Learning

Kingdom Way of Life Series

This season’s Baseball Chapel teaching schedule has us teaching weekly messages from the gospel of Matthew. To supplement this teaching schedule, I have decided to upload a series that we did several years ago on the Sermon on the Mount as new episodes on the Things Above podcast. This is a series that I first taught four years ago as Sunday chapel messages for the Braves, and one that I updated two years later for our Thursday morning men’s group here in Atlanta.

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ most popular teaching from which many sermons have been preached and many books have been written, and it is a portion of Scripture that many of us consider familiar and something that we already understand fairly well. So that begs the question:

Why did I decide to teach such a popular portion of Scripture instead of something else?

The answer was fairly straightforward. As I read through the history of the church and observed great moments of reformation and revival that had taken place at various moments during that history, I began to come to the conclusion that our current condition as the modern church in Western civilization is one that seems to be plagued with powerlessness and superficiality.

So what we can do to resist superficial Christianity and to rediscover real devotion to Christ?

We need a fresh wind of authenticity and a firm grasp of our identity as Christians.

It is my hope that a sincere and serious study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount will lead us to repent of our current sinfulness (if needed) and move us towards a life of true righteousness that exceeds any and all forms of superficial Christianity. The Sermon on the Mount is the great summary of what a Christian should look like and how a Christian ought to live.

The Sermon on the Mount teaches us what it means and what it looks like to live the kingdom way of life. It lays before us what human life and human community should look like when they are reorganized according to the reality that Jesus is our King.

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Thanks for reading and listening, and I hope this is helpful to you!

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As I’ve spent time thinking over the new series that we are doing for players this Spring Training, I find myself trying to take the time to examine my own life so I can figure out different ways that I need to better practice what I’m teaching in each study. It’s the inevitable conflict of those who teach others the truths of God — I can discover and deliver those truths, and yet if I’m not disciplined and discerning, I can easily find myself not fully responding to them in my own life.

I make the case in our first study that God’s plan for creation is that it would be run by obedient humans who would rule over the creation on his behalf. And despite human defiance and our own foolish decisions to try and rule the world our own way by defining good and evil for ourselves, God has never given up on that plan.

The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the obedient human who has retaken the throne at the right-hand of the Creator and who now rules over the creation on his behalf. He has rescued humans from the consequences of our rebellion, and he has restored us back into being creatures made in the image of God.

This means that Jesus restores us into being able to once again fulfill our very special vocation and calling to be real-life expressions of God’s authority over the creation and that we can now join Jesus in ruling over the world on his behalf as his special representatives.

This is a profound truth that ought to help us rediscover the dignity of what it means to be a human being, and an incredible privilege that we would be foolish to not embrace with everything that we got.

And so, over the last few weeks, I have been contemplating what this means for my own life. What does this actually look like for me right now in my day-to-day routine and life?

Here’s a few self-suggestions that I have come up with for now:

Be the Household Leader

First, I need to be a leader over my household and make every effort to make my environment a place of order, beauty, peace and goodness. And I don’t think it does us any good to over-spiritualize this. Being a leader who rules over my environment on behalf of God requires teaching my children about who God is and what he has done for us, but I think it also includes things like cleaning the clutter in our house and keeping hurtful language and imagery off our screens.

I need to create the kind of atmosphere in my home that reflects the order, beauty, peace and goodness of God.

Be a Humble Learner

Next, I need to be a humble learner when it comes to things like social justice, racial reconciliation, climate change, green energy and anything else that promotes care for the environment and serious concern for the flourishing of every human individual. This doesn’t mean that I must agree with every position or not hold any convictions of my own, but I do need to make sure that I’m not so influenced by my own ideological preferences that I feel like I have things figured out.

I need to be quick to listen, concentrated in my thought and slow to speak so that my words will be used to promote any good that God wants in his world and not wasted on what could very well be my own definition of good and evil.

Be a Servant to All

And lastly (for now), I need to diligently pray like Jesus taught us to pray and ask that God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

This profound truth that we have been restored by Jesus to the vocation of ruling the world on behalf of God as his special representatives ought to open up my mind in new ways about what it means to pray in this way. And it means that I need to realize that part of this request is accepting the responsibility that I am asking God to use me however he wants to accomplish his will here on earth as it is in heaven.

I need to walk around throughout my day aware that I am representing God at all times to all people and stay ready for any opportunity that he may present before me to speak and act on his behalf. And I need to never forget that Jesus demonstrated and taught that we are to rule with him by becoming servants to everyone. I must consider the lives of others as more significant than my own and that includes the life of my enemies and those who might harm me if they could (let that sink in). Ruling with Jesus requires taking up a cross like him, and not a sword like the “rulers” of this world.

And so, as you enter into this next season, realize that through the work of Christ, you have been restored back into being creatures made in the image of God. You are now a special representative of the Creator and therefore responsible to bring order and goodness and peace to your circle of influence on his behalf. To wrap this up with some imagery from the story of Adam, lets all embrace this incredible privilege and calling and make every effort to take care of the gardens that God has placed us in.

Son of Man Series

Well, it’s been four months since the last episode of the Things Above podcast, but a new series is starting and a new episode has finally been uploaded. Since we wrapped up our series on Genesis in October, my time has been occupied with mission trips, conferences, retreats, the holidays and officiating a few weddings in between. These winter months will probably just have to be the offseason for the podcast each year.

That being said, we are getting ready to teach the Spring Training Bible Studies which are held in various locations in Arizona and Florida for players and their wives, and so the last few weeks have been a time of reading and writing and preparing for those studies. This year’s Spring Training Bible Study will be a five-part series that we have entitled, Son of Man: Foreshadowed & Fulfilled, and I will be uploading those messages each week as new episodes for the podcast.

In this series, we are going to look at five different different human figures from the Old Testament story and see how their stories foreshadow what would eventually be fulfilled in the Christ of the New Testament.

Unfortunately, many people only view the Bible as an old religious book that is meant to reform our behavior through rituals and rule keeping. And then there are others who just see it primarily as a book about how to go to heaven when you die. But in this series, we are going to try and show you how the Bible is offering us a new worldview and a new way of life by inviting us to participate in the one big epic story that it is telling from cover to cover.

The Bible is a book that tells the one big story of how the Creator is rescuing his creation through the Christ.

I am still in the process of researching and writing some of the studies for this series, but I am enjoying the preparation and learning a lot in the process. I have put together a brief introduction to this series which I have just uploaded to the podcast as our first episode of 2019.

If you haven’t subscribed to the podcast then you can do so by clicking on one of the options below, and if you have subscribed and listened to a few episodes then you can help spread the word by sharing this podcast with others and by leaving a quick review in iTunes.

Thanks for reading and listening, and I hope this is helpful to you!

New Year & New Habits

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Tomorrow marks the beginning of a brand new year, and many of us have new hopes and new habits that we are ready to set in motion starting tomorrow. Personally, I’m making a commitment to eat less sugar, own less stuff, use less screen-time, get more sleep and embrace more silence — I’m going to try and devote the first hour of every day to silence, psalm reading and prayer (#OwnHourOne).

Whatever your goals, we all know that there are things in our lives that we need to alter or do better, and the New Year often gives us the spark of motivation that we need to actually implement these things.

That being said, one of the most life-changing (and life-giving) habits that I have developed over the last few years is the habit of following a Bible Reading Plan that helps me read through the whole Bible in a year. Now, this is a new habit that took me several years to develop so I don’t want to give off the impression that its easy.

Like the popular resolution of going to the gym more, many Bible reading plans start out with great enthusiasm but end up bogged down and eventually abandoned a few months later. Some of you may have experienced this several times before and have just decided that Bible reading plans aren’t your thing. If that’s the case, I want to urge you to give it one more shot and join me in the plan that I’ll be doing this year.

THE PLAN

This plan takes you through the entire Bible in one year and is divided into weekly readings instead of daily readings in order to encourage you to take time to read larger chunks of the Bible instead of smaller individual portions. We believe that this approach will help us better understand the context of what we read and help us grasp the one big unified story that the Bible is telling.

(If you prefer a daily format, I have also spread this plan out into a daily format that keeps you in sync with the weekly format too. You can view the daily reading format here.)

Here are some of the highlights of the reading plan that we’ve put together and some advice on how to best develop this new habit over the upcoming year…

THE HEBREW BIBLE

We have organized the books of the Old Testament (OT) in the three-fold order found in the Hebrew Bible — the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Jesus actually references this three-fold order when he tells his disciples that, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:44)

The OT was the Bible of Jesus and his first followers so we hope that this plan gives you a fresh perspective and a new hunger to read and love the OT.

THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING

We have organized the books of the New Testament (NT) in a way that takes continuity and chronology into consideration. We have rearranged Paul’s letters to better fit the order in which they were actually written, and John’s Gospel has been placed towards the end since it was one of the last NT books written.

We have titled these books, The Apostles’ Teaching, because collectively they provide us with the overall content of what Luke says the first followers were learning when he says that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” (Acts 2:42)

PSALM OF PRAYER

We have organized the Psalms to be spread out over the course of the entire year. The psalms for each week are listed for you to include in your regular times of prayer.

To pray the psalms, take time to read through the psalm 2-3 times and try to understand its original significance and how it is still relevant today (and to you personally). Then simply use some of the key verses in the psalm and pray — using these verses to say anything that comes to mind.

We highly recommend using Timothy Keller’s book, The Songs of Jesus, to help you go through the Psalms.

VIDEOS

The team at The Bible Project has done an excellent job creating short animated videos that correspond with each book and major themes of the bible. As you begin each book of the bible, we encourage you to watch the short video on their website about that book’s message and design which helps you know what to look for as you read.

HOW TO USE THIS PLAN

We recommend that you ask one or more friends to do this plan with you. Have each person read on their own and write insights in their journal. Then have everyone meet to discuss what they learned.

The following four questions can be used as a guide for what to write in your journals and for what to discuss when you meet. Pick a particular passage that got your attention while you were reading and then answer these four questions:

  1. What can we praise or thank God for from this particular reading?

  2. What is the original author trying to communicate to his original audience?

  3. What timeless and transcendent truth does this passage teach all readers?

  4. How is this relevant to my own life and how is the Spirit leading me to respond?

You can view these reading plans on our website or under the resources section of the UPI Grow App. There is also a Scripture tab on the App that provides a daily scripture reading with an audio option that keeps you in sync with the plan.

The PDF for each plan has also been formatted in a way that allows you to print out the plan on a single sheet of paper that you can then fold in half and simply place right inside your Bible.

With all that said, I hope all of you have great success in implementing your personal goals for the upcoming year, and I do hope that you will devote yourself to developing the new habit of regular Bible reading. I hope this plan is helpful to you, and I hope that you find yourself more interested in the Bible and more fascinated by the story that it’s telling than you have ever been before.

P.S. If you would like to read along with me or if you’d like to start a reading group but have some questions about it, then please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and let me know!