Christianity 201

September 3, 2021

What I Love About the Bible Despite My Misgivings About It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

How could I, a Baptist pastor, possibly have misgivings about the Bible?

For one thing, the Bible has often been used to abuse. The movie, “The Book of Eli,” sets out a post-apocalyptic future where there is only one copy of the Bible. The main villain of the story knows that if he can get his hands on that one copy of the Bible, he will have incredible power over others. Throughout history many villains and nice people alike have used the Bible to have power over others, sometimes with terrible results.

Second, The Bible is terribly complex, convoluted, and leaves itself open to being misunderstood by everyone, including me. Such misunderstandings have often been divisive, and sometimes deadly.

So what do I love about the Bible despite my misgivings?

I love the genuine nature of the Bible

Let me take you back to my experience of preparing a study on the Book of Philemon when I was a student. Yes, we call Paul’s writings “letters,” or sometimes “epistles,” which sounds more religious, though it isn’t. But in preparing a study on Paul’s letter to Philemon I came to realize that this really is a letter. This did not sound like a letter from God to us, but from one person to another, about another person. The letter concerned a very real situation. In fact it seemed to me to be a very real situation that had nothing to do with me!

The Book of Philemon is not God saying to everyone “here are some rules to live by,” but rather Paul saying to Philemon, and I summarize, “since Jesus is Lord and Saviour, there are implications on how you are going to treat your runaway slave Onesimus, namely with forgiveness and treating him like a brother, not a slave.” What we have is an example of the good news of Jesus being worked out in a real life situation. And that has everything to do with me.

All the letters of the New Testament are like that. They speak to real situations. Through them we learn how to work the Gospel out in our lives. In fact all the writings that make up the Bible are very much tied to real world situations. Being rooted in real events, they are the record of real people responding to a real God in a very real relationship between God and humanity.

Let us consider these verses from Acts:

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Acts 1:1-3 (NRSV)

Notice what the writer of Acts does not say. He does not say “God told me to tell everyone this.” Rather, “these things happened, and so I’m telling you about it, Theophilus.” We can thank God for some guy named Theophilos, because though the writer wrote for his sake and learning, we get the benefit!

These are very real events the writer wants to share with Theophilus. While there are metaphors, and poetic devices in Scripture, the Book of Acts tends to not be very poetic. These things happened!

All the writings of the Bible are rooted in things that happened in history. These historical events point to the relationship of God with humanity. The New Testament especially, is rooted in who Jesus is and what Jesus did and said, and what happened including his death and resurrection. In Jesus we find the greatest self-disclosure of God. The Bible is not the greatest self-disclosure of God. Jesus is. In the Bible we have very real people responding to very real glimpses of God. Jesus is the greatest glimpse God has ever given of Himself.

We don’t want to just know the Bible, we want to know God, and we do that supremely through Jesus, whom we meet through the Bible.

I love the complexity of the Bible

Because the Bible is the record of a very real relationship between God and humanity, it is complex, and rich, with many genres, written by many different people in many different circumstances. The complex and convoluted nature of the Bible might be something we do not like about the Bible, however, it is actually something to love!

While some people come to the Bible expecting a simple rule book, we find so much more, including things like;

  • Frustration when God seem so distant, or not concerned – many of the Psalms.
  • The angst of trying to figure out the meaning of life – Ecclesiastes.
  • Questions around suffering – Job.
  • The beauty of romantic and sexual love – Song of Songs.
  • Questioning the fairness of God – Jonah (we should note that the Book of Jonah is not really about Jonah’s obedience, or lack thereof, but the reason for his disobedience; namely, his perception that God’s love of the enemy is unfair).
  • The historical event of God being with us, in Jesus – the Gospels.
  • The working out of “what does it look like to be a follower of Jesus in our day?” – the letters of the New Testament.
  • Encouragement for when we face persecution – Revelation (many interpretations of Revelation miss the point)

With the Bible we don’t have a simple rule book, but wisdom, wrestling, waiting, wanting, and the record of God with us.

While the Bible does not give easy answers, or give answers easily, I love that it leads to great questions.

There are easy answers found in the Bible. Is it okay if I murder someone? No! But it does not always give easy answers. Instead it invites us to wrestle with questions.

Consider, is it okay to kill someone? Killing someone can be different than murder, in self-defense, for example. Christians are divided on the answer to that. Those of the Anabaptist tradition point to the radical love of Jesus in responding to violence with peace and non-retaliation, this being the Kingdom-of-Jesus way. We Baptists tend to focus on the expression of love for those we want to protect from violence, which sometimes may require violence. The point is, there is no easy answer on this, people have read the same Bible and come to different conclusions on it. But wrestling with the question is a great thing to do and deepens us, no matter what answer we may come up with.

I have heard people describe the Bible as an answer book, with the answers to every question you might possibly have about anything and everything. I simply have not found that to be true. But I have always found that it leads to great questions. Great questions lead us to greater depth. Sometimes it is better is better to be deep than correct.

The Bible does provide the answers to the most important questions we could ever ask, like; Who is Jesus? Who is God? What does Jesus have to do with God? And with us? We are reminded of those important questions, and the answers when we participate in the Lord’s Supper. There is a place for deep conviction and for sharing answers. There is a place for for deep humility and living with questions. We do well to figure out which is best where.

While the Bible did not fall from the sky, I love that the Bible is God-breathed.

This is something that cannot be said of other writings:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

We should not think of the Bible as being God dictated. The fingerprints of human authors are all over it, human authors who faced very human situations, just like we do. While the fingerprints of human authors are all over the Bible, the heart of God is in it. The writings which are collected into the Bible are what God has seen fit so that we can know Him.

Conclusion

If people are looking for a simple book dropped from heaven that explains everything and gives us simple rules to live by, we will be hard pressed getting people to love the Bible, especially if they actually read it.

But if people are looking for authenticity, for genuine writings by real people experiencing real problems, in real situations, in relationship with a real God, as really experienced in the real person of Jesus Christ, then we can be hopeful, for I know I will not be the only one who loves the Bible!

August 11, 2021

Do Bible Principles Need to be Stated Twice to Matter?

It began with a conversation I had four years ago at the local Christian bookstore concerning Bible features. As the guy was looking at one in particular, he said, “Oh good, it’s got the precepts.”

The first time, it didn’t really register. Then he looked at another and said something like, “Does it have the precepts?”

Huh?

It turned out he was talking about what most of us would call cross references; the notations of other passages either in a center column, the bottom of the page, or at the end of the verse itself where something related may be found.

The idea of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ is taken from Isaiah 28:, 9-10 in the KJV. The NASB expresses it as:

To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?  “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.’”

The NLT is really contradictory to this idea on its rendering of this:

He tells us everything over and over–one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”

implying that the learning or teaching or knowledge is linear, but not necessarily cumulative. In other words, one line at a time, doesn’t mean that line B is necessarily building on line A, but to say upon is to imply that it is or does.

(In case you’re wondering if there’s any irony to be found, you’re wrong; the verse itself is reiterated in scripture, albeit 3 verses later in verse 13.)

As we discussed this the idea of “Out of the mouth of two [or three] witnesses was brought into the conversation. This is found in the Old Testament twice.

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, HCSB)

A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, CEB)

Those OT passages are cited in the NT by Jesus and by Paul.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16, NIV)

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (2 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

In the Corinthian example, you have to go back to the previous chapter to get the context. Paul is speaking about sorting out matters concerning people who have been found in sinful practices.

Capital crime. Wrongdoing. Sin. Denial of Sin. Nowhere do these passages suggest something related to “the establishing of doctrine.” But don’t get me wrong:

I believe the Bible always corroborates itself on matters of important doctrine.

In other words, it’s internally consistent. I’m just not sure that we need to force it [scripture] into a situation where everything has to be said twice or three times in order to establish a doctrinal pattern, or make it conform to an overarching systematic theology. Or, to come at it differently, it may reinforce something but in an entirely different way than our Western way of thinking can process too simply.

I think to do so is to doubt the value of what we read the first time. It’s saying to God, ‘Now, if you’ll just show me one more time where you say this, then I’ll obey.’ I think that undermines the text somehow. That doesn’t mean to imply that at a crossroads of life we don’t ask God for confirmation of what we are to do. There is the example of Gideon, who put out a second fleece.

So what are precepts? Yourdictionary.com says

precept pre·cept. … The definition of a precept is a guiding principle or rule that is used to control, influence or regulate conduct. An example of a precept is a commandment found in the Ten Commandments.

At that we would need to get into the differences between a rule and a principle. Principles are timeless, never location-specific, widely applicable. Rules apply to one group of people in one particular situation at one unique point in time. The rest of that we need to save for another day.

A cross-reference is simply:

•noun: cross reference; plural noun: cross references
–a reference to another text or part of a text, typically given in order to elaborate on a point.

Anyone who has been reading the Bible for any length of time knows that sometimes the Bible editors have chosen to take us to a reference to a rather obscure part of the verse, not something which indicates its overall meaning. There are times when I have been completely mystified as to the inclusion of a particular reference. Many of you know the danger of over-spiritualizing things, and I don’t want to be guilty of under-spiritualizing something, but… They’re. Just. Cross-references.

And at risk of stating the obvious, there’s 2 Timothy 3:16, which reminds us that all scripture is inspired. (Italics added; four expressions of this verse may be found at this link.)

Here’s my concluding statements on this:

We read scripture not so much because we’re trying to learn precepts as we are recognizing the importance of understanding the ways of God.

and

If God is saying something to us with unmistakable clarity through a scripture passage, we don’t need to start hunting around looking for a second verse.

July 30, 2021

His Word; Our Light

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Our quest to highlight and support people writing quality devotional/study material took us today to the site of Jonathan Richard Wright. He serves as Youth and Family Pastor at a church in Florida and is working on a PhD. As always, you are strongly encouraged to read C201 posts at their source; this is a great encouragement to the writers and you may find other articles on their blogs you would enjoy.

God’s Light

Have you ever tried to get somewhere while in the pitch-black dark? When you can’t even see a hand in front of your face, the darkness isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s frightening. In those moments, we crave rescue by the light. A simple flashlight makes the darkest places better.

Our need for light is a deep spiritual metaphor used in the pages of Scripture. Light shines in the first few sentences of the Bible as God’s good creation (Genesis 1:3–4). Instead of the celestial sources of light being gods who need to be appeased (like the Egyptian god “Re” or the Semitic god “Shamash”), light is created by Yahweh the God who is above every power on heaven and earth. Yahweh is the source of light as the creator of all things.

But the light of God’s presence didn’t stay with humanity. Seeking to define good and evil on their own terms, Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden, and their descendants continued to live out the resulting darkness (Genesis 6:5). Eventually God’s people ended up in the darkness of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10:23). And how does Yahweh lead his people out of this bondage? Israel is led by a pillar of illuminating fire by night (Exodus 13:21). That light God provided continually stood as a reminder of his rescue through the never-extinguished lamps of the tabernacle (Leviticus 24:2).

Light is connected to something else in Jewish Scripture, too. God’s word is called a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). In Proverbs, a similar statement appears: “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). Much like in Genesis 1–2, God’s word is connected to light; it functions to reveal exactly what we need.

In these ways, light is understood from the Bible as a good and needed gift that comes from God in order to rescue people who are in their own created darkness.

That foundation adds to the impact of the words of John 1:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1–5).

Jesus, the “light of the world” (John 8:12), comes to a dark world and brings light. Since light reveals and guides, Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s light (1 John 1:5). Truly, in his light, “do we see light” (Psalm 36:9). By following Jesus, believers have all the light we need to “shine before others” so that the world can see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). And as people who were once blind, Christians are entrusted with a mission of light to lead others who can’t see to Jesus (Romans 2:19). That’s our calling until Jesus comes again and fully restores the world into a place where we won’t need the sun—that “city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Revelation 21:2–24).

In this life, we’ve only experienced tastes of God’s light. But in the new heavens and new earth, God will forever be our light, unhidden from our eyes (Revelation 22:5). Until then, “let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5).


Second Helping: Did you wake up this morning saying, “I’m a temple?” Check out a second article from Jonathan, Jesus, The Temple and You.

March 19, 2021

It’s Hard to Face Rejection and Still Love People

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In today’s search to highlight new writers to you I came across Julie Harris who is a worship pastor in the Nazarene denomination. Her blog title, I Sing Because I’m Free really resonated with me! (Okay, bad pun, perhaps.) Her devotionals all begin in personal experience and after reading many current ones, I settled on this older one from her archives. Click the title to read at source and from there, take a few minutes to read more recently written pieces.

Rejected

While I was out running errands today, I had a conversation with a stranger who told me she had just quit smoking.  I asked her how long it had been since she had her last smoke.  Just yesterday.  I told her every single moment was a small victory for her to celebrate.  I encouraged her and let her talk about her smoking addiction.  After talking with her for quite some time, I felt the Lord nudging me to invite her to a special service we’re having at our church next week.  It’s something I am really excited about- 9 churches coming together to worship and give thanks… 9 churches in our community uniting as one in Christ Jesus!  With all the division in the world right now, this is the perfect time for this!

I waited until I knew it was the right moment to ask her… Do you go to church? I asked her, nonchalantly.

No- I don’t do that kind of thing.

Well this would be the perfect service to come to then!  I explained how a bunch of churches in our community were coming together…

No, I’m not interested in that.  

And immediately I felt that door slam shut.  She changed the subject quickly, clearly ready to end the conversation at that point. It was awkward, to say the least!

As she continued to make small talk, I started feeling a little sorry for myself.  I’d been rejected.  She didn’t ask me the usual “what church do you go to?” or even say the polite “I’ll think about it”… just a flat out NO. I hate rejection. It’s hard to put yourself out there…to be obedient to invite strangers to church.  Who am I kidding?  It’s hard to just flat have conversations and LOVE people.

I said goodbye and told her that I’d be praying for her as she continued to break the nicotine habit.  “You can DO it!” I told her. Then I then went to my car, feeling like a complete DORK and a REJECT.

And He brought to my mind this verse-

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.Isaiah 55

All He asks us to do is be obedient. We throw out the seeds… HE does the watering.

As I drove home, I started to replay the words of our conversation in my mind…and then I looked ahead of me and the license plate in front of me said it all.

On the license plate was this-

GD LOVS U

And in that instant, those feelings of being a complete nerd and a rejected vanished.  He loves you.  And He loves me.  And He loves that stranger I spoke to today.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9

February 24, 2021

Spiritual Warfare: The Weapon of Lies

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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As we soon approach devotional #4,000, it amazes me how many times a reading is tagged with the words, spiritual warfare. Even on my other more topical blog, Thinking Out Loud, this is a theme which is constantly recurring

This theme appears in so many books. Most authors agree that the battlefield on which the warfare is enacted is our minds. Think of bestsellers such as Battlefield of the Mind or Victory Over the Darkness. Spiritual warfare need not be the province of Charismatic or Pentecostal authors however, and it’s a topic we shouldn’t back away from. The battle is real.

Today at Devotions Daily, there was an excerpt from a forthcoming book, Winning the War in Your Mind, by Oklahoma pastor Craig Groeschel. To read it in full, click the header which follows.

Old Lies, New Truth

…You are constrained by a lie, something that doesn’t exist. The Enemy has arranged enough hurtful circumstances, in key places of your life, in which you got just enough jolt — a bit of a shock, a sting of pain to your heart — that you have decided trying even one more time is just not worth the risk. What makes it worse is that the number of places where you have stopped trying is growing ever larger.

The greatest weapon in Satan’s arsenal is the lie.

Perhaps his only weapon is the lie. The first glimpse we have of the devil in the Bible, we see him deceiving Adam and Eve in the garden. He created doubt in Eve’s mind by asking her,

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5

What Satan did in the garden back then is the exact same thing he will attempt to do in your life today.

In 2 Corinthians 11:3, our thoughtology professor Paul said,

I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Satan will whisper accusing questions and deceptive statements. He schemes to twist your mind, because if he can, he then

  • diverts you from your purpose,
  • distracts you from God’s voice,
  • destroys your potential.

If he can get you to believe a lie, your life will be affected as if that lie were true.

Unfortunately, Satan’s lies are easy to believe. Why? Part of the reason is that because of sin, we have a flawed internal lie detector. God warned us:

  • “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).
  • There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

That’s definitely the problem, so what’s our solution? How do we access God’s power to stop Satan’s lies? How can we demolish his strongholds in our lives?

If Satan’s primary weapon is lies, then our greatest counter-weapon is the truth of God’s Word.

Not just reading the Bible but learning to wield Scripture as a divine weapon. God wants us to view His Word that way. See how Hebrews 4:12 offers a direct solution to the warning of Jeremiah 17:9:

The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.


Excerpts from Zondervan books are used with permission from HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Winning the War in Your Mind by Craig Groeschel, copyright 2021 Craig Groeschel.

February 2, 2020

When The Book of the Law Caused Weeping

Today we’re back again at Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with locations on many continents.  Today’s author is Peter Horrobin, Founding and International Director of Ellel Ministries. The work was originally established in 1986 as a ministry of healing in the north-west of England, but today the work has spread round the world, with Ellel Centres in over thirty nations. Where I live, there is an Ellel about an hour north of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Click the title below to read at their website and then take some time to look around.

Tears of Joy!

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read . . . all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law . . . This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

From Nehemiah 8:8-10, NIV

The people of God had been in rebellion against God and His Word to them in the Law. As a result they lost their covering and protection and had been carried off as captives to Babylon. But then there came a time when God stirred the heart of one of those prisoners, Nehemiah, to ask the King’s permission to return to Jerusalem and repair the walls and gates of the city. Nehemiah’s book tells the amazing story of how he did it.

Then, after they had completed their task, in spite of a lot of opposition, and all the people had been settled back into their homes, Nehemiah, with Ezra the priest, gathered them all together, in the square before the Water Gate, to hear the Word of God in the Law of the Lord. A high wooden platform was built for the occasion (the first pulpit?!), from which Ezra read to them.

Not only did he read it to them, but he explained what he was reading “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” Ezra was not only reading the Word, but preaching the truth. And as he did so the people came under conviction for all they had done which had been in rebellion to the living God. Tears of repentance were flowing down their faces as the Word of God impacted their souls.

Then Nehemiah made a very insightful comment – “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” He knew this was a very holy day as he sensed that the people’s repentance was bringing joy to the Lord. And that, in turn, the joy that the Lord has, when His children return to Him, becomes the strength that everyone of us needs to rise up as men and women of God to live for Him and do the works of the Kingdom.

Our tears of repentance bring great joy to the Lord as we are restored in Him and are equipped and empowered by His presence. May I encourage you to come to the Word of God with an open heart, being willing to listen to the Lord’s voice. And when the Holy Spirit touches your life and He begins to change you from the inside out, remember that your repentance is bringing joy to the Lord and His strength will fill your life.

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to read Your Word with an open heart, listening to your gentle voice of encouragement and challenge. I’m sorry for the times of rebellion there have been in my life. I pray that You will help me rebuild the gates and the walls of my life, so that I may be strong in You and empowered by the joy of Your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

In old English, the name Ellel means ‘All hail’ which means ‘All glory to God’
In Hebrew, Ellel means ‘towards God’
In Mandarin Chinese, it means ‘love flowing outwards (愛流).

So Ellel could be said to mean ‘All hail, Jesus, All glory to Him’ and be expressed as ‘Love flowing outwards’ into a fallen and broken world, where we are helping people move ‘towards God’.  It is all for His glory.


Read more: From the same website, Lambert Bariho together with his wife Catherine currently leads the work of Ellel Ministries in Rwanda. He looks at Romans 12:3 in an article asking the question, is there every any reason for pride?

October 8, 2018

Verses to Memorize

As you get older it gets increasingly difficult to memorize verses of scripture. However, recently, I decided to memorize the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, which began haphazardly trying to remember who gets what!

Sheila Wray-Gregoire is a Canadian author and blogger who writes about marriage, family life and parenting and probably counts women among the sizeable majority of her audience. Her blog is called, To Love Honor and Vacuum. She wrote and posted this in 2011.


…I wrote a post complaining that we are “dumbing down” church and school, and don’t require kids to learn mastery of anything anymore. I asked what we could do about it.

And I decided maybe it was time I did something, rather than just complain. And so I’ve put together this list of the 50 verses I think are most important to memorize. I know many families want to memorize verses together, but they don’t know where to start. Here you go. One a week for a year. Even if this is all you ever memorize, you will have God’s word in your heart for the most important verses, I think, in the Bible. I’m going to type the list with the verses first, and then at the end include a list of just the references, if you want those to just copy and paste.

Why not make little memory verse cards out of 3×5 cards, and keep them at the dinner table? Then every night you can go over this week’s verse. By the end of the year, you’ll have all of these memorized!

I chose these because they’re a cross-section of doctrine, promises, and comfort. You may want to add others, or to substitute. Feel free. Consider this a starting point, not anything definitive. I hope you you find it useful! All verses are from the NIV.

God

Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 40:28
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Salvation

John 3:16-17
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

Romans 3:23
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Revelation 3:20
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

John 14:6
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

Ephesians 2:8,9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Assurance

Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Isaiah 40:30-31
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 11:28-30
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart ,and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Psalm 27:1
The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Hebrews 13:8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Lamentations 3:22-23
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Christian Life

2 Corinthians 4:18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Psalm 37:4,5
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him and he will do this.

Proverbs 3:5,7
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

James 1:22
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

James 4:7
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Luke 16:13
No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

1 John 4:7,8
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Galatians 5:22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Romans 12:1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Prayer

1 Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 19:14
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Philippians 4:6,7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Scripture

2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.

Psalm 119:105
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Psalm 119:11
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

Confession/Temptation

Hebrews 4:16
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

James 5:16
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out, so that you can stand up under it.

Mission

Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Matthew 25:40
The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Matthew 28:19-20
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Ephesians 6:12
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Bigger challenges:

If you want to memorize whole chapters, here are my top 5:

Isaiah 53
Psalm 23
1 Corinthians 13
John 15
Psalm 139

These chapters are all important; I have left them out of the top 50 verses because I couldn’t choose just one or two verses from any of them. The whole thing is great. So if you’re up for a family challenge, memorize all of one of them!

Look at it this way: if you spend one year memorizing the fifty verses, and the next year reviewing those fifty and memorizing a chapter, and then go back to those fifty verses again to make sure you have them down, and then the next year go back and do a different chapter, and so on, over the course of ten years you’ll have 50 verses and 5 chapters so committed to memory there is no way anyone could ever forget it.

And I think knowing fewer verses, but knowing them inside and out, is sometimes more beneficial in the long run than trying to make yourself learn a verse a day or something.

So print this out and use it with your family!

Happy memorizing!

April 7, 2018

Choosing to Set our Focus on Things Above

This is our fifth visit with Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. He doesn’t write frequently, but often deals with the issue of spiritual growth.

A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

Almost everyone enjoys gift giving. We enjoy giving gifts, but we really enjoy receiving gifts.

When we give a gift we give it with the intention that the gift is used. If we give a gift of chocolate we want the person to eat the chocolate. If we give a gift of clothes we want those clothes to be worn. If we give a gift of toys we want those toys to be played with in imaginative ways.

God has given us a great gift to be used for our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ. That gift is the Bible. Christians believe that God has preserved the Holy Scriptures over the years to help guide us in following Jesus.

Since the Bible is a gift that God has given to us, it is a gift that He expects us to use. God will speak to us by the Holy Spirit through the words recorded in Scripture.

If we are interested in spiritual formation and following Jesus, then it is essential we spend time with the Bible.

The book of Colossians is a book of the Bible that God has used over the years to speak to my heart.  One of my favorite passages is Colossians 3:1-4:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)

Our salvation and transformation begins and ends with God. It began with God’s promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his descendant; it continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus (the promised descendant of Abraham); and ends when Jesus returns and makes all things new.

Without God’s initiative, without God’s promise, and without Christ’s faithfulness we would have no life, no purpose, and no hope. Our redemption and restoration are bound up in the actions of our loving heavenly Father.

With that being said, we still have a great responsibility when it comes to our spiritual formation.  We do not become like Jesus by accident.

Paul wrote in Colossians that there is a choice we must make. The choice we are to make is to set our minds on the things that are above.

To set our minds requires an act of the will.  We have the choice about what to focus our minds on, and if we  don’t choose to set our minds on the things of God, then our minds will be set on other things: sports, money, pleasure, politics.

What must we do if we are going to set our minds on the things that are above?

I believe there are at least three steps we need to take in order to set our minds on heavenly things.

  1. We must change what we feed our mind. This is a two part process. The first part of the process is to acknowledge the ways we are being distracted. I recently had to to do this when I realized that the political podcasts I was listening to were influencing the direction of the my thoughts, which were flowing out into my sermons. We need to be aware of what is influencing our thoughts, and whether that influence is positive or negative. The second part of the process is to fill our minds the truth. This means we intentionally use the gift of Scriptures to set the course of our thoughts. If we are not replacing our old negative thoughts with new positive thoughts then our minds will go back to the old ways of thinking.
  2. We must be guided by the Spirit. The best way for us to be guided by the Spirit is to practice spiritual disciplines. We need to make room for the Spirit to speak into our lives. This includes Bible study and reading (both private and group), prayer, fasting, generosity, service, hospitality, and even simplicity (living a simple life). It is crucial that we intentionally make room for the Spirit to guide our lives.
  3. We must speak about what God is doing. It is crucial that we don’t keep all that God is doing in our lives to ourselves. We need to share our experiences with God with other people. By sharing our stories we become better aware of the truth God is teaching us and the direction He wants us to go. By sharing we allow other people to discover what God is doing and open their hearts to God working in their lives.

God took the initiative to save us from sin and death.

To be good stewards of God’s initiative and His generosity we need to be intentional in our spiritual formation. This requires us to be intentional in setting our minds on the things of heaven, so our hearts and minds are focused one following Jesus. We do that by using the gift of Scripture to set the direction of our minds.

 

October 21, 2017

Living in the World or Living in the Word?

Ps 119.18 Open my eyes that I may see
    wonderful things in your law.
19 I am a stranger on earth;
    do not hide your commands from me.

Today we’re featuring the writing of Smith Wigglesworth. Yes, that was his name; a name well known to people in the Assemblies of God or Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, but best known in Britain where he was a Pentecostal evangelist. He died in 1947, but he was a prolific writer and his work continues in print in a long list of books. Many people claimed miraculous healing through his ministry.  In 2013, we did an entry on him in our quotations series which you can find at this link. The following is the March 17 entry in Smith Wigglesworth Devotional (Whitaker House). It’s a shorter entry as we were on a tight deadline today.

Life in the Word

Psalm 18.30 As for God, his way is perfect:
    The Lord’s word is flawless;
    he shields all who take refuge in him.

Scripture reading: Psalm 119:9-28

In the days when the number of disciples began to multiply, there arose a situation in which the Twelve had to make a definite decision not to occupy themselves with serving tables, but to give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.  How important it is for all of God’s ministers to be continually in prayer and constantly feeding on the Scriptures of Truth. I often offer a reward to anyone who can catch me anywhere without my Bible or my New Testament.

None of you can be strong in God unless you are diligently and constantly listening to what God has to say to you through His Word. You cannot know the power and the nature of God unless you partake of his inbreathed Word. Read it in the morning, in the evening, and at every opportunity you get. After every meal, instead of indulging in unprofitable conversation around the table, read a chapter from the Word, and then have a season of prayer. I endeavour to make a point of doing this no matter where or with whom I am staying.

The psalmist said that he had hidden God’s Word in his heart so that he might not sin against Him (Ps. 119:11). You will find that the more of God’s Word you hide in your heart, the easier it is to live a holy life. He also testified that God’s Word had given him life (v. 50). As you receive God’s Word, your whole physical being will be given life, and you will be made strong. As you receive with meekness the Word (James 1:21), you will find faith springing up within. You will have life through the Word.

Thought for Today: I find nothing in the Bible but holiness, and nothing in the world but worldliness. Therefore, if I live in the world, I will become worldly; on the other hand, if I live in the Bible, I will become holy.

September 22, 2017

Basing Decision-Making on a Carnal Mind’s Senses

The title I used today — the author’s (below) was equally long — was the best way I could wrap my head around the insight from today’s writer. We’re paying a return visit to the blog of Justin Petrick Ministries. Click the title below to read at source.

What Does it Really Mean to Walk by Faith and Not by Sight?

What does it mean to “walk by faith and not by sight,” as instructed in 2 Corinthians 5:7? This is one of the main words of wisdom or instruction you hear one giving to another, when an individual doesn’t know what to do. But is the meaning of this verse really in the context of walking blindly as so commonly believed? No, it is not.

A more accurate translation of this verse is to walk by faith, and not by what is seen, or what appears to be.  It means to not be guided by this natural realm, or what you see and experience on this earth.  Specifically, it means to not make decisions based on a carnal mind, or by using your 5 senses.  There is a big difference in not allowing yourself to be guided by this earthly realm, and to walk blindly.

When we focus on the things of this world, we will desire this world and we will pursue what it has to offer. This relationship is discussed in Romans 7 when it speaks of carnality and the law of the mind.  It is natural for us to be guided by our carnal mind, or by what is seen.  On the other hand, God does not expect us to walk blindly in this world.  We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), we have access to the direction of the Holy Spirit who is intimately connected to us in this earthly realm that He guides our steps (Proverbs 16:9). God is so intimately connected to you that He desires to direct your steps.  To me, that is not walking blindly.  We can feel like were walking blindly when we are distracted from God’s presence, and we don’t hear His still small voice among the loud circumstances of everyday life.

But was does it mean to walk by faith? Just like God instructs us not to make decisions based on what we see, when we walk in faith, it is also speaking of our decision-making process. Let us look at the definition of faith in Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:1 (KJV): Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Most people believe faith is believing in what is not seen.  Although true, it is only half the definition in that they leave out the substance of hope.  Substance means something that you can tangibly see, or measure objectively. In other words, when one has faith, it can be observed. How can faith be observed?  It can be observed through making decisions with the confident expectation of God’s goodness.  This is how faith manifests in everyday life, when you make decisions with a confident expectation that God’s Word will do what it promises you. You will make decisions that are grounded in the peace and love of Christ. It is the opposite of making decisions based on fear, stress, anxiety, and worry, or through not believing God will do what He says in His Word.

Therefore, when we walk by faith and not by sight, it is meaning that we are living life making decisions with a confident expectation that God will do what He has promised in His Word.  We make decisions in life knowing that God is faithful, that we are loved, and that we are saved, healed, delivered prospered, protected, preserved, and made whole.  It means that we won’t make decisions based on fear, but in the security that God has everything under compete control.

So, do you walk by faith and not by sight?  Do you make decisions based on God’s faithfulness, or are decisions made with the motivation of fear and worry?

1 John 4:18 (KJV): There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

 

November 16, 2014

You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Sermon is About You

The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

 

Have you ever been in church and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation? It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Dan or Shirley or Marg or Jason, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Dan, Shirley, Marg or Jason a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there are a number of possibilities here, of which three are:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • perhaps the cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

Sometimes the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there.

…Now then, imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you. But weeks later your life is unchanged.

What would your excuse be?

October 21, 2014

Chewing on the Word

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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Jim ThornberFirst of all, it’s not a reference to Ezra eating the scrolls, but if you guessed that, give yourself five extra points!

Today’s reading is from Jim Thornber whose writing we have shared here several times. For four years, Jim was an Assemblies of God minister who was also a monk. Seriously! Check out his story here and here. To read this at source, click the title below.

Gnawing On God

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” —  Joshua 1:8

I like the word “meditation.” Although some Christians are truly scared to meditate – thinking it is something done by cultic Eastern religions while forgetting that Judaism and Christianity ARE Eastern religions! – Scripture is full of injunctions to meditate upon the Word and Law of God.

The word for “meditation” in this passage comes from the Hebrew haghah, meaning to murmur, to mutter, to sigh, to moan, to roar, to meditate, to muse, to speak, to whisper. The word also describes the low moaning sound of a dove (Isa. 38:14) or the “growl” of a lion (Isaiah 31:4). Eugene Peterson uses the analogy of a dog gnawing on a bone, getting everything it can out of it.

This got me wondering: what is my heart gnawing on? What causes me to moan and growl, to be so totally consumed with God that I’m unaware of any thing else? If people could listen to my thoughts, would they hear me murmuring and musing about God and His goodness? Would they hear me whispering to God the joy and wonder I sense in His ever-present love? Or, would people hear me doubting my place in His Church, struggling with my pride and my desires and wrestling to place my wants into the realms of His eternal agenda?  Depending on when a person tuned in, I know they’d hear a little bit of both.

I want my heart to murmur, sigh, growl, moan and utter the goodness and glory of God. I want to be lost in my consumption of God and unaware of anything but Him. But in reality, I spend too much time thinking about my self and my place, or perceived lack of a place, in the Kingdom. In say I want to consider Him but I end up thinking mostly of my self.

However, meditation is not thinking, which is where I go wrong. Meditation means I’m gnawing on the truths of God. It means I’m taking into my spirit the very nourishment that God knows I need in order to grow into a healthy man. Meditation is the simple act of putting my mind and spirit into the hand of God and allowing Him to take me where He needs me to be. Thinking, on the other hand, is me taking God where I think God and I need to be. See the difference?

I want to wrap my thoughts and prayers around God the way a lion wraps its paws around a piece of meat, savoring and tasting its life-giving goodness. I want to meditate upon God and reap all possible benefits from the encounter. I wonder if this is why the Psalmist encourages us to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8)? Could this be one of the reasons Jesus said we must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53)? How else could we take into our spirits the nourishment needed for the eternal journey?

Today I purpose to gnaw on the goodness and faithfulness of God. What about you? What’s on your plate?

 


Related: 4 Previous posts by Jim Thornber at Christianity 201.

May 18, 2014

The Word of God is Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:17 pm
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Ezekiel 2:1 He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious people; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”

Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.

Ezekiel 3:1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.

We begin our look at this most unique text with the Reformation Study Bible:

Moses had said that God would put His word into the mouths of the prophets (Deut. 18:18), and here that is seen in a graphic way. What food is to the body, so the word of God would be for Ezekiel’s ministry.

The Dictionary of Bible themes states that in some instances, a scroll may represent the word of God (as here) or in others, the revelation of God’s purposes (as Revelation).

Whether the words of lament mentioned here aligns fully with what we would call the canon of scripture, we know that the words came from God and are therefore equal to scripture. It’s hard to imagine Ezekiel’s reaction when being told to eat the scroll.

Today we see two very different extremes in our approach to God’s word, which exists in our time in the form we call the Bible. On the one hand, many of us have a rather casual relationship with the multiple copies of the scripture in our homes. Each year hundreds of Bibles are forgotten and end up in the lost and found box at churches. I have to confess, in the Christian bookstore where I spend some of my week, there are stacks of Bibles with the ones on the bottom lying on the floor, something that would be an abomination in some circles.

On the other hand, there is bibliolatry, where the Bible is elevated to a status it was never intended to hold. For evangelicals, the buck stops at “the word of God alone” (sola scriptura) but we should never reach the point where the phrase, “The Bible says…” supplants the phrase, “Jesus is Lord.” The Bible’s words should never overshadow the One to whom the words refer.

Nate Whitley writes:

The Lord spoke to Ezekiel to eat the scroll. But not only was Ezekiel to eat the scroll, he was to fill his belly with it. Ezekiel didn’t just fill his belly with the scroll, but he also tasted it (Ezekiel 3:1-3). The scroll tasted of honey. Ezekiel enjoyed what he ate. John ate the scroll as well, even though it tasted like honey it was bitter to his stomach (Revelation 10:10). Not everything that tastes good will make you feel good.

Ezekiel and John didn’t just eat part of the scroll. They ate the whole scroll. Partaking of the Word of God is not a buffet picking and choosing what you would like to eat and leaving the rest for others to fight over. You and I are to eat the whole book. From Genesis to Revelation. From creation to consummation. Precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little (Isaiah 28:10). The Christian is to fill their belly with the Word of God.

Perhaps why few read the Bible in its entirety is that their belly is already filled. They have acquired a taste for “other things” (Mark 4:19). They will sit and eat at the table of social media, sports, television and not have enough room in their belly to partake of divine delicacies.

Larry Thompson writes:

Eat And Speak

God told Ezekiel to eat the scroll, then go speak to Israel. The imagery here is that Ezekiel is to fill himself up with God’s word, his message, and then go tell it to Israel. So, he would hear and absorb God’s message (eat), then go preach this sad word to his people. Ezekiel obeyed and ate the scroll.

Even though the message was a sad one to hear, it was good to Ezekiel. He said it was sweet as honey to his mouth. How could that be? I had to deliver some sad messages this week, and none of them were sweet to me. But this message was God’s word, so it was sweet. God’s word should always be good to us, even when it convicts us of sin. Psalm 19:7-11 speaks of the sweetness of God’s word:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant, warned; in keeping them is great reward.

December 15, 2013

My Words Will Not Pass Away

heaven_and_earthJesus’ statement:

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Words shall not pass away.”

appears in all three synoptic gospels, in Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33.

Often at this point we will look at how different translations render a passage, but in this case the translation is uniform from the KJV all the way to (more or less) The Message. When the original text doesn’t afford any translation latitude, we can be sure the clarity of the text doesn’t leave room for any deviation from taking it at face value.

Matthew Henry writes:

The word of Christ is more sure and lasting than heaven and earth.

Hath he spoken? And shall he not do it? We may build with more assurance upon the word of Christ than we can upon the pillars of heaven, or the strong foundations of the earth; for, when they shall be made to tremble and totter, and shall be no more, the word of Christ shall remain, and be in full force, power, and virtue. See 1 Pet. 1:24, 25.

The reference in question is:

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall

It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than the word of Christ; so it is expressed, Luke 16:17.

It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest point of God’s law to be overturned. (NLT)

Compare Isa. 54:10.

“For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake,
But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you,
And My covenant of peace will not be shaken,”
Says the Lord who has compassion on you.

The accomplishment of these prophecies might seem to be delayed, and intervening events might seem to disagree with them, but do not think that therefore the word of Christ is fallen to the ground, for that shall never pass away: though it be not fulfilled, either in the time or in the way that we have prescribed; yet, in God’s time, which is the best time, and in God’s way, which is the best way, it shall certainly be fulfilled. Every word of Christ is very pure, and therefore very sure.

His commentary on the parallel passage in Mark is very short, but on the Luke passage there is this amplification:

Heaven and earth shall pass away sooner than any word of mine: nay, they certainly shall pass away, but my words shall not; whether they take hold or no, they will take effect, and not one of them fall to the ground,”

I love the line “whether they take hold or no, they will take effect.”

He concludes the Luke portion of the commentary with this verse from I Sam. 3:19:

The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.

When I thought of ‘none of his words falling to the ground,’ I couldn’t help but be reminded of this passage from Isaiah 55:11:

[S]o is my word that comes from my mouth;
        it does not return to me empty.
        Instead, it does what I want,
        and accomplishes what I intend. (CEB)

So when is God speaking? Is this a reference to the audible voice of God, as was heard at Jesus’ baptism? (“This is my Son in whom I well pleased.”) No, this is a reference to the Word of God spoken primarily, at the time this was written, by the prophets.

Acts 3:21 states:

…whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.

Today we have those words recorded in the collection of writings we call the Bible.

Does God speak similarly through prophets who are living today? The answer to that question depends on the doctrinal framework that you or your church holds to, and we’ll have to save that question for another day!

In the meantime, we know that the “my words” which “will not pass away” include the truth of Scripture.

(Unless indicated, passages cited are NIV.)

November 14, 2013

System Status Check

NLT – II Cor. 13:5 Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority.

The Message – II Cor. 13:5-9 Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it. I hope the test won’t show that we have failed. But if it comes to that, we’d rather the test showed our failure than yours. We’re rooting for the truth to win out in you. We couldn’t possibly do otherwise.

CEB – Jude 1:3 Dear friends, I wanted very much to write to you concerning the salvation we share. Instead, I must write to urge you to fight for the faith delivered once and for all to God’s holy people. Godless people have slipped in among you…

NASB – Jude 1:3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to thesaints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed…

Every once in awhile, I believe Christ-followers need to perform a system check. We need to run a diagnostic of all our closely-held doctrines. We need to test our faith against the Bible and against what the church has historically held as orthodox theology.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this stems from a study of one of the ‘marginal’ groups which is sometimes thought of as ‘Christian.’ While this group has a number of tenets that would easily identify them if I listed them here, the one that struck me as most disturbing was the idea of new light. Their head office is constantly releasing new documents which the faithful are required to study and learn. Shockingly, each new document potentially supersedes all that have come before it.

This creates a number of problems, not the least of which is: If you hold to their beliefs and then new light revises that teaching and you do not change as the teaching changes, you can be considered apostate for believing things that were perfectly acceptable just days before.

Another interesting point I heard was this: If a person did not have access to this group’s teachings and simply read their Bible, is there anything they would read in the Bible that would point them toward the same conclusions as this group? Of course the answer is a definite no. The Bible does not lead one toward such doctrinal positions.

Interestingly enough, all this happened a day after another conversation concerning another group which bases much of its teachings on prophetic words from its members. This is far less authoritarian, since anyone who is part of the group can issue forth words which become as binding as core doctrines; and it’s a more Charismatic-flavored version of the other, which is more formal.

But many of the spoken prophecies do not line up with scripture. So the person who told me about this group said he is constantly asking, “Where’s that in the Bible?” “Where’s that in the Bible?” “Where’s that in the Bible.”

The difference is that the first group bases their updates on revisions to their interpretation of the Bible, whereas the second group doesn’t even try to confirm prophetic words with scripture.

That’s why Paul in today’s opening verse, urges the Corinthians to check him out, to engage critical thinking, to verify his words against external standards.

We need to always be doing the same.

ESV- Matt. 22:37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (emphasis added)


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Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

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