard a sermon on the Trinity. I have read about it in classes for seminary and as a part of various books. It was terrific. In a day and age of movie themed and self-help sermons, the appearance of a message on the foundations of the faith was a welcome change of pace. What made it particularly powerful was that the topic of the Trinity parlayed into a call for repentance in Christ. An altar call in a sermon on the Trinity… awesome! Having mulled over the whole thing at length, I think I figured out why it struck me as being so terrific.

Standard therapy/entertainment sermons found in churches across the country aren’t about God. They are all about the listener. More time is spent dealing with the listeners thoughts, feelings, needs and wants than is spent talking about Jesus. Relevance has turned the weekly service into a sad variation of the worship song: “it’s all about me, it’s all about me… the listener.” This relevance is a necessity because there is no real focus on God. People come in and have little or no relationship or connection as the Body of Christ and very little connection to God and only stay as long as they feel comfortable. They need to be entertained, because they are not growing members of the Body of Christ, instead they are merely spectators or infants who need something shiny to look at. There is no need to mature in the Body because maturing would require they not indulge in the lowest common denominator of spirituality, which seems to be self-indulgence. They need milk… or Kool-Aid, lest they accidently nourish themselves spiritually and treat anything other than themselves and their own comfort as God. The easy listening sermon is a powerful tool in building large churches, and by large churches I mean gatherings thousands of attendees wide and very very shallow. I am being a bit harsh and am painting with a broad brush. I do not wish to convey a total condemnation of all efforts toward relevance in preaching. However, when relevance crosses from speaking the language of the congregation to making the service completely about the listener, there is a problem. That is not accessibility, it is consumerism disguised as Christianity.

This is highlighted in the Trinity in particular. Augustine points out that the Trinity is essentially the note of doctrine that describes God’s relationship with Himself. It isn’t about us. Certain elements of our lives may reflect the Trinitarian relationship, but merely because they are designed to do so. The important part of the Trinity sermon is God. The important part of worship ought to be God. This is perhaps why the call to repent and follow Christ stood out to me as being particularly powerful in this sermon. It was about committing to follow Christ, not buying a bill of goods. In our day and age, following Christ is packaged as a way to have secure finances or better self-esteem or a more fulfilling sex life. The problem is that the real call to follow Christ is about receiving forgiveness and becoming a follower of the way. The way may have side effects, but they are side effects. The primary effect is salvation. The Trinity puts on display the various aspects of God and highlights how awesome He is. Creator, comforter, redeemer, etc. are all parts of the picture of God provided in the Trinity. These are the things that ought to attract us when we commit to following Christ. Further, they are the meat and potatoes that every growing believer needs.

Interestingly, for all the time, effort and energy spent by evangelicals and conservatives speaking out against questionable cultural trends and liberalism in the church and books about whether or not hell exists, all in the name of protecting the flock from being mislead from the Biblical message of Christianity, simply teaching the flock to recognize basic truths about God would do wonders to ensure that such things do not occur.

By the way, it was a great sermon.