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I write a daily devotional for my church family and anyone else who wants to read and apply God’s word. It is published on Calvary’s website. However, I designed it to be delivered each morning by email.

You can use the form below to subscribe and each day you will receive an email with a link to the Bible passage to read on that day and a devotional written by me. There will be an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of every email so you can stop the emails any time you want.

This will lead you to read the entire Bible through in one year using a heavily-modified form of the Bible reading plan developed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

Want to see a sample? Here’s a typical entry from 2018’s devotional guide OT18:

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Where Did Marriage Come From?

As a Christian, the concept of marriage and the Christian faith belong together. As a man, I desired to love a woman, but as a Christian, I desired to marry a woman. Furthermore, my faith as a Christian informs my marriage. As a married man who is a Christian, God’s word is my teacher in the area of marriage.

But what about people who are not Chrisitans? What compels them to get married? The paragraphs below are from my ebook, The Family and the Chrisitan Faith which you can purchase in the Canyon Crossers store:

Secular anthropologists admit that marriage is universal in human societies, that it is different from monogamy (which they believe, based on their evolutionary assumptions, developed first, before marriage), and that it precedes recorded human history. However, they cannot explain these things. Why is it that marriage exists in every human society? Why, if some animals practice monogamy, would marriage be necessary for humans? Why did people make promises to each other in marriage before anyone started writing down human history and why do they keep doing that in every human culture? Secular scholars have no good answers to these questions. They have theories—some secularists have alleged that marriage is just a form of slavery that has evolved over time—but that does not account for the universality of marriage or why it was necessary if people were already practicing monogamy.

The Bible, however, tells us that marriage exists and is so universal because God created it. Again, Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” In Genesis 2:24 Moses gives us his conclusion to the story of the creation of Eve, and his conclusion is that marriage exists because God created humans. As the human author of Genesis, Moses is telling us where marriage originated and why it is such a dominant force in human societies. All human societies in every part of the world, in every historical time period, practice marriage. It transcends geographic, ethnic, racial, religious, and chronological boundaries. Why? Because God created it. The phrase, “for this reason…” in verse 24 tells us why people feel compelled to get married. When divorce is so painful and costly, when people in our culture and others deny that God created humanity, when it is morally acceptable in our culture to have sex with any other consenting adult, why do people still feel compelled to get married? The answer is that God created us this way. Although the Bible says that some people have a gifting from God to stay single, the huge majority of people want to get married. So, marriage exists and is so very common not because it’s customary for humans to do or because their religion tells them to get married but because God made men and women for each other. He hard-wired marriage into humanity and that’s why people continue to get married even if they don’t believe the Bible and even if their society tells them that marriage is optional.

Brian Jones, The Family and the Christian Faith, p. 5.

The Communication Canyon

In my opening article for this website, I wrote about how applying the Bible seems like crossing a canyon. I named this site “Canyon Crossers” for that reason.

Applying the Bible is not the only canyon to cross in living for Jesus Christ. Interpreting the Bible can, at times, feel like crossing a canyon and I intend to write about that in future articles. Another canyon that we face is the canyon of communication. This article will begin discussion on that issue.

I have never read the fiction of Stephen King and, from what I’ve heard about his writing, it seems wise for Christians to avoid reading his fiction. Many years ago, however, I heard King interviewed about a non-fiction book he had recently published called On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft. I was interested in what King said in that interview, bought the book, and read it rapidly. The first part of the book was King’s autobiography which I found fascinating. The second part of the book was some helpful advice he had for other writers.

In that second part of the book, Stephen King wrote that writing is telepathy, meaning that it is a means of transferring a vision or an idea from one brain to another. He explained:

And here we go— actual telepathy in action. You’ll notice I have nothing up my sleeves and that my lips never move. Neither, most likely, do yours. Look— here’s a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. In its front paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8. Do we see the same thing? We’d have to get together and compare notes to make absolutely sure, but I think we do. There will be necessary variations, of course: some receivers will see a cloth which is turkey red, some will see one that’s scarlet, while others may see still other shades. (To color-blind receivers, the red tablecloth is the dark gray of cigar ashes.) Some may see scalloped edges, some may see straight ones. Decorative souls may add a little lace, and welcome— my tablecloth is your tablecloth, knock yourself out. Likewise, the matter of the cage leaves quite a lot of room for individual interpretation. For one thing, it is described in terms of rough comparison, which is useful only if you and I see the world and measure the things in it with similar eyes. It’s easy to become careless when making rough comparisons, but the alternative is a prissy attention to detail that takes all the fun out of writing. What am I going to say, “on the table is a cage three feet, six inches in length, two feet in width, and fourteen inches high”? That’s not prose, that’s an instruction manual. The paragraph also doesn’t tell us what sort of material the cage is made of— wire mesh? steel rods? glass?— but does it really matter? We all understand the cage is a see-through medium; beyond that, we don’t care. The most interesting thing here isn’t even the carrot-munching rabbit in the cage, but the number on its back. Not a six, not a four, not nineteen-point-five. It’s an eight. This is what we’re looking at, and we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room . . . . except we are together. We’re close. We’re having a meeting of the minds.

King, Stephen (2000-10-03). On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (pp. 105-106). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

That paragraph describes both how we are able to communicate meaningfully with each other and how what you receive from my communication can differ from what I think I sent. There are gaps–canyons, if you will–that have to be crossed in order for communication to happen. Some of the articles I intend to write for this site will address how to cross the communication canyon. Since I am a pastor who teaches weekly, these articles will focus on effective teaching, but the communication principles will apply to all kinds of communication.

The Interpretation Canyon

Years ago I was teaching a class here at Calvary Bible Church about how to study, interpret, and apply the Bible. One Sunday, after I taught the importance of interpreting Scripture properly, a man in our church came up to me and said something like, “When I read the Bible, God speaks directly to me.”

As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is God’s word. Since it is God’s word, it communicates to God’s people; it is his way of speaking to us. So, when this man said, “When I read the Bible, God speaks directly to me,” I wanted to agree with him. I wanted to agree with him, but I could not. Since I had just finished teaching about how to interpret the Bible, his statement was not a statement of faith in the inspiration of the Bible. It was a rebuke. This man was rebuking me–indirectly and kindly, but still, it was a rebuke–for teaching that interpreting the Bible was necessary or important. My entire lesson on interpreting scripture was unnecessary, in his view. If God speaks directly to any and every Christian who reads the Bible, there is no need to develop or learn anything about interpretation.

If it is true that, “When I read the Bible, God speaks directly to me,” then what is God saying to me when I read Joshua 6:2-5? That passage says, “Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.’”

It is clear what God said to Joshua in Joshua 6 and what he was supposed to do with God’s word. Jericho was in front of him, it was a walled, fortified city. Instead of laying siege to it and starving the people out, or battering the gate with a tree trunk, God told Joshua and the Jewish people to just march around it. The wall would collapse after they did this thirteen times over seven days and then their army could attack the people inside with conventional weapons. God was calling Joshua and his people to trust him for a miracle to start the conquest of Jericho. They would have to fight (v. 5b), but only after God had miraculously done the hard part.

That was God’s word to Joshua and his people but if God is speaking directly to me in that passage, what exactly is he saying? I don’t live near Jericho and have no need to conquer it, so what is God telling me here?

Typically, if you believe that God speaks directly and personally through the word, you will take a passage like this one and allegorize it. You will read God’s promise to Joshua and think, “My boss’s decision not to give me a raise is like the walled, impenetrable city. I need to trust God to make his defenses fall so I can conquer the land and get that raise.” You might even go so far in claiming God’s promise that you drive or walk around the office building once a day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day before asking for the raise. That seems very spiritual, and you might even get that raise! But what if you don’t? Did you misunderstand the Holy Spirit? Do you misidentify Jericho–maybe it isn’t your boss or your company but your daughter’s boyfriend who needs to be defeated?

The Bible is God’s word and God does speak to us through the Bible, but not until we understand what he said to the original reader. This is one of the canyons I will try to teach you to cross.

The Good Life

Sometimes well-intentioned Bible teachers say pretty stupid things. When I was a teen I heard more than one preacher say something to the effect of, “If you’re not going to follow Christ, you should go out there and live it up—party all the time, get as much pleasure as you can.” This never sat well with me and, unfortunately, at least one guy I went to high school took this advice. Those who said such things were well-intentioned. Their logic was, “If you don’t follow Jesus, you will go to hell. Since your eternity will be ruined, you might as well have as much fun in this life as possible.” There is a certain perverse logic there, but it is completely wrong. Isaiah 48:17b-18:

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”

While part of this statement is true based on God’s covenant with Israel, I believe it is also true because of the law of the farm—what you sow you will reap. The truth is that the best life you can have on this earth is one that conforms as much as possible to God’s commands and God’s ways. This is because God is the creator and his moral laws have consequences for obedience and for disobedience. The law of gravity works whether you believe in God or not; it works whether you believe in gravity or not. So it is with God’s moral law; those who break God’s laws only break themselves trying to defy it.

It isn’t possible for an unbeliever to really obey God’s word, but you and I both know people who don’t believe in Christ but they do not kill (or hate others), do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, do not abuse and mistreat others as a general rule of life. None of us can be perfectly obedient and no unbeliever can earn credit with God for whatever obedience they do have to God’s word. But insofar as they do obey God’s laws, they will not suffer the consequences in this life that disobedience always brings. It is always better to obey God than to follow the sinful ways of our nature, our culture, or the enemy.

The Three Way Tug

Photo Credit: Payton

As a pastor who teaches God’s word more than once a week, I find myself wrestling weekly with three competing tensions: faithfulness, relevance, and shepherding. These three tensions feel, at times, like a three-way tug.

The first tension, faithfulness, comes from my desire to remain true to the text of Scripture. One thing I would never want to do is to distort the message of the Bible. Because I believe that the Bible is the authoritative message from God, my most basic commitment is to be faithful to what the Bible says.

I also feel a tug not only to remain true to the text of Scripture, but also to explain how the passage of Scripture is relevant to the modern audience. While the tension toward faithfulness to the text comes from my convictions about Scripture, this second tension comes from the people in my church. Every congregation wants to “get something out of” the message. I feel like many people come to church asking the unspoken question, “Why is Pastor Brian taking forty minutes to tell me about these verses?” I think it is a good question and I want my message to give them a great answer.

In addition to the tensions caused by the text and the tension caused by the congregation, I also feel a sense of tension that comes from my responsibility as a shepherd of the flock. This tension is similar to, but not the same as, the tension of relevance. I know that people come to church looking for a personal message from God, but I also know that the congregation has deeper needs than the ones they feel. They need to see how God meets them not only in their personal lives but also how his working in our lives connects to the larger work that God is doing. Ultimately, Christ will return and establish his kingdom. Right now, he is preparing for that coming kingdom by calling people into that kingdom by faith in the gospel. If our faith is only about us as individuals or our local church, we are not seeing or participating in the larger work that God is doing. We need to see that evangelism, missions, and even our growth in Christ is all connected to God’s larger work in the world.

So, there it is: the “three-way tug” of faithfulness, relevance, and shepherding. This tug can cause my preaching to be imbalanced in one or two directions if I’m not careful. When pastoral obligation wins, the message challenges the listener to look beyond his or her felt needs to the larger issues in the church’s life. At its best, this kind of preaching confronts people’s worldview, asking them to choose the path of selflessness over selfishness. At its worst, this type of preaching degenerates into condemnation. The church may feel berated for not living up to the my ideals and is urged to “do better.”

When felt needs win the tug of war, the audience pays close attention as the issues they care most about are surfaced and addressed. They may find answers to their problems or comfort for their griefs and struggles. When felt needs preaching is at its worst, however, the message of the Bible can be distorted and made to say something that the biblical author never intended. Furthermore, an over emphasis on felt needs can sometimes fail to challenge selfish attitudes that God wants to change.

Finally, if my preaching leans too far toward interpretation, people in my church may feel like students in a classroom, collecting many facts or truths about the Bible. At best, this emphasis in preaching creates a congregation with extensive Bible knowledge. At worst, the church might know a lot but obey very little. This type of preaching may also leave people in their comfort zones, never challenged to reach out to the world around.

Biblical Preaching, as defined by my teacher Haddon Robinson, attempts to take these three legitimate tensions and allow the message to be shaped appropriately by them all. Biblical Preaching is a process; it is a series of steps that, when followed in their proper order, usually yield a sermon that is faithful to the Bible, relevant to the audience, and challenging to the local body. This is what I’m trying to do as a canyon crosser in my preaching and teaching ministry.

It is Contagious

Micah 1:9: “For Samaria’s plague is incurable; it has spread to Judah. It has reached the very gate of my people, even to Jerusalem itself.”

Micah was a prophet who prophesied in Judah. His ministry spanned the reign of three of the Southern Kingdom kings namely, “Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah” (Micah 1:1). However, he spoke about both the Northern and Southern kingdoms: “he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (v. 1b). God’s judgment for the Northern Kingdom was drawing near at the end of Micah’s ministry; His judgment for the Southern Kingdom was still many years away.

But the spiritual problems that brought God’s judgment on both nations was consuming the Northern Kingdom of Israel and rapidly spreading to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Verse 9 of Micah 1 compares it to a plague. Plagues are contagious; that’s why they wipe out so many people so quickly. The unbelief and idolatry of Israel was contagious; even Judah was coming down with it.

Sin usually is contagious.

  • If someone is unkind to you, you may respond with unkindness toward that person and others.
  • Gossip is really contagious because it can’t exist without being shared from one person to another.
  • Drunkenness can be contagious too because it is more fun to party with others than to drink alone.
  • Adultery is by nature contagious because it involves at least one other person. False doctrine is contagious because false teachers want to spread their ideas.

I don’t think we appreciate how contagious our sins can be. We think that we sin alone and bear the consequences alone but any sin that happens outside your mind has some kind of social fallout. If enough people choose to engage in a particular sin, that creates a culture where that sin is acceptable.  What sins have you seen spread like a virus? Are you spreading–maybe unknowingly–sin to others?

One reason why we need God’s grace through his word and the church is to inoculate ourselves against the contagious virus of sin. Prepare yourself, then, to withstand the viruses of sin.

Why this site is called Canyon Crossers

A few years ago I couldn’t sleep.

Not because I wasn’t tired or because I was anxious about something. My family and I were on vacation and I felt very relaxed and at peace.

I couldn’t sleep because I was excited. We were in Arizona. We had just settled into our accommodations in Phoenix after a few days at the Grand Canyon. Spending those days with the people I love most exploring the vast beauty of that magnificent place got me thinking about applying the Bible.

Does it seem strange to you that hiking and exploring the Grand Canyon got me thinking about applying the Bible? I understand. Let me explain:

In the early 2000s I was pastoring a small church in Canton, Michigan and working on a Doctor of Ministry degree. My doctorate was focused on preaching and was led by Haddon Robinson, one of the most effective communicators of his generation. Haddon was an incredible preacher himself, a strong Christian man, and a great mentor and teacher of preaching.

I decided to research and write about the topic of applying the Bible. In the course of my research, I came across the metaphor of a canyon as an illustration of the divide between the biblical world and the modern world. The Bible’s truth is not two separate worlds to be bridged.

It is more like a crack in the earth.

In many passages, you can apply the truth from the biblical situation to our lives very easily. It is like stepping across a tiny crack in the earth. The distance between how the truth of God’s word applied to the Ephesians (or whomever) and us is not significant in many passages, so those texts of the Bible are easy to apply properly.

In other biblical texts, however, the situation the original human author was addressing seems far different from anything we Christians face today. In those passages, applying the Bible seems difficult. The distance between the truth as it related to original readers of those passages and us seems immense–like a canyon.

I wrote about the canyon metaphor for applying the Bible years before we went to the Grand Canyon on our family vacation.

But exploring the Grand Canyon on that vacation reminded me of the metaphor that was buried in the pages of my Doctor of Ministry project. Once that metaphor was in my mind again, I started thinking about creating a website to explore the concepts of applying the Bible, studying and interpreting the Bible, living the Christian life in this age, and doing Christian ministry in this age.

That’s what you’ll find on this site. In these articles I will share what I have learned about:

  • applying the Bible biblically
  • studying and interpreting the Bible properly
  • living the Christian life in our times
  • doing Christian/church ministry in this age

There will be lots of free content available. You will also find courses that you can pay for in order to study with me more formally and directly.

I live near Ann Arbor, Michigan and serve as the pastor of Calvary Bible Church. There are no canyons, to my knowledge, anywhere near where I live.

But the metaphor of Canyon Crossers is helpful. It helps me daily as I work through biblical texts and how to obey them in my life and apply them to my congregation. Join me and I’ll teach you as much as I can to help you in your own walk with God.

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