3 Three Things to Take into 2019

The concept of the “new year” is pregnant with excitement about fresh things that lie ahead and destructive things we are determined to leave behind.

In the midst of any number of personal wellness goals, the Bible gives us lasting wisdom about what you can leave in 2018 and take hold of starting today, January 1st, 2019.

1. Leave Worry. Take Trust.

That the omnipotent God of the universe who by the very force of His will brought all contingent reality into existence condescends to be called our Heavenly Father is one of Scripture’s most awesome and mind-blowing truths.

And it is this truth which forms the basis of why Jesus commands us to trade worry for trust in the One who knows our most basic needs even before we do:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own

Matthew 6:31-34

2. Leave Selfish Ambition. Take Reliance on God.

In sharing the Gospel, I constantly meet people hurtling toward everything they want in life at breakneck speed, fully convinced that with all there is to do and become, God is simply not worth an investment of their time.

Such people are like the fictional rich man Jesus spoke of who dreamed of selling his lucrative grain to buy bigger and better silos so he could one day sit back and relax even wealthier than before.

The only problem is this poor rich man would not last the night before God demanded of him his very soul (see Luke 12:16-21).

James addresses a similar issue in the book he wrote:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

Selfish ambition is a form of practical atheism of which even believers can be guilty.

This happens when we work and plan and strive and hustle without reference to the very God who gave us the life, health, and employment necessary to make those things possible.

The antidote to a selfish drive for more is to be rich toward God, acknowledge His will in everything we do, and watch how He directs our steps.

3. Leave laziness. Take a Kingdom-focus.

Opposite selfish ambition are those who cannot be bothered take anything seriously at all.

Without any goals or a vision for life, they wish their hours away for 5 p.m. and their days away for the weekend.

Cruising through life without a care, they don’t realize how soon the end can sneak up on any one of us–no do-overs allowed.

On the contrary, the Bible call us to “redeem the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16), “encourage one other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25), and “devote [ourselves] to doing what is good” (Titus 3:14).

The sheer extent and utter importance of the work of the Lord before us ought to shock us out of our apathy and sloth.

As churches, families, friend groups, and individuals, we ought to set audacious goals for seeing the Kingdom of God advanced in 2019 and gather regularly to keep one another accountable in meeting them.

So don’t let the new year take you by surprise. Trust in God, rely on God, and work dutifully out of love for God. The best resolutions are the ones with an eternal timestamp.

Fighting Biblical Illiteracy with Buzzers: An Interview with National Bible Bowl Director Josiah Gorman

The verdict is in: evangelicalism is full of people who don’t know the Bible and whose theology resembles heresy more than orthodoxy. However, in the midst of such a confused climate, National Bible Bowl is a Bible quizzing program which stands out for its desire to get young people into Scripture, the whole Scripture, and nothing but the Scripture.

Today, I talk with National Bible Bowl Executive Director Josiah Gorman about his organization.

Josiah, most of our readers will hear Bible Bowl and think some wacky youth group activity. What exactly is Bible Bowl?

jg
Josiah Gorman (r) poses for a photo with a student competitor.

Some may consider Bible Bowl a bit wacky, but I’ve never found a program more effective at teaching the Word of God to students. Bible Bowl is a program akin to the scholar bowl found in most high schools, but using Scripture, that uses competition to encourage students grades 3-12 to immerse themselves in God’s Word.

Geographically, where does National Bible Bowl have active teams?

Bible Bowl has teams as far west as Denver, CO and as far east as Jacksonville, FL. However, one of our goals is to grow so that Bible Bowl can be found coast to coast!

Josiah, you yourself are a former Bible Bowl player. How did your participation in Bible Bowl  impact your walk with Christ?

Bible Bowl is the single most impactful program I ever participated in when I was in high school or younger.

I grew up in the church, went to youth group, participated in AWANA, and attended Bible college. And I can safely say that I know more Scripture from my time in Bible Bowl than from all the others, probably combined. But it isn’t just an issue of knowledge, although that’s important, but of teaching. Through Bible Bowl I have seen God create hundreds of mentoring relationships. When you have a student learning Scripture under the tutelage of a faithful adult, whether laity or in vocational ministry, the Holy Spirit can’t help but move. The students will ask hard questions and have the wisdom of older generations to help guide them. For me that came in the form of my coach, Bill Thomas, who was also the lead minister of the church I attended.

I fully admit that when I studied the Scriptures in school I did not understand them as well as I do today, and God willing I’ll continue to understand them better and better the older I grow. But what Bible Bowl did was plant the seed in my heart. Bible Bowl is a planting ministry, not a harvesting ministry. And like the farmer who planted seed in Jesus’ parable, some will fall on hard ground, others is choked by thorns, and some are in shallow soil, but it is a miracle to watch the seed that fell on good soil: students who decided to go into missions, or vocational ministry, or those that want to bring Christ to the workforce.

All across the church-world people are talking about the steady increase in biblical illiteracy. How is Bible Bowl seeking to address this growing problem?

Bible Bowl seeks to deal the heart of the problem, which is the illiteracy itself. The simplest and most direct route to address this is to encourage kids to study the Scriptures, in their context.

When we study, we study whole books at a time. There is a time and place for survey level study of Scripture, but to combat Biblical illiteracy we need to know the whole story.

It’s good to know John 3:16, it’s better to know John 3, but to fully understand John 3:16 you need to know the whole book of John.

Some people may look at Bible Bowl and say “it’s all head knowledge.” How would you respond to that?

I could say, “You can’t apply what you don’t know.” Or I could argue that if we believe Scripture’s promises about itself (Isaiah 55:11, Psalm 119:11, Acts 17:11, 2 Timothy 3:16), then we know that the Holy Spirit moves through knowledge of the Word of God.

But I’m not going to do that.  Instead I want to show you.

  • I want to tell you about Anita Zutaut Hoch who went into the mission field in West Africa, to a country I can’t tell you about, in part because of her time in Bible Bowl.
  • Or Bill Thomas, my mentor, who credits Bible Bowl with being a key reason he entered preaching ministry.
  • Or maybe the Hurley’s, who met in Bible Bowl and now are missionaries in South America in part because of Bible Bowl.

When people study Scripture, they are moved to share it with others, and we have hundreds upon thousands of students who played Bible Bowl and then dedicated their lives to sharing God’s Word. 

Some of our readers may have some qualms about mixing competition and the Bible. After all, doesn’t the competition aspect make Scripture a means to an end and foster strife between believers?

Respectfully, no.

Competition is a vehicle to get students studying the Word of God. God made us competitive, we don’t believe that this is a disordered trait. And because of that, we don’t believe that competition must foster strife. Is it true that some people will compete with the wrong attitude? Probably. But we don’t expect perfection of our students. They will mess up, they will do dumb things. But we believe in the transforming power of learning God’s Word. There are many kids turned adults who will tell you that they are somewhat embarrassed by their behavior in Bible Bowl, but as a function of playing Bible Bowl they saw that those things were not the best way to behave. And in the end, Paul said he would become all things in order to win some for Christ.

In the end, we’ll do whatever it takes to get students to learn Scripture.

What do you say to someone who likes the idea of Bible Bowl but is daunted by the idea of memorizing so much material?

First, you don’t have to memorize it! Our goal is to get as many students as possible to learn Scripture. While I believe memorizing to be one of the best ways to learn, there are many others and we encourage students to study in any way they like! Second, memorizing is a skill like any other that can be strengthened and developed. This summer I had a parent tell me that if we had told them two years ago how much her student would be memorizing now, they never would have joined. You have more capacity to memorize than you give yourself, or your student, credit for.

Besides the obvious importance of knowing the Bible, what are some of the other benefits of joining the Bible Bowl community?

Eric, you touched on a big one in your question: community! There are very few other places where your student can find such an engaged community of young people and adults committed to studying Scripture together. Your student will make friends with high character young people, and likely find mentorship and learning under the tutelage of another Godly adult.

In addition to that, our students develop wonderful academic skills, such as: test taking skills, the discipline to study, increased capacity for memorizing, and the ability to quickly recall what they’ve learned. Touching on one of your previous questions, students also learn how to win and lose in a Christ-like manner. Many students come into Bible Bowl with their identity partially tied to how they perform in Bible Bowl and leave with their identity tied more firmly in Christ.

Can you cast a wide vision for how you would love to see Bible Bowl impact the church at large?

Like you previously mentioned, Biblical illiteracy is rampant in the world today, but not just the world, also our churches. Bible Bowl is the single best tool I’ve ever come across to combat Biblical illiteracy, and so I hope that Bible Bowl spreads to every single church in the country, regardless of denomination. I realize that it’s not likely to happen, but I believe Bible Bowl is that potent. And I believe that if the church in America would do so, we would see a revival in America as biblically literate leaders left our churches for Bible college, secular universities, the workforce, and vocational ministry.

What are some “next steps” for someone wanting to start a Bible Bowl team at their church?

We’d love to hear from anyone who wants to start Bible Bowl! Our website is: www.biblebowl.org, and you can email me at jgorman@biblebowl.org. Or, and this is my preference, feel free to give us a call! Our phone number is (321) 972-5390, we’d love to talk with you!

Your Perfect Church Must Die: Learning to Love What You Have Been Given.

lunch table

The great irony in the search for Christian community centered around the Kingdom of Christ is how it so often leaves the searcher isolated, a spiritual wanderer without a place to lay his head.

While many successfully integrate into fellowships and denominations which have God’s Kingdom as their stated focus, others find themselves spiritually homeless, unable to settle in any particular congregation or tradition.

In truth, every wanderer has their own story, and the reasons for why they continue to wander, bounce, or refuse to congregate at all are as many and varied as they are. 

Some, through no fault of their own, live in areas where the array of available churches, much less Kingdom-focused churches, are less than abundant.

Others might otherwise congregate in non-Kingdom fellowships, but struggle with whether such a decision would amount to a compromise of faith.

Still others are bound by unrealistic expectations that give birth to shattered dreams and later die in a fit of cynicism, hurt, and despair.

Indeed, I hope that of all the reasons why you have not yet found “your” church family, you are not denying yourself such a privilege due to unrealistic expectations such as, for example, holding out for the perfect church. 

And what is the perfect church?

  • Naturally, such a congregation believes in the permanence of marriage, non-resistance, headcoverings, and the two-kingdoms doctrine.
  • Furthermore, they are active in sharing their faith and in discipling one another.
  • The members live close to each other and share large meals and laughs as often as they can.
  • Such a church has not grown cold or struggled to lift itself out of its spiritual ruts (as happens with all other churches).
  • All members participate in the full life of the Body and share the deepest parts of their lives with each other, absent fear of backstabbing or breach of confidence.
  • Fresh vegetables from the church garden fill the table during times of fellowship, as singles and marrieds share stories over fresh-baked bread, while the coos of newborns and the sounds of playful youth fill the air. 

Is this your idea of a perfect church? Maybe not. However, may I tell you a secret?

It is mine.

Yet, the greatest freedom in my life came when I laid down at the foot of the cross this dangerous dream which kept me from fully committing and enjoying the brothers and sisters God had put before me.

Denominations start, they grow, they plateau, and their members begin to crow for the “golden days” (which they did not even consider so golden when they were living them).

The same is true with all churches, no exceptions.

This is not a cause for despair, but a call to a determined realism.

“Realism” because the reality is that no church, tradition, or denomination has ever been everything its members wanted or needed, whether concerning biblical principles, our human psycho-social needs, or simple personal preferences. 

And “determined” because we are convinced that recognizing such a fact will free us to enjoy the imperfect, struggling, frustrating, but altogether beautiful, hope-filled, and redeemed communities of Christ that surround us, while acknowledging our ultimate hunger and thirst is not filled by even the best of Christ’s churches, but in Christ.  

grayscale photo of the crucifix