Christianity 201

January 5, 2023

How to Read the Bible (and How Not To)

by Clarke Dixon

The commitment to read the Bible daily may not be the biggest challenge of The OneYear Bible reading challenge I have set before our church family. The bigger challenge may be in understanding what we are reading, especially since we will be reading all of it and not just our favourite verses. We may be surprised to find within the New Testament things like “slaves, obey your masters,” and “women must be silent in the church.” What we find in the Old Testament may be even more surprising.

As we read through the Bible, let us keep in mind what the Bible is and what it is not. It is not one book dropped into our laps, pre-written in heaven. It is a compilation of many writings, written by many people at different times under different circumstances, and using different genres of writing. It is “God-breathed,” but it is not God-dictated.

We do well to understand how the various writings that make up the Scriptures came about. I am going to borrow from N.T. Wright here who in the book, The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians points to three words to keep in mind as we read the Bible, these being, not surprisingly, history, literature, and theology. Things happened in history (history). People had beliefs about what happened and what it meant (theology). People wrote about both the history and what it meant (literature).

Keeping in mind history, theology, and literature will help keep us from “adventures in missing the point” to borrow an expression from a book by Tony Campolo and Brian McClaren We can miss the point of the Scriptures when we fail to think through the context of their writing. We miss the point when we treat every word of the Bible as the very words of God for all people and all time rather than thinking of the writings as recording the response of people to what God was doing in their specific time and place, which does of course speak to us about what is true for all people and all times. There is a subtle and important difference there.

Let me give one example of missing the point, or of how not to read the Bible. Here is a quote I came across sometime ago, though I don’t remember the original source:

Since we cannot be absolutely certain that God finds the use of musical instruments an appropriate form of worship, then it seems quite foolish to risk His wrath by adding something which He did not clearly authorize us to do during collective worship. Our only assurance of practicing acceptable Christian worship is to disregard man-made creeds and turn to God’s Word as our only authoritative guide to worship. Unless we pattern our worship after the first century church, we can have no assurance that God approves of our assemblies

Source unknown

This makes God out to be a bit of a bully. Such a theology builds upon treating the Bible far too literally, and far too seriously as a bunch of God-dictated rules rather than a collection of God-breathed responses. Such a stringent view of the Bible, and God, messes with peoples heads, making understanding and living out every word of the Bible, neither of which can actually be done, the main goal. If that is our goal, we have missed the point. The key moment in history where God showed up was in Jesus, who took the nails. Bullies don’t get nailed to a cross and then given the chance to get even, offer forgiveness instead. God is not the bully we make him out to be when we don’t read the Bible well.

What does an adventure in getting the point look like instead? Let us consider the writing of someone who spent time with Jesus:

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

1 John 1:1-4 (NLT)

Something, or better, someone happened in history; Jesus. John experienced that and it was life changing, challenging and changing what John thought about God. Based on John’s interaction with Jesus what did John come to believe?

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us… Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world… God is love…

1 John 4:9-12,14,15 (NLT)

In reading the Bible, let us watch for how people responded to God who moved in history. This is more difficult in the Old Testament which spans a lot of rather complicated history. However, in the New Testament, there is one unique person who enters into history, Jesus. Because of Jesus, people changed what they were thinking about God and people changed. Then they wrote about it and because of it. Through their writings we discover the one who changes us. Reading the Bible well can change the world.


Before they appear here, Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

January 3, 2023

Staying on Track: A Verse for the Year

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NLT.Ps.119.162 I rejoice in your word
    like one who discovers a great treasure.
163 I hate and abhor all falsehood,
    but I love your instructions.

CSB.Ps.40.8 I delight to do your will, my God, and your instruction is deep within me.”

NASB.Ps.32.8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

We regularly draw material from the devotional website of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, which features a different writer each day, and although it’s only been six months, we’re back again. The writer today is Lynne Phipps. Clicking the header which follows also gets you an audio version of today’s thoughts.

The Goal

Psalm 34:8Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (NIV)

When I was pastoring, at the end of the old year, God always gave me a Bible verse — or a thought that lined up with Scripture — that I could use to base my preaching on for the coming year. I would write out the verse or thought and then my goal would be to see if each Sunday’s message lined up with the year’s focus, according to what God had placed upon my mind and in my heart.

Since leaving the pastorate, I have discovered that every year, as the old one comes to an end, God still gives me a verse or thought for the new year. I always write it out and tape it to a windowsill in my kitchen where I have my baking and work station. This way, not a day goes by that I do not see and read it multiple times. Throughout the year, I am always amazed at how those words are exactly what I need to keep me on track with God’s will and ways as I struggle with issues, have decisions that I need to make, or am in need of encouragement.

The thought for 2022 came from a book that I was reading. As soon as I read those words, I knew immediately that they were to be my focus for this past year: Trust and know that the Lord is good.

Googling these words, the Scripture closest to them was today’s verse, where instead of “trust”, the word “taste” is found. To taste something if we have never tasted it before is always a bit of a risk. We may or may not like it. But the only way to find out is to take that risk. We usually do so, based on the experience of others whom we trust, who have already tasted and found it good.

Tasting and trusting God are similar. They involve risk. But the more that we choose to trust God by remembering previous experiences of trusting Him or by seeing the evidence of it in the lives of other Christians, the more that we are able to taste and know His goodness and His love, His presence and His wisdom, and all the other wondrous things that make Him Who He is. Tasting and trusting go together. The more that we trust God, the more that we partake of Him. The more that we partake of Him through Scripture, prayer, fellowship, and embracing the beauty of His revelation through nature, the more that we trust Him.

Once again, I plan to choose a verse for the coming year. How about you? As this new year unfolds, though I do not know what it shall bring, I do know that as I choose to trust God, the more that I will know Him, which is a goal that I believe is truly worth pursuing.

Prayer: Father, thank You that the more that we step out in faith to trust You, the more that we are able to taste or experience how awesome that You really are. Help us each to taste and know that You are good in each and every circumstance of our lives, that our trust in Your faithfulness may abound, no matter what may come our way. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.


NIV.Jeremiah.17.7-8 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

September 28, 2022

The Bible: Reading it and Writing It

NIV Deut:1118 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, 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.

NIV.Gal.6.11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

The picture above is of a scripture passage my oldest son chose to write out by hand eleven years ago and post on his bedroom wall.  It’s remarkable for two reasons, the first being that a few years before this his struggle with cursive writing would never have produced anything so legible, the second being the love that he has for the Word of God, evidenced by the time he spends in scripture each day.

Writing out Bible passages by hand has become somewhat archaic in a world of word processing.  But it’s just one of a number of subtle changes taking place in terms of our relationship with the printed word:

  • Many of us leave our Bibles at home on Sundays, finding it more convenient to use Bibles provided at weekend services
  • Many choose to use Bible apps on their smart phones instead of following from a print text
  • Many have their devotional and Bible study time driving to work using a an audio devotional downloaded, or a podcast
  • Scripture memorization has become less commonplace in our children’s and youth ministry programs
  • People like myself often ‘absorb’ scripture throughout the day through online articles and blogs but don’t directly read anything at source
  • Our worship music is ‘vertical’ which can derive from psalms and similar passages, but is therefore less reliant on the ‘Scripture in Song’ type of choruses that were based more directly on scripture
  • The giving out of tracts has died as a practice; many of these began with scripture and contained several Bible passages
  • The reading of Christian books has diminished in a screen-saturated world.
  • Scripture plaques, often seen in the living rooms and kitchens of homes have been deemed inadequate in a world of interior decorating and replaced by “inspirational” wall art with single word admonitions like “dream,” “believe,” “hope,” etc.
  • Where once people would add a scripture verse by hand to a greeting card, today — if we send cards at all — we purchase Christian cards with a verse already included

Combine all these, and the handwriting my son did might seem rather quaint. But I’ll bet that taking the time to do this means he knows this passage well.

Of course, more than writing scripture on the doorframes and gates of our houses, God desires for us to write his words on our heart. But how we do this if we don’t know the passages and precepts in the first place? God is revealed to us first and foremost in scripture; this is the primary revelation of God in our times.

So here’s the challenge.  Take a passage and write it out by hand today. Start with a short one, such as Titus 3: 3-8 or you might consider Colossians 1: 9-14 or the Galatians passage above, or a passage of your choosing.  (Those are just two of the first I did myself, so I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t done.) Today my recommendation would include Philippians 2:5-11.

In 2019, before leaving for a one week intensive course on the book of Galatians, I copied the entire book from N.T. Wright’s Kingdom New Testament (since it was he who was teaching the course.) That took much longer than I expected. I now have a better understanding of what the scribes did. Consider doing this one of the epistles, or even hand-copying one of the gospels.

And then, having copied them on to paper, allow the words to be written on your heart.

July 15, 2022

Psalms Speak to Various Seasons of Spiritual Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:20 pm
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Psalms 16:11
Bible Rank: 1,435
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. NIV


Earlier today, I had a sense that what we were supposed to do today is look at various verses from The Psalms that appear on TopVerses.com. Since these are all single verses, out of context, I had an internal struggle with this. “Surely,” I said to myself, “This amounts to ‘promise box theology.'”

That term refers to promise boxes, a box of small scripture cards kept at a bedside or breakfast table. You would reach inside and pull out a verse. These promises were instructive, or inspirational, or comforting. But they lacked the surrounding verses.

Nevertheless, I feel now that this is where we’re supposed to be today. The website Top Verses lets you choose the most sought-after books by theme or by book of the Bible. (We did this most recently here in 2021 with verses from the General Epistles of Paul.) Or you can simply choose to see the top verses irrespective of search filters.

The most popular Bible verses from Psalms

[Note: I have skipped a few –“The Lord is my shepherd,” and “Be still and know,” for example — so to make sure you’re getting it as it appeared, click the title in the previous line. You may also select two other translations other than the NIV used here. Also the list continues past the cutoff point here.]

Psalms 119:105
Bible Rank: 192
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Psalms 19:1
Bible Rank: 363
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Psalms 1:1
Bible Rank: 449
Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers

Psalms 139:13
Bible Rank: 501
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Psalms 37:4
Bible Rank: 637
Take delight in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalms 103:1
Bible Rank: 720
Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Psalms 46:1
Bible Rank: 820
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Psalms 139:1
Bible Rank: 837
You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.

Psalms 127:3
Bible Rank: 848
Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.

Psalms 19:7
Bible Rank: 882
The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

Psalms 14:1
Bible Rank: 922
Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.

Psalms 27:1
Bible Rank: 937
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?

Psalms 24:1
Bible Rank: 938
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.


…Got a favorite verse from Psalms that’s not here? Let us know in the comment section.


Second Helping: Take a moment to revisit our Top Verses search of the Minor Prophets from 2015.

July 4, 2022

The Case for a Literal Reading of Genesis 1

This is a topic which arises constantly, in fact I referred to it in conversation yesterday. This is our fourth time at Awakened to Grace, and the author of today’s piece is again Joy Bollinger. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared.

Were Adam & Eve Real People?

Adam and Eve’s existence has been argued since the beginning of time. A Gallup poll determined that only 24 percent of Americans believe the Bible to be the literal Word of God. The other 76 percent believe the Bible is a book of myths, legends, teachings, and that Adam and Eve were nothing more than an allegorical representation of humanity. However, there is enough proof throughout the Bible to legitimize the reality of Adam and Eve being the first parents of mankind.

We learn in Genesis 1:1-28 that after God spoke all things into existence, God said,

“Let Us (Son and Father) make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So, God created mankind in His own image; He created them male and female and blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” “And God saw everything that He had made and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Adam’s name means “man from the red earth” and Eve’s name means “living one and source of life.”

The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). The Lord God then caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and took one of Adam’s ribs, and made a woman, and brought her to the man. Then He gave them all authority over creation (Genesis 2:21-23).

God had lavishly provided for their every need, yet Satan, the great deceiver, would come to tempt and cause doubt to form within their hearts and minds. So it happened that Satan appeared to Eve with his trickery and convinced her that God was a withholder of good things. When Eve saw that the fruit of the forbidden tree was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it (Genesis 3:6).

Adam disobeyed God’s command to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, so he followed his wife’s lead, and together they yielded to temptation. Sin filled their hearts, bringing death and destruction to all mankind.

Satan continues to perpetuate that same deceptive lie, causing many people to believe that God withholds good things and that in serving Him, they are prevented from enjoying life. The truth is that those who fully surrender and commit their hearts and minds to the lordship of Jesus Christ, will experience peace, joy, and God’s provision that surpasses all understanding.

Job, a righteous man, referred to Adam when he made his case of innocence to his friends and said, “If I have covered my transgressions as Adam…” (Job 31:33). Adam tried and failed to cover his sin of disobedience when he said, “The woman You put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12-13).

Adam blamed God for giving him Eve; therefore, he reasoned that she was the cause for his rebellion and disobedience. He took no responsibility for his sin and failure in preventing them both from making that fatal choice.

We find a reference to Adam in Deuteronomy 32:8: “When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He [God] set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.”

The entire genealogy of Adam to Abraham and eventually to David can be found in Chronicles 1 and 2, beginning with Adam and his sons. Again, we see a reference to the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham, whose lineage came from Adam (Matthew 1:1).

A significant account regarding Adam and Eve is found in Paul’s letters to the Roman and Corinthian churches. Paul, who walked with Jesus and sat under His teaching, was educated in the eternal truths regarding Jesus and Adam. He fully understood Adam to have been just as real as Jesus. Had Adam never existed, then Paul’s entire case for the Gospel would have been pointless.

Paul details how sin and death entered the world through Adam and spread by inheritance to the entire human race. He presents Adam and Jesus as the two representative heads of humanity. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act (Jesus’ death and resurrection) resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one Man (Jesus Christ) the many will be made righteous” (Romans 18:21).

Jesus Christ came in the form of a man, yet fully God, to redeem and bring salvation to those who confess with their mouth that “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9).

The Apostle Paul strongly affirms, “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man (Adam) came death, by Man (Jesus) also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming (I Corinthians 15:20-23).

It is written that “The first man, Adam, became a living being—the last Adam, (Christ), a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second Man (Christ) is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly Man” (I Corinthians 15:45-49).

Those who discount the authenticity of Adam and Eve, dismiss the whole counsel of God and might as well toss out the entire Bible. For everything rests on the foundation of God’s creation of man and woman, because it was their sin and fall that required Jesus Christ coming to earth to bring restoration and redemption to a fallen world.

PRAYER: LORD, all scripture is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God and is valuable for doctrine, admonishment, correction, and instruction in righteousness, so that I may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Help me, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, to believe and accept in faith that Your God-breathed Word is true and accurate. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

June 21, 2022

Calming Words

Between 2012 and 2014, Stephen Altrogge appeared here four times. We decided to look at what he posted more recently at The Blazing Center and found this scripture medley from March of this year. Click the header below to read this where it first appeared.

22 Scriptures About Peace To Calm Your Soul

The world can be a really tough place sometimes. It seems like every day there is another difficult circumstance or trial can send us into a tailspin. It’s also easy to become overwhelmed by the news and all of the bad things happening in the world. But we don’t have to live in fear!

The Bible has many verses about peace that can help us find calm in the midst of chaos. In this blog post, we will explore some of those verses and learn how to apply them to our lives.

Bible Verses For Peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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. (Philippians 4:6-7)

The peace that God gives is supernatural. It transcends the difficult circumstances we are faced with and guards our hearts and minds. God doesn’t want us to be anxious about anything! Instead, we are to lift prayers to him in every situation and we will receive his peace.

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)

We can put our trust in God and not be afraid. He is our salvation and our strength! When we are feeling anxious or stressed, we can remember that the Lord is on our side. We don’t have to live in fear when we know that God is with us.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. (Isaiah 43:14)

This verse is a beautiful promise from God that he will never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us always, even when we are going through difficult times. We can take comfort in knowing that we are never alone.

Bible Verses For Anxiety and Worry

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

No matter what we are facing in this world, we can rest assured that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing we’re experiencing now and nothing that may come our way in the future. Nothing in the entire creation. Not even death itself can separate us from the love of God.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

This verse is a reminder that God will provide for us, even when it seems like everything is falling apart. He is a good father who knows our needs and wants to bless us abundantly. We can trust him to take care of us and meet our needs, no matter where we find ourselves.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:16)

In this verse, God promises that he will be with us even when life seems to be trying to drag us under like an angry river. He will be with us even when the flames of trials burn around us on every side.

Verses About Peace In Hard Times

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Isaiah 40:29)

God is the giver of strength! When we are feeling weary from life’s journey, he will give us the power to keep going. When we are weak, he will make us strong. When we have no strength, it forces us to rely on him, the only one who can give us strength.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3)

This is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible, and for good reason! It is a reminder that when we put our trust in God, he will take care of us, just as a shepherd cares for his sheep. We will lack nothing because he is our shepherd and he knows what we need. He will lead us to green pastures and quiet waters where we can rest and be refreshed.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:16)

If we want to have peace in our lives, we need to keep our minds focused on God. When our minds are stayed on him, we will be able to trust him and have perfect peace, even during a storm.

Comforting Bible Verses About Peace and Strength

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

Jesus himself left us with a gift of peace when he went back to heaven. His peace is different from the kind of peace the world offers. It is a lasting peace that can only come from him. When we have his peace in our hearts, we don’t need to be afraid or anxious about anything.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (I Peter 16)

This verse is a reminder that we can cast all our anxiety on God because he cares for us. We don’t need to try to carry the burden of our worries and fears by ourselves. We can give them to God and trust that he will handle our anxieties, even if we can’t understand how.

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us. (Isaiah 26:12)

This verse is a reminder that it is God who gives us peace and everything we have accomplished, we have only been able to do because of him. We can’t take credit for any of the good things in our lives, because they all come from him.

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. (Jeremiah 29:11)

This verse reminds us that no matter where we are in life, God has a plan for us. His plans are always good, even when we can’t see how they could possibly work out. He wants to prosper us and give us hope for the future.

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

This is an invitation from Jesus to come to him when we are feeling weary. He doesn’t want us to try to carry our burdens by ourselves. He wants to give us rest. We can find a peace in him that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:17)

Even when we are walking through the darkest times in our lives, God is still with us. He will comfort us and give us the strength to keep going. The only reason we can be free from fear is that we know God is walking alongside us in the dark.

Scriptures To Help You Trust God

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? (Psalm 27:14)

We don’t need to be afraid of anything because we have the Lord on our side. He is our light and salvation. He is the stronghold of our lives. There is nothing that can come against us that he can’t protect us from.

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. (Psalm 18:28)

No matter how dark our lives may seem, God can always turn it into light. He is the one who keeps our lamps burning. We can trust him to lead us out of the darkness and into his perfect light.

He will not let your foot slip–he who watches over you will not slumber; (Psalm 121:11)

We can trust God to watch over us and protect us. He is always awake and aware of what is going on in our lives. We can rest assured that he will never let us slip and fall. Even if it feels like we are slipping, God has a firm grip on us.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:14)

When we make God our dwelling place, we can find a peace and rest that can only come from him. He is our refuge and fortress, a shield that cannot be shaken or overpowered. We can trust him to keep us safe and protected from the evils of this world.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:17)

When we seek the Lord, he will answer us. He will deliver us from our fears and give us the peace that we need. The key is that we need to seek him. We can’t be passive when we experience fear. We must run to him.

God’s Word For Fear

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:12)

In the midst of our chaos, we need to remember that God is still on his throne. He is in control and everything is going according to his plan. We can find peace in knowing that he is sovereign and will be exalted in the end.

He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. (Isaiah 40:28)

God is never tired or weary. He knows everything and there is nothing that he doesn’t understand. We can find peace in knowing that we have a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing.

 

June 6, 2022

Name It and Claim It?

This is only our second (complete article) highlighting of Michael Battle and his site Rooted and Grounded in Christ. We’ve all heard of “name it and claim it” doctrine, but on what understanding of scripture is it based? He looks into that in this article from one month ago. Clicking the header below will let you read it where it first appeared.

Speaking Things Into Existence

There are many unbiblical doctrines that circulate among Christians, especially among American evangelicals. One of those is the claim that we have creative ability with the words of our mouth, thus we are to speak things into existence. Therefore, If we are struggling financially we speak prosperity into existence. If we are sick or have a disease we are to speak healing into existence.

This doctrine has become so prevalent that in some places public prayers are no longer heartfelt requests humbly petitioning God, but “preachy declarations” instead, because we must “declare and decree” and boldly speak them into existence.

How did we get here?

The speaking it into existence doctrine stems from teachings within the Word of Faith movement, which at one time (30 plus years ago) did have a more balanced approach to the teachings of scripture concerning the words that we speak.

The Bible has much to say about our speech, but never once does the Bible teach that we have creative power in our words as God does. The biblical emphasis concerning the importance of wholesome speech has to do with expressions of faith in God, edifying and encourage others, praise and thanksgiving towards God rather than murmuring and complaining, and wholesome speech which is becoming of godliness, purity and good sound doctrine.

Unfortunately, the importance of having wholesome speech has morphed into a belief that we have creative power and thus should speak into existence whatever it may be that we desire. Yet no one in scripture served God in this manner. If we can’t find an example in scripture of any servant of God who held to this practice, why would we think we could? And if we can plainly understand that God’s servants in the scriptures never practiced speaking things into existences, why would we think we could twist some of their writings to justify such practices?

The truth is, the idea of speaking things into existence appeals to our carnality, but wholesome speech which is becoming of godliness requires true spiritual growth and maturity, and therein lies the difference.

One very popular Word of Faith minister who has taught speaking things into existence, claimed that Psalm 119:72 speaks of “the law of the mouth.” He followed up by saying, “the Bible says the law of the mouth is better than silver and gold. Why? Cause that’s how we make it.”

Here is what Psalm 119:72 actually says: The law of THY mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.

This text is not referring to some spiritual law that we put into motion with our words. It is referring to God’s law that came from the mouth of God, and the Psalmist is declaring his desire for God’s law rather than the wealth and riches of this world. In fact, much of Psalm 119 is dedicated to praising God and glorifying his law. Psalm 119 begins by saying, Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. ~ v.1

Consider also these verses from Psalm 119:

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. ~ v.18

Remove from me the way of lying: and grant me thy law graciously. ~ v.29

Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. ~ v. 34

The proud have had me greatly in derision: yet have I not declined from thy law.~ v. 51

I have remembered thy name, O Lord, in the night, and have kept thy law. ~ v. 55

Verses 61, 70, 72, 77, 85, 92, 97, 109, 113,126, 136, 142, 150, 153, 163,165, and 174 all make reference to God’s law as Thy law”. Now consider verses 43-45:

And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments. So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.

Speaking God’s word (God’s law, precepts, commands, and instructions) was a practice encouraged in the Old Testament as an expression of love, dedication, and service towards God. It had absolutely nothing to do with speaking things into existence because of having “god-like” creative power.

In Psalm 119, the Psalmist prays, Remove from me the way of lying”. If the Psalmist had believed he had creative power in his words, why wouldn’t he have just removed the way of lying from himself?

And again, therein lies another problem with the speak it into existence doctrine. It plants the idea in the minds and hearts of people that they are somewhat self-sufficient with God-like creative abilities in their words. Yet the Psalmist declares “I am poor and needy” in his seeking after God (Ps 40:17; 70:5).

In the book of the Revelation Jesus rebukes the church of the Laodiceans for saying “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” Jesus then tells them that they do not know that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. ~ Revelation 3:17

If there were a “law of the mouth” by which we could create with our words as the minister mentioned above has suggested, what then was the problem with the Laodiceans claim to being rich, and why would Jesus give them such a rebuke?

And again, here lies another problem with the speaking it into existence doctrine. It deceives people into thinking they are spiritual when they are not. It deceives them from acknowledging their true spiritual condition before God. It leads them into a false sense of spirituality and gives futile ground to pride, but God hears the desire of the humble (Ps 10:17).

There is so much more I could write on this topic but this will suffice for now. The Bible does have much to say about the importance of our words, but never once does it teach us that we have creative power like God. This belief is not scriptural and is actually akin to sorcery and witchcraft.

February 16, 2022

When We’re Not Walking in Faith

One year ago we introduced you to the writing of Doreen Eager who lives in North Carolina. Her blog is Doreen Eager’s Blog   . In two recent blog posts, she spoke about times in her life when she was not walking in faith, or in God’s word, and the consequences. Click the headers which follow to read this at her site. Once there, other great content awaits you.

Resemblance of Faith

As a teenager I did not have a strong faith walk; the resemblance of my faith was scant. I knew from my Catechism classes that I was made in the image of God, He loved and resided in me through the Holy Spirit. This I knew to be true but outside of my confirmation classes I did not seek the Lord or His ways. If anything I was walking in the complete opposite direction of where He was leading me.

In high school I had a small group of friends that I would roam around with, mostly to drink and listen to rock music in our cars until the wee hours of the morning. I was not of drinking age and can affirm there is no reason to be drinking before the age of 21. This was what all the cool kids did and of course I desperately wanted to fit in. The friendships I had were shallow and they cared little about others or the consequences of their actions. Myself included. Had I been walking in faith and not in the flesh I would have realized this behavior only leads you down a cold and lonely road with no life giving purpose.

Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So, we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:6-10

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Romans 8:5-7

It took many years before I realized that I needed to turn my internal focus outward and upward. To the one who created me and everything around me. To be grateful for all that God provided and start listening to that still small voice telling me to put that drink down and pickup my bible.

Paul had to go through a conversion, after he persecuted those who followed Christ. Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and blinded him. This was done so in the end Saul could see the true the light of the world and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. See Acts 9.

I am forever grateful for God’s intervention in my life, which allowed me to dig into His word and know whose I am. This provided me with direction, to reach out to others who are hurting, to listen more, and lend a hand to those in need. Ultimately it gave me the identity that I was searching for through people in my life, who could not provide it to me. That identity can only be found in and through God.

“Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.” C.S. Lewis

As I grow closer to God, through His word and listening to the Holy Spirit, I find myself resembling Him more and more. I pray you do too!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22

Hibernation of Faith

Hibernate has two main definitions; (1) to pass the winter in a resting state or (2) to become inactive or dormant. When I think of the word hibernate, I always think of a bear hibernating for the winter. The second definition lends more toward a non-active state, like placing your computer in hibernation mode.

We can become neglectful in our faith walk and at times it can seem like we are hibernating in our faith. If you get into a routine of not spending time with God, rarely reading the word, or infrequently listening to a good sermon, you can feel it in your soul. I find myself having less patients with people or situations and I neglect serving others in the way Jesus taught me to. When we neglect our relationship with our gracious, redeeming, loving Father, we become inactive in our faith.

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:15-17

When my children where young and I was working full time, I was not in the word at all. I felt like a good Christian when I attended service on Sunday but the rest of the week my mind was far from God and so were my actions.

Looking back, I can see how the hibernation of my faith caused me to lack empathy or to be tolerant of another person’s behavior. Even the slightest things would throw me off; my husband didn’t pick up the kids toys before he went to work, or the dog needed to go out immediately after I walked in the door from work. These instances should not cause someone to get really upset but for me they did.

In my late 30s I finally did find a relationship with God through Joyce Meyer’s teachings and books. Since then, I have read countless books about God and how to build your relationship with Him alongside reading the bible. This has opened my eyes and showed me what I need to work on. It has brought me out of my hibernation of faith.

I am in no way perfect now; just today, while walking the dog, I had to pause and listen to the Spirit moving me to calm my thoughts and focus on His peace and not the dog pulling me to pick up a stick. I have learned how to stop and listen to the Holy Spirit speak to me when tensions run high.

Continue seeking God in each day, in each instance of your life, and you will work toward becoming more and more like Him. Coming out of hibernation, into His glorious light!

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matthew 6:33

February 12, 2022

Should You “Follow Your Heart?”

Today I discovered a short devotional which has a truth worth sharing, however the article didn’t specifically reference a scripture passage which is usually de reigeur for us, so let’s begin our thoughts with these verses.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. – John 16:13 NLT

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:15 NLT

Today’s thoughts are from James Young, who is being highlighted here for the first time. He writes at Keeper of the King’s Light. Click the link which follows to read this there.

Emotional Reaction ≠ God’s Will

 
Easily, one of the most over used and Hallmarked concepts is: “Follow your heart and it will never steer you wrong.” Disney has made an entire empire out of the idea of following your heart and dreams as your guiding stars. Such a mindset could not be further from the truth.
 
Our hearts are naturally deceptive and wicked. If we have a strong desire to sin and listen to our flesh, then our heart and dreams will always be to follow the path of things that are wicked I’m the sight of the Lord. A thief and a con-artist has no desire for charity or selfless giving. A liar has will never tell the truth in a court system. An individual who loves in fleshly desires will never stay pure and wait until marriage.
 
Well, what about the idea of “letting Jesus into your heart”? How can a heart be wicked if Jesus resides there?
 
Simple: the expression, like many others we pull from sources such as Benjamin Franklin, is not Biblical in origin. While may be used as a way to explain accepting Christ as your Saviour; the expression itself does not give the true meaning of coming to Christ justice. Believe me when I say I’m shocked to be typing this as much as you are reading this. This was a Sunday school question for years and until just a few minutes ago: I never questioned it. If you are interested in looking into it further; here is an article I found that is actually very compelling in explaining it further: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/salvation/is-asking-jesus-into-your-heart-in-the-bible.html
 
So, how do we discern what is the Holy Spirit and what is our own will and wanting? It sounds like a church answer, but it is so true: stick close to the scripture and be in complete openness to God when you pray. He already knows what you want and He wants you to talk to Him about it. When He answers; it will come in 3 ways: yes, no, not yet. Like a loving Father; God has our best interest in mind. He may not be after making millionaires out of us, but He wants us to live in such a way that honors Him.
 
The last website you were on? The last video you watched? The last song you sang? The last thought you had? Do any of them point to God or to yourself? When Christ left us to return to Heaven; He left in His place the Holy Spirit to guide us and to lead us. But how can The Spirit lead if our hearts are wicked and unyielding to God?
 
So, how do we know what’s right and in God’s will? Stay close to His word, stay in constant and open communication with Him, and learn to wait on Him. His timing is perfect in all His ways. As Jesus tells us, if the birds of the air don’t worry: why should we?
 


 
One of the earliest posts here at C201 very briefly looked at the 2 Timothy passage (above) with some imagery at the end of the verse describing walking along a path. Check out All Scripture Had Its Point of Origin in God’s Mind.

 

 

January 2, 2022

Doctrinal Humility

I have to confess I’ve not read John Stackhouse’s book Humble Apologetics, but I do resonate with the title. The publisher blurb in 2006 seemed to indicate that he was writing more about evangelistic, or conversion-focused discussions.

Stackhouse argues that the crucial experience of conversion cannot be compelled; all the apologist can do is lead another to the point where an actual encounter with Jesus can take place. Finally, he shows how displaying an attitude of humility, instead of merely trying to win religious arguments, will help believers offer their neighbors the gift of Christ’s love.

Sometimes the discussions we have are with fellow-Christians, a first-time confession of faith is not the focus, and the topics can become rather thorny.

Last week I stood in a light rain in a grocery store parking lot speaking with two people who had left their church when both the number and degree of differences became too much for them to bear. Much of it focused on a single issue, a second one contributed to it, and a third was mentioned in passing, though I know it’s high on their list of concerns.

The thing is, when it was all said and done, all I really took away from it was their cockiness; their arrogance. They were not at all impressed that the weight of church history is not on their side. Neither is the support of present-day churches in our community. You can only get to their position through misunderstanding the context of certain scriptural passages; through proof-texting; and through a belief that some poor translation work done in the past on key words outranks Biblical scholarship.

The Apostle Paul would be the first to admit that the waters are sometimes muddy. In the oft-quoted “Love Chapter” of his first letter to the church at Corinth he writes,

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.  (13:12 NLT)

Two chapters later, as he speaks of the resurrection of the church, he says something with great clarity, but it’s still, to him at least, part of the realm of what he calls mystery:

Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, (15:51 CSB)

At other times there is no doubt at all in his mind or the readers’ minds:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. (Phil. 3:13 NLT)

In other words, he hadn’t mastered this in his own life, but there was absolute conviction about the spiritual destination in front of him.

If the phrase “one thing I do” sounds familiar, it’s a lot like, “one thing I know,” the phrase uttered by the man born blind after receiving sight. Referring first to their charges against Jesus,

He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  (John 9:25 NASB)

It was, quite literally, black and white; and today we use the blind man’s confession as a model for the conversion experience

I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

This type of certainty stands in contrast to “seeing through a glass darkly” (KJV) or “seeing things imperfectly” (NLT, as above). But here’s a truth

We don’t have to know and understand everything to know and understand the things that count.

Paul writing to the Philippians said,

I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return]. (1:6 Amplified Bible)

Other translations use the word confident. Obviously, some things were not seen imperfectly to Paul. He could say some things with confidence.

There is a book by Peter Enns called The Sin of Certainty. Having followed Enns online for years and read several of his books, I have no doubt (ironic use of phrase here, don’t you think?) that he is certain when it comes to the deity of Christ and the fact of the resurrection.

Rather, the book was a response to what was a growing body of people who expressed their intransigence online; the type of people who will defend to the death some sacred pet doctrine on social media. Unintentionally — and I am being gracious here, perhaps it was intentional — they are modeling for new believers a stance where one must be absolutely certain of everything. That’s just not possible when you haven’t had time to work out your salvation and it forces people to simply parrot rote responses or take ownership of parts of a catechism not through life experiences, or Holy Spirit leading, but because of their ability to call up key words and phrases.

Eventually, this can lead to a spiritual arrogance. When reviewing Enns’ 2016 book, I wrote;

Peter Enns basically catalogs some of the various less-certain elements one might find in the sphere of Christianity, and rather than resolve all of these necessarily, creates a climate where the reader can say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s me! At last someone who gets it.’ Some of the book draws from his personal experiences of dealing with the doubt/certainty continuum, either internally or in his family or academic life.

There is however value in creeds. When we remind ourselves that Christ was

…conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.

and that

He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father almighty…

Those times, we are discussing the things that are non-negotiable and these are things which the body of Christ around the world should agree.

But what if your faith is in that creed and not in the one to whom the creed points?

A book similar to The Sin of Certainty released three years earlier. About that one I wrote,

With… Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker Books), Gregory Boyd presents the thesis that far too many Christians — at least in North America and western Europe — are committed to a set of spiritual propositions more than they are committed to Christ; and that in fact the thing they worship and place their faith in are these ‘certainties,’ far more than they worship and have their faith secured in “Christ, and Him crucified.”

…While the book clearly intends to shatter the idol of theological over-confidence, its equal purpose is to give some peace and comfort to people who, although they are long on the journey with Jesus, still don’t feel they have all the details of the contract worked out. He is writing to those of us who perhaps know people for whom all doctrinal and theological matters are settled once and for all…

What is the ultimate expression of God’s position and power? What words does he say? What doctrine does he clear up for all time?

Nothing. Just as the orchestra builds to a crescendo we get this:

John 13:3-5Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… … 12-14 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

Utter, absolute humility.

Six months before reading the Boyd book I wrote,

…each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change…

This devotional is messy because our attempts to do theology are often messy. There is a balance between the things on which we can place our trust — think of the hymn “Standing on the Promises” if that helps — and the things which we will never see with perfect clarity.

To the person in the parking lot last week, I would say, “You lack a humble apologetic, and that may be your spiritual downfall.”


“…it is a mark of imbecility of mind, rather than of strength; of folly, rather than of wisdom; for any one to dogmatize with an air of infallibility, or to assume the attitude of perfect intelligence on any one subject of human thought, without an intimate knowledge of the whole universe...”

– Alexander Campbell in The Christian System

 

 

 

December 29, 2021

Persons Claiming They Don’t Have Need for Bible Teaching

This is our fifth full-length post from Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch and it’s only the first part of a longer article. You’ll need to click through to continue reading some of the reactions he had when he posted this. It’s a very timely topic right now, especially as people have used Covid-19 as an excuse to sever themselves from local churches. Click the header which follows.

Difficult Bible Passages: 1 John 2:27

This is another passage that is so often abused and misused. That is the main reason it can be so difficult or problematic. A subtitle to this article might be: “This Is How Cults Arise”. That is because those who mangle this verse are prime candidates for the cults or may well already be in one.

The verse says this:

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

This verse, and John 14:16-17, 26 and John 16:13, are so often wrongly appropriated by some believers. The texts in John’s gospel are a bit different: they refer to the fact that Jesus will soon be leaving his disciples, and he wants to assure them that he is not abandoning them, but he is leaving the Holy Spirit with them to assist and guide them.

These verses are often used by those who claim that they have no need of “human” anything: human learning, human teaching, human counsel, human books, human study, etc. They imply that they have a direct pipeline to God, so are totally self-sufficient in and of themselves. They have no need of anyone else.

I just wrote about these “Holy Spirit-only” believers. At the end of the day what we have are not super-spiritual believers, but usually arrogant and fleshly Christians: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/01/26/holy-spirit-only-christians/

In a moment I will give a concrete example of this sort of twisted thinking. But first, how might we answer this? It is quite easy actually. If we simply run with the two most basic rules of biblical interpretation, we will have no problems here at all:
1) study every text in its context
2) compare scripture with scripture

As to the first, the context shows that John is dealing with some heretical, Gnostic, and/or secessionist teachers who were claiming special spiritual insights and revelations. It is THOSE sorts of false teachers that these Christians have no need of, and need to avoid.

Concerning the second, it is clear from numerous biblical passages that we DO need teachers, counsellors, advisors, overseers, etc. – all of them “mere” humans. The New Testament everywhere speaks of how God has given teachers and others to the Body of Christ to help it grow and develop.

Simply based on all these other texts, there is absolutely NO way anyone could believe that John is saying we should not have teachers. Indeed, the letters of John are ALL ABOUT teaching, instruction and helpful information to believers. Throughout the New Testament human teaching – properly understood – is NOT being downplayed, but extolled and encouraged.

I realize that these hyper-spiritual types especially dislike things like biblical commentaries, but let me quote from just a few of them anyway. While they may despise and look down upon these godly biblical teachers, I am happy to run with their Spirit-directed wisdom and insights.

One of these great Spirit-endowed men of God was John Stott. He said this about the passage in his commentary:

True, in the last resort the Holy Spirit is our absolutely adequate Teacher, and we maintain our right of private judgment by His illumination of the Word of God. But we must see this verse in the context of an Epistle in which John is, in fact, teaching those who, he says, have no need of human teachers! And other passages of the New Testament refer not only to the general ministry of teaching in the Church (e.g. Acts 4:18, 5:28, 42; 2 Tim. 2:24) but also to specially gifted ‘teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:29; Eph 4:11).

Obviously John’s epistles are full of teaching and instruction. As James Montgomery Boice puts it:

When John says that the Christians of his day “do not need anyone to teach” them, the statement must be understood in its context. It does not mean, for instance, that there is no value at all in teaching or that there is no such thing as a teaching ministry in the church. In fact, as Bruce observes, “What is John himself doing in this letter if he is not ‘teaching’ his readers?

Or as Marianne Meye Thompson comments:

While ultimately the Spirit “will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26), the Spirit does so through human beings. Thus, when the Elder writes you do not need anyone to teach you, he does not mean that they have never needed any teachers—for he himself was and continues to be their teacher! But they do not now suddenly need new teaching about Jesus, such as the secessionists are offering.

Let me now turn to some recent remarks that came my way on all this…

[…continue reading here]

November 24, 2021

How Did They Miss That Sermon Reference?

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.

With the pandemic, it’s been awhile since some readers here have been physically present in a worship service, but for a moment, imagine you there 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 Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, imagine that mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin 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 could be a number of possibilities here, of which four 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
  • 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.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

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 however, the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there. 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. That would be a bigger nightmare.

What would your excuse be?


Want to further wrestle with the issue of how we see ourselves vs. how we really are? Consider the book by Brant Hansen, The Truth About Us. Here’s a link to a review of the book.

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.

May 18, 2021

Watch Out for Misplaced Bible Verses!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15 NIV

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. – Acts 17:11 NLT

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness – 2 Tim. 3:16 ESV

A year ago we introduced you to Lily Pierce and her blog Retrospective Lily and mentioned that she is a great writer despite a physical challenge. This time around she shares a warning about people who quote scripture verses in contexts which would horrify the original writers, and adds a principle that I heard growing up, namely that you need to look for other passages which corroborate the one in question.

Click the line which follows to link to this at her site.

The Bible Can Justify Anything, So Weigh Scripture Against Scripture

You read that title right! So, how can we discern the heart and will of God–if His Word can be twisted to fit any narrative? Well, I won’t pretend for a moment to have all the answers–as if all the answers could be had. But looking at scripture as a whole is a good suggestion.

People have gotten upset in the past when I’ve spoken against fixating on one tree within a whole forest. I think some Christians are so wary of “progressivism” that their blasphemy radar is waaay too sensitive. Viewing scripture holistically is the only sensible way to approach the Bible. The alternative is pulling verses out of context and building a doctrine out of them.

In the book Oliver Twist, the orphanage director, who serves as the parish beadle, is a mean, selfish man. When he meets nine-year-old Oliver, he gives him a cold, stern lecture (because why be kind to a CHILD WHO IS ALONE IN THE WORLD, right?) and quotes 1 Cor 13:11: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Hey, man, ever read the one where Jesus says that we should become humble like children? Or the one where Jesus insists His disciples let the children come to Him? Guess not.

This fictional example reflects the contradictions that lie within so many Christians who are condescending, rude, and unempathetic–in the name of Jesus. Pride and righteous indignation reign even more supremely than God in many of our hearts. Have we forgotten that Jesus said the first would be last? Or how Paul wrote that none of us have cause to boast because we are only saved by faith, not our own works? Or, like, the other countless ways we are told in the Bible that arrogance is condemned? I think the man who went out to eat after church that’s screaming at a waitress because the chef messed up his order missed the memo. The town gossip who happens to hold several “power positions” on church committees just doesn’t get it. [SN: I’ve literally heard the term “power positions” used in reference to church committees. Hmm…ever heard of “servant leadership?”]

In a totally different instance, I once wrote a post in which I said that followers of Jesus should be active in helping their neighbors. A reader pointed out the sentence fragment of 1 Thess 4:11 (and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you) as a way to negate what I’d said. I replied that, perhaps in that particular scenario, the Thessalonians–Christians in Greece–needed to keep a low profile to avoid persecution (confirmed by a Google search). But it’s clear when one reads the entire New Testament that we are called to really love our neighbors, and biblical love is an action verb. We must take up our crosses and follow Jesus, being His hands, feet, and face in the world, because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

The Bible has been used to justify so many things–slavery, bigotry, political agendas, etc. I don’t want to delve into it all because ain’t nobody got time for that here; countless others have written articles, essays, and even whole books on these subjects. And people disagree.

But here’s the point: weigh scripture against scripture. And always stay humble enough to learn and take direction from the Spirit.

Have you ever seen a Bible verse taken out of context?  Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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