Christianity 201

June 6, 2017

Seek Wisdom, Understanding, Insight

“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5

Let’s bullet point the first part of the verse:

  • making your ear attentive to wisdom
  • inclining your heart to understanding
  • calling out for insight

The two payoffs are in the last part of the verse:

  • you will understand the fear of the Lord
  • find the knowledge of God.

How would you evaluate yourself in terms of these two criteria?

As you can imagine, on some days I read several devotions before selecting one to include here. This week I was reading a longer piece by a woman who moved from being a former Mormon to Evangelical Christianity. She described her Bible study method. You can click this link to see this section with illustrations (it makes more sense if you can see her examples):

  1. Write down the date at the top of the page. Simple step, but it will help you see what days you studied (or didn’t) and how your understanding progresses over the coming weeks and months.
  2. Write the chapter(s) you’re in and/or the topic you’re focusing on.  If you haven’t been reading regularly and need help getting started, there are reading plans on www.biblehub.com.  I highly recommend the fantastic app Read Scripture www.readscripture.org put out by Francis Chan and The Bible Project.  It has given me a hunger for the scriptures that I never had before using it.  I must note here that its important to be flexible.  Don’t be totally stuck on chronological reading.  I read chronologically sometimes and other times I feel like there’s a specific topic I want to study.  Sometimes I have no impression at all and those are the best times because then God tells me what to study.  Which brings me to the next step…
  3. Pray before you begin your study.  A week ago, I was feeling so scattered and had no idea what to read.  I had been in the Old Testament in the Read Scripture app but didn’t feel like that’s where I was supposed to study that day.  I prayed a heartfelt prayer and asked God to calm my mind and show me what He wanted me to focus on.  Almost instantly, he answered by putting five distinct topics in my mind.  I wrote them in my notebook with blank lines underneath.  I felt like each one of these topics deserved a dedicated study so each day this week I have spent searching for references containing these topics.  Sometimes I do a simple word search inside one of the bible apps I use, other times I Google a phrase and find entire pages full of references dealing with that topic. I write down the ones that seem to stand out to me and once I have them all jotted down I read and ponder them.  Sometimes, I’ll feel like one of the references deserves another day of dedicated study so I’ll write it down on a the next blank page in my notebook.  By doing this God has already started to outline my future study sessions for me.
  4. Write down “random” thoughts, phrases and cross references you come across as you’re reading.  They’re not random at all.  Once you write it down you can keep going and not worry you’ll forget about it later.   God will reveal many side topics that are related to the one you’re focused on.  I find it important to follow a chapter or set of verses through or I would be constantly distracted by all the ideas coming in my mind.  Once I started jotting thoughts down and moving along I have felt amazed that I never run out of topics to study.  Here’s an example of some thoughts I had when skimming through Romans 12 that I plan to study in depth once I’m done finding scriptures related to the five topics God gave me.  I felt impressed to write out the entire verse and as I did, I noticed a few key words that might be important to study so I underlined them. A few questions came to mind so I jotted them down.  Normally I would’ve wanted to go research those questions right away which would’ve totally gotten me off track.  There’s nothing wrong with being all over the place in the Bible, because the fact you’re reading is great, but having a game plan will help your study connect to your spirit and will improve your relationship with God.  May sound simple for some of you but for someone with a busy mind, it is a game changer.

But then I was really struck by her section on “Deliberation.”

Deliberation is defined as “long and careful consideration”.  I would add “prayerful”.  The most important thing here is to be prayerful and to talk with God about what you’re studying, to listen to how He wants you to understand it and what meaning it has for your current situation.  Without deliberation, we are only reading to be reading, not to gain understanding.  Keep going back to what you write down and see what else God wants you to notice about what you’ve been studying.  The five topics God gave me last week are very specific to me personally and to what’s been on my mind.  A couple of them I recognized right away as answers to my prayer asking Him what I was lacking.  He hasn’t revealed yet how the other topics relate but as I keep going deeper into them I am positive I will understand what He’s teaching me.

In so many ways, this deliberate study is growing my relationship with my Father.  I am learning to hear Him better, I am learning to trust Him more as he shows me He is very aware of my specific needs, and I am finding greater joy in His word.  These are all things I had prayed for numerous times.  The answer to all of them was to spend more time in study and prayer.

Although it’s not on the same level as our opening scripture, let’s unpack the payoffs listed in the above paragraph:

  • I am learning to hear Him better,
  • I am learning to trust Him more
  • He shows me He is very aware of my specific needs
  • I am finding greater joy in His word.

How would you evaluate yourself by these four criteria?

 

 

 

 

July 25, 2016

The Watches of the Night

My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.
 – Psalm 119:148

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
– Psalm 63:6

I will bless the LORD who has counseled me; Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.
 – Psalm 16:7

Tremble, and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
– Psalm 4:4

Sunday morning at one of the two churches in which I am involved we continued in a series about the rhythms (practices) of the Christian life. The subject this week was meditation. The website AllAboutGod.com tells us that,

In the Old Testament there are two primary Hebrew words for meditation: Haga, which means to utter, groan, meditate, or ponder; and Sihach, which means to muse, rehearse in one’s mind, or contemplate. These words can also be translated as dwell, diligently consider, and heed.

I was surprised that much of the sermon looked at the opposite — if that’s the right word — of meditating on God’s Word, and that is worry and anxiety. There was an interesting quotation from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life:

Surprisingly, if you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate on the Word of God. Worry is when you take a negative thought and you think on it over and over and over. When you take a passage of Scripture and you think on it over and over and over, that’s called meditation.  (emphasis added)

I hadn’t considered that, but it’s true. We can obsess over various family and health and economic concerns, so we already know, so to speak, how to obsess on God’s Word, God’s character, God’s creation.

Of course, some people suffer greatly from panic attacks. Sometimes anxiety issues run in families. I was glad to hear this discussed also. Too often mental health issues are not mentioned at church.

And then there were the scriptures about “the watches of the night.” It was suggested that the Psalmist had trouble sleeping. (I wondered if perhaps he simply needed to relieve himself several times in the night. Various things can wake us up. Then we have trouble getting back into sleep.) In the scriptures above, these times are used as opportunities to meditate on God’s word, and hear from Him. It may also be a time we are most receptive and free from distractions.

I’ve mentioned here that I sometimes breathe Psalm 100 and the Lord’s Prayer as a way of taking some calming, deep breaths and getting back to sleep.

Unfortunately a number of practices of the Christian Church have been co-opted by other groups. (When is the last time two people walked up your driveway and they were Baptists, not Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses?) It’s the same with the terminology around meditation. It’s seen as a New Age practice. The word is currently guilty-by-assocation. But the principle is clear in scripture.

Rick Warren continues:

No other habit can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflection on Scripture…If you look up all the times God speaks about meditation in the Bible, you will amazed at the benefits He has promised to those who take the time to reflect on His Word throughout the day. (PDL p. 190)

We’ve previously written about the decline in scripture memory, and how this can be seen as a barometer of the spiritual health of the church. This is part of the challenge we currently face. You can’t meditate on what is not already in your mind and heart.

But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night.
 – Psalm 1:2*

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


I know the author of “God Leads His Dear Children Along” was talking about the “night season” of life we pass through, but I couldn’t help but think about this song as I considered the watches of the night:

Some through the waters, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
In the night season and all the day long.


All scriptures NIV except * NLT

January 2, 2016

Give Attention to Reading

 
1 Timothy 4:13
 
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (ESV)
 
Until I get there, concentrate on reading Scripture in worship, giving encouraging messages, and teaching people. (GW)
 
Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. (NLT)
 
Till I come, give heed to the reading, to the exhortation, to the teaching; (YLT) BIble

I didn’t know where this verse would take me today, but it led me to a longer excerpt from the IVP Bible Commentary, as found at BibleGateway.com that discusses the apparent differences between preaching and teaching.

First however is the matter of reading. In context, the idea of public reading of scripture fits, but wasn’t part of the KJV text used for many centuries. Clearly, to be able to exhort and to teach, one would need to begin with a personal study of scripture, but we also need to look at this in the light of the eliminating of the public scripture reading in many modern churches. Yes, I know that now we have the scripture texts on a giant screen for closer inspection, and don’t even ask my opinion about the ping-pong style of what were called responsive readings. Still, I think this is an area where the modern Evangelical church loses out to the liturgical churches, with their inclusion of an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a Gospel reading, an Epistle, or some combination of those.

My original intention here was simply to focus on the importance of personal reading as we start a new year. (Admittedly, the verse was a bit of a proof-text when I first selected it.) But then my study took me into so many other areas. Here is the aforementioned commentary:

First, he urges consistent practice of the public reading of Scripture (v. 13). This is by no means an innovation; it was already part of Christian worship, having been adopted naturally from Jewish synagogue worship (Lk 4:16; Acts 15:21; 2 Cor 3:14). Its import lies in the way it centers attention on God, who, communicating with his people, initiates and sustains a covenant relationship. Practically, the reading of the lesson also prepares the people for the exposition and application of Scripture.
Then the writer goes on however to deal with the other two elements of the verse, and there was so much good here I could not leave it aside:

[P]roper Christian worship will include preaching. The term used here could mean exhortation, encouragement, comfort or an appeal, and it is linked to the Scriptures in Romans 15:4 and Hebrews 12:5. Romans 12:8 reveals that preaching is a Spirit-directed activity (that is, a charisma) of communicating God’s message to the people (compare 1 Cor 12:8). The starting point is the conviction that Scripture is always relevant to God’s people (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Teaching is the third activity to be consistently practiced in the worship assembly. As with preaching, a special gift is associated with this activity (Rom 12:7).

But how do these two activities differ? Passages such as this one and 1 Timothy 5:17 and Romans 12:7-8 (see also 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11) seem to make a distinction between preaching and teaching, though the Greek terms may vary. But the precise distinction is difficult to pin down. The term used here for preaching (paraklesis) refers to appeals made to believers (Rom 15:4; Heb 13:22) and unbelievers (see 2 Cor 5:20). Teaching, however, is usually linked to the church. Knight may be correct to see the distinction in terms of purpose, preaching being the call to respond to God’s Word (which would fit an audience of believers or unbelievers), teaching being the more intellectually oriented communication of Scripture’s principles (1992:208).

It may be also that the two activities differed in style and tone of delivery. But distinctions based on content (for example, limiting teaching to Christian ethics and preaching to theology) do not seem to be in mind (see Tit 2:10-14). Yet often the two activities must have overlapped considerably: it is hard to imagine teaching without leading the people to response, or preaching without providing a reasoned exposition of a text’s principles. Nevertheless, as long as we make room for overlap and avoid distinctions that are too rigid, it seems safe to think of preaching and teaching as two applications of God’s Word in the church: (1) the call to response, whether that entails confession, receiving God’s encouragement or appropriating his promise, and (2) the building of a solid foundation for living through the systematic teaching of biblical principles that coherently and practically express God’s will.

Certainly a worship service includes a good deal more than these three activities, especially elements that are response-oriented: prayer, the singing of hymns, testimony and practical ministering of one to another, observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul was here correcting tendencies introduced by the enthusiasts, and he focuses on the primary tasks of the minister. God’s Word, through its reading, preaching and teaching, initiates and sustains spiritual life, and its place in Christian worship is central. Without it there can be no effective ministry.


May 3, 2014

A Devotional Life

Colossians 3:16

  • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… (ESV)
  • Let the Word of the Messiah, in all its richness, live in you…  (CEB)
  • Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts…  (GNT)
  • Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts…  (Phillips)
  • Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives… (NLT)

The proliferation of online resources makes it possible for the average person, sitting at home at their computer, to do things that just a few years ago were only possible in the reference library of a large Bible college, seminary or theological school; with the result that we now have people writing blogs who are self-proclaimed “Bible nerds.”

I don’t for a minute think there’s anything “nerdy” about wanting to did deep into the richness of scripture, though at times I have to ask myself if I’m doing this because I enjoy doing it, or due to a genuine hunger and thirst for more of Christ.

NIV Deut.6:6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

I especially love the line sometimes translated, “talk about these things as you walk along the way;”as that is exactly what we see the resurrected Jesus doing on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24: 13-35.

God’s word is given with the intention that it be central in our lives. Today we sometimes substitute Christian radio and Christian music and Christian internet for the scriptures. Don’t get me wrong, if that radio station is teaching the Bible, if that song is based on Biblical themes, and if that internet content includes blogs and podcasts which are rooted in the exploration and exposition of applying the Bible’s standard to life in a modern world; that’s good and even honorable. But if that’s not the case, then we’re filling up on empty spiritual calories.

The words of Deuteronomy 6 are repeated, just pages later in Deuteronomy 11:

18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates…

with the same emphases that we underlined in the first passage.  But then, the promise of verse 21 appears and other promises in the verses that follow:

21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

22 If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him— 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. 24 Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea. 25 No one will be able to stand against you. The Lord your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go.

26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.

God promises good things to those who allow his words to indwell them. It is how we learn the ways of God and the character of Christ.  Will you sign up to be a Bible nerd?

Homework: In the Deut. 6 passage, verses 7 and 9 are fairly straightforward, but what would be the contemporary application of verse 8?


C201 is always looking for both submissions and suggestions for sources of material. Use the submissions page in the margin.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE! Today’s devotional was prepared with Bible Hub and Bible Gateway.

September 12, 2013

A Time for Purging

And no, this isn’t an article about eating disorders.

Some of the items here follow an unusual route to get here. Today’s post came to our attention when WordPress automatically generated a link back to us. So we back-tracked the trackback, and discovered a brand new blog, consisting of only one post. Normally, we’d wait a while and look at the tenor and content of the blog over time, but this time we decided to encourage a new blogger at the start of his journey. (Even if he threw us for a loop by including a Bible quotation marked LAM, which we assume refers to the Lamsa Bible.) Doug Wildman’s inaugural post was titled Mind Purge. (Click through to read at source, and for illustrations.)

“The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so. Joshua 5:15 [NIVUK]

During the conquest of Canaan, God told Joshua to leave no survivors. While this offends our modern sensibilities, it was the way God chose to create a territory that was distinct in it’s commitment to Him. God is unwilling to share devotion with any other so-called god. But before Joshua could claim the Promised Land, he had to face one last obstacle; the Jordan River. Imagine if you were one of those children born in the desert raised with the expectation that your generation would experience the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy; the claiming of a homeland. At the climax of the journey sits an immovable river blocking the path to the land flowing with milk and honey. Can you imagine the excitement mingled with fear as you witness God stopping the flow of the mighty Jordan to let you and your people to pass through. Extraordinary.

If you are a disciple of Christ, you too are called to the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is not some distant ideal, it is within you (Luke 17:21) even now, but is not of this world (John 18:36). So, even though the days of fighting physical battles has ended, we are still engaged in a spiritual battle for holiness. Our minds are the holy territory that we must defend. Our “conflict is not only with flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12 LAM), but against malevolent spiritual forces which are not happy about the way that God miraculously allowed us to enter into the Kingdom of God. As it says in Joshua 5:1, When the rulers heard about it, “their hearts sank; the courage drained out of them”. (MSG) Make no mistake about it, you have crossed over into the Kingdom if you have given Christ the authority over your life. Notice though where the battle takes place, “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.” So our spiritual Jericho is whatever appears to be an impenetrable reasoning against the will of God. Just remember what God did to Jericho. That stronghold came down not by human effort, but by the power of God himself! “Casting down imaginations, and every false thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and to capture every thought to the obedience of Christ”  (2 Corinthians 10:5 LAM). This is a scorched earth policy. Your mind belongs to the One True God.

The spiritual battle is not to establish yourself in the Kingdom of Christ. God has already allowed you to enter in. The battle is in the mind for holiness, because God’s mark is upon you. Give your full attention to God throughout the day. I like the way the Message put this, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:2) Good advice. How do we fix our attention on God? One way is to have his Word in our hearts. This is only be possible if we read God’s Word. Another thing is to practice the presence of God through an ongoing dialogue with Him. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you about the things you are experiencing. So many of us mindlessly go from one activity to another without any thought of God at all, and then we wonder why God seems so far away. We need to find ways to ensure that we don’t allow any spiritual forts to remain standing in the territory that God has claimed as His own.

October 16, 2012

When Bible Verses are Coupled

I have to confess that I’ve always read this verse:

1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

In the light of this verse:

Luke 12:11-12
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

But then on the weekend I was reading the former verse and realized I was reading it as “always be ready,” when in fact it is saying, “always be prepared.” These verses may find themselves coupled into the same sermon — and rightly so — but they are dealing with two very different things.

Being prepared requires preparation.

As someone who has spent the majority of his time in an Evangelical environment, I know that sometimes we tend to “wing it.” Some Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics even abhor the idea of printed prayers or scripted sermons.

Make no mistake, there is a time for that. The second passage indicates that when you are suddenly thrust into the spotlight; when you suddenly find yourself defending your faith; in those times you have to lean on the Holy Spirit for supernatural help.

This happens to me in my particular ministry. People arrive without warning and I am suddenly in the middle of a conversation that I had no forewarning about even thirty seconds previous. At those times I have to breathe a quick, silent prayer, “Holy Spirit help me.”

Actually that’s the short version. The long version is, “Holy Spirit help me to say only what you want said, and not to say anything that is of me. Help me not to get in the way and screw things up!”

But even those situations are grounded in preparation that has taken place before. It involves study, for sure; but that study will be motivated by a passion for the subject matter at hand; a passion for the unknown, potential person with whom you might share any given insight.

That passion is often missing among Christ-followers. In our town, we’re currently having a series of five “discussions” with the atheist and agnostic community. Several of them have come, and there are many people there from the organizing committee and what you might call the host church (even though they’re using a public space). But there are entire churches not represented at all; and without being too judgmental, it disturbs me that there isn’t one person in those churches who would turn up out of passion for apologetics.

I can’t finish unpacking the I Peter passage however without underlining that it says, “do this with gentleness and respect.” I think of some of the people who gain much U.S. media attention who have missed this whole aspect of witness. You have to display a loving kindness and a respect toward the people you want to reach. It’s not about winning an argument, and even if it were, nobody wins a debate based on the volume of their words.

In this case, it’s more about the gentleness of their spirit.

~PW