New year and new project! Last year I enjoyed working through the book of Psalms on YouTube. I hope those videos will be useful to more people this year as people choose to use them as companions in a journey through the Psalms. And now we are into a new year and a new project: Enjoying the Word.
Enjoying the Word will be a growing collection of videos that will hopefully help people to enjoy reading and studying the Bible. The first part of the sermon preparation process is the privilege of every believer – to spend time in God’s Word so that it gets into us and changes us.
The plan is to release short videos related to Bible reading and Bible study. I will share a simple process to think through the Bible study journey. I plan to release more mini-series called Pursuing God’s Heart Yourself. These short series use a single Bible book or section to illustrate important principles of biblical interpretation. And I may work through a Bible book or two from start to finish to show the workings of healthy Bible study.
I hope this will be helpful to you and to others you know. Please do let me know if you have questions or ideas for videos. And please share the resources with others too! As videos are liked and shared, and as more people subscribe to the channel, so these videos will get in front of more people. (You can click here to subscribe to the YouTube channel.)
I am also planning to write companion posts on this blog to point to individual videos or mini-series of videos. The subjects we will cover in the videos perfectly fit this blog, so why not?
The introductory video includes a quick look at a fantastic biblical truth!
When the Covid-19 crisis rolled across Europe in March, everything changed. Maybe you found the experience overwhelming, or challenging, or perhaps even invigorating. Somehow, when crisis hits and our adrenaline surges, we tend to lean on the Lord and find ways through the situation. But after adrenaline there is always a settling period, when it is the most normal thing in the world to feel emotionally flat. Maybe by now you have arrived there too?
Two Types of Feeling Flat
When we feel flat we tend to have lowered motivation and energy. We may be doing less, but somehow feeling more tired. We feel a loss of creativity and initiative. Flatness is not a new feeling, but having so many of us experience it at the same time is slightly unusual.
“I’m feeling flat” is something I’ve heard a lot recently. But there is another type of flatness that is perhaps more concerning. It is the unconscious flatness that we don’t tend to recognize in ourselves – we don’t spot it in the mirror.
Unconscious flatness could be called spiritual coasting. Coasting is where you disengage the motor of the car you are driving and allow past momentum and present circumstances to roll the car forwards. This kind of driving is dangerous. It changes the braking and steering in the car, but perhaps most concerning is that it can give a false sense of security. After all, the engine noise reduces and the car keeps moving forwards.
We need to respond when we are feeling flat, especially when we become aware of this unconscious flatness, or spiritual coasting.
Responding to Feeling Flat
The typical human response to feeling flat will not be spiritually healthy. We may default to distraction, to self-recrimination, or to laziness. That is, we can fill the void with busy work, new pursuits, or entertainment. We can beat ourselves up with the “I need to try harder!” kind of self-coaching. Or we can settle into our flat state and get comfortable. Typical human responses will tend to be self-oriented and spiritually unhealthy.
What should we do when we understandably feel flat or discover we have drifted into a state of flatness? Our emotions are great indicators of deeper realities in our hearts, and they should be prompts to connect relationally – with others, and with God.
When we feel flat, we tend to pull back from others. Living through a pandemic only reinforces that possibility – it is a government-mandated withdrawal! But spiritually we need to connect and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in whatever way we can (even if that means using Zoom!)
Most of all, we need to re-connect with Christ. We need to spend time with Him, because only Christ can invigorate our hearts and stir life in us. And yet our default fleshly response will be to pull in the opposite direction.
Let me share one thing about Christ that may encourage you to bring your tired and emotionally flat heart to Him in these days. I want to point to two passages and focus particularly on what they teach about how Christ cares for the weak and vulnerable. Does going to Christ mean accessing the ultimate personal trainer who can shout the loudest? Not at all.
Motivation for Connection
Isaiah 42:1-4 is the first of Isaiah’s famous “Servant songs.” At first glance it could look intimidating. After all, three times it declares that this servant of the LORD will establish justice on the earth. Surely one who is tough on crime will be overwhelmingly powerful and intimidating? But not so. Verse 2 tells us that he is not full of himself, nor does he demand everyone’s attention. And verse 3 describes his way of dealing with the weak:
“a bruised reed he will not break,
And a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”
That is the kind of God that motivates me to lift a bruised and tired heart up toward him. Feeling flat? Connect with the only one who can be fully trusted with your heart.
That truth is painted in narrative colour in John 21. The adrenaline of the first Easter has faded and seven of the disciples are back in Galilee, heading out to fish for the night. Whatever their motivation, I am sure that part of the issue was that they felt flat. Read the chapter and watch Jesus care for them. He could have criticized, shouted, corrected, berated, or chastised them. He didn’t.
Instead, Jesus gently reminds them of their calling to ministry by miraculously filling their nets with fish, again. He gently reminds them that he will continue to provide for them by lovingly preparing a barbecued breakfast, a God-given meal of fish and bread, again. He gently re-established Peter’s position within the group by re-affirming his shepherding role. In this chapter he reminds them of their calling to evangelism and edification ministries, he reminds them of his ability to continue to provide for them, and he even grants Peter his desire to die for Jesus – only this time with a 30+ year warning. The content of his teaching is powerful and challenging, but his manner is gentle and tender.
This is the kind of God that can motivate us to lift our flattened hearts up toward him. Dare to connect with the only one who can be fully trusted with your heart.
The name was originally an insult – a “mini-Christ.” But today the word gets used in so many ways. To really understand what a Christian is, we need to be clear what Jesus invites people to be and what he offers to people.
A follower of Jesus. Jesus invited people to become his followers. That is, to become like apprentices, following him, learning from him, copying him, becoming like him. A Christian is a follower of Jesus.
The problem is that naturally nobody really wants to give up their lives and live for Jesus. Take the example of Nicodemus in John 3. Nic was at the top of the religious, social, economic and cultural totem pole, as it were. He was highly educated, influential, wealthy and successful. But when he came to Jesus to talk about the kingdom of God, Jesus told him that they couldn’t have that conversation until Nic was born again. He literally told the teacher of Israel that he hadn’t even started living as far as God was concerned. In the same passage Jesus says that where the Spirit of God is, you can see the effects (but the implication is that Jesus saw no effects in Nicodemus!)
The bad news for every human is that we have sinned, which means we are guilty and need forgiveness. More than that, we don’t have the Spirit of God uniting us to God in the way we were designed to be connected. And there is more, our hearts are hard, cold and dead toward God.
The good news is that Jesus came to die on the cross, to rise from the dead, and to offer us the solution to these, our deepest problems. Because Jesus died and rose, we can have our sins forgiven, we can have the Spirit of God come to live within us, and we can have our hearts transformed so that we start to love God and want to live for him. When we accept the offer of forgiveness and new life from Jesus, this is called salvation, or being born again.
In light of this amazing offer, what is a Christian?
A Child of God. The Bible speaks about this new life in terms of both birth and adoption. A Christian is someone who has been both born into and adopted into God’s family. We have the Spirit of God within us, meaning that we gradually grow to resemble the character of God and look more and more like Jesus. (But we are also desperately flawed and while we may look nothing like our God at times, our status is secure with him!)
Part of the Bride of Christ. The Bible speaks of Christians as the bride of Christ. This is an amazing image in that it speaks of the closest union possible between Jesus and his followers. The millions of people who have trusted Christ and accepted his offer of forgiveness and life are not just an army of servants, but actually constitute his bride. We are united to him by his Spirit, and we are his most treasured beloved.
A Christian is someone who knows they are not good enough and that they deserve the righteous judgment of God. A Christian is someone who believes that Jesus was who he claimed to be and believes that Jesus fulfilled the mission his Father gave him when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. A Christian is a forgiven sinner, more than that, they are a child of God, part of the bride of Christ, brought into a close and personal relationship with God through Jesus.
A Christian is a follower of Jesus – someone who is both transformed and in the process of being transformed. Christians are works in progress, but works in progress with absolute confidence – not in themselves, but in what Jesus did for them that first Easter, and confident that whatever this life may throw at them, the embrace of Jesus is waiting at the end of this chapter of our story!
Dane Ortlund is Senior Vice President at Crossway. He is the author of several books, most recently Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (August, 2014). I really appreciated Dane’s A New Inner Relish and so am eagerly awaiting my copy of his new book. In this Incarnation Series guest post, Dane prompts us to re-think Jesus’ miracles in light of the incarnation. (Dane’s books are available via 10ofthose.com (UK) & christianbook.com (US) as well as all other good book retailers!)
In his essay “Is Theology Poetry?” C. S. Lewis spoke of the incarnation as ‘the humiliation of myth into fact.’ He wrote that
what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in dream and symbol and the acted poetry of ritual becomes small, solid—no bigger than a man who can lie asleep in a rowing boat on the Lake of Galilee.
The Word, the Logos, the central meaning of the universe, the integrative center to reality, the climax and culmination of all of human history, that which summoned solar systems into instant existence—at just the right time (Gal. 4:4)—became a baby. The night Christ was born in Bethlehem, Chesterton wrote, “the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.”
He became a man. The one true man. All that you and I experience Jesus experienced, with the exception of sin. Therefore to question whether Jesus led a normal life as we do is to put the whole point backward. His was the only normal life the world has ever seen. We are the abnormal ones.
When Jesus performed miracles he was not doing violence to the natural order. He was restoring the natural order to the way it was meant to be. People were not supposed to be blind but to see. People were not made to be lame but to walk. Legs are supposed to work.
In this sense Jesus’ healing miracles were not supernatural. They were miracles, to be sure—but they were re-naturalizing miracles. This fallen world is sub-natural. Jesus is the one truly human being who ever lived. The incarnation does not give us a hypothetical picture of how we would be able to live if only we were divine. It gives us an actual picture of how we are meant to live, and one day will, when we are once again fully human.