[This is Day 8 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A multi-volume printing of the Bible that removes the chapter and verse numbering and any cross-references or notations, so that all you have is the text itself, with the occasional major section heading.
Why You Should Read It: When it comes to personal Bible reading, I tend to bounce back and forth between a simple format and a more complex one (like a study Bible with commentary notes). But the most pleasing experience I’ve ever had as a reader was with this “reader’s Bible.” The volumes are well-made and tactilely pleasing. The paper is high-quality with zero bleed-through. The type setting is spaced out and open, and the lack of chapter-and-verse divisions helps to encourage extended reading. Approaching texts like the Epistles in this format are a great reminder that these books were cohesive documents, not snippets of text with interstitial headings. Approaching your Scripture reading in this manner helps you hang onto the “big picture” of the text. The price-point for this set is a bit higher-end (you may be able to find it on sale for $60-80 over the holidays), but I think it’s worth it because it will be a Bible you will return to again and again for personal reading (as I have).
Hey y’all! Here are a few things I’ve found fun or interesting in recent weeks. Enjoy, and I’ll be back next week with actual posts! Seriously!
Malcolm Gladwell uses Law and Order (the TV show) to suggest an interesting take on plot and storytelling. Granted, it could be complete nonsense, but I enjoyed hearing him try to create a sensible framework. (Warning: Very strong language, because he’s talking to Joe Rogan, who loves himself some profanity.)
I’m currently leading a Bible study at church through the Old Testament book of Amos (which will likely end up being a series of blog posts in the future!). If you’re not familiar with Amos, this podcast episode with Nancy Guthrie and Michael McKelvey gives you a wonderful overview of the book and its themes.
Sorry for the brief delay; yesterday was my birthday, and I was otherwise occupied at the car repair shop for much of the day. (#Adulthood!)
But we are BACK with the next installment in our #SmundaySchool discussion of the Minor Prophets! This week, we’re taking a brief look at the key themes and ideas in the Book of Joel.
The Background and Context of Joel
The book of Joel was written by “Joel, son of Pethuel” (1:1), a prophet of Judah. It’s hard to put a date on this book, because there are no clear context indicators. There are a couple of theories about when to date the events Joel describes. Some take the descriptions of divine judgment as describing a post-Babylonian-exile scenario (mid-500s BC), while others argue that certain context clues and literary characteristics, plus the lack of naming specific nations, leads to a pre-Assyrian-exile date (placing Joel’s ministry in the same general era as Hosea, Amos, Obadiah, and Isaiah). Some scholars argue it was likely written during the reign of Joash (as recorded in II Chronicles 23-24). At any rate, the timeless quality of the book doesn’t take away from the main message.
The Content and Message of Joel
Joel is composed of 3 chapters that can be broken down as shown:
Judgment on Judah (1:1 – 2:17)
Locust Invasion (Chapter 1)
Military Invasion (?) – (2:1-17)
Salvation through Judgment (2:18-3:21)
Mercy on God’s People (2:18-32)
Judgment on Their Oppressors (3:1-21)
There are 2 key interpretive challenges when it comes to the book of Joel. I’ll note them without going into much detail, but it’s good to be aware of the different ways to read this book:
Is Chapter 1 describing literal locusts?
Is Chapter 2 describing a literal army?
While scholars argue both ways from literary context, I think the best reading is YES to both questions: that God used natural calamity as a warning of coming military conquest.
The Key Themes and Applications of Joel
There are 3 key themes in Joel’s message to God’s people in this period:
The day of judgment is coming. Joel repeatedly uses this phrase “the Day of the Lord”–a phrase that is repeated throughout the writings of the prophets. This “Day of the Lord” is a day of both judgment and blessing, and Joel shows both aspects of this day in his prophecy.
God uses calamity to chasten His disobedient people. Again we see that God is sovereignly controlling the natural world for His purposes. He sends the locust plague to His people in order to get their attention and cause them to turn from sin and call on Him for help. When it is clear they will not, He must up the ante with more painful and difficult circumstances.
God promises to forgive and restore His repentant people. We see this repeated theme as well in the Minor Prophets. Though God disciplines, He also shows mercy. What He takes away in His wrath, He can also restore in His kindness.
So how does the book of Joel apply to Christians reading it today? The same themes carry forward pretty easily:
Even the locusts are God’s locusts. God is sovereign over both natural and man-made calamity, and uses them both for His ends. (2:10-11)
God is just and wrathful–but He is also compassionate and merciful. (2:12, 13, 25) If we are being disciplined for sin, we can repent and find mercy and even at times restoration of what has been lost due to our waywardness.
No injustice or wickedness will escape the judgment of God. We can take comfort that final justice is certain. (3:1-3)
The Gospel Arrows in Joel
As in all books of the Old Testament, we can see arrows and hear echoes that point us ultimately to the promised Messiah. Joel is no different. A few ideas for your consideration:
The mercy of God is demonstrated to His people, even though they are just as guilty as the nations around them. This is a clear reminder that when God saves an individual, it’s not because of the good they have done or the favor they have earned, but solely because of God’s gracious and unmerited favor.
God promises to dwell in the midst of His people again. This is glimpsed in Jesus, the Immanuel, who tabernacled among us (John 1:14). This will be culminated in the New Heavens and the New Earth, where God will live among His people and be their light (Revelation 21:23).
God promises in Joel 2 to pour out His spirit, and says that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (2:28-32). Peter quotes this prophecy at Pentecost in Acts 2, saying that it has been fulfilled with the giving of the Holy Spirit at the birth of the New Testament church.
That’s all I’ve got! Short and sweet this time, but I hope it helps to give context to you as you read the book of Joel this week! (Hint, hint!)
#SmundaySchool will be back next week (Monday, hopefully!) with a discussion of the book of Amos!
Your Turn: Do you have any thoughts or observations from your reading of the Book of Joel? Are these overviews helpful to you? Let me know in the comments!
Last week, I saw the following on Twitter, and shared it favorably:
I received some pushback about how helpful this tweet actually was, and I appreciated the engagement that followed. To summarize my responses that afternoon, I took this comment to be a general statement that we should be careful not to ignore our pet sins as we take to social media to do battle for the sake of theological precision. In my mind (and I think, perhaps, that of the gentleman above), it was akin to tithing the dill and cumin while neglecting the weightier matters.
In the midst of that discussion, another friend asked for practical recommendations about how to battle the temptation to use pornography. I told him I was happy to try to oblige but didn’t have the time or space to do so fully at that point.
Today, I hope to provide a bit of insight into my own battle.
[Note: I’m writing here to Christians–followers of Jesus. If you’re not one, some of these recommendations might be helpful to you, but you won’t have victory over lust without first submitting to the One who came to free us from bondage to sin. If you want to talk about this, I’d be thrilled to do so. Hit me up.]
The Story So Far
Without belaboring the point, I was (like, statistically, many men in the church) secretly harboring an addiction to pornography for many years before I got married. Even as a Sunday School teacher and young adult ministry leader, I had a dark corner in my life where I both cherished and hated my secret sin. Finally, by God’s grace and the support and encouragement of faithful brothers and a loving fiancee, I was able to stop using porn. But that didn’t stop the battle against lust.
When you’re addicted to lust in a culture that bathes in it, you never leave the front-lines of the fight. The fight comes to you, at any time of day or night, when you least expect it. You could choose to cloister yourself away, cutting off all inputs of illicit imagery, but you can’t turn off the screen inside your head, the one you’ve fed for so many years, the idolatrous flesh that craves more. Even behind a monastery wall, you’d still have to mortify that rebel flesh–all the more so when you live out here in the world, trying to dodge messages and images of sexual enticement like Neo dodging bullets in the Matrix.
For over five years, I have been winning this battle, praise God. Not perfectly but faithfully. Not easily but determinedly. Grace upon grace.
“So what do you do?” my friend asked on Twitter.
The first and best answer is a spiritual one–truly facing what pornography addiction is. It’s sin, which is a small word with all of the torment and guilt and shame and destruction of damnation bound up in it. Sin against God, sin against the men and women who are both enslaving and enslaved in the porn industry. Sin against your spouse if you’re married. And to be honest, it’s this last one that drove home the rest of it in a flesh-and-blood practical way: looking into the weeping eyes of my then-fiancee/now-wife and confessing my sin to her just gutted me. Sinning against my wife wounds me in a way I didn’t anticipate as a single man.
So, if you are seeking freedom from lustful addiction, my brother or sister, run to Jesus. Look full into his wonderful face. Seek what Richard Baxter called “the expulsive power of a new affection,” the love for the things of God that pushes out the love of sin. Pray for God’s help. Meditate on and memorize the Scriptures. Devote your mind and heart and time to the things of God.
While reading a book about sexual purity isn’t a silver bullet (by any stretch–I’ve read an arsenal full of purity books), I can say that Heath Lambert’s Finally Free is far and away the best I’ve ever found–primarily because he centers the strategies on the realities of the Gospel. If you haven’t read it and you’re in this fight, you should grab it and work through it with a friend or accountability partner.
But I’ve got to be honest with you, reader: for me, most days, the spiritual practices I’m describing here–the “right answers” to this question–aren’t enough on their own.
This may be proof of where I need to grow in sanctification–likely it is. But in addition to seeking spiritual weapons to address this truly spiritual battle, I need additional help, in the temporal realm.
So here’s what I do to support that battle:
I have to be honest. That means when I sin sexually, I confess it to God, and then I tell someone–usually my wife. I look her in the eyes, and I tell her what happened. And when I do, I don’t use mealy-mouthed language or softened terms. I use biblical language, biblical categories. I use the words “sin” and “repent.” And admittedly, this is hard on the spouse who hears it. (My wife actually recommends a book for wives of men fighting lust called Reading Your Male by Mary Farrar. She says it was very helpful in understanding my perspective and experience.)
I have to be transparent. I don’t use web-access devices that aren’t monitored by some sort of software, and the weekly reports go to my wife. I made the decision that there can be no dark corners of my online life. My wife knows the password to my phone, and has access to the passwords of all my profiles. There is no need for “privacy” when it comes to my wife. I don’t see this as oppressive or stifling–it’s freeing. I know that I’m not alone, and I have someone watching my back. (This also requires that I trust my wife’s heart and intentions toward me. If you don’t have that trust, then there may be other things you need to address as well.)
I have to be discerning. This is the tactic that I think lots of guys struggle to employ the most. If you know you’re an alcoholic, you stop spending time in bars. If you struggle with addiction to food, you can’t hang out in dessert bakeries. And if you know you are tempted to lust, you have to stop feeding your hungry eyes with images that excite them. What this means in practical terms is that there are LOTS of things I don’t watch or listen to. I pass on the TV shows that everyone in the office is excited about, because I know that no matter how well-written or fascinating the story, I don’t want to see sexual content. I check the IMDB “Parents Guide” for content warnings before renting or going to a movie that I’m not sure is safe for me (even if it means accidentally finding out spoilers). Anything that is close to the line, I try to avoid. Do I miss out on stories that intrigue me? I sure do. There are TV shows and movies that sound exactly like the type of art I love, but I’m never going to watch them because it’s not worth it to me. It’s like the old parable: two wolves battle within you, but the stronger one is the one you feed more often. I make the choice, movie by movie, book by book, program by program, which wolf to feed.
I have to be self-aware/humble. This one is sometimes the hardest. Part of success in battle for me is recognizing when I’m weak. Actually, this is where transparency is also helpful, because sometimes it’s a comment from my wife or another friend that clues me in on a blind spot in my life. But in those seasons when I know I’m facing more temptation, and I sense those first signs of weakness in my resolve, I immediately ask for help. I ask for prayer. I invite people to check in on me more often. Let me caution you, though: don’t only use this tactic at the exclusion of the others, because you aren’t always going to catch yourself early, especially early on. You need other people around you. But over time, you’ll start to recognize patterns. You’ll sense things in your heart and mind that are possible warning signs (like anger, secretiveness, pulling back from community, lingering over those fluttering impure thoughts that pop in your head from time to time). If by God’s grace, you notice that you’re starting to slip in your mental purity, that’s the moment when you go on the offensive, pray for deliverance, and ask for help and support to fight all the more.
A Final Encouragement
I’ve already gone too long here, but I want to leave you with an encouragement:
God is not a liar.
Seems obvious, right? But this truth is your rock, your firm foundation, as you fight this battle. Jesus will never leave you or forsake you. His will for you is your sanctification, and He will complete His work in you faithfully and fully. So, do not fear when you face hard days, even days when you stumble and fall. Get up, righteous man, righteous woman–dust yourself off and start running after Jesus again. Learn from your mistakes, guard against sin, and battle the dragon, for lo, his doom is sure.
Not enough people know your story, even among the Church. Not enough people appreciate what you sacrificed, and what gifts you gave to your brothers and sisters.
I must confess (to my great shame) that in the ease and comfort of my 21st century life, I take for granted that I can look across the room and count almost a dozen copies of the Scriptures in my own language on my bookshelf. I even have copies of the Greek and Hebrew texts (though I have yet to learn how to read or use them!). I even walk around all day with a digital copy of the Scriptures in my pocket, yet almost never open it. (I’m all too quick to open up Twitter, on the other hand.)
And yet with all these options available to me, I’m ashamed to say that it is only in my 38th year of life that I will complete a full read-through of God’s Word within the calendar year. Point of fact, there were some sections of the Old Testament that I don’t believe I’ve ever read before this year.
I praise God that I’m developing more of a hunger to read His word. And I thank God for the work of men like you, who have labored and studied (even at the risk of their own lives) to make it possible for me to satisfy that holy hunger by feasting on the Word of God in my own language, along with the notes and comments of faithful preachers and scholars to aid my understanding. I don’t need to rely on a pastor or priest or pope to tell me what God has said, because I can take up and read it myself. What a privilege this is!
Thank you, William. I look forward to shaking your hand and thanking you in glory. Until then, brother, I join all the generations of believers who have come after you in thanking God for your life and work.
I started the year with a goal of reading through the Bible in less than a year for the first time ever. My wife had given me a gorgeous “reader’s Bible” set as a Christmas present, and I was excited to dig in and start reading straight through.
In the first 2 1/2 months of the year, I made quick work of the Pentateuch and the Historical Books by committing to reading 30 minutes a day, usually at the end of the day. I loved it! I was able to move through large sections of Scripture and just focus on the story and the overarching themes. During the few times I really struggled to make progress (I’m lookin’ at you, I-II Chronicles), having all of the names and places and histories fresh in my mind really helped to make the early part of the Old Testament come alive.
I started the Poetry volume with that same excitement, and zipped through the book of Job. However, when I started Psalms, I hit a slump. I wish I could blame my lost momentum on our family vacation and days of driving and visiting family. But the real problem was that my daily reading became very inconsistent, and I struggled with my approach to the text.
Reading 30 minutes non-stop is great for narrative, or even Old Testament case-law. But when it came to Psalms and Proverbs, I soon realized that plowing through it wasn’t helping me retain much. So I made the decision to read only 5 Psalms a day, and a page or two of Proverbs, with the hope of more meditation instead of mere completion. If I had stuck to it consistently, it would have taken me only 4-5 weeks. It took longer.
I should take a moment here to talk about the reading experience with these volumes, and the effect of the type-setting and formatting. Each of the six volumes is bound in a stiff, cloth-covered hardback cover with a pleasant grain to it. The pages are printed on a creamy, white paper with none of the bleed-through or onion-skin feel that typical Bible pages have. It’s really a wonderful tactile experience, using this Bible. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I do. I’m not sure it would motivate me to pay full price for it (we got it at a steep discount), but it’s a nice luxury to enjoy and I’m thankful for it.
As for the layout and typesetting, there are minimal notations, limited primarily to the book title and major section headings (think 3-4 per book). This presents a challenge with books like Proverbs, in which you have a total of 2-3 headings inserted into the entire book, and the rest of the book mostly laid out as a never-ending series of couplets. This type of layout makes it easy to speed through without really stopping to ponder the proverbs themselves, and is one of the few instances in which having the modern addition of chapter divisions prevents a fly-over approach, because you are more likely to stop and reflect more often.
On the other hand, the editors decided to keep the Psalm divisions, which seems appropriate. So the book of Psalms is divided into the five “books” and then according to each individual Psalm. The lack of verse notations is particularly helpful here, because it then becomes a visual reminder that each Psalm is meant to be taken as a whole.
All this to say, throughout the end of March and then into April and May, my Bible-in-a-year progress slowed to a crawl. I was reading inconsistently and in smaller segments. Once I finished Psalms and Proverbs (finally!), I was able to knock out Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon over the next 3-4 reading days.
I’m not sure how I would approach the reading of Psalms and Proverbs differently in the future, if I’m using the “reader’s Bible” format. I think those books may be best read with the divisions in place, in a “Psalms/Proverb of the Day” approach (in which you could read 5 Psalms and 1 chapter of Proverbs a day for 31 days). But how I read them is irrelevant if I’m not committed to do so consistently, rather than using my schedule changes and life events as an excuse to get lazy.
I’m slowly getting things back on track (and I’m halfway through Isaiah–woohoo!). Daily, consistent time in the Word is a habit I should have built years ago, and I’m glad, if nothing else, that I have the chance to amend that now.
[This is the post-facto manuscript of my last Sunday School lesson/sermon at Champion Forest Baptist Church. I can’t think of a better way to end my time with that fantastic group. I hope this blesses you as well.]
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents a picture of the ordinary life of His disciples—while at the same time demonstrating how radically different that life appears to the rest of the world. Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon are an impossible task to follow on our own, but His work of redemption on the cross and resurrection from the grave accomplished this impossible task on our behalf, so that anyone who repents of their sins and puts their faith in the work of Christ is cleansed of their sins and credited with His righteousness, giving us right standing before God through Christ. Once we are born again spiritually and given the gift of the Holy Spirit living within us, we can seek to obey the commands of Jesus in the Sermon and live out this ordinary radical lifestyle by His power and grace.
Jesus closes out His sermon with a picture of two builders and two foundations. I’d like to make 3 observations and a final plea.
Observation #1 – Everyone builds their lives on something.
Notice that the wise man builds on a rock. In the Old Testament, God is described as the Rock of His people (Psalm 18:1-3). Later, Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ is called the rock upon which the Church is built (Matthew 16:13-20). In Luke’s version of this teaching (Luke 6:46-49), he includes a few more details: the wise man digs down deep to lay a good foundation. This wise person is the person who comes to Jesus, hears His commands, and obeys them. Remember, you can never obey God or please God apart from faith. So we can rightly recognize that the wise man is also someone who came to Jesus in repentance in faith (or, “poor in spirit” [Matthew 5:3]).
Don’t miss this: the wise man builds his life on Jesus and on His teaching. The foolish man builds his life on anything else—there is no middle ground. Look at verse 26—the foolish man hears the words of Jesus as well! But hearing isn’t enough. James writes in James 2 that faith without works is dead. So our works follow our faith—we come to Jesus, we hear His words, and we obey them in faith.
On the other side of the coin, we can’t fall into the trap of the false converts in Matthew 7:21-23. Mere works aren’t enough either. Church attendance isn’t enough. Sunday school isn’t enough. These are exterior works. Jesus just said that mere works is not enough to prove that the heart has been changed. So what is being described here? A wise man comes to Jesus in faith, repenting of sin and trusting Him as Savior, and “builds his house” on the foundation of Jesus and His word. Living faith produces the fruit of obedience.
Observation #2 – The storm is coming.
Earlier, in Matthew 5, rain was a sign of blessing for this farming society. But in the Old Testament, storms are a symbol for God’s judgment.
In Ezekiel 13:8-16, we see that false prophets have reassured the people that no judgment was coming, but God declares that judgment for sin will come as a storm does. Hmm—false teachers, false believers, and a storm of judgment. Sounds like Matthew 7, doesn’t it?
Some see this storm as representing the “storms of life,” and in some sense, having a foundation in Christ does keep you firm in the normal troubles and struggles of life in a broken world. You will face the storm, but you will not collapse. But I think there’s something else at work here.
Jesus is speaking here of the last storm, the judgement of God against sin on the Last Day, the Day of the Lord. The question Jesus raises is: On the last day, will your house stand?
The Bible teaches that if we are in Christ, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) and that all our sin was placed on Christ and judged at the cross (Isaiah 53; II Corinthians 5:21). So when the final storm comes, if Jesus is your foundation, He will secure you against destruction. But anyone who is outside of Christ has no such protection from the wrath of God.
Observation #3 – This is an issue of life and death, not just “life improvement.”
Building your life on faith in Jesus and obedience to His teaching is hard. It’s challenging, painful and may seem like loss in the short term.
Though popular preachers and teachers may say otherwise, we don’t come to Jesus or call people to Jesus because doing so makes things easier or safer in this life, or more materially prosperous. If that’s why you follow Jesus, you’re not following Him at all. Your life is built on sand and bare ground.
We come to Jesus and build our lives on Him because we are sinners who have earned every drop of the storm of God’s wrath, and Jesus Christ is our only hope of salvation. Though we are by nature children of wrath, enemies of God and rebels against His kingdom, He has graciously made a way to cleanse us of sin and adopt us as His children, by grace through faith in Jesus alone—His death and resurrection securing our justification and hope of a future inheritance.
So here is my final plea: be reconciled to God. Repent and believe the Gospel.
Some of you may never hear me teach or see my face again. Let this be my final word to you: repent–turn away from your sin and self-rule–and believe the Gospel.
You may have grown up in church and read the Bible cover to cover.
You may be a rebel, running from God’s authority.
You may be wrecked with guilt, afraid of God’s judgment and not quite able to believe that God can be merciful.
You may be an upright person on the outside, trying to keep the rules and earn your place in God’s kingdom.
You may be a prodigal who has reached the end of yourself and is on the long road back home.
My message to each and every one of you is the same: repent and believe the Good News that Jesus the Son of God came to earth, lived a perfect life in our place, died for sinners, and rose again victorious. If you have already believed it, cling to it as a beautiful promise of God—a guarantee that you are His.
Jesus died to save sinners. Do you understand that you a sinner? Then He died for you. Repent of your sin and believe in Him and be saved!
Because if you do not, on the Last Day, the rain will come, the flood will rise, the winds will blow and beat against your house, and your house, your life, will fall. And great will be the fall of it.
Today is the day. Repent. Believe. And be born again.