Seven ways reading (and applying) Scripture contributes to spiritual growth

How does reading (and applying) Scripture contribute to spiritual growth? Here are seven answers from Scripture itself.

The Bible is a source of knowledge. The Bible is God’s revelation to us. The Bible does not give us everything there is to know, but it gives us what we need in order to know and please Him. While right knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to right action, right knowledge is necessary for right action. When we read the Bible we attend ourselves to the Source of all true knowledge.

The Bible is a source of light and guidance. The knowledge that we receive from the word has a particular quality – it is a light and guide in our lives (Psalm 119:105). In this journey of life there are many perils, many pits we can fall into, many ways we can get off track. The Bible lights the way. Instead of stumbling around in the darkness we can see clearly where we are going. Most importantly, we can see Jesus, the light of the world, and follow in his footsteps.

The Bible is a source of wisdom. Wisdom can be described as “applied knowledge.” The Bible doesn’t only grant knowledge but it teaches us how it ought to be applied. The psalmist says that because he meditates on God’s laws he is “wiser than [his] enemies” and has “more insight than all of [his] teachers” (Psalm 119:98-99). This wisdom gives us skill in living. It helps us see what is coming down the road. It gives us the long-term perspective, the eternal perspective, and, of critical importance, God’s perspective.

The Bible is a like a nourishing root system. Psalm 1:2-3 describes the righteous man as the one “whose delight is in the law of the LORD and who meditates on his day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose lead does not with – whatever he does prospers.” The tree is firmly planted. It is secure. It produces fruit. God’s word nourishes our souls and it keeps us firmly rooted in the faith, indeed by pointing us continually to the person and work of God it roots us in God himself. And, as we are rooted, we will bear spiritual fruit.

The Bible is a firm foundation. Ephesians 2:20 says that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” The apostles and the prophets are those who gave us the New and the Old Testaments, both of which point us to Christ. The emphasis in Ephesians 2 is on the foundation of the church, but what is true of the church universal is also true in our lives. The truth of Scripture gives us a firm foundation. Like the trees root system this allows us to survive the storms of life. If we neglect Scripture, as individuals or as a church, our foundation will begin to crumble.

The Bible is a means of resisting temptation. One thing will always get in the way of our spiritual growth – the “sins which so easily entangle” (Hebrews 12:1). So how do we throw off those sins? By reading and applying Scripture. The psalmist states, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I may not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

The Bible is an implanted seed. James 1 describes two kinds of birth and two things that grow. On the one hand there is evil desire, which grows and gives birth to sin, which in turn gives birth to death (James 1:14-15). On the other hand, God “chose to give us birth through the word of truth” (James 1:18). That word is also called the “word planted in you” (James 1:21). If we do what the word says, it will lead to freedom and spiritual blessing (James 1:25). When we read and apply Scripture it is like a seed growing within us which, by its nature, will bring about growth and spiritual fruit in the proper time.


Important note – Reading the Bible is not enough. When I was younger I thought of reading the Bible in an almost magical way. I assumed that as long as I read the Bible every day I would stop feeling tempted to sin. That didn’t happen. In fact, sometimes in seasons where I was reading the Bible the most the temptations were also the greatest, and so were my falls. At times, I became disillusioned and discouraged. But looking back I realized that I was doing what James warned about:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

I was assuming that listening was enough and so I was deceiving myself. I expected magic, when what God wanted was obedience.

Jesus gives the same warning in Matthew 7:24-27. Both the wise and the foolish man listen to the words of Jesus. But only the wise person puts them into practice. The foolish man hears, but fails to put it into practice.

So, if you want to grow spiritually, continue in the word. But know that just reading the Bible isn’t enough, it needs to be put into practice.


Conscience and voting for a pro-choice candidate

Some time ago Rachel Held Evans wrote a controversial article encouraging pro-life Christians to vote for Hillary Clinton. At the time I included a response (the post below) as an appendix to a separate blog post on what I mean when I say I will vote my conscience.

Now, as I watch my Christians friends react with horror – rightly – at Donald Trump’s latest words, I am seeing several of them openly consider a vote for Clinton. I can’t fault their decision to turn away from Trump. But, I want to caution against casting a vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate.

As always, I want to offer a few disclaimers: I am speaking in my personal capacity, not as a pastor. I am speaking for myself, not for my church. The issues are complex. I don’t know all – or even most – of the answers. I will not judge another’s conscience. I simply want to share my own thought process in the hope that it will be instructive and beneficial to others, and because I feel compelled to do what I can to protect and advocate for the unborn.


Why I can’t vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate: 

First, while perhaps some aspects of when exactly life begins are debate-able (fertilization/implantation) I think science and common sense, apart even from theology/revelation, puts it well before the baby actually exits the womb. And yet, Clinton doesn’t even oppose these late term abortions. The DNC’s shift left this year – including calling for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment – demonstrated that they are moving away from an “abortion should be legal but rare” position. This is disturbing.

Second, and related, while not every moral issue is a political issue, this one is. The fundamental role of government is to protect and promote basic human justice – including and especially the right to life. Abortion, then, falls into the scope of what governments are supposed to address. It also falls into the realm of what Christians should care about – concern for the most vulnerable of our neighbors.

Third, since abortion ends a human life, and since it is accepted culturally and protected politically, it falls into the realm of a systematic evil – much like slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional racism. It therefore needs to be opposed at the systematic, including the political, level. The laws surrounding abortion are unjust. We should advocate for the government to replace unjust laws with just ones, all while working the cultural and economic issues as well.

Fourth, voting for a pro-choice candidate – especially one as extreme as Clinton – is to offer at least my tacit approval to her position. In doing so I become a participant in the systematic evil. To do that, even if it serves some practical purpose, is dangerous and, for me at least, would not be done “in faith.”

Fifth, if my third point holds any water and abortion can be compared with slavery or institutional racism, then to argue that we should focus on the cultural/economic issues which make abortion in-demand is sadly comical. Can you imagine turning the same argument on slavery? (Well, since some Christians disagree about whether slavery is wrong – which they did at the time, shouldn’t we just focus on reducing the “economic necessity” of slavery? After all, racism is a cultural/moral issue and changing laws won’t “change hearts”).

As we see with this final example, and what I contend, is that when it comes to abortion, the issue is both cultural/economic/moral and political. Both are important. While Trump rules himself out on the economic/cultural/moral side of the equation. Clinton rules herself out on the political side.

What I was taught

Here’s what I was taught by my elders, by my spiritual leaders:

I was taught that…

character matters,

consistently bad character disqualifies you from leadership,

bad character in leadership degrades the institution being led.

I was taught that…

words matter,

lewd and sexually aggressive language is not funny or of little consequence,

our words reveal our character.

I was taught that…

women should be respected and held with esteem,

women should not be objectified, in word or deed,

how men treat women reveals their character.

I was taught that…

marriage is sacred and should be held in high esteem,

it is only the fool – in the biblical sense – who pursues another man’s wife,

knowingly inviting in the foolish king is unwise for a nation.

I was taught that…

if caught in a sin you don’t excuse it away,

you don’t minimize it,

you don’t redirect towards the sin of another,

you don’t “apologize if anyone took offense,”

you repent before God and before those hurt.

I was taught…

it is better to focus on doing right than justify the ends by the means,

it is unwise to ally yourself with someone who you know is wicked,

it is right to follow your conscience.

I was taught that…

God is sovereign over the course of history,

He is ultimately trustworthy,

and that those truths allow me to “seek first God’s righteousness” and leave history to God.


All of these things were true when I was taught them. They are true today. I will do my best to live according to these principles. Woe is me if I do not pass them along to the next generation.

God bless,



Should Christians “Get Even”?

Thanks to Facebook’s “On This Day” feature I was reminded that I wrote and published this post four years ago (on a different blog). At the time Donald Trump was not a politician and so there were no political implications involved. Even in this re-post I am not really posting it for political reasons. Instead, I am re-posting it now because (1) the topic is still relevant in today’s world and so needs theological clarification, which I’m hoping I can provide, and (2) to say that regardless of how you view Trump as a person or as a politician and regardless of how you plan to vote in November, I caution you against falling into his theology and frequent misuse of Scripture.

Donald Trump gave the convocation speech at Liberty University’s earlier this week and it should surprise no one that he said some controversial things. I haven’t listened to the speech, so I don’t have the whole context, but I was taken aback by one line:

“I always say don’t let people take advantage – this goes for a country, too, by the way – don’t let people take advantage. Get even.”

A few people took him to task, calling his comments un-Christian. Trump’s office defended his remark. Cohen, a spokesman for Trump said, “I conferred with Johnny Moore at Liberty University and questioned whether Jesus would ‘get even.’ The answer is ‘he would & he did.’ Johnny explained that the bible is filled with stories of God getting even with his enemies, Jesus got even with the Pharisees and Christians believe that Jesus even got even with Satan by rising from the dead. God is portrayed as giving grace, but he is also portrayed as one tough character – just as Trump stated.”

There’s a lot in this comment and I would like to address each of this points separately:

Did Jesus “Get Even”?

The statement refers to a two examples of Jesus “getting even.” First, it says, He got even with the Pharisees. I’m not sure this is correct to say, at least not in the way we generally speak of getting even. Getting even usually refers to personal vengeance. “You hit me so I will hit you.” I can think of no examples in the Gospels where Jesus responds with personal vengeance, towards the Pharisees or towards anyone else. Jesus definitely spoke hard words to the Pharisees. He called them “white-washed tombs” and called out their sin of hypocrisy. He even implicated them in the death of the prophets. On one occasion he cleared the temple (violently) of the money changers. But, I believe, a better word to describe these actions is “zeal”, which is the word John uses to describe this event (John 2:17). Zeal is a Christian virtue (Romans 12:11) but it is not the same thing as personal vengeance. Notice that zeal is not directed toward personal vindication or retribution. It is directed toward a passionate and jealous love for God. Even Jesus’ zeal was zeal for the Temple. And Romans 12:11 connects zeal with serving the Lord.

Second, he says Jesus “got even” with Satan by rising from the dead. In some sense, this may be so, but (1) it’s not explicitly stated as such in the Bible and (2) the explicit ethical implication for us when it comes to Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan, is that we are now free from Satan’s power, from the fear of death, and from slavery to sin. There is no implication that Jesus’ resurrection gives us the model for personal retribution.

In fact, we see a very different picture of Jesus when it comes to the way he treated his enemies. Even on the cross he prayed for their (the Pharisees!) forgiveness. In fact, Jesus’ death was an act of love and mercy for the very people that put him to death, for his enemies, for us.

Is God portrayed as a “tough character?”

The statement also says that God is “also portrayed as a tough character.” “Tough character” can have a lot of meanings, but I think the way it is being used here is actually at-least partially correct. God is, in fact, tough, in the sense that He is not weak. He is not a pushover. He will not be taken advantage of. He is all powerful, and He exercises that power in awesome and terrifying ways. In fact, God is “tougher” than you or I or Trump could possibly imagine.

God’s “toughness” comes from His character. He is omnipotent. He is just. He is holy. The result is that God, in fact, does and will “get even” (in some sense) with all of His enemies who refuse His free gift of salvation in Jesus. This is personal vindication and righteous retribution but, for God, because of His unique identity, it is right and good and just. We look forward to the day when God reigns with complete justice.

Should Christians “Get Even”?

The problem with Trump’s argument, though, is that he completely misapplies this truth. He says that because God is a tough character, we are supposed to be tough characters and get even with our enemies. The New Testament argues the exact opposite of this. It argues that because God will ultimately bring perfect justice, weshouldn’t act with personal vengeance.

Paul makes the argument in Romans 12:17-21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Notice the clear commands – do not repay evil for evil, do not take revenge, overcome evil with good. These are clear commands (and not the only ones) against getting even. But also notice the reason – leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge.” So, we don’t need to, and in fact we are prohibited from getting even, because it’s not our job. When we take up the cause of personal vengeance, we put ourselves in the position of God. We are simply not given that authority. Instead, when we are cursed, when others take advantage of us, when we are persecuted, we are to respond in kindness, charity, prayer, and blessing, desiring the genuine good for our enemies, but also leaving the task of “getting even” to God and God alone.

On Discipleship, Worship, and What we really need as a church

Here is the audio from Sunday’s sermon:


What is “discipleship”? 

A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Following Jesus includes both faith in the gospel and doing the works God has prepared for us to do. The task of the church is to make disciples.

How does our church “make disciples”?

We try to create the process by which believers do the things disciples are called to do, and which contribute to their spiritual growth: Worship (loving God), Fellowship (loving each other), Bible study (loving God’s word), and Outreach/Evangelism (loving God’s world).

What is “worship”?

Worship is the proper response to the experience of God. By experience I mean coming to an understanding about who God is. Worship is core to our purpose and identity. Worship involves following God with our whole lives, and doing the specific acts of worship God has given us to do.

Why is worship important (to discipleship)?

In worship we turn our eyes towards Jesus and this allows us to properly interpret and respond to our present situation.


Regularly and actively participate in the worship of your local church. Local churches need worshippers. Above any particular set of skills we need people who understand the incredible and gracious acts of God, and who respond with love and service.


Communion service, November 8

It’s on the schedule.

On Tuesday, November 8, at 8:00 pm, our church will be holding a special communion service. The purpose of this election day communion service is not to compete with the task of selecting our government leaders, but to put it in perspective. I know already that I, personally, am really going to need this service.

Communion is an essential Christian practice which should be practiced regularly. It is typically celebrated as part of a Sunday worship service. For our church, the meaning is the same in whatever context it is performed. It is a God-ordained way of memorializing and proclaiming the death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It is an occasion for confession and reconciliation. It is an opportunity to thank God for the body of Jesus which was broken and the blood that was spilled for us. But we have placed this communion service on this particular day and this particular time for a purpose – so that we can re-orient our hearts toward the eternal and re-prioritize our lives around the gospel, the good news of Jesus.

In a sense, there is a “confession of the election” and a “confession of the gospel.” By “confession” here I mean a statement of beliefs. In other words, when we think about an election we tend to hold to certain beliefs. Those beliefs are not always in line with the gospel. Sometimes they stand in opposition to it. Sometimes they simply need to be relativized in relation to it. Sometimes it is possible to hold both beliefs in tension. Sometimes the gospel undermines our false beliefs. One of the goals of the communion service is to proclaim the “confession of the gospel.” In the context of this particular day and time, this will necessarily be contrasted with the “confession of the election.” Allow me to elaborate:

The confession of the gospel is that we all must approach the cross with humility, confessing our sins, and our sins alone.  The confession of the election allows us to believe that ours is the side of righteousness and to look down on our political adversaries. Communion breaks down our pride and self-righteousness.

The confession of the gospel is that we as believers are fundamentally united in Jesus, through his reconciling work. The confession of the election allows us to believe that we fundamentally divided by political parties. Communion reminds us of our essential unity around the table.

The confession of the gospel is that Jesus conquered our greatest enemies of sin and death through his sacrifice on the cross. The confession of the election leads us to believe that victory can only be one through earthly power. Communion reminds us that the greatest victory ever performed was won through love and self-sacrifice.

The confession of the gospel is that God is sovereign and that it was even through the sovereignty of God that Jesus would die for our sins. The worst that man could ever do – killing the author of life – turned out to be the exact way in which God would atone for the sins of his enemies. The confession of the election is that our futures depend on the will of man and that man stands in that decisive place, either for good or for evil. Communion reminds us that God is sovereign and that he will bring about ultimate good, no matter what path it takes to get there.

The confession of the gospel is that after Jesus’ death and humiliation he was raised and glorified. God raised Jesus up and place him the position of ultimate authority. There is one who reigns over the entire earth and to whom all other authorities are subject. The confession of the election is that authority rests in the government. Communion reminds us that Jesus is still the one with ultimate authority.

The confession of the gospel is that Jesus’ death instituted a new era in salvation history, allowing for a new relationship between God and his people. If we can speak of a time on which history turns that time was two-thousand years ago. It was the days of Jesus’ death and his resurrection. The confession of the election is that election day is the most important day in history. The narratives of the political activists frame November 8th as the day on which history turns. Communion reminds us that history has already turned and it turns along the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Finally, the confession of the gospel is that Jesus is coming again. We celebrate communion in anticipation of that future wedding banquet of the resurrection. We proclaim the Lord’s death, until he comes. The confession of the election is that – unless the people act in a particular way – all is lost. Communion reminds us that because God has already acted, all is already won. 

We invite you to join us.

Globalism/Nationalism, Church/Nation


One of the more interesting aspects of this election is the political and theological debate around questions of “nationalism” and “globalism.” Both of these words are used almost entirely in their derogatory sense and are put up as bogey men, as concepts of which we should be afraid – and when used in that sense we should. Most of the arguments I have seen are also simplistic and underdeveloped. Here’s my attempt to bring a little nuance (read: boredom) to the discussion.

First we need to “come to terms”. I’m going to use “nationalism” in a broad and non-derogatory sense, as “the desire for national achievement.” It goes without saying (though I’m saying it anyway) that I am against a “nationalism” which causes us to place nation above love of God or love of neighbor. I’m also going to use “globalism” in the same sort of broad sense, as “a concern for the entire world”, and not in the sense that global interests should always outweigh national or local interests. I’m going to parse each of these out more below but I wanted to state up front how I’m using the terms so that you don’t just write me off as an idolater.

Second, we need to clarify that we are going to be speaking about the interests and the roles of the nation as distinct from the interests and the roles of the Church (=universal Church, not institutional church). The two group’s interests and roles cannot be completely divorced from each other but they aren’t the same either. Speaking of “nationalism” in terms of the nation means something very different from “nationalism” in terms of the church. Confusing the two, and the roles of the two, will get us into lots of trouble. I will address each separately:

In regards to the nation

A government’s primary responsibility is to its own people and so, in that sense, I want my government to put “America first.” But that “America first” message is not without limits. While it is not required to treat non-citizens as citizens, it must still act justly towards them and treat them as people (and in the Christian sense, those who bear the image of the living God). This means that it still bears some – though more limited – responsibility to individuals of other nations. It seems to me that these obligations would include advocating for basic human rights such as the freedoms of life and religious expression and taking appropriate action when those basic freedoms are threatened, as in the case of genocide.

“Nation first” can be good call as long as it doesn’t mean “nation only” and as long as it is constrained by virtue. What was so frightening about Nazi Germany was that it was a nationalism that was unconstrained by virtue. It made the advancement of the nation the greatest good, at the expense of justice for all.

There are dangers on the side of “globalism” as well. Many fear the consolidation of power in global institutions and this fear is not entirely unfounded. While there is some good which global organizations can bring the tendency will always be for more and more centralization of power. Since power can be used for evil just as easily as it can be used for good (maybe more easily?) I want the power of these global institutions to be limited, specifically limited by the sovereignty of the individual nation. I don’t want my nation to give up its national sovereignty for the same reason that I don’t want national power to be centralized in Washington but distributed to States, counties, and cities, and that’s because I want a government which will not overstep its bounds.

Another issue that has come up is the economy. Here I find myself in a minority. I agree with the many economists who argue that access to markets is one of the most important ingredients to a strong economy. Therefore, I want my country to embrace a global economy and the trade deals that go along with that economy. I see open markets as a way of fostering peace and building global wealth, things which would be good both for the country (America first) and for the world, particularly the global poor. I am of the perspective that open markets (when constrained by virtue and justice) are one of the greatest tools for loving our neighbors.

Family Metaphor

Perhaps one of the best ways to understand this is to think about family dynamics. The responsibility of the father and mother is to take care of their family first. In most cases the bulk of their time, energy, and income will go to providing for the basic physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the family. A father or mother who spent an inordinate amount of time away from their family, or gave away income essential for the care of the family would be guilty of dereliction of duty. Also, parents shouldn’t abdicate their responsibility to some higher level organization – like a church, or a school, or the government.

But that doesn’t mean that parents should only concern themselves with their own family or their own children. Instead, they should lead their family in service towards others, give out of an abundance of resources and love out of an abundance of love. A family does not exist only for itself, but as an essential part of the broader society. A family with this outward focus actually helps itself, since in serving and caring for others outside of our circle we fulfill one of our reasons for existence.

I think this principle can be applied to governments as well. Governments have a primary responsibility to their own citizens, but they also exist within a global framework and need to engage that broader world responsibly and justly.

In Regards to the Church

The Church, as in those who have put their faith in Jesus for salvation, is transnational. It is cross-cultural. It is multi-lingual. It is made up of people from every nation, tongue, tribe, and people. This characteristic is central to its very identity. Because of this fact there will always be a tension between the “globalist” inclinations of the church and the “nationalistic” inclinations of the nation. This tension is healthy, and it shouldn’t be resolved either by the church separating itself entirely from – or wedding itself to – the life of the nation.

I am currently reading the Eric Metaxis Bonhoeffer biography and noticed that (one of the) most significant heresies of the German Christians (and opposed by Bonhoeffer and others) was that it embraced the idea of a “national church.” It willingly submitted itself to the authority of the State and to the nationalist interests of the State at a time when it should have been resisting. The problem in Germany wasn’t only that it contained an unconstrained nationalism, but that the German Christians embraced such a close relationship with that government.

That said, the church does not exist independently of other institutions, but is historically and nationally located. Christians have a dual citizenship. We are both heavenly and earthly citizens. As heavenly citizens we have responsibilities towards all within the church, wherever they are located which, on some occasions, would supersede our responsibilities to the State. For instance, Bonhoeffer recognized that he had responsibilities to Jewish Christians who the Reich barred from leadership in the German church. As heavenly citizens we also have the mission of evangelizing the nations, of showing love through both word and deed to those outside the faith wherever they may be found.

As earthly citizens we recognize the context in which God has placed us and that, too, confers responsibilities and duties. We are responsible towards our families. We are responsible towards our local church, our city, our state, our nation, and the rulers and authorities of that nation. In participating in politics we merely ask that the government do its God given task of being the government. In so doing we serve both the nation in which we live and the God who has placed us in that nation. It is appropriate for Christians to have a sense of patriotism so long as that patriotism is understood in terms of gratitude to God and responsibility and so long as patriotism does not lead to idolatry characterized by either misplaced trust or misplaced fear.

So where does this leave us in term of nationalism/globalism? Here are a few concluding thoughts.

First, there will always be some tension between the nationalistic goals of the nation and the more global mission of the church. We need to live within that tension, understanding our dual citizenship.

Second, our task is to love our neighbors, local and global. One way we love our neighbors is by asking the government to perform its role as government, which can rightly pursue the success of the nation so long as it does not inflict injustice on those in other nations.

Third, we can remember that we are part of the global kingdom of Christ and yet participate in very local and concrete settings. We can begin by serving those directly within our sphere of responsibility, while never forgetting that God has called the global church to a global mission.