Author: Benji Magness

Known in many circles as 'Rabbi', Ben-jamin is an artist and pastor who can often be seen with a scruffy beard, drinking Starbucks, listening to reggae, wearing black, changing a diaper or reading backwards. His name in Hebrew means "son of the right hand"- which ironically is the hand he would use to paint, draw or even type for this blog if he ever found the time to do so.

Making the Prophets Hot News

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For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

 

Do you need some endurance in your life? How about some encouragement? Could you use some hope? Then why not turn to one of the Old Testament prophets for these? Paul told the Romans that all of the Old Testament was written for our instruction, that we might be able to endure and be encouraged and have hope. And you can get all of that even out of the prophets.

 

I was reminded this week of something Old Testament scholar Alec Motyer said:

 

“…if we do not find the inspired words of the prophets gripping, the fault must surely be ours.

 

So why are the prophets not hot news to us? Why do we find them difficult and (God forgive us) dull? The answer is ignorance and lack of effort. Since the books of the prophets are as much God’s inspired Word as, say, the Epistles, they deserve the same repeated, unhurried, thoughtful reading, which, in all parts of the Bible, allows the Word of God to minister its meaning, with increasing clarity, to our minds and so to our hearts and lives.

 

Where to get started? Use a Bible that divides the text into manageable paragraphs; read slowly; ask (and write out the answers) what is the prophet saying? And why is he saying it? These two questions will prove more helpful than merely asking when they wrote. The Bible will always become clearer to the persevering reader; the Lord blesses those who ponder His Word.”

 

If you haven’t spent any time recently studying the prophets, let me encourage you to do so. Pick one and dive in. Get a study Bible (I’d recommend the ESV Study Bible). Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and give you a renewed hunger for His word. Ask questions (and answer them!).

 

And don’t forget that the Bible will always become clearer to the persevering reader; the Lord blesses those who ponder His Word. So, persevere, ponder, and may the prophets become “hot news” to you once again!

– Benji

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Jesus Loves Me and He Loves You Too

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And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15

 

In one of the devotionals that I read in the morning, I came across a phrase that stopped me in my tracks: God takes Hell seriously. I, of course, know this is true, but seeing it in writing that day gave me reason to pause. And I did just that. And I began to think of friends and loved ones who do not know Jesus. And I was reminded again that if the Holy Spirit doesn’t open their blind eyes (2 Corinthians 4:3-4), then they have no hope. So I determined to renew and rekindle my prayers for their salvation.

 

Here’s what Jack Miller said in the devo that I read:

 

God takes Hell seriously… Instead of deciding whether or not God will save someone, start by praying that the Holy Spirit will make your heart tender like Jesus. Are you tender toward people? Do you touch them with love? Are you gripped by what Christ can do for them? Pray, asking for living water for yourself, but then don’t just sit there. Make a list of five people you think are never going to get saved, and then start praying that the Father will seek them and make them true worshipers (John 4: 23). As you pray, the Spirit will open doors of sharing that will be remarkably simple—maybe as simple as “Jesus loves me and he loves you too.” (Saving Grace: Daily Devotions from Jack Miller)

 

Let’s renew our focus on the lost today. Here’s what you can do to get started:

 

  1. Pray that the Holy Spirit will make your heart tender.

 

  1. Make a list of 5 people that you know need to come home to Jesus and begin praying for them. (Why not pray right now for them?)

 

  1. When God opens doors for you, just simply tell them, “Jesus loves me and he loves you too.” You never know how that sentence can change their eternity!

 

Jesus loves me and He loves you too. Let’s go tell our friends, loved ones, and our city this good news!

 

– Pastor Benji

Tell Jesus What You Lack

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On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” John 2:1–3

 

We can learn a lot about prayer from the mother of Jesus. Mary simply said to her son, “They have no wine.” That’s one of the best prayers in the Bible! Did you know that? That’s actually one of the very best prayers in the entire Bible! That’s what the late Norwegian Lutheran Ole Hallesby says in his book on prayer, whichI highly recommend. He says this-

 

In the next place, notice what she says to Jesus. Just these few, simple words, “They have no wine.” Note here what prayer is. To pray to Jesus is to tell Jesus what we lack. Intercession is to tell Jesus what we see that others lack… I think we can all see how different our prayer life would be if we would only learn this aspect of the holy art of prayer, with which the mother of Jesus was familiar.

 

To most of us prayer is burdensome because we have not learned that prayer consists in telling Jesus what we or others lack. We do not think that that is enough. Instinctively we feel that to pray cannot be so easy as all that. For that reason we rise from prayer many times with heavy hearts… All this is changed when we, like the mother of Jesus, learn to know Him so well that we feel safe when we have left our difficulties with Him. (Prayer, p. 44-46)

 

What’s troubling you today? Just tell Jesus. Tell Him what you lack. Tell Him what you need. What are you waiting for? Why not try it right now? Go ahead:

 

“Jesus, I lack                                        . Please help.”

 

See? Prayer is not as difficult as we may think. Just tell Jesus what you need. Cast your burdens on Him and then feel the safety of having left your difficulties with Him.

 

Praying that you learn to know Him this well,

 

– Benji

Peeps!

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Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Psalm 61:1–4

Most people that I know either love or hate Peeps, those brightly colored marshmallow birds that are popular (and everywhere!) around Easter. Maybe you’ve seen them in the grocery store (and maybe you’ve noticed that they keep coming up with new flavors of Peeps). Well, the next time you despise or enjoy those marshmallow birdies, let them remind you about how good and great Jesus is. That’s what David is doing in Psalm 61.

Did you notice the progression that David records in this psalm. He starts by asking the Lord to lead him to a high rock where he can be safe from his enemies. I like the way the NET Bible translates verse 2: “Lead me up to an inaccessible rocky summit!” So David makes his way in this psalm from the inaccessible rocky summit to a tower to a tent and finally under the shelter of God’s wings.

David, it seems, is moving from the safest place to a very fragile place; from the high inaccessible rocky summit to the “safety” under a pair of wings. The world, of course, would laugh at finding safety under a pair of “wings.” But the safest place is not a high rocky peak that your enemies cannot get to. The safest place is under God’s sheltering, protective wings.

Because of Jesus, God welcomes us into His personal care, like chicks under the wings of a mother bird. Now, notice the contrast: in God’s presence we have no right to come on our own merit into His tent, into His presence, but as “chicks” we have a “birth-right” to be under our mother’s wings. We have no right and no righteousness of our own to gain access into God’s presence. But when we trust in Jesus, when we are adopted into God’s family, we have every right to be there. We now have a “birth-right” to be under God’s wings. It’s where we belong and where we are most safe.

Alec Motyer is very helpful here. He says, “Loveliest of all, in our tinyness and insignificance, try being a day old chick and run to the sheltering wings.” We are tiny. We are weak. We are like day-old chicks. We’re Peeps.

That bothers us because, if we’re honest, we are allergic to weakness. But weakness is the channel that allows you and I access to God’s grace and peace. The Gospel uses your weakness as the door to God’s grace. Being helpless is what connects you to Jesus. Weakness opens the door to see Jesus. Weakness is what connects you to Jesus. Neediness is what qualifies us. The thing that we hate- weakness, helplessness- is what gets us in to Jesus!

That’s the sweet spot in life and ministry (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Realizing just how weak, needy, and dependent you are. It seems like a scary place to be, but it is reality. It’s where we are, whether we admit it or not. That’s who we are: day old chicks scampering about and running to the wings that provide us shelter. We’re just little chicks, little Peeps.

So when you see those brightly colored marshmallow Peeps this year, be reminded that they are a picture of you! Weak, but safe.

– Benji

The Angel of the Lord in a Mobile Home

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Psalm 34:7

 

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The context of Psalm 34, according to the prescript, is this: Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away. But David never directly mentions this event in Psalm 34!

 

So David apparently wrote this psalm sometime after the events that occurred in 1 Samuel 21. Do you remember the story? David had no weapons and was given Goliath’s sword (which was apparently in storage). And David shows up at Gath, home of King Achish, with a skeleton crew of men and with Goliath’s sword in hand, but the people there mock him. This of course throws David into a panic and he’s now scared. So what does he do? He acts like he’s crazy! David begins to act like he’s lost his marbles and he begins drooling all over his beard and he starts to spray paint graffiti all over the doors of Achish’s home. Because of this, his life is spared and he flees to a cave. When others hear that David is camping at the cave of Adullam, 400 men show up! So he goes from a rag-tag group of misfits to 400+ men.

 

Alec Motyer suggests that as David recounts this “crazy man” story to these 400 men, it suddenly dawns on him that there is more to the story. David may have acted crazy and survived, but underneath it all, it was Yahweh who was with David and who delivered him. So Psalm 34 is the song that David probably slipped away and wrote after telling his “crazy man” story to his friends in the cave. And it’s in Psalm 34 that David highlights how Yahweh delivers His people. It’s Yahweh who lives, or encamps, among His people (“encamps” is emphatic in the Hebrew).

 

Alec Motyer says, “…and the LORD in effect said: If you are camping, I want to camp too!.. Look at Psalm 34:7, the Angel of the LORD in a mobile home so that he is always free to move with his people. The homeliness of Yahweh taking an earthly address, and the intimacy of His actually coming to live among His people, must never degenerate into casualness… The LORD automatically identifies with those overwhelmed by life’s sorrows. He’s close… a ‘next-of-kin’ relationship, not just being near at hand but actively making our woes His own.”

 

Psalm 34 is all about how God can’t get close enough to His people! He is near: The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

 

The Hebrew word for near is used in the book of Ruth to describe Boaz (Ruth 2:20; 3:12) who is the “next-of-kin,” the one whose right it is to take on himself all the needs of his troubled relative. That means that Jesus is our “next-of-kin” who takes all of our troubles as His own. Think about that! Whatever is troubling you today, Jesus is “near” and He takes that on Himself. Your need becomes His need. He is actively making your woes His woes. His mobile home is parked in your driveway.

 

That ought to be enough truth to get you through what you’re going through today.

 

– Benji

I Love You, Billy

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So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men… Philippians 2:29

 

I love Billy Graham. He is one reason why I am a pastor. He’s been a part of my upbringing since I was a young boy. My dad became a Christian after watching a Billy Graham Crusade and our home changed after that. I remember the following Sunday very well because my dad barged into our room and said, “Get up, boys. We’re going to church!” And we did. From that day on.

 

My dad began buying Billy’s books and we were always receiving mail from his ministry. We had hundreds of these pamphlets that I would read and re-read. And, of course, we received our Decision magazine every month and they began piling up on the side of our couch. I think I read every edition of Decision in the 80’s.

 

I can still hear Billy’s North Carolina accent saying, “The Bible says…” He said that all the time! “The Bible says…” “The Bible says…” As I watched numerous crusades growing up, I was learning the importance of God’s word. It has authority. The man with the Southern accent drilled that into me. Here’s what Billy said about God’s word-

 

“The Bible was written by 40 writers, over a period of 1,600 years, in 66 books. And the great theme from one end of the Bible to the other is redemption—God’s love for the human race and God redeeming man and bringing man back to Himself after man had rebelled against God. That’s what the Bible is all about.”

 

He’s right. The Bible’s great theme from one end to another is God’s overwhelming love for sinners. Redemption. That is what the Bible is all about. And Billy preached the same thing over and over and over again. He said-

 

“I’m not a great preacher, and I don’t claim to be a great preacher . . . I’m an ordinary preacher, just communicating the Gospel in the best way I know how… During all my years as an evangelist, my message has always been the Gospel of Christ.”

 

Terry Taylor of the 80’s Christian band The Swirling Eddies wrote a song about him, simply titled “Billy Graham.” Taylor wrote the song to honor Billy, who stood in stark contrast to the televangelist scandals that rocked the church in the 1980’s. Taylor and Gene Eugene sing-

 

I don’t know about those other guys


There’s something in the back of their eyes


But Billy, you’re the man who don’t use slight of hand


Ain’t wearing no disguise


I love you, Billy

I love the simple things you say


And you never seem to get in the way


No one is quite like you


Compassionate and true


“Just as I am,” I say 
I love you, Billy

 

Terry Taylor said this about him-

 

 “I always felt that Billy was the real deal. At heart he’s a simple country preacher who has always been willing to admit he’s made some mistakes and doesn’t have all the theological answers. I have to go elsewhere for more weighty stuff, but Graham is The Man when it comes to a powerful, no-frills presentation of the simple gospel message.”

 

You don’t have to have all the theological answers. Just get out of the way and present a no-frills simple Gospel message and Jesus will draw sinners to Himself. I learned that from a country preacher with a Southern accent.

 

I love you, Billy.

 

– Pastor Benji

Gospel Fluency Handbook

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I’ve been to Ghana, West Africa four times on mission trips and I still don’t know any of the languages. I remember a few phrases like “How are you?” and I know how to answer that question in the Twi language with, “By God’s grace, I am well.” But that’s about it. I am nowhere near being fluent in the Twi language after 4 trips. Can you believe that? What a loser! It’s silly to think that I could become fluent in any language after 4 trips.

I like to think that I’m fluent in the English language, but having teenagers in my house proves that I’m not. The English language is always changing and adding new phrases that it’s hard to keep up. And the teens in my house like to remind me that I’m out of touch with what’s happening in the world.

Being fluent in the Twi language would go a long way in helping me if I was in Ghana. And being fluent with current slang words might help me better communicate with my kids, like if we’re listening to a Lecrae song and I reply with, “That beat tho!”

But before I better my understanding of West African languages or master every word on Urban Dictionary, I need to be more fluent in the Gospel. And Jeff Vanderstelt and Ben Connelly have written a few resources that have helped me and I believe will help all Christians become more fluent in the Gospel.

Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life

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Gospel Fluency Handbook: A Practical Guide to Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life

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While the Gospel Fluency Handbook was written to accompany the Gospel Fluency book, it can be used without the book as content from the book is summarized in the handbook. Here are a few quotes from Gospel Fluency to whet your appetite:

We need the gospel and we need to become gospel-fluent people. We need to know how to believe and speak the truths of the gospel— the good news of God— in and into the everyday stuff of life. In other words, we need to know how to address the struggles of life and the everyday activities we engage in with what is true of Jesus: the truths of what he accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection, and, as a result, what is true of us as we put our faith in him. The gospel has the power to affect everything in our lives. (p. 23)

Most believers have become gospel-snippet people, who speak gospel catchphrases. They’re speaking gospelish, but not the actual gospel in a way people can hear and believe. (p. 39)

People need heart change— not just once, but over and over again, because their love grows cold. People need to be deeply affected by the incredible news of Jesus on a daily basis. What affects you greatly creates in you great affections. And those affections lead you to express verbally and physically what you love most, because you talk about what you love. Furthermore, you love what you talk about. And we all talk about what most affects us— what most powerfully works to create change in our lives. (p. 94)

We can all slip in and out of believing the good news of the Gospel. And we all have areas in our lives where we need the Gospel. On one of his podcasts, Paul Zahl said this about the late pastor and theologian J.C. Ryle.-

“Yet like many spiritual people, there were still ‘unevangelized dark continents’ inside him.” (PZ Podcast, Episode 108: J.C. Ryle Considered)

You see, no matter how much you have grown as a Christian, no matter how long you have been a Christian, there are still “unevangelized dark continents” inside every one of us. There are places in our hearts where the light of the Gospel is still needed. There are places in our hearts and minds where the radiance of the glory of God has not penetrated. There are places in our hearts and minds where the love of God has not penetrated. There are places, territories, dark continents that need to be blasted with the Gospel.

That’s where the Gospel Fluency book and handbook are helpful. The Gospel Fluency Handbook is an 8 week study designed for small groups, classes, etc that help identify those “unevangelized dark continents” in all of us. Each week’s chapter includes 3 weekly readings followed by reflection questions to be read between meetings. Then, when your group meets, there are group discussion questions and a group exercise.

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Jeff Vanderstelt said-

“I struggle with unbelief on a daily basis. I slip in and out of believing God’s word about me and trusting in his work for me. Jesus gave his life to make me a new creation. He died to forgive me of my sins and change my identity from sinner to saint, from failure to faithful, and from bad to good and even righteous and holy. However, I forget what He has said about me. I forget what He has done for me. Sometimes it isn’t forgetfulness. Sometimes it’s just plain unbelief. I know these things. I just don’t believe them. I am an unbeliever. Not every moment, of course, but I have those moments. So does everyone. I’m certain of it.”

And because we all slip in and out of believing God’s promises, then it would behoove us to read Gospel Fluency and go through the Gospel Fluency Handbook with some friends. Who doesn’t want to be more fluent in the Gospel? Who doesn’t want more peace? Who doesn’t want all that God has for us in His Son Jesus? It would be foolish for any Christian to spend their days and not be fluent in the good news that has saved them.

But what does it mean to “be fluent” in the Gospel? Here’s how the authors Jeff and Ben answer that question:

Jeff: When I think about fluency I think about unconscious competence. I am answering this question in English not consciously trying to think through a vocabulary list or stumbling over how to put together thoughts. I am fluent in English. To be fluent in the gospel is to know it so well it becomes like a mother tongue. I am able to filter all of life through the truths of the gospel and am readily able to speak those truths into any situation or struggle we are facing at any time.

Ben: As with any other use of the term “fluency,” gospel fluency is a growing ability to see all of life and consider the many situations in our day-to-day through the lens of the promises of God and the good news of Jesus. Just like learning a new language, most of us start with an unawareness of how the gospel can apply to the hard and mundane aspects of daily life and conversation; in this way, the gospel is “unnatural” to us. As we rehearse basic truths of the gospel, as we practice different disciplines and as we ask God to give us more and more knowledge of Himself, His promises and His truth, the hope is the gospel becomes more and more “natural” and automatic.

Are you wanting to become more fluent in the Gospel? Then I cannot recommend these resources enough. Heck, after going through the Gospel Fluency Handbook, you might look at your small group or Bible study class and say, “That book tho!”

Why? Because these resources will remind you of Jesus. And isn’t that what you’re looking for in a good book? When you finish the last chapter of a book, don’t you want to walk away believing what Jesus said, “It is finished”? You might even respond like the apostle Paul and say,

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:17

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To learn more about these resources, please visit:

https://saturatetheworld.com/resource/gospel-fluency-handbook/

http://litfusegroup.com/books/gospel-fluency-handbook

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Follow the conversation on Twitter:

@litfuse

@saturateworld

@JeffVanderstelt

@connellyben

* I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for writing this review.

 

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