Review: Women of the Word

My wife Carly was kind enough to read and review a recent release from Crossway by Jen Wilkin, a Bible teacher and author from Dallas. Here are her brief thoughts on the book (and I can speak for her: she gives it five stars!).

Jen Wilkin. Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. $9.94 (Amazon).

Jen Wilkin is an author and Bible teacher who attends the Dallas mega-church The Village. In this new book intended to help women in their study of Scripture, Jen reveals her own struggle with being raised in church yet being biblically ignorant. This gives the book such a real and personable feel. No one wants to learn from someone who claims they have it all together! Her personal stories are easy to relate to and help the reader understand the information in the book. The chapters are quick and easy to read, but contain vital content for becoming more biblically literate.

In the opening pages, Jen talks about the mountain of Biblical illiteracy many Christians face (chs. 1-2). And she says that this mountain must be moved one spoonful at a time. Yes! But just by the end of the introduction, I was ready to put on my work boots and start digging!

The highlight of the book comes in chapter 6 where Jen talks about the process of study. Her very practical process does seem a bit daunting and time consuming (especially to this stay at home mom of two toddlers!) but our generation is biblically illiterate and starving for a reason. We assume we don’t have time to study the Bible in depth so we give ourselves 5 minutes a day to “read the Bible” which really just means reading the verse of the day that we have texted to us while we’re brushing our teeth. The biggest take-away for me–the one line that stood out–was when she wrote, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” I think I shouted “Amen!” out loud at that point.  If we want to know and love God deeply, we must know and love his Word. You must spend time studying God’s word if you want to know and love him!

If you gain nothing else from this book (believe me, though, you will gain more than this), you will gain a hunger to know God’s word deeply, and be mastered and changed by it.

So, I highly recommend this book to new and mature believers alike. I would love to see women’s ministries in churches read this book before launching into Bible and book studies which are helpful, but may not teach women to study the Bible for themselves.  It’s easy to read and engaging even for people who don’t usually read non-fiction.

After reading only a few chapters (and hi-lighting every other line), I arranged for a friend to read it with me and we meet and talk about it weekly. It’s been helpful for us to digest together and keep each other accountable in our study of Scripture.

Thank you, Jen, for writing this very practical and helpful tool that I hope and pray will be used to bring about spiritual renewal and Biblical literacy among Christians today!

A Prayer for Christians in Iraq

Arabic-NazareneMerciful Heavenly Father,

We do not know how to pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq, but we trust that your Spirit prays for us in our weakness. So we cry, How long before you will judge and avenge the blood of your saints (Rev. 6:10)? How long shall the wicked exult (Ps. 94:3)? How long, O God, is the foe to scoff and the enemy to revile your name (Ps. 74:10)? Why, O LORD, do you stand far away; why do you hide yourself in times of trouble (Ps. 10:1)?”

Have mercy on our brothers and sisters and bring this evil violence to an end with justice. Protect your people and give them favor as they seek to flee from the terrorists. Help them to remember that you hear their cries for help (Ps. 5:1-2). For the blameless will not be put to shame in evil times, but the wicked will perish (Ps. 37:18-19). Assure them, by your Spirit, that they are your children and are loved and secure even when they walk in the valley of death (Ps. 23; Rom. 8:15-17). Help them to believe that they are blessed because they have suffered for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:10). Help them to be more satisfied in your steadfast love than they have ever been before (Ps. 90:14). Help them to remember that the sufferings of this world do not compare with their future glory (Rom. 8:19). Help them know that they can flee to you as their refuge and strong tower (Ps. 61:3). Help them remain faithful to you (James 1:12), endure to the end (Matt. 10:22), and rejoice that they are counted worthy to share in Christ’s suffering (Acts 5:41; Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 4:13). Help them to remember that here they have no lasting city and that they are headed for the city that is to come (Heb. 11:16; 13:14).

And Father, forgive and have mercy on those who may have recanted of their faith to avoid death, even though they may truly love you. Let them experience a Peter-like moment of repentance so that they might rise and feed your sheep and stand strong in the strength of your might (Eph. 6:10)

For us, Father, as Americans, we may feel guilty that we are not suffering in the same fashion. It may even be hard for us to pray for your vengeance. But that is only because we are not suffering. We are in an air-conditioned facility free from affliction or pressure or even the slightest bit of mocking. Soften our hearts and wreck us with compassion so we might suffer with our brothers and sisters and pray for them (Rom. 12:15). And prepare us for the day when this kind of persecution finds us, because we aren’t immune (1 Pet. 4:12).

But, you O God, aren’t immune either. On the the cross, your Son cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46). Because Jesus was forsaken on the cross, help our brothers and sisters know they do not need to fear being forsaken by you. For you will never abandon them (Ps. 16:10; Heb. 13:5). Would that promise empower them, and us, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, just as you did (Matt. 5:44).

In times of trouble, truly you do not stand far away. Jesus, you are the strength of your people; you are the saving refuge of your anointed ones. Oh, save your people and bless your heritage. For our brothers and sisters in Iraq, be their shepherd and carry them forever (Ps. 28:8-9).

Come, Lord Jesus, come (Rev. 22:20)! Amen.


Note on the graphic above: The ISIS terrorists have been marking this symbol on the homes of Christians in Iraq. It’s the Arabic letter “N,” short for “followers of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus, the Greater Satisfaction

Last week, I wrote two posts (1, 2) with questions to ask when you read the Bible. Today, I want us to think about how to identify the false gods we worship and seek Christ as a greater affection as it relates to Bible reading.

In any particular situation, we sin because we do not truly believe the gospel. There is some part of us that is still not fully redeemed and we therefore put our hope in things other than God. We have, in the words of the First Commandment, other gods before us. The Bible calls these other gods “idols.” Therefore, when we are asking questions to aid our meditation and prayer, we need to understand how to find the “sin beneath the sin.”

Think about this example. If I am told to not be harsh with my children (Eph. 6:4) the problem is not simply that I might yell at my kids from time to time. Yelling is a symptom of the harshness that lives in my heart. But what is the cause, the root issue? Where is the anger coming from? There is an idol (i.e. false god, a greater affection than Christ) that I am looking to for salvation. It may be that I think I deserve the right to a quiet night (comfort idol). It may be that I feel that their misbehavior makes me look or feel inadequate (reputation or approval idol). It may the that I feel they shame the family when they act a certain way (family idol). The external behavior of our sin is never the main problem. It’s always the heart. I don’t just get angry for anger’s sake. I get angry because I am worshiping a false god. 

When reading any passage, you must find out what the passage exposes in your attitude, behavior, and emotions, and then uncover what idol lies beneath it. Thinking about it this way might help (thank you, Tim Keller):

  • Power idol.“I only have worth/meaning when I am in control of ______.”
  • Approval idol. “I only have worth/meaning when ______ approves of me.”
  • Comfort idol. “I only have worth/meaning when things works out to my liking.”
  • Family idol. “I only have worth/meaning when my family is functioning well or if they are happy with me.”
  • Dependence idol. “I only have worth/meaning when ______ keeps me safe.”
  • Achievement idol. “I only have worth/meaning if I can achieve ______.”
  • Helping idol. “I only have worth/meaning if others need me to help them.”
  • Political idol. “I only have worth/meaning if my ideals/candidates/issues makes progress.”
  • Reputation idol. “I only have worth/meaning if I succeed at ______.”
  • Theological idol. “I only have worth/meaning if others embrace my beliefs/convictions.”
  • Money idol. “I only have meaning if I have a certain amount of money in the bank.”
  • _____ idol. The human heart is an idol factory, said John Calvin. Fill in the blank.

Ultimately, we have idols because they are more attractive to us than Jesus. When we fail to be compliant with Scripture, it’s not that we experience a cognitive dilemma. The problem is not that we fail to remember what God told us to do. It’s that we love something more than Jesus in the moment. Here are several questions we can ask after we have identified idols to move toward repentance and faith and love for Jesus:

  • What is more attractive to me about ______ than Jesus?
  • What things (i.e. triggers) propel me toward looking to _______ instead of Jesus?
  • How does Jesus meet my need in a way ______ cannot?
  • Why should Jesus be a superior satisfaction?
  • What specifics in the passage—or in other passages—bring me to worship Jesus for who he is and what he’s done?
  • What specifics in the passage give me the grace I need to fight this idol and walk in obedience?

How would you phrase these questions? What ones would you add that have been helpful to you? Be sure to check back in a couple days for one last post on questions to ask when reading the Bible. 

Law & Gospel: Four Questions

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Yesterday, I wrote a post on how to ask questions that facilitate meditation and prayer when you are reading Scripture. In that post, the focus was on the character of God (utilizing the A-C-T-S acronym): What is God like? What does a text reveal about him? The questions below are related, but slightly nuanced: what does God require of us? This nuance gets at weight of the law and the glory of the gospel. It’s important to recognize this when reading Scripture, so let me briefly explain this concept known as “Law and Gospel.”

In some way, every Bible text is calling us to be something, feel something, believe something, or do something. This is law. (Note: This is often implicit, but because the Bible is a covenant document between God and his people, every part of Scripture is designed to conform us to be a certain kind of people.) Yet the problem is that we are unable to do what Scripture commands in ourselves. However, in his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus fulfills the law on our behalf, takes the punishment we deserve, and is raised to life triumphant. This is gospel–good news! Finally one has overcome sin and death! He has earned God’s favor because he, unlike us, did obey God’s law. And he has turned away God’s wrath because he, unlike us, satisfied God’s wrath on the cross. When we receive this gospel and it takes root in our lives, we are transformed from the inside-out. We participate in Jesus’ victory with him and are now empowered by God’s Spirit to actually do what God requires.

Thus the law drives us to the gospel, and the gospel frees us to obey the law. As you read Scripture and come across laws, commands, exhortations, etc., ask yourself the following four questions.

  1. What am I required to be/do/feel/think, etc.?
  2. Why can’t I do this? How do I specifically struggle with this?
  3. How did Jesus do this in my place (think of specifics from the New Testament)?
  4. How does the Spirit now transform me to obey from the heart?

How would you phrase these questions? What ones would you add that have been helpful to you? Be sure to check back in a couple days for more questions.

Civic Holidays and the Church

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend. Churches all over the country are asking what they should do to honor veterans who have served in the U.S. military. Should we build the whole service around it? Should we give them a standing ovation? Should we say nothing? Let me share my perspective on how the gathered church should handle Memorial Day weekend and other civic holidays.

I’m an old Millennial (born in 1984), so I probably have different thoughts on this than pastors and Christians in the Boomer and perhaps even Gen X generations. Much of my perspective is born out of this generational influence—my generation sees the need for the church to be the church, not a political machine. (We are still recovering from the Religious Right movement in the 80s and 90s.) Also, much of my perspective is a balancing correction to my upbringing. This is not simply about my family life. The bigger picture is that I grew up in a politically conservative, Midwestern, dispensational evangelical environment which was just as staunchly “American” as it was “Christian.” I’m learning to unlearn this.

So take this post for what it’s worth (it’s free, by the way).

First things first: I think it would be wonderful and necessary for our churches to verbally thank those who have served in the military and affirm that it is a God-honoring calling (as is being an engineer, a teacher, a mom, a cop, etc.). Romans 13 gives us this perspective. Work is a good thing, and the government bearing the sword is good and right (Rom. 13:3-4). We could argue all day about what is just or unjust for a government to do, but we can all agree that simply serving as a solider (or other government official) is not an immoral or unethical thing in itself.

But churches often go further than this and that is where I get conflicted. For example, many churches will show a video or have special music as a tribute to soldiers or have them stand then give them a standing ovation. Let me briefly share two thoughts on why I think extended attention to America’s government or military during corporate worship gatherings is not a healthy thing for a church:

  • Our allegiance to Jesus, not country, is primary. As God’s new community, our first allegiance is to Jesus (Phil. 3:20; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). I always want that to be the focus of a corporate worship gathering. The temptation that comes with showing a tribute video, like the one above, for example, is that the focus and allegiance of the gathering can easily shift from God to country (even if just for a few moments). Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful I’m an American (and in a sense I will always be one, cf. Rev. 5:9). But belonging to Jesus is infinitely more important because other nationalities belong to Jesus’ community as well (again, Rev. 5:9). Saying “God Bless America” sounds spiritual, but it isn’t the most biblically faithful thing to say, nor is it a loving expression for non-Americans to hear from a Christian’s lips.
  • Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice, not soldiers. The video I linked above, quotes a very popular phrase: “We remember that they [soldiers] paid the ultimate price for our freedom.” While the death of U.S. soldiers did give me political freedom and continues to keep me physically safe, it did not ultimately set me free from God’s wrath, my flesh, the devil, and eternity in hell. Only Jesus’ death did that. North Korea is not my enemy. I was my own worst enemy and Jesus died for me (Rom. 5:8). Satan is my enemy and Jesus crushed him (Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). He made the ultimate sacrifice: he was a righteous man dying for his enemies (Rom. 5:6-7), which is a a very non-American and non-human thing to do. Later on, that same video quotes Jesus’ words in John 15:13 about him laying his life down for his friends and then calling his disciples to do the same for others (“love others as I have loved you”). The context is Jesus’ death for the church and the church’s response to Jesus. But the video applies it to U.S. soldiers. Obviously, that is a significant misapplication of Scripture. Very often, on civic holiday weekends, churches can perpetuate soldier idolatry, which is a real struggle for many Americans. We should give honor to whom honor is due, but in the context of the corporate worship of the church, using religious language in relation to soldiers will distract people from the point of a worship gathering: honoring Jesus because of his substitionary sacrifice.

I realize you might think I’m being nit-picky, maybe even anti-American—and I’m okay with that. You might think this is a little thing and I just wasted 900 words on it. But it’s typically the little things, the slippery slope, that distract people from God and his gospel in favor of other gospels, in this case an “American gospel.”

This question of what we do in a worship service on a civic holiday is part of a bigger conversation which needs to answer the question, “What does it mean to be a peculiar and holy people who reside in this earthly country, yet are citizens of a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16)?” Other saints have had to answer it in their time, and it’s not going to be an easy question for my generation to answer. I don’t know the answer yet. Whatever our answer, I think it’s going to be much different than how American Christians answered in the past.