Robert Raikes was born in Gloucester, 1736. He became a Christian as a young boy, and at the age of 21 inherited his father’s publishing business. Many boys in the UK at that time were so poor that they had to work in dangerous coal mines from as young as 4 years old. Those who were too weak or scared to work in the dark were interned in a prison-like poor house or turned to crime, as exposed by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist.

Robert RaikesRobert Raikes was challenged by Scriptures referring to children, such as Matt 10: 42 … whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Raikes believed that education was the silver bullet that would prevent children being trapped in a life of poverty and crime. He committed to teach as many children as he could how to read and write, do basic arithmetic, and about Jesus and the gospel.

The problem was that the minor miners and factory workers labored six days a week 12-16 hours a day. The only time off they had was Sunday when the mines and factories were closed. So, Raikes invented something he called “Sunday School.” Every Sunday he offered free courses in literacy and numeracy. The text book he used was the Bible.

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A while ago I met with a prospective seminary student for lunch. As is common for first-time meetings at Grace Community Church, our discussion began with testimonies of how the Lord saved us. This particular brother had a Christian friend whose very welcoming family often shared the Gospel with him and invited him to church. As friendly and as clear as they were, though, the seed of the Gospel fell on fallow ground—until the father of the family had contracted a life-threatening illness. When this young man saw how the family responded to suffering with such confidence, joy, and peace, his heart began to pay attention to the Source of that steadfastness. He began to read his Bible with greater earnestness and listen to the sermons he heard in church with greater interest. Eventually, the Lord saved him.

I tell that story because it only further legitimizes the need for Christians to learn how to suffer well—how to suffer righteously. I mentioned in last week’s post how necessary it is to be equipped with a theology of suffering while not yet in the midst of a particular trial. The fact of the matter is, the heat of an intensely trying time often clouds our vision and our judgment, so that we fail to act the way we know we should. We respond to suffering sinfully because we have not prepared to suffer righteously beforehand, when our vision is clear.

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Much of “biblical theology” has a glaring weakness: it misses one of the major themes of the Bible.

Biblical theology is the study of how to read the Bible as a whole, or how to trace a theme as it progresses from Genesis to Revelation. While systematic theology systematizes the teaching of the Bible (what the Bible says about God’s attributes, the person of Christ, salvation, etc.), biblical theology traces the major themes of the Bible chronologically (how the Passover lamb was instituted, celebrated, neglected, and finally fulfilled).

The study of biblical theology often focuses on themes, types, figures, symbols and motifs that develop canonically in an attempt to show the unity of scripture and the power of progressive revelation.   Continue Reading…

no

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Oftentimes problems with the fruit on a tree are not because of problems with the fruit on the tree. Below the soil’s surface, there is usually a sickness present. Things like fungus, poor nutrient content in the soil, insufficient watering, and pests can plague the roots and subsequently damage the tree. So goes the root, so goes the fruit. Neglect the root, neglect the fruit.

Imagine an orchardist who addressed sickly trees by only addressing the fruit. He approaches the sickly lemon tree, puts up his ladder, and inspects the lemons. Some of the lemons are flaccid, some shrunken, and others cracked open and rotten. Then, imagine, that he breaks out a syringe with store-bought lemon juice and injects the emaciated lemons to fill them out a bit. To repair the sickly, split lemons, he breaks out some band-aids and closes up those holes. Finally, he notices some fruitless branches. So, he breaks out his duct-tape and tapes some nice-looking, store-bought lemons to the branches. He steps back and notices that, for the moment, the tree looks fruitful. For the moment.

Often in our lives, we approach personal change and sanctification like that orchardist.

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Imagine a door. A door that only opens once or maybe twice in a lifetime. The door has incredible powers. It has the ability to cleanse you. It has the ability to pardon and cast your sin as far as the east is from the west. In fact there isn’t just one of them, there are four, and they are opened only once every 25 years in the city of Rome. Since you were a kid you were told that these doors had the ability to cleanse you from every sin you have ever committed, as long as you walked through them.

I wish this were a fairytale.

Millions of Roman Catholics around the world will be heading to Rome this year, thinking that there they will be able to be absolved of all their sins. By getting on a plane and saying a few prayers, they assume that their actions will assuage the wrath of God.

Have you ever seen a desperate person lost in false religion? Desperately trying to earn their way to heaven?

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pinataI was 23 when I first saw one. It was a hollow, colorful, papier-mâché creature stuffed with candy, chocolates, and assorted sugary delights. They strung it up and told me to hit it. They called it a piñata.

As entertaining as this experience was for me, I suspect the real entertainment for the college students in my Bible study was witnessing a grown man attempt to rupture his first piñata. But the joke would soon be on them.

I flailed aimlessly with all the force I could muster, missing the elusive treasure trove and inadvertently losing my grip on the stick. It shot like a spear at the crowd of gawkers, and smashed into the cheekbone of a girl who was caught off-guard by the missile.

It was also the last time I ever attempted to hit a piñata. In fact, it was the last time I would wield a weapon while blindfolded.

However, if Paul had to comment on some of my early prayers, he might draw a comparison. Many Christians pray like God is a piñata, which they blindly poke with aimless prayers. Let’s allow Paul to take off our blindfolds for us with this model prayer…

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Many times when we suffer, the first Bible book and Bible character that pops up in our mind is Job. And that makes sense. That’s why the book of Job is in the Bible—to teach us how to actually trust in God’s sovereignty and respond to suffering righteously.

But the suffering that Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, endured at the time of the Babylonian captivity was just as severe. Job’s sufferings were indeed horrifying, yet there’s something to be said for the fact that his sufferings were fairly personal. Jeremiah’s sufferings, on the other hand, were on behalf of an entire nation wickedly brutalized and ripped from its land. On top of that, Jeremiah himself had not followed in the unfaithfulness of his countrymen which brought this judgment upon them. All the while, he acted righteously and proclaimed the word of Yahweh as the sole voice of faithfulness. Certainly his suffering is worth considering, and the way he responds is worth imitating.

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bury

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Every movement and organization has their sayings. They can be helpful when they are accurate and memorable. But they can also be destructive when they are inaccurate and memorable. Such sayings float around a bit in Christendom.

Thus, it behooves us to evaluate things we say against Scripture so that we accurately represent the faith. Oftentimes newer or mis-shepherded Christians will latch onto sayings, get swept down the stream of error, and cause others to do the same.

Here are a few such Christian sayings that ought to be buried.

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As I type this, there are three ladies right next to me that are assassinating reputations.

gossipSome girl they all know can’t keep a job. Another common friend is always complaining about everything. One of the girls’ boyfriends is selfish, and his mother makes Jezebel look like the Proverbs 31 woman. They have probably talked about over a dozen people whom, if they were standing here in my place, would be in a puddle of tears. It is grossing me out. But now I’m thinking about my conversations over the past weeks and suddenly I’m grossed out with myself.

Gossip is seen as inevitable in our day and age. People are so bored with their own lives that they must talk about everyone else in order to have a conversation that lasts longer than 5 minutes. TV shows, Magazines and blogs use the word in their title as a positive.

Gossip is something that we all struggle with, but it is something we must fight as hard as the sins we deem unacceptable. Matthew 12:36 says “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak”; we must take it seriously and fight to kill this sin in our lives.

As I’m sitting here listening to these ladies, and rethinking my own careless words there are several truths about gossip that are coming to mind.

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uturnEvery man feels like he’s a good driver. But there is one maneuver that is challenging to perform, even for the most skilled driver: the U-turn. Most men will avoid this humiliating admission of fallibility at all costs, leading to some lengthy and circuitous routes as we choose providence over cartography to guide us to the elusive destination.

The help-meet God gave male drivers is the GPS navigation system. It’s a cool gadget which tricks our egos into believing it’s manly to listen to a British woman tell us when and where we need to turn.

I was once driving from Napa to the San Fernando Valley, which is a straight shot on a major freeway. But I dutifully activated my GPS, just to be safe. The lady’s voice confirmed that I was getting on the correct freeway; then she kept quiet for six hours, lulling me into a false sense of security. Suddenly she piped up that it was time to take the next exit. But what GPS lady did not realize was that by now I was in a part of the city which I recognized, so her services were no longer necessary. I turned the volume off and kept driving, as captain of my car.

After about 15 minutes I no longer knew where I was. I sheepishly turned the volume back up. The lady was calmly telling me to make a U-turn. I detected a twinge of smugness in her serene imperative. I figured she was still trying to get me back to that exit, but that was way behind me now, so she obviously didn’t know what she was talking about. I ignored her and looked for the next exit, which never came. Eventually I looked carefully at the digital map and realized that the only way back was the humiliating U-turn. I obeyed every following instruction right until I heard her self-satisfied words “Arriving at destination.”

In the third chapter of Jonah 600,000 gentiles do what I should have done: the moment they are told to, they make an instant U-turn.

We can tweeze out of this narrative four examples on which we can model our repentance.

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