Month: March 2019

Pastor's Blog

How to Pray the Bible

This past Sunday we were reminded of how prayer, according to Scripture, should be filled up with God’s purposes and promises. I mentioned that one of the best ways to do this is to actually pray the Bible itself.

I think I first learned this concept from John Piper. In a recent podcast, he was asked the question, “How do I pray the Bible?” In his answer, he said, “praying the Scriptures is so important in the Christian life. If we don’t form the habit of praying the Scriptures, our prayers will almost certainly degenerate into vain repetitions that eventually revolve entirely around our immediate private concerns, rather than God’s larger purposes.”

He goes on to explain how to pray the Bible and gives some practical examples of what it actually looks like. You can listen to or read the whole thing here—it’s very much worth your time:

Praying the Bible keeps us from focusing on our immediate private concerns to the exclusion of God’s larger purposes.
Pastor's Blog

“May the Peoples Praise You!”

This Sunday’s focus will be on the church’s mission. Some of the most profound statements in Scripture concerning this topic come from the Psalms. The Psalmists clearly understood the mission of God’s people to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). They knew that God was not their secret to be kept, but instead that they had been blessed by God so that they would make Him known to the nations.

One Psalm that captures this truth beautifully is Psalm 67:

May God be gracious to us and bless us
     and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known on earth,
     your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
     let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
     for you judge the peoples with equity
     and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
     let all the peoples praise you!

The earth has yielded its increase;
     God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us;
     let all the ends of the earth fear him!

Psalm 67:1-7, ESV

“May the Peoples Praise You” is a new song we’ll be singing this Sunday, based on Psalm 67 and 1 Peter 2:9 Give it a listen below, and come ready to sing on Sunday! (Click here for lyrics.)

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Every Hour I Need Thee

On Sunday, we discovered that Biblical prayer is almost always about asking God to do something He has already promised to do. When faced with this truth for the first time, we can be tempted to ask, “then what’s the point? Why pray if God is already going to do it?”

We saw three answers to that question in Sunday’s message, but there’s a fourth that we’ll explore here today. And it’s this: regularly praying for what God has promised keeps us aware of how much we need Him. It keeps us dependent upon Him. It keeps us from believing the lie (so often celebrated today) that we are enough.

Think about it this way: if God provided for our daily bread and forgave our sins and gave us strength and used us to advance the gospel without us ever praying for any of it, how long would it be until we began to think of ourselves as naturally strong and holy and effective people? How long would it be until we forgot about the Lord altogether?

But God knows what’s best for us. He knows that we need Him more than anything. He knows that our deepest satisfaction and joy will be found in relationship with Him, not in being super-charged, highly-efficient people. And so He doesn’t give us a lifetime supply of grace and strength all at once. He answers our requests in smaller doses than we’d prefer. He makes sure that we need to stay close to Him and never forget how much we need him.

In other words, He keeps us praying.

And so prayer repeatedly and continually highlights God as the source of all things. And when we think about it this way, we realize that prayer itself is an act of worship—an act of bringing glory to God.

Which means—get this—that prayer itself is an answer to that first request Jesus taught us: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).

What a thought. And what a reason to pray.

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“Advanced” Spiritual Warfare

One of the points of Sunday’s message is that spiritual warfare is both a bigger deal than we often think, and more normal than we often think.

But what about those times when it’s not normal? What about those times when the forces of darkness appear to manifest themselves in more direct and obvious ways? Is Ephesians 6:10-20 really good enough in those circumstances?

In his article “Stand Up to the Powers of Darkness,” biblical counsellor David Powlison shares the following story, which I trust you’ll find helpful:

Christians often argue that people living in animistic contexts need some special sort of demon deliverance. Some believe that a history of occult practices and beliefs necessitates a kind of ministry that is completely different from Ephesians 6. This may initially seem plausible because the phenomena and symptoms are bizarre. But Scripture gives striking examples of occult practitioners being ministered to by normal, biblical spiritual warfare: for example, Manasseh (2 Kings 21; 2 Chron 33) and Simon (Acts 8). Here is a contemporary story that corroborates with what Scripture leads us to expect.

A European friend of mine went to rural West Africa in the 1980s as a long-term missionary. He taught in a theological college, did church planting, and pastoral ministry. When he arrived, the implicit rationalism of his Western world view was blown away by the disturbing forces he encountered: animism, witchcraft, amulets, manifestations of bizarre voices and various other physical effects, trance states and hallucinations, a visceral sense of being in the presence of uncanny evil. He encountered these phenomena both in professing Christians and in non-Christians. He began to adopt the common demon-deliverance version of spiritual warfare, and experienced apparent success.

But as time went by, he increasingly doubted both the legitimacy and efficacy of what he was doing. For one thing, a deliverance event, however dramatic in the moment, proved to be no predictor of any good thing in a person’s life over the long term. It did not result in blessing, or stability, or spiritual growth, or freedom from symptoms. In contrast, those who turned from their sins and came under Christ did live changed lives. Those whose lives became fruitful were people who did the “normal” things of faith. Normal did not mean rote, perfunctory, or mechanical. It meant embracing Scripture, honest confession and repentance, candid faith in prayer and worship, vital fellowship and accountability, and practical obedience—what this article has been about. But the people in whom normal things did not take root continued to live in sin, fear, and animistic chaos. Normal things were the difference maker in delivering people from Satan’s power. Deliverance ministry made a lot of noise, but made little difference. It even reinforced the core assumptions of animism.

As my friend continued to reflect on Scripture and his experience, he concluded that the demon deliverance world view and practice was a failure and did not add up biblically. So what was going on with the darkly bizarre symptoms that he was encountering? The evil one and his agents were intimately involved. But most of the varied phenomena—the sense of uncanny moral evil, the lies, fear, confusion, and hostility—point toward normal human experience in a world of suffering. As touched on in the discussion of Psalm 28, people suffer terribly under many things: the hardships of disease and poverty, hostility and injustice from others, anguish of conscience, the cruelty of the Slave Master, the imminent threat of death. It is always right to earnestly cry out to God, “Deliver us from evil. Be merciful, O Lord.” But the animistic world view provided the suggestion that the brokenness of life calls for a power encounter with an inhabiting spirit. My friend came to see the deeper human need, and began to change his approach.

He started to dig carefully, to proceed more patiently, to do more pointed ministry of Word and prayer. He sought to find out what else was going on in the lives of people. He found dark secrets and relational problems—and the miseries of life that both tempt to sin and result from sin. He found secret adulteries. He found financial corruption. He found Christians who, in their anguish over a sick child or extreme poverty, began visiting witch doctors and wearing amulets. Most frequently, he found bitterness and hatred, relationships that had been broken and never reconciled. False accusations were also a common relational problem. In the context of suffering and unexpected death, the traditional culture looked for someone to blame. The finger of accusation often pointed to “witches” or “witch children” as the cause. (Even secular studies of witchcraft observe that relationship breakdowns lie behind the bizarre phenomena, and that the problem is solves by confession and forgiveness.)

In all these cases, bizarre manifestations appeared. The Liar, Accuser and Murderer is at work in all this—but not in the way it was being interpreted. The animistic worldview they lived within was yet another lie—a “teaching” that comes from demons about demons, fueling superstition and fear (1 Tim 4:1). My friend was uncovering complex spiritual and moral problems, but there was no need to sort out where “flesh” ends and “world” begins, where “world” ends and “devil” begins. The forces of evil work in concert. We don’t need to determine where the devil’s role in moral blinding and in inflicting destruction begin and end. We can’t see through the fog of war. But Christ’s truth and power address all dimensions simultaneously. We intercede with our Lord to comprehensively deliver us from evil.

My friend normalized the abnormal and humanized the bizarre, seeking to get behind confusing appearances, seeking to minister. He dealt with bizarre evil the way the Bible tells us to deal with evil of any sort: clear Scriptural truth; bold, faith-expressing prayers that plead the mercies and power of Christ; heartfelt worship; meaningful fellowship. People brought their sins, fears, and confusion to the light. They found Christ’s mercy and aid, and acted in newness of life. The bizarre symptoms disappeared. Biblical reality increasingly supplanted their false worldview.

My friend had come to mission work with a Christian faith somewhat tilted toward Western rationalism. The initial shock of cross-cultural experience had somewhat tilted his faith toward the traditional animistic worldview. Further ministry experience and biblical reflection increasingly shaped a humble, bold, truth-speaking, prayerful, loving approach to people.

True spiritual warfare normalizes the abnormal and helps people live in Christ’s reality, not the haunted universe of animism. He was waging true spiritual warfare against the powers that enslave people in the confusion of sin and fear.

Powlison, David, “Stand Up to the Powers of Darkness,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 31:2, 45-47.

For $2, you can purchase and read the rest of this excellent article here:

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The Gift of a Good Study Bible

It shouldn’t be a big surprise by now that I am a fan of study Bibles. I believe that a good study Bible is one of the most important things a Christian can own.

I also believe that Christians should not be afraid to use a study Bible during their regular devotional time. I didn’t always think this way. I’ve counselled people, “Use a study Bible for study, but for your regular devotions, just use a plain Bible so that it’s just you and God.” I now think of this as fairly wrong-headed advice. What good is it to read the Bible if you have no clue what you’re reading? 1 Corinthians 14:6-12 suggests that we are only built up by God’s truth when we understand it. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in a book, and we should do everything we can to understand it.

This is why study Bibles are so wonderful. They allow you to read the Scripture text, then read the study notes, and then immediately read the Scripture again, this time with (hopefully) more understanding.

In other words, a study Bible can play the role of Philip from Acts 8:31-31: “So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?'”

Now, what I’m describing here requires a good study Bible, one which is designed to help you understand Scripture better. Not all so-called study Bibles have this focus, and there are many which should be avoided.

Here are some study Bibles I recommend:

ESV Study Bible
This is the gold standard of study Bibles. The sheer size of it gives things away: it’s almost more of a small library than just a study Bible. It is built on the excellent ESV translation, and is packed with charts, maps, book introductions, and illustrations. There’s a supplement at the back full of helpful articles.

The study notes themselves—the main feature of any study Bible—are spot-on, assembled by an international team of top-notch scholars. They are in-depth enough and readable enough to be helpful to a broad swath of people. I wish I could put this resource into everybody’s hands; it’s that good. If you can just get one study Bible, I heartily recommend this one.

ESV Global Study Bible
This is a slightly-stripped down and mildly simplified version of the ESV Study Bible. It’s also more affordable. In fact, it’s free online or in the ESV mobile app if you create an account at

NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible
Like many, I have some concerns about the new NIV translation, and wouldn’t recommend it as your main Bible. However, as a secondary study resource, the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible has a lot going for it. The study notes and articles are on par with the ESV Study Bible in terms of content and quality, and have a particular focus on explaining the unfolding story of Scripture. This would be a worthwhile addition to your library.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible
This study Bible which would be a good choice for a new Bible reader or even someone who doesn’t yet believe the gospel. It’s focus is on helping the reader grasp the big story of Scripture and how it all fits together and points to Jesus.

ESV Student Study Bible
This is a version of the ESV Study Bible specifically adapted for high school and college students. The notes have been made more accessible, and it contains additional helpful tools like a glossary of key terms.

For Children
Crossway (publishers of the ESV) also have some excellent Bibles for children which contain notes, illustrations, and helps aimed at different age groups. Click on the titles below for more information:

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“The Things of the Spirit”

On Sunday, we considered Romans 8:5, which uses the phrase “the things of the Spirit.” I mentioned that 1 Corinthians 2:14, the only other place in the Bible where this phrase is found, gives us an important clue into what Paul meant by it.

1 Corinthians 2:14 by itself doesn’t give us much help: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Things only begin to clear up when we consider the wider context.

Beginning in verse 6, Paul had been speaking about himself and the other apostles, and how they had been given the Holy Spirit so that they might understand the things God was revealing to them.

In verse 13, he narrows his focus somewhat: not only was the Holy Spirit revealing truth itself to the Apostles, He was revealing to them the very words with which they were to teach this truth. “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13). 

In other words, as the Apostles taught or wrote books like 1 Corinthians and Romans and Galatians and 1 Peter, their very words were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

In the second half of verse 13, Paul makes an important qualifier: his teaching ministry is only received by those who themselves have the Spirit. That’s what he means by “interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

“Spiritual” in this context doesn’t refer to a special kind of Christian who prays loudly in restaurants and listens to sermon podcasts instead of CBC. Instead, it simply refers to someone who has the Holy Spirit—in other words, a Christian. And it is only to these spiritual people that the Apostles interpret these spiritual truths.

Why is this? Why not teach everybody? The reason comes in verse 14: “The natural person [in other words, a person without the Holy Spirit] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

So let’s make sure we’re piecing this together: in verse 13, he told us that he used Spirit-taught words to interpret (or explain) Spirit-inspired truths to those who have the Spirit. And in verse 14 he says that those without the Spirit do not accept “the things of the Spirit of God.”

It’s like if you overheard someone saying “Mom made roast beef last night, but Billy was too sick to eat supper.” You would understand that “supper” and “roast beef” are talking about one and the same meal. This family (less one unfortunate member) ate roast beef for supper last night.

So it is with 1 Corinthians 2:13-14: when we read that the Apostles imparted spiritual truths using Spirit-taught words to those who are spiritual, but that the natural person does not accept “the things of the Spirit,” we understand that these different phrases are pointing to the same thing. “The things of the Spirit” are those Spirit-inspired truths and words.

And so when Romans 8:5 says that “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit,” we’re safe to assume that Paul had the same idea in mind.

What this means for us today is hopefully obvious: “the things of the Spirit,” these spiritual truths and Spirit-taught words, have been preserved for us in the Bible. Which means that if you and I want to walk by the Spirit, that’s where we need to set our minds.