Monday, October 30, 2006

The Greatest Teacher

John 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.(KJV)

Today, we continue our series on the importance of studying the Bible. It is no great wonder that unbelievers do not enjoy reading the Bible and have trouble making sense of it all. The Christian however, need not feel despair in this area. It matters very little about your level of formal education. Education is wonderful, and by all means, every Christian should take advantage of every opportunity to further their education. But nothing compares to the spiritual lessons, one can be taught by the Holy Spirit. We read this in I Corinthians:

1 Cor 2:13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.(NKJ)

We often speak and hear about "the anointing" when it comes to the Holy Spirit. One of the purposes of God's anointing, is so that we can understand the truths of God's Word. John, writing to a community of believers struggling with various issues, addresses this purpose of the anointing. It becomes obvious that there was a sect of teachers (John calls them "antichrists") who sought to seduce true followers of Christ. John made it clear to them, that they (the believers in the Johannine community) didn't need some special revelation from a second-hand mediator. They had the best teacher already living within them.

I Jn 2:26-These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. 27 But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.(NKJ)

This is not to say that there is no value in Christian education, seminaries, or other venues of education. The Scripture plainly teaches us that God has gifted specific men and women in the area of teaching.

Eph 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,(NKJ)

This is important to remember, because there is always the temptation to say "I have the Holy Spirit, therefore I can glean nothing from other men." Perhaps there are many we have run across in our Christian experience who share this sentiment. In order to show the fallacy of this line of thinking, I'd like to use the Apostle Paul as an example. Paul had intense training as a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5-6) and had been taught at the feet of the renowned Gamaliel (Acts 22:3)....and this was before he even came to Christ (of which past he referred to as "dung" or rubbish). He had a dramatic conversion on the Damascus road, he had numerous visions of Jesus Christ, and had even been caught up to the third heaven to hear things "unlawful for a man to utter." If anyone could have felt the temptation to be a know-it-all, certainly this man had good excuse- but notice his attitude:

1 Cor 8:1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.(NKJ)

We can come to the Scriptures with a sense of hope and encouragement because we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, teaching us the great truths of God's Word. We have the benefit of those within Christ's church whom He has gifted in the area of teaching and expounding God's Word. And if you are reading this blog today, you already know that there are tremendous resources in print and electronic media that will assist you in your studies (we'll get to those later). Let us always be open to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us and show us wonderful things out of the Word of God. Regardless of how many times you have read a particular passage of Scripture, God can always give you that "light-bulb" moment that makes all the difference! I encourage you to pray these words as you open up the pages of your bible.

Ps 119:18 Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.(KJV)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Different Kind of Book

II Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (NASB)

Studying the bible is different than studying a textbook, or a piece of secular literature. The bible makes the boast of being the Word of God. Paul told Timothy that all scripture is inspired (literally breathed) by God. Jesus told His followers that the words He spoke were "spirit and life." The book of Hebrews tells us that scripture is "quick and powerful" and penentrates the human heart and the bones and marrow. Merely having an analytical mind is not enough to truly comprehend and properly study the bible. Paul commended the Thessalonians because they received his message not as the word of men, but as it is in truth- the Word of God.

Paul told the Corinthians that the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God because they are foolishness to him. The reason that the bible doesn't make any sense to a non-believer is because they are on a different frequency (if I can use that analogy). It's like being tuned to FM and trying listen to a broadcast on an AM station (for those of us who don't yet have sattelite radio). When Jesus rose from the dead, we read in Luke 24 that He opened the understanding of the disciples so they could comprehend the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).

It takes a renewed mind, and a regenerated spirit to truly be able to comprehend this Book. Next, we will explore the fact Christians have the best teacher in the world available to them at all times.

Until next time....

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Goal of Application

James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.(KJV)

I would like to take the next few blog entries, and deal with the issue of personal bible study. I realize there are probably hundreds of “how-to” books on the market regarding this all-important topic, but I thought I would share a few principles for those who read my blog. I don’t consider myself any kind of expert, but I have a tremendous passion for study of the Word of God. I believe that every Christian should learn to enjoy studying his/her bible. Of course there is an obedience factor involved in reading the Word, but hopefully I can stir within you a sincere desire to study for personal enrichment, and not simply a means of fulfilling an obligation. (Although we certainly are obliged to study to show ourselves approved unto God)

For my first entry, I would like to start with the end-goal as opposed to the mechanics of bible study. People study the bible for various reasons- even agnostics sometimes study the bible in an attempt to disprove its miraculous claims. Hopefully, the Christian’s motivation for studying the Word of God is application. Jesus said that a wise man builds his house upon a rock. In this example, the man whose house is founded upon a rock is the man whose goal is application of the Word of God. He is not simply a hearer of sermons and bible studies- he seeks to obey what he’s heard. Probably one of the more practical books of the New Testament (James) tells us that we are to be not only hearers of the Word, but doers. This is the dividing line between a living faith and a dead faith.

If I search the scriptures diligently, but have no desire to know God intimately, or to allow His truth to sanctify me and mature me, I have missed the whole point. Mere knowledge will “puff up” but knowledge coupled with a desire to obey will help us to “grow up.” The Pharisees obviously had a religious knowledge, but they totally missed the object of all Scripture- the Deity and Divine work of Jesus Christ. If we gain tremendous insights and have more understanding than all of our instructors and yet fail to know, love, and obey God more in the process, then all of our efforts have been in vain. So as we look at some of the mechanics in subsequent posts, let’s keep this in the forefront of our minds. As with most “religious” activities- there is always a temptation to approach them with a sense of duty and lifelessness. We can become so accustomed to doing Christian things that we do them without engaging our hearts. Several times we read in scripture that people “honored God with their lips, but their heart was far from Him.”

My prayer is that if you are already engaged in regular bible study, this will reinforce some disciplines you are already employing. If you are not doing this, I hope that you will be stirred into action and will share with me the joy of mining the great riches of God’s precious treasure- His Word!

Until next time….

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why Would He Choose Me?

Deuteronomy 7: 7 The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people

The nation of Israel is the apple of God's eye (Deut 32:10/Zechariah 2:8) and has always been. Some churches have embraced replacement theology, which without going into tons of detail basically says, "the church has replaced Israel as God's chosen people." I think a good reading of Romans 9-11 (and chapter 11 in particular) will dispel that myth and prove that God is not finished with the nation of Israel. And at some point in the not-too-distant future, the fullness of the Gentiles will have come in, and the focus will again turn to Jerusalem as the major center of salvific activity.

But God wanted to make sure that Israel understood her election status as God's chosen people. He wanted them to realize it had nothing to do with their prominence among the nations, their military might, or their influence on global affairs. God chose them because of His great love, and because of the covenant He initiated with the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Just a brief survey of the book of Genesis will reveal that even the patriarchs were not without blemish. The New Testament especially places emphasis on the fact that Abraham was justified by "faith" and by no other means. The same is true of the New Testament Church. We have been saved by grace, through faith.

After God explained to them the basis of their election (in Deut.7:7-8), He then went on to describe the commandments that they were obligated to obey. Much like Romans 12:1 begins "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God..", and then follows with a list of practical commands of the Christian faith. Today dear friend, you can rejoice that God has chosen to have mercy on you, not because of anything you have done, but because of the grace of God. This grace is not a license to sin- as a matter of fact, it is a means of overcoming it (read Titus 2:11-12 and Jude 1:4). But it is a tremendous reminder that in all things we should rejoice in the Lord and thank Him for His grace!

Until next time...

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Not Many Mighty...

1 Cor 1:26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: (KJV)

We are so easily impressed with worldly success. We love to hear about the high-profile conversions to Christianity. We are bombarded from the tele-pulpits (for those who still watch Christian television that is....) with a message proclaiming that God wants you to have "your best life now." Much like Job's day and Jesus' day, the idea that monetary wealth and worldly influence=spiritual blessing still permeates the religious world like a cancer. Even though history tells us that it has always been the downtrodden and rejected of society that most readily embrace the gospel, we still want to believe otherwise.

We have carefully sought to soften or even explain away Jesus' words which tell us that it is hard (not impossible...but difficult) for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We scratch our heads as we hear of miracles taking place in third-world countries...meanwhile most of our neighbors in the Western world couldn't care less about Jesus Christ than they do right now. James tells us that God has chosen the poor "rich in faith." The church in Smyrna was in abject poverty and yet Christ told them they were rich. The church in Laodicea was rich and "had need of nothing" by their own estimation- but Christ revealed to them that they were wretched, poor, miserable, blind, and naked.

No, this is not some kind of campaign or propaganda encouraging Christians to sell everything they own and give it to the poor. Nor is it a post championing the virtues of laziness, poor stewardship, or a lack of planning for the future. Paul was correcting a problem that the church in Corinth seemed to struggle with- spiritual pride! Anything that we have in this life (whether it be wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, or redemption) is all because of the LORD! God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. God says that His strength is made perfect in weakness- we have this treasure in earthen vessels (jars of clay).

God didn't choose the Israelites because they were great in number (Deut. 7:7). And the same is true of the church- it is by grace we have been saved through faith and not of ourselves- it is the gift of God-not of works, lest any man should boast! (Eph 2:8-9). Let's be thankful today that God has chosen foolish things to confound the wise. He is bringing to nothing the things that are so that no flesh can glory in His presence. We can say with Jonah that "salvation is of the LORD" (Jonah 2:9b)!

Friday, October 13, 2006

His ways are past finding out!

Romans 11:33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

In our church, we've been studying the book of Romans on Wednesday nights- verse-by-verse. For the past three weeks, we've been studying chapters 9-11 which deal largely with God's eternal plans for the nations and Israel in particular. There are some fairly difficult concepts outlined in those few chapters- the hardening of Pharaoah, the election of Israel as a nation, God's fantastic plan to include the Gentiles and have mercy upon all.

Paul certainly anticipated that some of these weighty themes would illicit questions (especially all that stuff about "Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated"....and so on). Here is a man who had studied at the feet of Gamaliel- a master of New Testament and Old Testament theology- one who had been to paradise and heard things not lawful for man to utter- and one who had numerous personal revelations from Jesus Christ Himself. And yet, he concludes this section of the letter to the Romans by saying that God's ways are "past finding out."

This is not a cop-out- nor is it an appeal for a lack of conviction about difficult theological concepts. It is simply an acknowledgment that there are some things we simply will not be able to resolve this side of Heaven. We spend far too much time arguing with one another and trying to convince each other of our particular interpretations which we have firmly cemented in our own minds. Instead of throwing our hands up in frustration, why don't we do as Paul and throw our hands up in the air to praise God. I don't have to understand how everything works in order to praise Him.

There are many two-sided truths in the Bible. For example, God must first choose us, but we also must respond in faith. The bible says "whosoever will, let him come" on the one hand, and on the other it says "no man can come to me unless the Father draws him." I personally cannot embrace the Calvinistic interpretation of election and predestination- I believe the scriptures reveal that God is no respector of persons. However, I will be the first to admit I don't understand Paul's conversion either. He was not looking to "get saved" on the road to Damascus. His intent was to cause harm and injury to the cause of Christ. And yet, Jesus interrupted his plans and revealed to him that he was a chosen vessel for God's glory.

So while we sit and home and ponder the great truths like election, predestination, the Trinity, and other difficult concepts- let us stand in awe and wonder at the Majesty of God Almighty and be thankful that He has chosen to have mercy upon us all.

Praise God on this Friday!

Until next time....

Monday, October 09, 2006

2 Corinthians 3:12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: (KJV)

Do you ever get the feeling that Christians, and especially leaders, get some kind of special satisfaction by speaking religious jargon? I often wonder what unbelievers think after listening to us speak or perhaps after reading some of our literature. Do they come away with a clear representation of the gospel message? Or do they simply walk away clueless because we have thoroughly confused the issue with complicated terminology and "Christianspeak"?

Now I do find it somewhat ironic that the Scripure I quoted above is from Paul- easily one of the most misunderstood writers of the New Testament. But this comment is not so much about difficulties in understanding doctrine, but rather in communicating the gospel. Paul was a master at communicating in the language of his listeners. He often used sports motifs (wrestling, boxing, running, etc.) to communicate spiritual truths. At Mars Hill, he was able to communicate to them in a way those people could clearly understand. To the Jews, he communicated and preached Christ to them from the perspective of the law of Moses. To the Gentiles, he was able to communicate Christ to them in such a way that they understood as well.

Today, I encourage and challenge you to ask God to help us communicate the love and grace of Jesus Christ in a way that is plain and easily understood. The older I get, the less interested I am in being perceived as a dynamic orator or writer- I'm much more interested that people actually understand the concepts I'm trying to teach. Are you using great plainness of speech today?

Until next time.....

Monday, October 02, 2006

Yet, I will rejoice....

Hab 3:17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Hab 3:18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The book of Habbakkuk is rarely referenced with the exception of the oft-quoted "for the vision is yet for an appointed time." What many people (and apparently many preachers) don't know, is that Habbakkuk's vision was not about building a bigger church, or about an upcoming revival. God was using the Chaldeans (Hab 1:6) as a tool of bringing Israel to repentance. They were a violent people whose mission was to bring them into captivity. When the LORD said "that he may run that readeth it" he meant to "flee", not to "run with the idea."

Naturally, one could understand the frustration of the prophet as God was using a pagan nation to judge the covenant people. Nevertheless, Habakkuk was determined not to allow this to destroy his relationship with God. So many of us worship God with all kinds of contingencies. As long as things are going well, we have plenty of money in reserve, we have good health, and healthy relationships, and satisfying accomplishments and validation- we are willing to worship and praise God. But we can learn a great lesson from the prophet today:

He said even if everything falls apart (i.e. fig trees don't blossom, no fruit, flocks cut off), yet he would rejoice in his God. The scriptures state that there will be a trial of our faith. Only in adversity is the quality of our faith truly tested. Paul's thorn in the flesh reveals to each one of us, that the conditions of life will never be exactly perfect here on earth. You can have all the money in the world and yet have failing health. You can be the picture of health and yet still have a need that exercise or medicine won't cure. God allows us to have these adversities at times in order that we might depend on Him and realize that His grace is truly sufficient for us. So today, can we agree together that we will rejoice in our God regardless of outward conditions?

I feel confident in saying that there are those reading this entry today who are facing struggles. But let's not allow the struggles to destroy our confidence in the integrity and the love of God. He has promised that He would never leave nor forsake us in the midst of life's storms. Hallelujah to the Lamb of God!

Rejoice with me today!

Until next time....