Based on the number of "hits" each month, here are the top 5 posts here on the Brookside Institute blog for the last six months - January 2017 through June 2017. Take a minute to scroll through the list below and either catch up on things you may have missed or revisit things that were especially helpful.
Earlier this week I had the privilege of teaching at the Middle School Chapel of Lifegate Christian School in Omaha, NE. The Middle School has been learning about the Holy Spirit, and so as part of that larger emphasis, I was asked to speak on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Here's an edited (and somewhat abbreviated) of what I said.
I’ll get right to the point of what I’m writing about today. Here it is: Character counts. Who you are on the inside is a really big deal. The attitudes you have swirling around inside of you, and the values you have - these are way more important than people often think.
I’m generally a fan of superhero movies, so let me pull an example from one of the Spiderman movies. You know the story: Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and can start doing all this crazy stuff like climbing all walls, he has super strength, and more. In the movie I’m thinking of, Peter Parker - that’s Spiderman - is just starting to realize what he can do with these powers. The thing is, early on he’s not always using his powers well. He’s using his powers in ways that are selfish.
And so Peter’s uncle, Uncle Ben, sees some of what’s going on and he pulls Peter aside and he says these words that are now at the level of "movie quote trivia legend" - even my 8 year olds could finish this line, even though I don't think they’ve never seen the movie. Uncle Ben tells Peter, “With great power comes great responsibility.” (Ready for a video clip? Check out the scene here.)
Peter was so blown away by the power he had that he wasn’t thinking about how to use it. Peter was so impressed by what he could do, that he’d taken his eyes off of who he was becoming.
Here’s why I bring all that up: Christianity isn’t primarily about what you’re doing for God (though that has its place); it’s also about who you’re becoming. We can't get so focused on the things God can do THROUGH us that we ignore who we're becoming. Character counts!
This is one of the things that you can't miss as you study the Holy Spirit.
The more you read your Bible and the more you learn about the Holy Spirit, you’ll see that the Spirit gives every believer in Jesus Christ spiritual gifts that empower us to do great things for God and His church. It’s awesome to know the Spirit of God works through us to accomplish God’s work!
But that’s not all we want to say. Just as importantly, the Spirit is also working inside of us - each of you individually - transforming our character from the inside out.
The Apostle Paul gives us a list of big ways the Holy Spirit should be transforming us from the inside out in Galatians 5:22-23: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (NIV, 1984).
You see that Paul calls these things the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit. Here’s what he’s getting at: If I planted an apple tree in my back yard I’d eventually expect to see apples growing on it. Eventually that apple seed should produce something in my yard - fruit! Apples!
So too when the Holy Spirit is in our lives, something should happen! Our character - who we are on the inside - should be different! Over the course of time and in increasing ways, the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives should produce this fruit in us - love, joy, peace, patience, and so on.
All this means what we’re talking about in this post is REALLY important. This list of the fruit of the Spirit isn’t some random collection of nice things to consider if you’ve got the time and are interested. This is a clear list of the things that Spirit wants to do in you. This is a clear list of the difference the Holy Spirit should be making inside of all of us.
With all this in mind, then, I want to spend the rest of our time together today asking this question: How can the fruit of the Spirit grow in my life? I’m going to mention three things that followers of Jesus need to keep in mind.
In the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion, we find Jesus praying in a garden (Matthew 26:36-45). Externally, the picture seems still. Abruptly, the quiet setting is interrupted by the sound of soldiers who have come to arrest Jesus. And stillness becomes commotion.
Jesus is betrayed by one of His followers. He’s abandoned by those that stood with Him for 3 years. He’s denied three times by one of His closest disciples. Jesus stands trial and is unjustly condemned to death. And He does so alone.
As I've been reflecting on these events, I can't shake the reality that each of these actions and reactions swirling around Jesus' arrest - the betrayal, the abandonment, the denial - give us a window into how we should understand our own sin still today.
Based on the number of "hits" each month, here are the top 5 posts here on the Brookside Institute blog for the last six months - June 2016 through December 2016. Take a minute to scroll through the list below and either catch up on things you may have missed or revisit things that were especially helpful.
Christmas is officially five days away (!!), and that means many of us are considering last minute gift ideas for others in our lives. If you're looking for ideas for the "reader" you know, here are six accessible suggestions based on books I've read and recommend, or books that are very much on my radar screen to read soon.
Each of these suggestions has been recently published (in the last 2-3 years) and will be linked to an Amazon page where you can learn more. You'll see they're listed under 6 categories that I try and stay loosely tethered to:
What other books (in any of these categories listed above) would you suggest people consider? List 'em here!
Christmas is lots of things. It's devotional - it should stir our hearts, prompting our reflection and worship. It's action-oriented - it should lead us to give of ourselves and serve others.
And along with everything else it is, Christmas is theology. Big theological truths seep out of Christmas like sap comes out of the Christmas trees when they're cut down. In very short order, here are three theological truths that go hand-in-hand with Christmas.
Christmas tells us a lot about God.
God isn't some distant deity or a "capriciously malevolent bully" as some have claimed. In Christmas, we discover that "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son..." (John 3:16). In Christmas, we see in the biggest way possible that God is a giver. And not only that God is a giver - but that God is a sacrificial, joyful, generous, over-the-top Giver.
Christmas defines the Incarnation.
The incarnation basically means that God became flesh. "Incarnation" helps us understand that Jesus was 100% God AND 100% man - both at the same time. (If you want to dig in deeper into the incarnation, read Stephen J. Wellum's recent God the Incarnate Son: The Doctrine of Christ or do some study on the Chalcedonian definition of Christ - a 5th century statement working to theologically articulate Christian orthodoxy around the two natures of Christ in His one person.
Christmas underlines our need for Jesus
When Jesus came into the world, he came into a world that NEEDED to be saved. In John 1 we get this Gospel writer's pespective on Christmas, and it underlines our need for Jesus.
In describing Jesus as light, John 1:5 tells us that Jesus came to shine in the darkness (i.e., evil). John 1:10-11 tells us that Jesus came into a world that was so darkened in its perception, twisted in its desires, and rebellious toward God that though Jesus made the world, "the world didn't recognize him." Instead, v. 11 tells us the world rejected Him. All of these things underline the truth thats sin is THE PROBLEM in our world and our hearts.
Sin is WHY we need Jesus. And so Jesus comes - is born of the Virgin Mary, lives a sinless life, dies on the cross for our sins and is raised to life again on the third day - so that "all who believe in His name can become children of God" (cf. John 1:12).
Let's not forget these (and other!) theological truths that go hand-in-hand with Christmas. Let's allow these truths to fill our minds, stir our devotion, and motivate our own action in line with the good news that Jesus has come, and that He's "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).
The weeks leading up to the coming of Christ are known as "Advent" in the Christian church - a period of waiting, anticipation, and reflection.
During this Advent Season, I've been reading through Tim Keller's Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ as one way to foster personal relection on Jesus' coming to earth as a baby. (I'm not all the way through it yet, but I know enough to definitely recommend the book.)
In chapter three ("The Fathers of Jesus"), Keller reminds us what the incarnation (Christ coming to earth as a baby) is all about:
The incarnation did not happen merely to let us know that exists. It happened to bring him near, so that he can be with us and we with him" (p. 55).
And then Keller goes on to write about what it means to be with Jesus, and how can cultivate that "with-ness." The questions he is asking are these: "What does it mean to have Jesus in my life? What does it mean to be with Jesus?"
As he develops his responses, one thing Keller mentions - that we can too easily overlook - is that being with Jesus takes courage. Everything he has to say in this section is worthwhile (again, read the whole book), but let me quote from one of Keller's subpoints, that being with Jesus requires the courages to give up your right to self determination.
As you read through the extended quote I've included below, allow this to shape the way you view Advent, and the way you approach the coming of Jesus (and what that means for your life today).
This last Sunday (Oct 16, 2016) I preached from Romans 8:18-39 on the subject of hope. (Interested in accessing the message? Click here and scroll down to the sermon from Oct 16, 2016.)
I'm a firm believer that hope can be on the distinguishing features of Christians (cf. 1 Peter 3:15), and so I loved the chance to spotlight what Christians are hoping FOR and who we're hoping IN. As we tally these things up, we see that knowing Jesus offers incomparable hope. This is why we can say, along with Paul: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).
Here's a summary of these points of my sermon (what Christians are hoping for, and who we're hoping in). Allow these to reinforce the incomparable hope knowing Jesus offers in your own life.
I was spending some time in Leland Ryken's biography of J.I. Packer, recently, and ran across a section where Ryken highlights Packer's ministry-long emphasis on the value of God's Word. I love this - may it remind us all to not neglect the Bible, but to give it our attention both as individuals and in churches.
Everything in the section below comes straight from J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, by Leland Ryken, pp. 255-56. Section headings are Ryken's; quotes are Packer's:
The Bible has fallen into great neglect among Christians:
"Once, most Westerners knew something of what was in the 'Good Book' to guide us in our lives; nowadays, however, very few know or care what the Bible teaches.”
This is not a minor issue but a major one:
"Ignorance of the Bible remains tragic, for it virtually guarantees ignorance of God.”
Restoring the Bible to the center of life is urgent:
"To reestablish in people’s minds the truth and wisdom of the biblical message…is perhaps the church’s most urgent task today.”
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A few days ago, Brookside's co-lead pastor, Jeff Dart, preached a sermon championing the value of spiritual discipline in the life of believers. (I encourage you to check it out - click here and scroll down to the sermon preached on Sept 25, 2016, titled "Be Disciplined with Purpose.")
The spiritual disciplines are important enough that the Brookside Institute has devoted one of our classes to this topic - "Grow: An Important Class about Spiritual Formation." This class spends 8 sessions digging into the goal of spiritual formation (godliness) and specific disciplines, practices, or habits that will cultivate godliness in our lives. (Check out what others are saying about the "Grow" class here.)
All that to say: Spiritual disciplines are important. We don't drift into godliness as followers of Jesus Christ; rather, we need to take intentional steps to pursue a lifetime of growth.
Yesterday I was reading a section from Steven D. Boyer's and Christopher A. Hall's Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable, and found this excerpt that further reinforces and explains this value of spiritual discipline.
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