A Great Bible Study Resource: “Judges For You” By Tim Keller

Judges For You: For Reading, For Feeding, For Leading by Tim Keller. The Good Book Company, 2013. Print $16.55, Kindle: $9.99.

As our culture becomes more and more post-Christian, the responsibility for Christians to know their Bibles, and the whole council of God contained in it, is paramount. If we don’t, the tides of a culture indifferent and oftentimes hostile to the God of Scripture, threatens to toss the untethered Christian every which way in both doctrine and obedient, practical living. And this works not just for obedience, but also for our joy if we live in close communion with God and Christ. We need to know the Scriptures, the living and active God-breathed Scriptures, for our hearts to continue in the assurance of the joy set before us, as we pursue obedience and mission in our world.

Tim Keller’s Judges For You, is an excellent expository study through the Old Testament book, that will help you understand your Bible better. It’s well-written and readable, and fully engages in the practical side of theology. The greatest thing about this book is that Keller brings Judges to life as an immensely practical and engaging part of Scripture for our cultural moment today. And he’s absolutely right in doing so. You’ll potentially see fresh grandeur and richness in the Old Testament after this read.

Gospel-Centered 

Keller sets the story of Judges into the context of a “Biblical theology” look at the Scriptures. So everything is examined within the bigger context of God’s whole story of redemption, from before Creation, to the Fall, to ultimate redemption in Jesus. We see how God was dealing with His people in that particular Old Testament period, and how His grace still comes to Israel in her various captivities and subsequent rescues by each judge appointed by God. These cycles of disobedience, judgement, and rescue, Keller clearly shows, are ultimately imperfect and foreshadow Christ’s perfect rescue of God’s people. The centrality of Christ in this study is one of the high points to be sure, and is very helpful as a guide to seeing the centrality of Christ and the Gospel in all of Scripture. If you’ve ever had a hard time seeing how the Old and New Testaments fit together, this book is a great place to go to see how it’s all part of the redemptive story God is telling with all of history. This expository study will take you verse by verse and section by section, to understand the particulars of the story of Judges within God’s whole narrative of Scripture.

Pastorally Written

Keller also writes with a pastoral care that brings the theology of Scripture to bear on our lives. He’s a skilled and respected expositor, which makes for a very rich study. I also appreciate Keller’s writing very much because he doesn’t sacrifice depth and poignancy for understandability or relevance. And his goal is to lead the Christian to a fuller enjoyment of God, and of the Gospel. Here are a few quotes from the book, dealing with a mix of the themes there, from idolatry, to the Gospel, to the cross-centered life.

“It is not our lack of strength that prevents us from enjoying God’s blessings, or from worshiping God wholeheartedly; it is our lack of faith in his strength. When we rely on ourselves, and base our walk with God on our own calculations instead of simply obeying, we find ourselves making decisions like the Judaites […] It is halfway discipleship, and Judges will show us that it leads to no discipleship at all” (19).

“God will never put us in a position in a position where we cannot obey him. There is never a real ‘I cant’ moment” (24).

“Much of the book of Judges shows how God is faithful to us despite our disobedience – that is comforting. But Judges also shows us that God in his grace will insist on removing our self-deception about our motives and actions” (24).

“God does not save through expected means, or through strength. Most of the judges are unlikely, and the victories defy the world’s logic […] God does not simply work in spite of our weakness, but because of it. He says that his saving power does not work when we are strong or think we are strong – but rather, when we are weak, and know we are” (84).

“On the cross, Jesus brought the power of Satan to nothing, disarming him (Colossians 2:15). How did the cross achieve this? It took away the penalty for our idolatry – death – so that Satan could no longer successfully prosecute God’s people. And it took away the power of sin in our lives, enabling the Spirit to live in us to break the lure of idols in our hearts. Samson prefigures Jesus’ triumph, at the cost of his own death, over Satan. As Samson killed many as he died, so it took the death of Jesus to “kill” Satan – the unseen power of idolatry, and the power of death itself” (163).

All that to say, this study is helpful, clear, insightful, and faithful to the Bible and the Gospel. It works on several levels, and could be helpful for both young and mature Christians. As promised in the title, it’s a very valuable resource for reading Scripture with understanding, for feeding on the Word of God, and for leading and teaching others to love God and find joy in Him through the Gospel.

Standing On God’s Promises

One summer several years ago our senior pastor opened his preaching up to suggestions from our congregation, asking us to write our favorite promises of God on the comment cards on Sunday mornings; his intention was to choose from these, and preach a sermon each week on a particular promise. As it happened, only one or two suggestions came in from the four hundred-ish people in attendance at our church’s Sunday morning gatherings. At the time, I wasn’t as up on some of God’s promises that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I’ve since come to learn about and treasure in God’s Word. I thought it was such a bummer that more didn’t come in, and I’ve often wrestled with that ever since. Was there a big lack in knowledge of God’s promises that He gives us in Scripture? Was it a lack of interest in our pastor serving us with such a preaching series?

If it was either of these reasons, neither is OK. Since that summer, I’ve tried my best to underline promises from God to His people, that I find as I study my Bible. These have been a huge source of encouragement and up-building in my life, and in my relationship with the Savior.

In our Shepherding group, we’ve been studying the book of James. And some of the promises God gives us just in this one book are wonderful comforts. Here are the ones we’ve spent time discussing. I hope you find rest, comfort, and fuel for your joy in Christ in these like we’ve been doing. Again, all by the grace of God, and the grace of the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to the Truth in Scripture. Keep in mind that these promises apply to Christians who have been born again from their sin and spiritual death, into new life in Jesus; God puts his Spirit into a Christian at the moment of new birth, Who then enables us to actually believe these things and live them out. An unbeliever can’t find the same rest and security in God, through Christ. A sinner must be born again (John 3:3-15).

1. God will grant us wisdom to endure our trials and sufferings when we ask for it (James 1:2-8)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

2. When we resist the Devil’s attacks, and stand firm in God and His promises, the Devil flees (James 4:7).

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

3. God will draw near to us when we pursue Him (James 4:8).

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

4. God will exalt, bear up, and hold onto his children when they rest in Him with humility (James 4:6, 10).

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

John MacArthur’s Sermon Prep

“And I could tell you, I’ve been asked on several occasions for whom do I prepare my sermons? One reporter said to me, ‘Newspapers are written for the eighth grade, for whom do you prepare your sermons?’ And I said, ‘You might not understand this, but I prepare them for God. My only concern is that God be pleased and His name be honored and His Word be treated fairly and honestly.’ And if I feel that I have done less than my best in that way, life becomes miserable at the deepest level for me.”

Sorrow And The Door To Joy

“As in all sweetest music, a tinge of sadness was in every note. Nor do we know how much of the pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy. Cometh white-robed Sorrow, stooping and wan, and flingeth wide the doors she may not enter.”

George MacDonald, from Phantastes

    “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

James 1:2-12 ESV

Scripture tells the Christian to count it all joy when God gives us trials and sufferings and sorrows. It’s the way of the cross, and we shouldn’t hope for a different lot than our King willingly took on for us. And because sorrow in this life is the way of the cross and the way of the King, we can have a secure hope, as MacDonald profoundly put it, that sorrow will fling wide the doors of joy that sorrow herself may not enter. Let sorrow come, because God redeems it in the lives of His children – sorrow opens the door to the greatest joys, and God completes us with it.

I think what James gets at, is that God gives us even more of Himself through our sorrows. So, again I say let them come. Let them bring us more of God, and more of Joy than we would’ve had any other way.

Hymnology: “He Rescued Me”

Some of the following I was only able to find via Wikipedia (sigh), so please correct me if any of it’s wrong. I’d love to gather all the right info on this hymn.

Originally titled “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus,” this hymn apparently originated in the 1800s in North-East India, where a man was pressed by the village chief to renounce his new Christian faith. He refused, saying “I have decided to follow Jesus,” and was executed singing “The cross before me, the world behind me.”

The arrangement many of us know today was composed by an American hymn editor, William Jensen Reynolds, and included in a 1959 hymnbook.

Its lyrics, though so appropriate given their origin, might mean something different to many who would sing them today. In the context of martyrdom and persecution, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back” is a Holy Spirit-enabled response in the face of such trials. But many have excluded this hymn from their churches because of the “human ability to choose God” theology that it so easily supports if removed from its context.

All that to say, that’s why I love this arrangement by Red Mountain Church, with a rewrite to the lyrics. One comment on the song’s YouTube post says it perfect, actually:

“[This arrangement is] shocking in stark contrast to the original words of this song. It’s offensive … it’s perfect … it’s Gospel.”

The Red Mountain Church lyrics say the following:

I never wanted to follow Jesus

I never wanted to follow Jesus

I never wanted to follow Jesus

He rescued me, He rescued me

No turning back, No turning back

This rewrite is so much more suited to congregational singing, and adoption into the regular singing of local churches. It echos the glory of Scripture passages like Ephesians 2:1-9, which says,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

A Christian didn’t all of a sudden “decide to follow Jesus.” We were “dead in our trespasses and sins in which we once walked,” and God “made us alive.” He raised us from the dead, in Christ, and united us to Him. And it’s all a gift of God’s grace, to have faith in Christ and to be raised from our spiritual deadness. So God rescued us when we never wanted Him to. Praise God for His glorious grace in the Gospel.

Here’s the Red Mountain Church version (sorry about the lame slide show accompaniment):

John Calvin and Scripture’s Authority

In honor of Reformation Day (though a few days late, unfortunately):

“[T]he idea of the Bible’s truthfulness was not enough. Calvin and the other Reformers were well aware that those in the Roman Church agreed with them formally on this point.

Where they differed was in the areas of sufficiency and clarity. First, Calvin argued that the Bible in and of itself was sufficient as an authority for the church.”

Julius Kim, from With Calvin in the Theater of God

What Is Joy?

Inspired partly by some recent remarks by my pastor, and the studying I did to teach for our Shepherding Group tonight, here’s a list of definitions for true, Christian joy. The older I get, and the more I grow in my faith, the fight to have joy in God really seems to be the central fight. If my joy in God is big, sin looks far cheaper, and the day-to-day minutiae of life is invested with glory.

Here’s the text I studied this week:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

(James 1:2-4 ESV)

And the kind of joy in God that Scripture talks about, that comes even and especially through trials, is as follows:

  • Joy is happiness that runs deep (via Jordan Bakker)
  • Joy transcends temporary circumstances
  • Joy is fixed on a proper object, outside of myself, that doesn’t change (which must be God, in Whom there is no variation or shadow due to change). We’re created to find our source of joy in God – He made us for Himself.
  • Joy is paradoxical, in that you can have great joy and still greatly grieve. But there’s hope in the grief.
  • Joy is a sweet and serious happiness