There are many ways we grow in our Christian faith and one of the most significant ways we do this is through the thoughtful reading of good books—often beginning with the Scriptures. Not only are the Scriptures the very words of God, true and authoritative in every way, they go beyond giving us just an intellectual knowledge of God to bringing us into a relationship with Him through His Son. This work is supernatural and transformational. Because of this fact, many believers make an effort to read their Bibles daily. Few, however, expand beyond this to other Christian literature. Over the past two decades of ministry I have become more and more convinced that the study of other literature is an invaluable resource. In this post I want to talk about the benefits of studying “systematic theology.”
To quote Wayne Grudem, “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.” The reason it is so beneficial is that it helps us answer our questions by looking at the whole of scripture. So where should we start? In the past, I have somewhat hesitated to recommend some of the best volumes to the average reader because they can tend to be a bit heavy and academic. A number of years ago, however, I came upon Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and was thrilled with what I found. Not only has his work become a personal favorite of mine, it is what I recommend to every Christian—whether young or mature in the faith. I am reading it now again for the fourth time.
Here are a few of the reasons I recommend the book:
- Grudem is faithful to the text of Scripture and uses it to support his points.
- He uses language that is clear and understandable to the average person without giving up the richness of theological terms.
- He is practical. He brings the teaching to where we live and makes helpful application.
- He writes with both humility and conviction (a rare blend today).
- He informs his readers of the differing views. He does this with respect and not a condescending rhetoric.
- Each chapter ends with “Questions for Personal Application.” These are also helpful for group discussions.
- He has an expanded bibliography at the end of each chapter which can direct reading from different viewpoints (i.e.. Anglican, Arminian / Methodist,Baptist, Dispensational, Lutheran, Reformed / Presbyterian, Charismatic / Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, etc.
- He recommends verses to memorize at the end of each chapter.
- He also references a historic hymn at the end of each chapter (coinciding with the doctrine covered).
This is a reference book, but it is more than a reference book. It is the kind of work that you can read devotionally—a little each day if your prefer. A shorter version written by Grudem and his son, Elliot, can be used in group studies, Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know.
Either of these books will help you as you study God’s Word and explore’s its teaching. We love to live in the “practical,” but everything we do in life will find its way back to what we believe or don’t believe about God. Our view of God is the ground upon which we stand, the security in which we rest, and the future to which we hope.
Start them young. For most weeks over the past eight months we have met together at Starbucks—David Rudie, his son Beckham (the Beckman), and me. David and I would meet for discipleship and Beckham would pretend he was interested. He is such a great kid! This past week was our last time to meet together like this as David has taken the position of a full time youth pastor at the Topeka Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. For the past three and a half years David and Julie have poured their hearts, time, energy, and resources into the ministry here at Valley Community Church. They have significantly invested in the whole church—particularly the youth and young couples. While doing all this they have at the same time been working secular jobs and raising a family. We are so thankful for them and for what they have contributed to our church family. While we are sad to see them leave, we are also happy for their new opportunity! So, we are praying that God will bless their future endeavors in Kansas as well as fill in the gaps here at our church in Colorado. Thank you, David, Julie, and Beckham. We love you and you will be greatly missed. We look forward to crossing paths many times in the future. Keep discipling at Starbucks! The great commission is fulfilled one life at a time.
Why are so many many churches and institutions that were once thriving now in a rapid state of decline? There may be many reasons, but a significant part of the problem is what Jim Collins addresses in his book, How the Mighty Have Fallen; “When institutions fail to distinguish between current practices and the enduring principles of their success, and mistakenly fossilize around their practices, they’ve set themselves up for decline.”
For many church ministries and organizations, their enduring principles and convictions produced methods and practices that served as tools to accomplish mission in their present day. Over time the methods become sacred right along with the principles. The longer the methods go untouched the harder they are to change, and the more quickly the decline.
Leaders need to step up to the plate and lead with:
- A clear vision to take timeless principles into a new day with effective methodologies.
- Wisdom to navigate from where they are to where they need to be.
- Boldness and courage to make the hard decisions and then to stay the course to completion.
- Grace in relationships along the way.
Join me in praying with and for the leaders of tomorrow. The needs and opportunities have never been greater!
Is it wrong to be contemporary? I don’t think so. Being in touch with people and in touch with your times is a good thing—Jesus was. Paul was. For some, being contemporary in our service for Christ means being contaminated—or “worldly.” I think Charles Spurgeon was another good example of a man who was current with his times but not contaminated by them.
“When 19-year-old Charles Spurgeon was called to the New Park Street Pulpit in 1854, London newspapers derided him as a brash upstart. Critics complained that his plainspoken, direct speaking style was too edgy—and dangerously innovative. A secular magazine referred to his colloquial speech as “slang.” A newspaper editorial categorized his preaching as “ginger-pop sermonizing.” One particularly harsh critic wrote:
‘He is nothing unless he is an actor—unless exhibiting that matchless impudence which is his great characteristic, indulging in coarse familiarity with holy things, declaiming in a ranting and colloquial style, strutting up and down the platform as though he were at the Surrey Theatre, and boasting of his own intimacy with Heaven with nauseating frequency. His fluency, self-possession, oratorical tricks, and daring utterances, seem to fascinate his less-thoughtful hearers, who love excitement more than devotion.’
During that first year, pundits regularly predicted an early end to Spurgeon’s ministry in London: “He is a nine days’ wonder—a comet that has suddenly shot across the religious atmosphere. He has gone up like a rocket, and ere long will come down like a stick.
Spurgeon’s critics were wrong, but they weren’t silent. They attacked him, slandered him, and fiercely opposed his ministry. They called his successes flukes and his failures proof of his character. What did Spurgeon do? He just kept preaching. He kept writing. He kept sharing the truth of Scripture as plainly and directly as he could for 40 years of faithful ministry.” -Faithlife
Without realizing it, we can build very nice boxes to live in and then function in ministry happily ever after. The box is safe. It protects our culture and way of life. It protects us from “worldliness”. But God didn’t put us in this world to live in a box. He created us to be salt and light in a dark and pagan society. Our box may be comfortable but it is irrelevant to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.
We should step back and take a look at what has happened to our homes, churches, and institutions over the past three or four decades. Our kids have grown up in boxes; sheltered homes, sheltered schools, sheltered colleges, and sheltered seminaries. When they attempt to enter the world, they are incapable of functioning outside the protective box – their “safe house”. And then we lose them. We lose them to repeat the same thing for their children – and often we lose them from Christianity altogether.
The need is to live and serve God “in the world” as salt and light. Yes, it is possible to be current with our culture and not contaminated by it. Jesus did. He was a “friend of sinners” and still holy. How many “sinner friends” do you really have? Would sinners feel as comfortable coming into your home or into your church as they were in coming to Jesus? It’s something to think about.
Prayer without planning presumes upon God. Planning without prayer presumes without God. As we look ahead it is not an “either or” proposition but one of “both and.” Every venture in life for the Christian should begin with prayer and continue in prayer. But, we also need to plan. Planning is part of our stewardship and responsibility. In fact, we should do this better than anyone else because we have a higher calling and more compelling cause. Investigating, planning, organizing, and setting goals is not in place of prayer but rather fueled by prayer. It flows from a core conviction that is rooted in a desire for God’s glory and His will to be done. When God does answer prayer we are not surprised. In fact, we are already at the plow and ready for work. You can see this in action when you read Nehemiah 1-3. Pray and Plan. Then, expect great things from God!
Out of God’s great love for His children he miraculously leads them out of Egypt. Yet at their first resting place they find themselves hemmed in between the desert and the Red Sea. Then, to make matters worse, the whole Egyptian army is now bearing down on them! You can understand how they all start crying out in complaint to Moses and to God. Finding yourself “between a rock and a hard place” is not a pleasant place to be. What is God doing?
God is doing many things. But, the most important thing He is doing for His people at that Red Sea is revealing to them who He is. They will come to know Him by these overwhelming circumstances. And it is the same for you and me today. It is through difficulties, the most hopeless of circumstances, that God is teaching us about himself in ways that we will never comprehend by reading a book or sitting in a class. He sets the stage to demonstrate His glory and show you Himself. This is how you come to know Him – by experience. The cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night, the parting of the sea, the water from the rock, the bread from heaven; without the crisis we see no need and we have no reason to cry out to him. “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of he Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” Exodus 14:31.
God will keep hemming you in and putting you into impossible places. He is setting the stage to do something great once again. Yes, it is a test of your faith – that is the nature of the Christian life! The next time you find yourself wanting to cry out to God in complaint, start looking for what He is going to do. I can promise you – it will be great, it will be good, and you will come to know him in ways you have not known him before.
“Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” Exodus 15:11
Job wants to know why and so do I! This morning I found myself reading Job in my Chronological reading plan. The entire book seems to be a search in trying to answer that question. Job wants to know why. Why all of this trouble? His friends think they have figured it out. His wife has given up. We want to know why because we are searching for patterns and parallels for our own lives.
God does not answer the “why?” He does not answer that this is judgment, or discipline, or pruning for more fruit. He does not say he is trying to convince Satan or prove a point. He does not answer the “why?” But HE DOES ANSWER with the “WHO?”, and that is all that matters. It is all that ever matters. See Job chapters 38-42.
Who is God? A right view of God will mean a right view of myself, of life, of everything. A right view of God will ignite praise and thanksgiving in any and every circumstance we find ourselves in. In difficult times we can struggle to hold on to a right view of God – and even when we do, our emotions may take time to catch up to our theology. This was true for Job and it will be true for you and me.
At this (all of his calamity), Job got up, tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:20, 21.
The next time you go through a struggle and want to ask God, “why?”, consider exploring the “Who” instead. You will find yourself moving from discouragement and frustration to joy and praise.
Have you ever stopped to consider how much time you spend worrying about things? We are Christians and we worry as if there is no God. Turn your thinking back from what “might happen” to what you know is true about God. His Word will instruct you in that truth and bring a confidence, peace, and joy back into your life—even in a trouble-filled world. What consumes your thinking? What do you mull over in your mind? A Word-filled life will be a joy-filled life.
Matthew 6:31–34 says, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
D. Martin Lloyd Jones says in his book Spiritual Depression; “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”
If you have time, listen to last Sunday’s message, “Joy Even in Uncertain Times” at http://valleycommunityco.org/media.php?pageID=19
I have heard that the average Christian spends less than thirty seconds a day in prayer and the average pastor less than three minutes. Shocked? Don’t be. Stop and think about how much time you spent in prayer today – apart from blessing your food or a superficial nod to God. We do not pray as we ought – I don’t think any of us would argue that. Sadly, it shows up in our lives, families, churches, and ministries. As a whole, we are a powerless people, having drifted far from our God.
Here is my challenge to you for 2014: Take ten minutes, three times a day, and pray. That’s not much, but probably significantly more than what you are presently doing. We are busy with a thousand other things that together won’t amount to what might be accomplished in prayer. Regular and fervent prayer was the pattern of Christ and the New Testament Church (Mark 1:35, Acts 2:42). This needs to be revived.
David, the man after God’s own heart, said, “Evening and morning and at noon will I pray and cry aloud, and he will hear my voice” (Psalm 55:17). David purposed in his heart and set a pattern in his life for prayer. Daniel did the same, “…he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10).
Ten minutes, alone with God, three times a day. Friend, that is my challenge to you for 2014. Think what God might do in us, and in his church.