Christianity 201

January 25, 2023

The Second Thing You Should Read Today

…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. – Acts 17:11b NIV

Today’s reading here hits absolutely all of us where we live, because it’s related to what we’re doing at this exact moment!

…This would have been the 12th time we posted something from Gary Henry at the blog WordPoints. Well, actually, it is the 12th time, but it’s not from his devotionals. Rather, something caught my eye on his site, a special article with the title below, and I knew I should share it here.

Daily Devotional Books

Setting aside some “devotional time” each day is a practice that many, if not most, Christians prioritize. During that time, whether short or long, various activities may be engaged in. These are intended to foster greater “devotion” to God: prayer, study of the Scriptures, singing of hymns, devotional meditation, etc.

But many Christians also read a selection from a “daily devotional book.” These books contain short readings on topics of spiritual significance. Hugely popular, devotional books are a major sector in the religious book market. Many people purchase one or more new ones each year and read them as part of their daily devotional time.

Unfortunately, many of the best-selling devotionals are popular not because they produce greater devotion to God but because they give the reader a sugary “high.” They aim to make the reader feel better, but they do little to stimulate significant spiritual growth.

In an article analyzing the popularity of devotional books, author Jen Wilkin noted that most of these are based on a two-fold premise concerning “daily devotion”: (1) it involves being inspired, and (2) it involves being comforted. But while devotion to God is a biblical concept, there is more to it than feeling better emotionally. Read the following words by Wilkin several of times and give them a chance to adjust your thinking:

Are the words of devotional books profitable? Some, but not all. Emotion is certainly an expression of devotion but is not its sum total. Biblical words of comfort are profitable, but so are words of correction. Both are words of life. If devotional reading is our primary vehicle for formation, we run the risk of malformation and — worse still — of forming God himself into an idol, one who comforts without correcting, seeks relationship but not repentance, dotes but does not discipline, and is our companion but not our commander (Christianity Today, October 2020).

So identifying a good devotional book requires that we first understand what devotion means. It means to be consecrated or set apart for God’s special service. When we spend time each day in “devotional” activities, those should result in our being more “devout” — that is, we are more intensely interested in serving God and we have a better sense of what His service requires of us. “Devotion is not mere feeling, but action: It serves and it obeys” (Wilkin). As Jesus taught in Matthew 6:24, being “devoted” to a master and “serving” that master are inseparable.

Concerning the Scriptures, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16,17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Scriptures are “profitable” because they provide four things: doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Providing these things to us perfectly, the Scriptures are our source for the Lord’s “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). There is not a devotional book in the world that can give us what the Scriptures provide, but to whatever extent such a book can be an “aid” to us, shouldn’t we want it recognize the priority of these same four needs: doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness?

With the above thoughts in mind, I suggest that you ask these questions about any resource (not just books but any other devotional aid) you might consider using:

  • Does it provoke and challenge me in a healthy, biblical sense (Hebrews 10:24)?
  • Does it contribute to my spiritual formation or my malformation?
  • Does it result in my being more devoted (“set apart for special service”) to God?
  • Does it provide correction as well as comfort?
  • Does it promote service and submission in my life?
  • Does it call me to repentance and change?
  • Does it encourage me to take the next step in my obedience?

But finally, there is one more thing to say, and it is the most important thing of all: not even the best devotional book should take the place of studying the Scriptures and prayer. To quote Jen Wilkin one last time: “Devotional writing, when done with excellence, may supplement our time in the Scriptures, but it must not subordinate or supplant it.” To which this writer says a hearty “Amen!”

January 16, 2023

Peter Wrote to an Ongoing, Continuing, Future Church

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. – Matthew 16:18 NLT

Did the epistle-writers (Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude) know that their words were not just for the immediate recipients of their letters but also “… your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call;” including you and me? In today’s devotional we get a sense of that. His generation would pass, but God was building his church; his gathered ones; and Peter had been told personally that nothing would thwart that…

Last year at this time we introduced you to Pastor Will who lives on the U.S. west coast. If you have time, check out his testimony. His blog is titled, Today’s Scripture. We plucked today’s devotional from the middle of a series on 2 Peter, all of which makes great commentary on the passage.

When We Listen

Read with Me

2 Peter 3:1-2 (HCSB)
Dear friends, this is now the second letter I have written to you; in both letters, I want to develop a genuine understanding with a reminder, so that you can remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles.

Listen with Me

Peter knew two things very well. First, he knew that he was not going to live forever. This knowledge was underscored as he wrote this letter by the fact that he was now sitting on death row in a Roman prison. He knew that he would never deny Jesus to save his own life again, so he knew that he would make his transition the next world sooner rather than later.

But he also knew that the Church, the community of those belonging to God through faith in Jesus, would continue after he was gone. And he knew that, for that reason, he had a responsibility to ensure that the Christians of the future would be reminded of who they are and what they were charged with doing, even after he and the other apostles had passed on. That is the reason for his writing both of his letters, and it provides the context in which both are to be read.

Whereas neither Peter, nor Paul, nor any of the other writers of the New Testament epistles, ever sat down to write “Scriptures”, Peter also understood that what he was writing to pass down to future generations of Christians was not merely his own thoughts or opinions.

Instead, he knew that he was passing on the commands of Jesus that were being given to his people through the apostles. His words were not his own. He was just doing his best to pass on the words of the holy prophets of old, pure and untarnished, but made clear by the life and ministry of Jesus. And he was also working to make sure that he was passing on the words that Jesus Himself spoke, both while in the flesh and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, also pure and untarnished. And it was these words, not his own thoughts or opinions, that he knew would serve to stimulate his readers to genuine understanding, and would protect them from both false teachings, and compromises and corruptions of the truth.

Pray with Me

Father, reading these letters with Peter’s stated intentions in mind really does provide a content that makes them make a lot of sense. Peter was not only living focused on the present, but with an eye to the future; a future that includes me today. He was well aware that false doctrines were already arising, and that they would only multiply as time went on. So, he did his best to convey what Jesus revealed to him would help us to stay in the center of what is true and right, instead of allowing ourselves to be whipped about by the winds of changing worldviews and morphing doctrines. Thank you for Peter and his faithfulness. Amen.

 

January 10, 2023

Prayer Prompts and Study Prompts

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom – Colossians 3:16a NIV

Most people are familiar with prayer prompts. Using a list is most common, but earlier today I was thinking of some people I went to high school with who have rather unusual names, and it occurred to me that instead of just thinking of those names, perhaps I should be praying for those people, wherever they are today.

Study prompts are another matter.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been using some of the verses on my NIV Bible app as a springboard for writing a longer article. I don’t write original devotionals here each day, so it’s something that happens only when a verse strikes me as worthy of further examination.

Which brings me to our opening verse.

The NLT breaks it up into three sentences, of which the first two are:

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives.

Note: The part I’ve omitted in both the NIV and NLT citation from Colossians is the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” part of the verse. This is usually thought of as one of the “music verses” of the New Testament, but I wanted to focus on the first part today. However, I do want to note the connection between the other “psalms, hymns…” passage in Ephesians 5. In the former case, the word of God fills our minds and provides text for our singing, and in the latter case, being filled with the Spirit has the same effect; it causes us to sing.

I do prefer the older rendering, with its phrase “dwell in you richly.” We often speak of meditating on scripture. In Psalm 1, we are told of the upright, “But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. (1:2 NLT)

Here I’m also reminded of Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (NIV)

Fine, you say; God’s word is important, but what about “study prompts?”

The website Holding on to Truth offers 8 Reasons to Let the Word of God Dwell in You. At the end of the article, the writer, Tom Smith provides four ways to accomplish this. If this section interests you, I encourage to read it in full, but his means of letting God’s word get embedded deeper into our souls are:

  1. Feed on it (see it as daily nourishment starting with key verses)
  2. Read it (i.e. have a plan to methodically read all of it)
  3. Sing it (Christianity is a singing faith. It’s part of our DNA)
  4. Speak it (find people with whom you can talk about scripture texts and share meaningful times in God’s Word.)

Well…that gets us closer, but it’s still not what I have in mind by the phrase “Study Prompts.”

A study prompt is where you really want to start, to use our tag line here at Christianity 201, “Digging a little bit deeper.”

■ If you use BibleHub, or have a reference Bible, it might mean checking out some of the related scriptures.

■ If you own a Study Bible, it might mean delving into the notes provided for the passage in question.

■ If you own a Bible Commentary, it might mean reading what others have written about the verse or chapter.

■ If you have internet (which you do, since you’re reading this) it might mean looking for articles explaining the verse. (Type the verse reference followed by the word commentary, like this “John 3:16 commentary.” Or ask a question like “Why did Paul ask the church to…?”)

■ If you’re in a small group and there’s free discussion time, it might mean asking the group. (“Have any of you ever wondered about this verse in Ecclesiastes?) (Answer: If it’s in Ecclesiastes, yes, someone else in your group has wondered about it!)

■ If you’re a visual learner, it might mean checking out The Bible Project to see a video on that Bible book or topic.

■ If you’re marooned on an island, it might mean clearing your head and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of the passage or theme to you. (That won’t be many of you, but the method is worth considering either way!)

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11 NIV

Just as someone’s name comes to mind in a prayer prompt, so also allow a verse or a theme to come to mind in a study prompt, and don’t let go until you’ve learned more. With a study prompt — however it becomes front of mind — you do the thing that comes next.

You study.

 

 

November 3, 2022

Lessons We Can Learn

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.Romans 15:4 NIV

NLT.Heb.11.32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39a All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith…

Scripture offers a wealth of examples of those who trusted God through difficult circumstances, including those recorded in the First Testament, who never lived to see all of the fruition of their faith, which only arrived with the appearing of Jesus Christ.

It’s important, I believe, to use the term narrative to describe their exploits, because in our time, the word stories conveys a fictional or mythical “once upon a time” sense.

These narratives need to be rehearsed periodically because we live in a time in history when Biblical literacy is on the decline, and familiarity with these Bible personalities is ebbing away.

There is a term used among professional classical musicians, “knowing the literature,” or having “knowledge of the literature.” It refers to the situation that there are certain piano concertos which every great pianist knows by heart; there are symphonies that every clarinet player can play without printed music. A lifetime of interaction with those compositions means that the mere mention of those pieces starts an internal audio file playing.

Are we as familiar with the Bible’s literature?

Years ago an acquaintance was describing his ordination exam. This is where a candidate is tested by a body of senior pastors and denominational leaders to see if they are fit for the term, “Reverend.” The chairperson started out by asking, “Tell us about John’s gospel, chapter one.” The next question was “Tell us about John’s Gospel, chapter two.” And so on. You get the pattern.

I don’t know if he had been given any warning that the ordination council would take that route, but that day he needed to have that level of familiarity with John’s Gospel.

Sometimes the Bible narratives — and here you might want to compare not just the Hebrews passage cited above, but all of Hebrews 11 — are written with a concision or brevity that requires us to interpolate details not provided.

A month ago I listened to a sermon wherein the account in Mark’s gospel was very stark. The pastor speculated as to the circumstances surrounding an encounter with Jesus, even to the point of giving the key character in the narrative a name.

A friend who was there objected strenuously to this speculative manner of presenting the encounter. When I told him that this is called narrative preaching, he very much condemned the entire genre.

But I believe it’s important to do whatever we can — within limits, of course — to spark these Bible snapshots to life. If the Bible teacher pictures an overcast day, it doesn’t threaten the integrity of the story to add that. What matters is that the core elements of the narrative remain intact.

We do this to help people remember the scene presented.

We do this to help people be able to apply the principles waiting to be extracted from the Bible text.

Our key verse in Romans (above) reminds us that all these narratives were written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

The best narrative preaching I’ve ever witnessed is that which invites the listener to through the use of their imagination, place themselves in the middle of the scene. That’s when the genre is being utilized at its best, where the hearer finds themselves immersed in the unfolding drama.

In Christian Education, one approach is to read the text like the one we heard preached that day (a) from the point of view of the person having the encounter with Jesus, (b) from the viewpoint of the disciples, (c) from the vantage point of the crowd and (d) from the perspective of the person having the encounter with Jesus.

If you wish to try this exercise, a great text is Jesus healing the man born blind, because you’ve also got (e) the man’s parents, and (f) the Pharisees.

Again, the goal is to remember and then to apply.


Related reading:

Several years ago we shared this quotation:

“A spiritual community that does not transmit its sacred writings to its children is one generation away from extinction.”

Read more at Generation Lost from 2014.

also, consider this quotation:

Of all the major religions of the world, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.

Read more at Jesus Began with Text from 2012


Our roving Thursday devotional correspondent, Clarke Dixon is on assignment and will be back next week.

 

June 11, 2022

People Who Trust and Respect the Bible, But Selectively

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

A few days ago my son was reading the book of Joel, and in verse 4 of the first chapter came across these words:

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. (NIV)

That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten. (KJV)

The scientist in him wasn’t about to leave the word “cankerworm” just sitting there, so he looked it up, finding this listing in Wikipedia:

Alsophila pometaria, the fall cankerworm, is a moth of the family Geometridae. The species was first described by the KJV Bible. It is found in North America from Nova Scotia west to Alberta, south to Colorado and California.

He found it interesting that the first citation of such a species was in the Bible, and that the Wikipedia contributors recognized that it was the Bible where it first appears. His email to us had the subject heading, “The KJV is a nature journal.”

This of course stands in stark contrast to the many who think the Bible is out to lunch where it tries to tackle matters of science; people who would not grant it authority in any subject area. The scientific community has a hard time taking the first few chapters of Genesis seriously, and many volumes have been written trying to resolve the issues of the Bible versus science.

This reminded me of a tract — small folded piece of paper containing a 500-600 word evangelistic message — from years ago with a title like, “What if Noah’s Ark Were True?” The premise of the tract was that there are people in our world who remain ever vigilant about discrediting the story of the global flood because they feel that in doing so, they are discrediting the entire Bible. That done, if they don’t have to trust it in historical or scientific matters, they don’t have to do what it says. They don’t need make any lifestyle changes. Think about it: If the narrative of Noah and the Ark never happened, then I don’t have to respond to the rest of the Bible’s prescriptive advice for my life.

First of all, full marks to them for getting that principle. James 1:22 tells us, But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (NLT) On each and every page, the scriptures that we have been given invite a response. What are we going to do with what we are reading on the page? Essentially every chapter invites us to ask, “So what?” Every story has an application. In The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones takes this even further and says, “Every story whispers His name;” in other words, each of the major Old Testament narratives not only has much to speak to our current condition, but each is foreshadowing the coming of a Savior, and why it was humanity needed a Savior.

Back to applying the words of scripture, in related passages listed at BibleHub.com, we hear Jesus saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 NIV) and earlier, Jeremiah wrote “The LORD said to me, ‘Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Obey the words of this covenant and carry them out.’

Most readers here respect the scriptures, and you may want to check the boxes for today’s devotional and consider this done, but even within the church there may be those who practice “the form of godliness” but “deny its power.” This is a reference to 2 Timothy 3:5 “They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these.” (NET)

…So the Wikipedia contributors conceded that the Bible contains the first reference to cankerworms. I suppose that it simply a statement of fact. On the plus side, it shows that the Bible is still visible in our post-Christian world. On the minus side, that’s really about all that it says.

But the skeptics — atheists and agnostics — shouldn’t be too quick to condemn the Bible’s attempts at science to be antiquated. Where the scriptures say “From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD’S name is to be praised;” (Psalm 113:3 KJV) it would be easy to say, ‘Well we know that it’s the earth that revolves around the sun, it doesn’t really rise at all.’

However, the weather app on my phone clearly indicates times for “sunrise” and “sunset.” If we can continue to tolerate that in the 2020s, we should equally be willing to permit the Bible some latitude when it comes to matters of science.

And we shouldn’t be surprised when the Bible, even if read only as “a nature journal” gets it right more often that some expect.

Is it possible there are many who could use a change in their lifestyle right now?

 

January 28, 2022

Bible Fatigue

MSG.Josh.1.8 And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed.

CEB.Josh.1.8a Never stop speaking about this Instruction scroll. Recite it day and night so you can carefully obey everything written in it.

NLT.Psalm.119.44 I will keep on obeying your instructions
    forever and ever.
45 I will walk in freedom,
    for I have devoted myself to your commandments.
46 I will speak to kings about your laws,
    and I will not be ashamed.
47 How I delight in your commands!
    How I love them!
48 I honor and love your commands.
    I meditate on your decrees.

…97 Oh, how I love your instructions!
    I think about them all day long.
98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
    for they are my constant guide.
99 Yes, I have more insight than my teachers,
    for I am always thinking of your laws.
100 I am even wiser than my elders,
    for I have kept your commandments.

…113 I hate those with divided loyalties,
    but I love your instructions.
114 You are my refuge and my shield;
    your word is my source of hope.

…127 Truly, I love your commands
    more than gold, even the finest gold.
128 Each of your commandments is right.
    That is why I hate every false way.

…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.

I think it’s rather ironic that Psalm 119 has become associated with the weariness some people have with Bible reading. Its 176 verses are simply either too lengthy or too repetitive for some people, and yet, it is a Psalm that is all about having a love of God’s word.

In David’s time, the “scriptures” would refer primarily to the books of the law. Many people reading this feel about Leviticus the way they feel about Psalm 119; it epitomizes something that seems to just go on and on and on.

And yet, these books, Leviticus included, are what David says he loves. He talks about his love of — depending on the translation you use — God’s laws, statutes, instructions, precepts, decrees, commands. Ask people their favorite Bible book and see how many name Leviticus.

Is David the kind of guy who gets excited reading the complete federal tax codes? Does he enjoy studying the Motor Vehicle Act? Would he actually study the instruction manual that come with most consumer electronics? Read the software terms and conditions?

I don’t think so. He had bigger fish to fry. (Okay, maybe lions and bears and giants.) But I think he really sees the character of God expressed in the laws he gave.  And he believes that they were written for his good.

I say all that to tell a story.

Over a decade ago we were in a Goodwill donation processing center, a place, we are told, where merchandise is returned from various stores for final sale prior to being destroyed.  These are the shoes no one wanted, the t-shirts that didn’t sell, and the books that were picked over.

Yes, books. And among those books were three New Testaments.

Now you need to know four things about me:

  • At the time we weren’t loaded with money; the 50-cents a copy they were asking for these was a bit of a stretch, especially after my wife had already selected some other items.
  • Our house is already full of books; we didn’t need three more; there truly is no place to put them.
  • I didn’t have anyone in mind who I was going to give them to.
  • I sell Bibles for a living.  I have a vested interested in selling new books, not used books.

But I bought them.

They were in reasonable condition, and I couldn’t handle the idea of them being pulped for recycling into other books.

I could spiritualize this and say that it was because I have ‘such a great love for God’s word.’  I could say, ‘The Bible is so precious to me, I couldn’t bear to see one thrown out.’ I won’t do that here. It was simply my WWDD — What Would David Do? — moment.

My Psalm 119 moment, perhaps.

Maybe we’d feel differently if we were part of a faith where they don’t leave their sacred texts lying on the floor of a room. Maybe we’d feel differently if we were in one of the 50-or-so countries where owning a Bible is illegal. Maybe we’d feel differently if we lived in poverty and simply couldn’t afford to purchase a Bible.

While we don’t want to be guilty of bibliolatry — worshiping the book instead of the One to whom the book points — we need to value and treasure and God’s word. That becomes a challenge when most Christians in North American and Western Europe have, on average, ten copies of the Bibles in their home.

We need a Psalm 199 moment.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your love of scripture; your love for God’s word?

 

April 30, 2021

The Bible’s Divine Symmetries Exceed Literary Beauty

There’s a quotation that is now widely attributed to Philip Yancey, but I’m sure he said he got it from someone else:

If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.

Although I Corinthians 2:9’s context is different, our New Testament begins with the life of One that no human mind has conceived (NIV) or that never entered into the heart of man (KJV). Each of the gospel writers could have ended with the phrase, ‘Seriously! This all happened! We’re not making this up!’

The story of Jesus is simply incredibly complex. It seems simple enough and for just a little money you can purchase any one of hundreds of Bible books which will provide the primary narrative to children. But as you dig deeper, it reveals layers of significance you never considered.

When I was a university student there was a course offered called “The Bible as Literature.” Knowing where my life ended up, part of me wishes I’d taken this course, but another part of me wonders if it may have caused me to reduce the Bible to only literature; to deny its “living, active… sharper than any two-edged sword” power.

Eight years ago at this time, I was reading Jesus, A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. The use of theography is to suggest that while most stories of Jesus are simple biographies that is, they narrate “from womb to tomb,” this one is attempting to begin with “Christ before the manger,” and then move into eternity. I don’t know that the book lived up to its goals entirely, but I value it as a resource — I’d place it in my top ten — and it’s still in print. 

I’ve mentioned before that the ancients viewed scripture as a multi faceted jewel that revealed more and more with each slight turn; capturing and reflecting and refracting light in infinite combinations. To Sweet and Viola, the preferred image is that of a constellation with phrases from various sections combining to form images.

In the case of John’s gospel, the birth narrative is paralleled to the “I am” statements which are unique to that book.

Jesus A TheographyThe seven I AM metaphorical statements of Jesus in the gospel  of John are followed by their corresponding circumstances in the story of Jesus’ birth:

“I am the bread of life.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means  “house of bread.”

“I am the light of the world.”
Jesus was born under the light of the star of Bethlehem.

I am the door of the sheep.”
The doors of the guest house were closed to Mary and Joseph, but the gate to the stable was open.

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
The infant Jesus was sought by shepherds looking for a baby wrapped in swaddling bands (used for birth or burial) and lying in a manger.

“I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus survived King Herod’s attempt to kill him.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Wise men found their way to him, recognized the truth about him and defied King Herod’s evil plot.

“I am the true vine.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, which means ‘fruitful.’

The example above, while not the strongest of the parallels introduced, is fairly typical, and the reader must decide if the this information is significant spiritually or merely reflective of the Bible’s literary value. To the believer and Christ-follower, the Bible has to be more than great literature.

The book is well crafted and well researched and on average, each of the sixteen chapters has about a hundred footnotes. Still, I find a good filter is needed when reading this; each reader has to determine what they want their ‘take away’ to be from each chapter.

For me, more than anything else, the book highlights the issue of reading of Christian books versus only reading the Bible. I am where I am today spiritually because of the influence that Christian writers have had on me. If anything their words have drawn me into a deeper examination of scripture.

But the Bible’s complexities can be distracting to some people. It’s easy to get “lost in the weeds” of its intricate details and miss out on what God is saying to you and me through any given passage.

For example … Go back to the quoted section above. Beyond things like the significance of the name of His birthplace, or the ways in which His life mirrors the “I Am” statements, what does it speak to you and me?

[Instead of just throwing the question out there; let me offer a personal response: I think that often the amazing life of Jesus compels me to worship. Not in the ‘bursting into song’ sense, but just an awe for the narrative that leaves no loose ends. For an earthly, incarnate life that is so whole, so full, so rich.]

Can we know too much? On the one hand, in terms of Bible study is there such a thing as too much information? I believe Jesus: A Theography is on one hand a valuable addition to my library, but on the other hand, it’s important that I not stray too far from the simplicity found in those children’s Bible study books.

Matthew 11:25-26 (NIV)

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Matthew 18:2-4 (NIV)

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

But on the other hand, making discoveries in books like these is like suddenly reading those narratives we heard has children with a pair of 3-D glasses, and seeing dimensions unfold we never knew previously; filled with ‘ah-ha’ and ‘Wow!’ moments.

Luke 24:31-32 (NIV)

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Again, sheer awe.

October 17, 2020

Reading the Bible’s Big Picture

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today we return for the 4th time to the writing of Sarah Jo who writes at Blind Insanity. Click the header below to read at source and then take a minute to look around the rest of her blog. (Scriptures today are as posted in the KJV; use BibleHub or BibleGateway to study these in other translations.)

The Bible is Not About You

The Bible is not about you.

You are not David, you are not Saul, you are not Paul, you are not Timothy, you are (insert your name here).

The Bible is not about you, it is all about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Godhead, three-in-one, and what He has done for His creation.

By His grace and by His power, you are (or can be) redeemed.

If you have believed on Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and trusted in Him to forgive you of your sins, then you have your own story. It is precious and it is even powerful, but it cannot compare to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As an example, when we look at King David’s story, we are not meant to get out of it that we can be a “David.” … “If we just practice enough and develop the gifts God has given, then we, too, can defeat a giant.” … One message we are meant to get out of David’s story is that God shows Himself strong through normal and weak people who live in submission to Him. No matter how much they practice, no matter how much they try, it will all be worthless without complete surrender to God’s sovereign control and power. He can, and does, use weak vessels like you and me for His glory and purpose; emphasis on “weak.”

Whenever we read stories of people in the Bible, we should be drawn closer to Jesus, not closer to those people… Whenever we hear a pastor preaching, we should be drawn closer to Jesus and not closer to that pastor…

God intentionally conveyed the moral failings of his greatest servants to show that it wasn’t about them at all, it was about how He loves them and how He chose them. It was not by their own merit, but by His grace, and we see that in so many stories in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Throughout the Bible, there is an overarching theme of God’s undeserved favor poured out over mankind; His unconditional grace.

Though God didn’t write our stories into His Word, what He does (or will do, when we receive Him) is write His redeeming Word into our stories.

One of the many beautiful parts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He does a great work in those who trust in Him. He transforms, purifies, sanctifies, and builds His children up in the power of His Word and the comfort of His Holy Spirit.

Now, where is this message coming from?

Recently, I watched the movie “American Gospel: Christ Alone.” This specific issue in the American church was called out in that documentary.

There are some popular preachers who take Bible stories and reshape them into motivational speeches, which can often take the stories completely out of their intended context. In general, the messages are inspiring and encouraging and can leave a person feeling happy, yet no lasting fruit is produced from those messages.

The joy is temporal, but the harm can be eternal.

So, what I want to encourage you to do is read the Word of God in context. When a pastor is preaching, read the verses that they reference in their full context. They may just quote one verse or a piece of a verse, and it is your responsibility to read the context.

Please, go to church, but do not be a bump on a log. If your pastor is continually giving messages, where verses are used out of context, and their words cause you to look at anyone else other than your Savior, then get out of that church. When Jesus talked about giving us an abundant life, that had nothing to do with worldly things like health, money, or earthly loves, but everything to do with Himself.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

Jesus didn’t die, so that you could have a nice house, nice car, nice plane, or favor with man. He died, so that you could live abundantly in His unconditional grace and love. He is more than enough for you. Yes, He provides for His children, because He’s good, but why should we worry about the gifts or look for more gifts when the Giver, our Heavenly Father, has already given us Himself?

So, let me conclude with this.

In many prayers over offerings, I have heard something similar to this;
“May God reward the giver with abundance in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”
That is in reference to this verse below.

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. (Luke 6:38)

This verse is one of many used to encourage people to give to a church or organization, because you will surely receive in abundance if you give in abundance… The reason we give should not be to receive more money back, but in the hope that God will use that money for the strengthening of His kingdom. If our motivation for giving is not solely the glory of God, then it would be better for us not to give. If we give to a church that has no lasting fruit in its members, and its outreaches are built on doing good, but not sharing the Gospel, then it would be better not to give to that church at all.

So many people give for the sake of giving, not paying attention to what their gift is going to. So many people go to church for the sake of going to church, not paying attention to the fruit that is being produced, whether in their life or in their community.

Pay attention. Don’t just float along because you don’t want to be confrontational. The “gospels” being preached today are harmful to people, and actually draw people away from the One True God! True followers of Christ need to stand up for His Word, especially in the church. Maybe we are not all meant to be apologists, but we are all meant to know God and know His Word. So, if we should deny what we know, or go along with what is false, what does that say about our integrity or our seriousness about God’s calling on our lives? Only His view matters.

So, let us boldly stand up for Jesus and keep Him at the center of our lives and the center of His Word.

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:10‭-‬11)

And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
And this is love, that we walk after His commandments. This is the commandment, “That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.”
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
(2 John 1:5‭-‬11)

[some suggested resources and contact info appear here; click through to the original article to read]

Though the Bible was not written about us, yet it was written for our benefit.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16‭-‬17)

March 21, 2019

Compelling Holy Books

Is the Bible evidence for the existence of God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does the existence and nature of the Bible point to the existence and nature of God? Some people just love the Bible. Others find reading it a head-scratching experience. Perhaps, of course, there is some selective reading involved. I suspect that many who love it, and are never driven to question their faith by it, stick to their favourite bits. Likewise, I suspect that those who question Christianity tend stick to their favourite tricky bits. We want to consider the Bible in its entirety as we ask whether it is a compelling aspect of Christianity. Does the existence and nature of the Bible actually point to the reality of God?

Our expectations of the Bible play a big role in how we respond to it and whether we will find it compelling or not. There are two expectations that people often have as they consider the Bible. Either it is written by God, or it is written by men. Let us consider how these expectations pan out.

If the Bible was written by God, and if it was simply downloaded to us as if God sent us an email, then it is not what we would expect. It is convoluted. There are obviously so many authors writing at different times, under different circumstances, writing for different reasons, using different genres which reflect the kinds of writing humans do. It is not simply a “Here are some messages from God with all humans, at all times, and in all situations in mind” kind of book. Indeed what we think of as one book is really many writings written and collected over a very long period of time. That much is obvious.

In addition, the Bible answers questions we are not asking today. Have you ever wondered who the great-great-grandson of Esau was? The Bible gives us the answer.  However, the Bible does not answer questions we are asking. What about the dinosaurs? Who did Cain marry? How do we ethically use all our advances in medicine? If the Bible is simply a direct message from God, would we not expect it to be a simple message that anticipates all the questions of humanity?

Therefore the Bible is not what we would expect it to be if it is simply a message written and sent by God.

However, if the Bible is purely written out of the imagination of humans then likewise, it is not what we would expect. There is an amazing consistency in the presentation of God, the nature of humanity, the human dilemma, and the relationship between God and humanity. Despise the number of writings, the differing authors from different centuries living under different conditions, there is an incredible sense of unity in the Bible. There is also an incredible storyline that spans the many, many, many generations that lived while the writings were being written. Each generation would have had trouble making up its own part in that overall story.

Therefore the Bible is not what we would expect it to be if it is simply a product of the human mind.

So what is the Bible, then, if the Bible is not what we would expect if God simply sent us a direct message, or if we made God up? The writings we find in the Bible are the kinds of writings we would expect, if God created humanity, then humanity rebelled, then God chose and called a specific people for the working out of His purposes, making covenant promises with them, rescuing them from Egypt, giving them the law at Sinai, establishing covenant promises and consequences, bringing them into a promised land where the people kept breaking the covenant, then God appointed leaders and prophets to get them back on track while continuing to reveal more of His purposes, then He came to us as a man, teaching, working miracles, was killed, then rose from the dead, appeared to many, gave the Holy Spirit, then the many people who saw him alive went about as witnesses telling others what they knew to be true, while God gave the Holy Spirit to people who were not from His specifically chosen people so they could be in relationship with Him also, while groups of believers gathered together in assemblies which sometimes needed instructions which was given through letters written by Paul and others, while the stories about, and teachings of, Jesus, were committed to writing by four men in what came to be known as the Gospels. If all these things happened and more, then the Bible is exactly the collection of writings we would expect.

The opposite is true. If these things did not happen, then why do the writings that make up the Bible exist, why do they take the shape they do, and why do they say the things they do?

The writings that make up the Bible are records of the ongoing relationship between God and humanity throughout many centuries in history until God finally revealed Himself most fully through Jesus:

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.  And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.  The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3 (NLT)

So are these writings from God, and therefore to be considered “The Word of God,” or are  they simply what humans wrote? They are both. As the Bible says of the sacred writings, what we now call “The Bible,”

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV emphasis added)

The writings that make up the Bible are “God breathed.” That means they are not simply written by God and downloaded to us, nor are they simply written by men without God’s involvement. Both God and humans are involved. They absolutely passed through the minds of people, they were absolutely penned by people, but they absolutely have God’s blessing as expressing well what we need to know. God would not have a long, long history of relationship with humanity, culminating with His very coming to us to enable relationship with Him, without providing for an accurate representation to be written and collected for future generations. So the writings of the Bible are “God breathed,” which means they are neither “God written,” nor “human invented.” Both God and humans are involved. When the writings of the Bible seem to be from another time and place, we are not surprised. They were written by people in another time and place. When the writings of the Bible seem timeless we are not surprised. The creator of time, Who still relates to us in our time, was involved!

This being the nature of the Bible, we want to check our expectations. The Bible is described by Paul as being “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and useful for “training in righteousness.” This means it is not a handbook to answer every question and satisfy our curiosity. Neither is it an idol to be worshipped. It does help us know God in Christ, Whom we do worship. Knowing about reconciliation in Jesus is infinitely better than knowing about the dinosaurs, or where Cain found a wife!

The Bible is not what we would expect if God simply sent us a direct message, nor if we made God up. However, it is what we would expect if God has had a long relationship with us, interacting with us throughout history. The Bible itself, in all its convoluted mess, in all its wonderful consistency and amazing storyline, is compelling evidence that God exists and that God loves us.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

November 3, 2016

The Bible’s Proper Place

by Clarke Dixon

Imagine this scenario: The teenagers of our church have grown up into their twenties and have left town to attend colleges and universities elsewhere. Meanwhile society has shifted and governments have changed so that there is now a hostile climate for Christianity. In fact, officials have stormed our church service, rounded us all up and sent us to prison. We learn that we are all to be executed. We also learn that while things are not as bad for our youth away in other towns, things are not good there either. We can send a letter to them. What would you write?

This is not unlike what we have in the book of 2nd Timothy where Paul is in prison in Rome awaiting execution. He has the opportunity to send a letter to a young pastor in Ephesus named Timothy. What does he write?

10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 2nd Timothy 3:10 – 17 (NRSV)

Let us summarize: “Timothy, you will be surrounded by bad people, but as for you, be good, keeping the scriptures central.” This is just as important a message for us in our day. In fact we can consider how “be good, keeping God’s revelation front and centre” is proper for us as individuals, families, churches, and as a nation.

For individuals – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

When Paul speaks of “the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” in verse 15, we may immediately think of salvation in terms of what it means for us when we die. The Scriptures do instruct us on such things as they help us see our need for, and God’s provision of, grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. But salvation is a two-sided coin. On the one side we may think of the destination, eternity with God. On the other we can consider the journey, life with God now. The Scriptures also instruct us for the salvation journey as the Holy Spirit transforms us step by step along the way. This second side of the salvation coin, the journey, is in mind when Paul goes on to say that

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work

So as individuals, be good, keeping God’s revelation central!

For families – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

It is sometimes said that faith is a private and personal thing. This is actually a ridiculous statement for how can it be? As I respond to the call to be good, keeping God’s Word central, how can my family be unaffected? As God transforms individuals, He also transforms the experience of those in relationship with those individuals. There is a direct impact on my family and friends when I seek to be good, keeping the wisdom of the Bible central in things like avoiding drunkenness, alcoholism, gambling, adultery, pornography, and the like. There is also a direct impact when I seek to be good like Jesus, as I read about him in the Bible, learning to bear a cross, learning how to love and forgive, and the like. There is a direct impact on my family, friends, and even enemies, when my life evidences the fruit of the Spirit:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

The Holy Spirit uses scripture to awaken in us a greater desire for such fruit than the kind of fruit Adam and Eve went after. It is good for families, indeed all relationships, to be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

For churches – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

Ask what makes for a good church and you can get a wide variety of responses like good parking, good facility, great speaking, great music, great programming and so on. You can build a great organization without ever cracking open a Bible. However, to form a good people you will need to open the Bible. The Church is not an organization that happens to made up of people, it is a people who happen to get organized. Though not very organized sometimes! To have a great church, we will want to be good, keeping the Bible central.

For our nation – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

What makes Canada great? Some people will say that it is our multiculturalism. However, are we really all that multicultural? There are things that appear to be acceptable, or even promoted in some other cultures that we would think barbaric here. Even the most ardent proponent of multiculturalism in Canada has their limits. So we are not as multicultural as we think we are, for there is a sense of Canadian culture, of limits in what is not acceptable. Where do we get this from? Though we are moving away from it, our culture still owes a great debt to Christian ethics. The Bible has given us a good foundation on which to build a nation. We should not be surprised by this as we are told the Bible is useful for “training in righteousness” (verse 16). Consider, for example, how the opening chapters of the Bible teach us about the dignity of every human being. Those who who would push us to become a fully secular state have difficulty accounting for why, objectively, we ought to value every person. This is just one example of many.

I am a secularist in the sense that I do not think a person should ever be compelled to be a Christian to be a Canadian. Nor should a non-believer be forced to pray a believer’s prayer. However, I also see how Biblical values have served our nation well. We are a nation that enjoys a bit of multiculturalism and a bit of secularism. We can appreciate that. But our nation has also been marinating in Christianity for a long time. So as a nation we can appreciate what Paul tells Timothy; be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

What Paul knew to be good in a time of crisis is good for all time including our time. Don’t be like the rest when the rest have lost their way. Be good, keeping the Scriptures central, sticking close to Jesus who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And remember, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit. We also have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for when we fall on the journey and need to get back on our feet, dust off our Bibles, and start again.


Follow Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon or on Twitter

July 11, 2015

Reverse Engineering The Promises

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

A few days ago, we re-ran a piece on Thinking Out Loud that has also appeared twice here at C201, though not for three years. Apparently this time around, it really resonated with some people.

The idea was to look at areas in my life where it might seem like “it’s not working” and ask ourselves if maybe we’re doing something wrong.

We need to watch the logic of this however. A Biblical statement of promise such as, “If you do _____, then I [God] will do ______ …” is of the form “If ‘A” then ‘B’.” But we can’t logically automatically assume from that, “If ‘not-B’ then ‘not-A.” Moreover, some of the promises in scripture are guiding principles of how things work. For example, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it;” is a statement of general principle, but not an iron-clad assurance that every child raised in the love of Christ will not wander from the faith. Clearly, some do. (I realize some will say, ‘I have to believe that eventually they find their way back, or the Bible isn’t true.’ I guess we can debate that some time!)

All that to say, here’s what I wrote as it appeared (without this long introduction) a few days ago…
 
 

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

 

June 6, 2013

Use Your Bible

The scriptures today appear as links, and I really hope you’ll take the time to read each one; especially since the theme today is about using your Bible to the fullest.  This is from the website Unlocking The Bible where it appeared under the title 14 Ways to Use the Bible.

The Bible is wonderful because it gives us a knowledge of God, of men, of the universe, and of redemption.

No other book can be compared to it in this respect, but it not only informs us about these important truths, it also tells us what we are to do with it.

We have within the Bible itself instruction as to our attitude toward it.

In it we are exhorted to:

1. Read it.Nehemiah 8:8. And may I suggest that it be read slowly, carefully, prayerfully, in large portions, repeatedly, reverently and with a willing spirit to follow its precepts.

2. Believe it.Romans 10:8. Because it is the Word of faith. It has been given to increase our faith in God and His working in the Universe.

3. Receive it.James 1:21. Here it is the engrafted word that is to be received as the soil received the seed, or the tree receives the graft. Taking the Word of God in our heart life, allowing it to grow and bear its own fruit in motives and actions.

4. Taste it.Proverbs 19:10. For it is the good Word of God. Some seem to be afraid of the Bible for fear it will require them to do something they do not wish to do. Be not afraid; it is good and right in all its requirements.

5. Eat it.Jeremiah 15:16. This process suggests that we not merely taste but actually live by it, as Jesus said, “Ye shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4.

6. Hold it fast.Titus 1:9. It is a faithful word. All its promises are true; all its history is true; and its statements are truth. Therefore we are to rest our faith upon it.

7. Hold it forth.Philippians 2:16. Because it is the Word of Life. All who come under its beneficent rays feel its life giving power.

8. Preach it.2 Timothy 4:2. Here it is called simply the Word. It suggests that we are not to preach any one part of it or any one phase of it, but preach it in its entirety and fullness.

9. Search it.John 5:29. This suggests work and patience. The Greek word carries the idea of “ransack” as the housewife goes through the home at housecleaning time; or “to track” as the hunter laboriously follows the game through the brush, so we are to search for truth and run down the lines of God’s revelations to man.

10. Study it.2 Timothy 2:15. Here is a word that means close application to the Word of God, as the builder minutely studies the plans of the architect before erecting the structure.

11. Meditate on it.Psalm 1:2. This word has much the same meaning as “eat” for it means literally “to chew the cud.” Turning the Word of God over and over in the mind till the sweetness of its truths feed our souls.

12. Compare it.2 Corinthians 2:13. This is not so much what we do with the Scriptures as what the Holy Spirit does with them in our hearts. This is a divine commentary always at hand. Or as John puts it in 1 John 2:27, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”

13. Rightly divide it.2 Timothy 2:15. This is not an arbitrary division of subjects but the following of a line of truth from the first place mentioned to the last place mentioned; noticing it in all its relation to other truths and as the word literally means “the cutting of a straight line” of truth in the Bible.

14. Delight in it. Psalm 119:92. Seven times in this Psalm the Psalmist speaks of delighting in God’s word. This should always be the heart ambition and attitude.

“Study it carefully; think of it prayerfully;
Deep in thy heart let its precepts dwell.
Slight not its history; ponder its mystery,
None can e’er prize it too fondly or well.
Accept the glad tidings, the warning, the chidings,
Found in this volume of heavenly lore,
With faith that’s unfailing, and love all prevailing,
Trust in its promise of life evermore.”

*Adapted from portion of W.H. Pike’s beginning remarks in Summarized Bible: Complete Summary of the Old Testament.

Bonus item:

I know that this type of article isn’t typical of what we do here at C201, but as long as we’re doing lists, here’s one that appeared a few days ago the blog Deep Thoughts by Gman under the title Old Versus New.

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant
Gifts and Sacrifices for guilt of sin vs. Self-sacrifice by guiltless Christ
Physical Building where One goes to worship vs. Reign of Christ in hearts of believers
Limited promises vs. Limitless promises
External standards vs. Internal Standards
Limited Access to God vs. Unlimited access to God
Legal Cleansing vs. Personal cleansing
Obey the rules vs. Serve the living God
Forgiveness earned vs. Forgiveness freely given
Repeated yearly vs. Completed by Christ’s death.
Human effort vs. God’s grace
Available to some vs. Available to all.

July 6, 2012

Four Myths Attacking God’s Word and the Church

Today’s thoughts are from James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel and host of Walk in the Word.  Click through to read this at source, and learn more about Harvest, Walk in the Word, and the upcoming Vertical Church tour of North America.

2 Timothy 4:3-5
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Let’s grow in our capacity to discern. Make a note of these four myths attacking the church today. Some you might be aware of, others maybe not at all. They are messages crafted for itching ears that damn the souls of men.

1: The Word of God is not sufficient. The Word of God does not have all of the answers that people need for the complex problems of the twenty-first century man. Instead of the message of the Word of God, we need psychology—literally, the study of the soul.

Almighty God has already written a book on the soul. Any contributions from psychology have not seriously upgraded what God calls “all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). If you have a problem, a burden, or a struggle, the answer is not found by running away from God’s Word and going to a counselor, month after month, who never opens the Word of God, who never prays with you, or who is not ministering in the power of God’s Spirit. If the answer to your problem doesn’t leave you closer to God, it wasn’t God’s answer for you. I don’t judge those who don’t know the Lord for doing the best they can and finding relief along the broad road, but the people of God should not be clamoring for the world to solve what God, in His Word and in the power of His Holy Spirit, wants to give. God help us to love the truth and pursue the truth for the answers to the burdens we carry and the issues we face.

2: The Word of God is not sophisticated. If you really want to reach people—boomers, GenX’ers, post-moderns—you need a more sophisticated hook than the Word of God.

Listen to what some church sites are posting in their attempts to reach people. “Our church is growing large and strong with an emphasis on the importance of every individual.” “Our church is not just a church; it’s an adventure.” “We’ll make sure that the first face you see when you approach our church has a smile on it.” “We will give you the resources and the opportunity to reflect upon yourself, to develop a balanced lifestyle and discover the healthy whole person God designed you to be.” Those are not the answer to anyone’s problems.

How much different does the promise of this church sound?  “A people who desire to know Christ and to raise the Cross over Hollywood.” Do you see the difference, see the vertical focus upon Christ Himself as the answer for searching souls? But these myths, tragically posing as the ministry of Christ, claim the Word is not sufficient nor sophisticated. And tragically, when they fail, people feel the Lord has failed them, when He has not been truly involved at all.

3: The Word of God is not settled. The Word is still emerging—the message is still changing.

My brother sent me an e-mail about a church that’s attempting to adjust the biblical teaching on the role of women. The rationale they give for explaining away the clear teaching of Scripture is that folks like us take a static approach to God’s Word, “but we take a redemptive approach,” they say. My brother wondered what that meant. In essence, they are claiming: “Don’t think the Bible always means the same thing through all of the centuries. We believe that the Bible means different things to different people. Centuries ago it meant one thing, but now to modern, more sophisticated culture it means this.”

As soon as I hear that, I want to throw up, because that message confirms people in their sin and gives them misguided authority to sin against their own conscience.  All around us are those that have adopted the “redemptive” approach to studying the Bible. My greatest concern isn’t even about the role of women—we celebrate women leaders in our church in every area except those restricted by Scripture. My burden, however, is not women preachers, but the perversities in society that are standing in line behind that comparatively innocent issue, waiting to say, “Oh beautiful! We get to take the parts of the Scripture that are an affront to our perversity and dismiss them as no longer relevant.” It’s the idea that the Word of God is not settled, when it is—that the Bible needs updating, when it doesn’t.

4: The Word of God is not sure or reliable. Christ is not unique, and His unique message is to be rejected in a world of pluralism.

We live in a day where the name that is not welcomed is the Name that is above every name. As the God of this age heightens His attack upon this world in these last days, the dividing lines are becoming incredibly clear. I believe with all of my heart that in the days to come, to cross that finish line, it is going to cost us more than it has ever cost us before. It is going to cost us relationships when we continue to proclaim, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We trumpet the message of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). To those who do not have the Spirit of God within them, the Scripture says, we are the aroma of death, 2 Corinthians 2:16.  People are not kind to those who become a stench in their nostrils.

What should we do! Spend all of our time attacking error? Some of that is needed, no doubt. But Paul’s exhortation to Timothy [above] has a lot more to do with actually continuing in his own biblical ministry and being deterred by others.

“…be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

~James MacDonald

Christianity 201 is a repository of some of the best devotional and Bible Study material in the Christian blogosphere. Selections come from a variety of doctrinal and theological viewpoints. You’re encouraged to read articles at source, and if you like what you read, click that blog’s header to discover more about the writer/ministry and consider subscribing.

May 8, 2012

The Truth of Scripture is Accessible to All

Today we return for a visit to the blog Jesus Carries Me, where Lila wrote this post under the title, 

Who receives Understanding of the Scriptures?

Scripture Reference: Matthew 13:36-43  (link takes you to NIV; NLT is below)(NLT)13:36 Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.”

37 Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

40 “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

For many Christians the answer to this question is rather obvious, but it never was for me. If one has been fed lies for years like I was, it is an exceedingly exciting time when the Truth intersects your life and enters your heart. Burdens of deception and lies are hurled to the ground and light fills the heart.

You see, for years one of the lies I was taught was that you have to have the title “apostle” in the specific church I grew up in to receive understanding of the Scriptures. This also excluded anyone outside of the borders of this denomination. Only these “apostles” received insights and that meant it was kind of useless to read the Bible since you won’t understand much of what you read anyway. Since I never knew God then (although I religiously attended church), I didn’t understand most of what I read no matter how hard I tried. Consequently I never questioned this lie.

But thanks be to God, one day the Truth entered my dark heart and with that a desire to read the Bible. Not only that, I now understood what I read. I found the treasure I longed for all my life. I found the Truth. I couldn’t get enough of reading the Bible and God proved His faithfulness by first taking me to the Scriptures that would make these lies come crashing down. At first, I didn’t know where to start. But, although I was alone in a room with my Bible, He was there too. He took me from one Scripture to the other and over time taught me His liberating Truth with the precision and timing of a perfect Teacher. One example is this portion of Scripture in Matthew 13:36-43.

After Jesus told the parable of the weed sown among good seed, the disciples approached Him wanting to understand what He just said. Those who love the Lord and His word will desire to receive more enlightenment and will ask for better understanding. Many others may think of the Lord’s word as a nice little story. Some may disregard His words in an off-hand way and some may even mock His word. Folly always mocks anything it doesn’t understand. But His true followers will ask to understand what He says. They realize they don’t know it all and that He is all-knowing. These are the ones to whom He reveals the deeper meaning of His words. I learned that this privilege is not reserved for people with religious titles, but for anyone who humbly comes to the Lord in faith and ask for greater understanding.  As we read here, we can see how Jesus gave an exposition on the parable of the seed and the weed to those who asked. He shows them how there will be a separation of the righteous and the unrighteous at the end of time.

Jesus concludes His exposition by saying that this is open to the understanding for all who have “ears.” This is a non-exclusive term. It is open to all who desire to know more. It is not a promise made exclusively to people who flaunt religious titles. Instead, the Lord, in His generous nature, is eager to teach anyone: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” So, the Lord invites anyone with a sincere desire for wisdom and understanding  to ask and it will be given to them. The verses below further confirm that there is no exclusivity. God does not show favoritism.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

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. (1 John 2:27) 

[These words were written for all believers, not exclusively to church leaders]

April 20, 2012

Diggiing Deep Into God’s Word

Apologies to those of you who came yesterday and couldn’t find the devotional. I only found out 24 hours later that it got posted to the wrong blog — I manage eight different ones — and it’s now available.   

Today’s post is a little longer than what’s normally here, but it’s a subject that we all need to be reminded of.  When the early church was birthed in Acts 2, the thing that everyone noticed wasn’t the education or skill in oratory of the disciples, it was that they had spent time with Jesus.

This is from a blog that was new to me, Answers from the Book, and appeared earlier this month under the title Be A Berean. As always, you’re encouraged to click that link and read at source. If for some reason you stay here, please note there’s a page break in this one; be sure to click through to read the whole article. 

“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)

A couple of weeks ago, I received a comment on a post that disagreed with my interpretation of a particular Bible passage. This was not the first time someone has shared a dissenting point of view and, I am quite certain, will not be the last. To be completely honest, I welcome thoughtful, sincere comments whether they agree with what I have written or not. Opposing viewpoints can have a way of sending us back to the Word of God to re-evaluate our position and to make sure that Scripture really supports it. Anything that leads us to spend more time in the Bible isn’t a bad thing, is it?

What concerned me about this specific comment wasn’t the fact that it criticized my conclusions, it was the reason the person gave for disagreeing. Apparently, this individual had heard a Bible teacher speak about this particular passage of Scripture on Television. The conclusions reached, according to the writer of the comment, were significantly different from what I was sharing in the article. Rather than offering Biblical support for these conclusions or citing corroborating passages, the only basis for accepting the interpretation seemed to lie in the identity and credentials of the man on the T.V. Program.

A Matter Of Authority

There is a great deal of overemphasis placed in the credentials and identity of individuals when it comes to Bible teaching and preaching. I remember browsing through a website a few years ago that advertised openings for pastoral positions in various churches across the country. It amazed me how many listings put the educational requirements first and foremost in their posting. “Must have a Doctorate in Theology or Pastoral Studies” was at the very top of a great many of the advertisements. Now, it is understandable that a church would not want to install a novice, ignorant of the Word of God, into their leadership, but it struck me as ironic that qualifications such as “must be of sound moral character”, or “must exhibit Christian virtues in their daily life” were listed at the bottom of the posting more often than not. It was almost as if these attributes were an afterhought! The most relevant credentials, in the minds of many of these church boards, had more to do with where a pastoral candidate attended school than the spiritual guidance he would bring to their congregation.

It seems that many people would rather put their trust entirely in the educational and experiential background of another person than evaluate their message against the Word of God. If a Bible teacher is famous enough, or has the right academic degree, then they are ready to unquestioningly accept any and all teachings that the person gives. But such a practice is never taught nor commended in the Bible itself. If anyone in Scripture had the authority to rest on His credentials, it would have been the Lord Jesus. Yet even He never urged anyone to accept His teachings uncritically, but frequently backed up His Message with references to the Old Testament (e.g., Mark 12:10, 12:24, Luke 24:27, 24:44, John 5:39). Luke describes the people of Berea in the Book of Acts as “noble” because they not only accepted the teachings of the Apostle Paul with an open mind, but because they “searched the Scriptures daily” in order to verify whether or not what he was teaching was Biblically sound (Acts 17:11). (more…)

Next Page »