Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Sermon on the Mount

Sometimes I think that people who don’t believe in Jesus are turned off by what they see in the church.  In this country especially, where we have a “civil religion” that many people call “Christianity” but really isn’t, it’s easy to get confused.

The best way to get around that, of course, is to forget about the church for a while – and learn who Jesus is.  Where did he go?  What did he say?  What did he do?  That’s why I love this video sermon from the Austin Stone‘s Matt Carter: He’s simply standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, under the Mount of Beatitudes, and reading Christ’s words from the bible.  No commentary or explanation.  Just Jesus.  It’s remarkable.

Sermon on the Mount from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

On Comfort

I’ve noticed recently what incredibly comfort I have found in my morning bible study.  It’s become a time that makes me feel safe.  It makes me feel whole and close to God.  Taking comfort in God is exactly what we’re meant to do all of our lives.

But I’ve also come to be wary of comfort … because it’s easy for personal comfort to become an idol.

Take your comfort in God … but don’t let your comfort become your god.


I began writing that post about 3 months ago … but something told me to hold on posting it.  Since then, I’ve sold my comfortable house and bought another one that is a bit more of a project … because I felt that God was calling us to do so.  So at least in one instance, I’ve been able to practice what I’ve preached. 😉

The management lessons of Boaz

My bible reading plan (REAP) called for reading the first chapter of Ruth today.  But without knowing it, this delightful story swept me away – and I read the whole thing.  After reading the end of the book of Judges, it was so welcome to read about people who honored God, and treated each other with love.  The way that the principals of the story – Naomi, Ruth and Boaz – treated one another and everyone around them was so exemplary!  They were full of humility, put others before themselves, and showed honesty and integrity in every interaction.

As a businessman, I’m particularly interested in the way that Boaz operated.  And I found myself thinking about how I could be more like him in my work.  The first thing that stood out to me was his competence – as a businessman AND as a leader.  The story says that he was wealthy – but it’s also apparent that a) he had a significant number of workers, and b) that they respected and obeyed him.  He asked his workers to do some pretty strange (though clearly compassionate) things to accommodate Ruth, but his workers obeyed without question.  This tells me that he maintained a close enough proximity to the work that he knew what was going on all over the operation, but also maintained enough distance to be able to see the big picture.  He noticed Ruth, asked about her, and was able to immediately give instructions to his workers on hoe to handle the situation – he saw the big picture clearly.

He was personally invested in the success of his ventures.  When it came to threshing time, he was there with his crew, working hard all day and presumably into the night.  And he celebrated success with hid team – eating, drinking and making merry to celebrate a job well done.

Finally, he showed both shrewdness and integrity in dealing eith his peers.  When he approached Naomi’s closest relative to ask about redeeming her husband ‘s land, he knew all along that he wanted to have the land – but especially the prize that came with it (Ruth)!  So rather than starting to negotiate to buy the right to redeem Ruth, he approached the man, in the presence of witnesses, and suggested that he redeem Naomi’s property.  Only after the man verbally agreed did Boaz raise the issue of Ruth being a part of the package.  Since the man didn’t want to be in a position of splitting his inheritance eith another branch of the family (a fact which Boaz likely knew), the man withdrew his claim, and *freely offered it to Boaz in the presence of ten respected witnesses.*. Nobody associated with that transaction could say that Boaz was anything but fair, gnereous and honest in that transaction – AND he came away with the thing he wanted most.

I’m spending time today thinking how I can manage more like Boaz did.  How can you?

Be at peace

My wife sometimes has trouble going to sleep because she’s anxious about the things that the next days and weeks will hold.  For me, it’s waking up before dawn, before my alarm goes off, gripped with fear and anxiety about how I can possibly get through my day.

Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.” Matthew 6:21

I believe there is a corollary there … If you’re unsure where your heart truly is, think about the things that wake you up in a cold sweat.  Because the things you fear are also a good indicator of where your heart is.  I’ve felt separated from God for the past few weeks … Nothing terrible has happened, I’ve just felt a distance.  I’ve been terribly distracted with a number of things in my professional and personal life, including a great deal of travel – which often means a disruption of my morning routine.

So I’ve been praying this morning for two things:
First, for God to work in my heart so that I follow Jesus with zeal.  “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1 NIV84)”

Second, that I would be able to free myself of attachments to this human kingdom, and to be at peace knowing that my place in His kingdom is secure.  And my bible reading this morning yielded this from Hebrews – that summed it up perfectly.

If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing they couldn’t touch your real treasure. Nothing they did bothered you, nothing set you back. (Hebrews 10:34 MSG)

My prayer today, for me and for you, is that you would set your heart on God’s kingdom … not the one you see with your eyes.  That you would have peace.  And that you would go to bed and rise with an overwhelming sense of being in His hands.

Image from Sarah Suero

Here comes the judge

Last night, I was watching a Netflix DVD (my last one before canceling the service – but that’s another story) – “Easy A.”  It was so disturbing to me that I turned it off after a half-hour (and rated PG-13!  I wouldn’t let my daughters watch it any more than I would the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!).  Consider that your “Finding Approval Movie Review of the Week” – but it’s actually not the point of this blog post.

The real point is that there was a character in the movie who was meant to represent a Christian girl at Ojai North High School – Marianne, played by Amanda Bynes.  Her character was entirely defined by hateful legalism and judgment-passing.  The one quote that I remember from her was, “Olive Prendergast is a tramp – we need to pray for her.  We also need to pray for her to GET OUT OF HERE.”

Marianne’s character was obviously created by a non-believer who has a pretty awful view of what Christians (if not Christianity itself) is all about.  But this ranty blog post isn’t for the writers, director and actors that portrayed Christians that way – it’s for us.  The people who gave them that impression in the first place.  God’s people have been sucked into that trap since the Garden of Eden.  That bothered me much more than anything that happened in the story … so I guess that I shouldn’t have been surprised that my REAP study this morning was on Matthew 23.  Jesus’ words for the Pharisees rang incredibly true.

Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’  – Matthew 23:4-7, The Message

Gregory Boyd’s “The Myth of a Christian Religion” posits that Adam and Eve’s sin in eating the forbidden fruit was so that they could be like God – and sit in judgment over his creation.  I believe that we, as Christians, do more to harm the Gospel in 21st century America by behaving in that way than we can possibly understand.  Whenever I see Christians portrayed in that way (or worse, see Christians acting in that way – or worse, see myself acting that way), I remind myself that those whom we find easy to judge … the criminals, the addicts, the prostitutes … Jesus died for each one of them because of their unsurpassing worth.  How can I do less?

[UPDATED to reflect that Marianne was not, in fact the most popular girl in school, according to my wife.  Apparently, I was too disturbed to pay that much attention to the details ;-)]

My Top 15 Elements for a Successful Bible Study

It’s taken years, but I have finally gotten into a nice rhythm in terms of studying the bible.  As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.  My morning prayer almost always ends with David’s plea from Psalm 119: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

In this series, I’ve examined my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  I want to be clear that this may not be your top 15.  In fact, this list might not be applicable to another person on earth.  But I’ve observed that over the last several months, all of these things play an important role in my spiritual journey.  Maybe a few of them will be valuable for you, too.  As you work through this list (and its corresponding posts), I’d love to hear from you: What have I missed?  What are the most important elements for you?  What would you like to see more of?

Source Materials: You can’t have a bible study without a bible.
1 The Message.  In my opinion, the most readable and understandable version of the Good News.

2 A study bible.  It’s incredibly helpful to have a bible that contains detailed notes and cross-references.

3 Youversion mobile bible.  For smartphone users, this free bible app with its dozens of translations is a must-have.

4  The very easiest way to access the bible online, including robust searching and browsing functions, as well as the ability to easily link and embed text.

Going Deeper: Tools to take your study and its application into your life.

5 Baker’s Commentary on the Bible. The ultimate resource for explaining the bible, chapter and verse.

6 Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine.  Why do you believe what you believe?  And what does your church have to say about it?  It’s important for any believer to know.

7 Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy’s Across the Spectrum.  An easily readable presentation of multiple doctrinally sound interpretations of scriptural meaning.  Key for refining your own belief set – and understanding others.

8 The Blue Letter Bible.  An amazing set of online resources to dig deep into the bible, its history, its original languages, and detailed teaching and commentary.

Making it Happen: When your bible study becomes a part of your daily “lifeflow.”

9 A Study Plan: The bible makes more sense (and is easier to share) when you’re following a plan.

10 A place: Where do you do your bible study?  Do you have a place where you can easily store all of your materials?

11 A Time: Many people (myself included) need a routine.  What part of your day do you set aside for study?

Reflection: Reading the bible isn’t the same thing as studying it (though both are valuable).  What are the things you can do to reflect on your reading, and prepare to apply it to your life?

12 A journal – Where do you log your thoughts and questions?  For me, it’s right here on Finding Approval.

13 Valley of Vision.  I always close (and open) my study in prayer, and never fail to draw inspiration from this beautiful book of puritan prayers.

Sharing it: Study shouldn’t be solely an individual pursuit … the added ingredient of other people can exponentially increase the wisdom and insights you derive from your study – and who knows, you might be able to help them out as well!

14 A small study group. A small group of trusted friends can add so much to your study.

15 A Teaching Pastor.  The right pastor is going to teach you, inspire you, and challenge you.  When was the last time your pastor surprised you with a new perspective on scripture?  Made you mad?  Drove you straight to the bible to find out more?  If it isn’t happening frequently, you may not have chosen the right church.

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – A Teaching Pastor

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the last of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Sharing It.”

Click the link to view yesterday’s post on Small Groups.
Sharing It – A Teaching Pastor.

 The last element that makes my bible study particularly rich is my participation in a weekly worship service.  There are a number of reasons to worship God as a part of a church … but I am only going to focus on how it can enhance a bible study program.  We’ll save the other benefits for another series!
I have been particularly blessed over the last 10 years to be a member of churches that have unbelievable teaching pastors: Erwin Lutzer at Chicago’s Moody Church; Dave Stone and Kyle Idleman at Southeast Christian Church; and Matt Carter and Jeff Mangum at Austin Stone Community Church.  No matter how much I study on my own, it’ll be hard for me, as a lay person, to ever match up with men who have gone through years of education and training in theology – and then live it out as their careers.  Additionally, I have sought out teaching pastors who I believe will not shy away from preaching the scripture as God intended it – and not soft-shoeing (or skipping altogether) the tough parts.  There is no question that there are entire sections of scripture that I have huge problems understanding (and sometimes accepting!).  But that doesn’t mean I can just conveniently ignore the hard parts … which is what I think  a lot of churches do.  The best pastors will challenge your beliefs, present perspectives on scripture that you’ve never thought of (weekly), make you hungry to learn more, and (sometimes) make you mad.  No matter how much I study the bible, I find that there is ALWAYS another layer of depth … which is not surprising, given that it was inspired by the Creator of the universe!  Finding a church that teaches directly from scripture, regardless of “cultural acceptability” or political correctness, is critical for real growth as a Christian.

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – A Small Study Group

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the 14th of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Sharing It.”

Click the link to view my last post on Valley of Vision.
Sharing It – A Small Group.  So far, just about every aspect of this blog series has been specifically tuned to individual bible study.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  First, it’s been of primary importance in this stage of my life.  In the last year, I have a new job, new city, new church, I’ve had several new “homes.”  The only group of people I could count on being around from one week to the next was my immediate family.  Yet, as important as that individual study is (and will always be), we weren’t meant to experience God”s word exclusively in isolation from one another.  In his sermon from May 23 at the Austin Stone Community Church, Jeff Magnum preached on “Becoming Like all of Christ.”  And what he meant by that was that while Christ spent significant time in isolation, communing with His Father, most of his life was spent in the midst of community – teaching, healing, discipling and loving.  If we’re truly to live like Jesus, spending time in community is critical.
I’ve mentioned my Discipleship Curriculum course several times in this series.  That 21-month leadership program was so powerful partially because of the coursework that Eric Schansberg and Kurt Sauder developed.  But it was mostly because of the dozen men who made up my class.  We studied the same scripture, but each of us brought something different to the table based on our own experience – and on our own revelation.  It made the experience infinitely richer then it would have been had we simply studied alone.  And currently, Amy and I are a part of an amazing missional community in our neighborhood.  I’ve never met a group of people who were so committed from taking Jesus’ teaching into action in terms of serving in our community.  There’s no question in my mind that having a group of trusted friends with whom to share your studies is critical to successfully engaging with scripture. For more on the impact of small bible study groups, check out the recent series on Missional Community from the Austin Stone Community Church.

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – Valley of Vision

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the 13th of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Reflection.”

Click the link to view yesterday’s post on keeping a journal.
Reflection – Valley of Vision.   I mentioned in an earlier post (Puritan Prayer – the Valley of Vision) on the special time I carve out for my bible study that I ususally conclude with a reading from Valley of Vision … a book of Puritan Prayers that Austin Stone worship leader Aaron Ivey uses from time to time during our services.  I also wrote about it specifically here.  The reason I’ve included it again here is that I view my devotional time with valley of Vision to be an important part of my reflection time.
As simple as it sounds, learning how to pray is, I think, a lifetime goal.  Jesus was a great example of this … he would seclude himself and pray for hours on end – a habit he never forsook.  The puritan prayers in this book are prayers the way I often wish I could pray.  They’re so clear, lucid and beautiful … and are 100% grounded in scripture.  They add immeasurably to the value of my daily study.

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – A Journal

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the 12th of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Reflection.”

Click the link to view my last post on dedicating time for study.
Reflection – A Journal. One of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I love inputs of all kinds.  I soak up ideas like a sponge – even if they aren’t immediately relevant to my life.  In fact, if you’ve ever used Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s “StrengthFinder” tool, “Input” is one of my top five traits. [In case you’re wondering, the others are Innovative, Strategic, Connected and … I can’t remember the last one.]
All the stuff that I “input” into my brain tends to rattle around up there – combining with other ideas – until a new insight emerges.  But that happens best when I have a time and a place to reflect on the things I’ve just read.  A lot of people will keep a journal of one kind or anohter to store their ideas, insights and learnings.  In fact, my old boss, Jack Lord (the founder of Humana’s Innovation Center) used to think that kind of journaling was so important that he mandated that every leader in his team write a daily update reflecting on:
  • What they’d accomplished;
  • What they’d learned; and
  • To whom they were thankful.  
I may have been the only person (other than Jack himself) who didn’t hate daily updates!  As I study the bible, I wanted to make sure that I had a place to store my reflections and ideas.  And since I’m a social media geek, and wanted to get better with WordPress anyway, I started this blog as my reflection place.  Even though this blog is only a few monhts old, I can already look back at my archives and remember what it felt like when I wrote my older posts … and it makes me really glad that I have a place to capture them all.  And if anyone else gets any value from it – so much the better!  Do you keep a journal of your bible studies?  How does it work for you?