Book of Instruction

When Joshua received these words from the Lord, the only “books” he had in hand were the five scrolls Moses had written down. Collectively, they taught Joshua where he came from and what was expected of him. They would provide for Joshua all the motivation and power he needed to succeed in what he was about to do, that is, to retake the Promised Land of Canaan for Israel. This is the historical context of this verse. This is all that Joshua was intended to learn from this instruction from God.

Is there a modern application of this verse? Certainly. But it must be limited to the following: 1) that the book of instruction is from the Lord (the Bible) and that the “whatever you do” is commanded by God, I.e., the great commission. This verse is not carte blanche for whatever you want to do or a license for iniquity. 2 Tim 3:17 talks about how the word of God equips the man of God for every good work. That is what God is saying here. The Word of God will equip to do the work to which He’s called you. That’s how it works, and it is a perversion of God’s purpose to make this fit your desires.

Before you take off running with any verse, you must first determine what it meant before you can determine what it means. This verse was not written to us, but for us. We have inherited all of those to equip us in the complex world in which we live. Why is the Bible so hard to understand? Because the world is. We need every verse.

God bless you today.


Seeking Counsel

The Silent Partner of the Holy Trinity is the Holy Spirit. Today on Pentecost Sunday we remember the birthday of the church and the role the Holy Spirit played on that day. Like tongues of fire the Holy Spirit descended upon those disciples of the early church and caused them to speak in various tongues so that all around were amazed, speaking of the works of God in their own language.

This remarkable event marked the beginning of the Church, the beginning of God’s mission of inclusion by faith of the peoples of the world by offering the “gift of the Holy Spirit” to all who would received Him by faith, repentance, and baptism. It was no longer exclusive to the Jews to know the Presence of God, to have a singular Temple where God resides. No, the presence of God is offered to all!

In one of Jesus final teachings with His disciples the night before He died, He told his disciples about the Holy Spirit, who would be a Counselor and a Teacher to them. This forms the basis for the teaching of the rest of the New Testament beyond the gospels. The Holy Spirit would and did guide them into all truth. That ceased when those disciples died, and those they directly discipled, like Mark and Luke. Paul was given special dispensation as an Apostle called directly by Christ and so too was given authority to write Spirit-inspired Scripture.

So what does the Holy Spirit do for us, if His purpose in this verse was to inspire Scripture? We aren’t writing Scripture anymore. No. But the Spirit is the same. He need only guide us to what is written, remind us of what we’ve read. The wisdom of the Spirit is already written for us to consume, but we may not always understand what we read when we read it. The Spirit works within us to help us understand it. The Spirit is just as powerful and effective for us in seeking wise counsel as it was for Solomon.

Celebrate today the birthday of the Church, and give place to the Holy Spirit every day as He points us to the Son and the Father.

God bless you today!

Defining Heresy

Today’s heresy is tomorrow’s orthodoxy. When I was trained into ministry, I trained according to the understanding of doctrine of the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, i.e., The Restoration Movement. Many moons ago, the “Campbellites” as they were once called were maligned and shunned because they promote “baptismal regeneration” or the idea that getting baptized is what gets you saved. Alexander Campbell was asked to leave the Mahoning Baptist Association of Western Pennsylvania for his radical beliefs. Today the Restoration Churches believe that baptism alone does not save you, but that baptism is essential to salvation, as part of a process of faith, repentance, confession and baptism. We believe that baptismal regeneration is not heretical, but essential to the salvation process.

Funny enough though, salvation without baptism was considered heretical a few hundred years ago when Ulrich Zwingli first brought the idea during the Reformation. At that time, believer’s baptism wasn’t really a thing, but infant baptism was commonplace. Zwingli proposed that it wasn’t baptism that saved you (as the Catholics insisted), but that belief in Jesus was essential, and baptism was a work, an act of obedience. Thus, many who follow in his footsteps, including the Evangelical Movement today, put baptism on the back burner, as an act of obedience, rather than including it as part of salvation.

But then again, infant baptism hasn’t always been a thing either. In the beginning, those who believed and were baptized were the ones that were saved. Infants cannot grasp such ephemeral concepts as salvation from sin. Thus infants were excluded from baptism in the early church. However, the idea began to be taught that baptism, apart from faith, could be effective for salvation. This was a heretical idea that was espoused in the second century. The practice of baptizing infants was introduced primarily for parents worried that their children would not live long enough to believe. They were worried about this because of another heretical idea, “original sin”, which taught that one was guilty of Adam’s sin from conception, and only baptism could save someone from it. However, they missed this one point: while all carry the burden of Adam’s guilt, God also provides “original grace” for children before they reach the age of accountability, the age they are old enough to have faith in Jesus. (Is that another heretical idea, or something that makes logical sense?)

Thus today’s heresy becomes tomorrow’s orthodoxy. It just depends on who you listen to.

That said, this brings up today’s topic. In the verse above, the of “divisions” is in Greek “heresy”. It seems an odd thing to put in the Bible if we have no way to know what heresy is. Rather, Paul, as he is writing to Titus (an evangelist in Crete) assumed that Titus would know what is truth and what is heresy. As I listed above, baptism, which is a central component of Christian doctrine, has been thrown around the proverbial playground of theology. It has been labeled saving and an act of obedience. It has been called essential and non-essential. My friends, this is a core doctrine of Christianity. This isn’t like setting a date for Jesus’ return. This is at the core of what we believe about salvation, and yet it has been played with by the Church for 20 centuries!

All of that to say this: Heresy isn’t as easy to spot as it used to be. The idea of heresy also points to the idea that there is a “faith once for all delivered to the saints” that can be known and understood, and that we can identify counterfeits. Is there Paul? Is there really?

The only way to resist lies is to know the truth. A truth understood can spot a lie every time. In the early days of the church, even to the time of the Reformation, having a copy of the Bible in your hands was almost impossible and horribly expensive. Only the elite had the truth and dispensed it as they pleased. (Note: The Book of Eli movie is an interesting take on this idea, for if you are the only one who has the book, you can make it say anything you want and can control people as you please). You do not have the luxury today of waiting for others to tell you what the truth is. You no longer have the excuse of waiting for church time to read the Book. The Bible is available on every platform, every form of media. We are without excuse to not know what the truth is.

But that is just the start. Even being familiar the Scriptures can expose you to the eisegetical whims of false teachers, those who read their own ideas into the Bible and make it say what they want. Just recently I read an article about the “Prosperity Gospel” teachers who say that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy and quote Scriptures accordingly. If you go into the Bible with that idea in mind, every verse will seem to say that back to you. Even the verses that say Christians will suffer will seem mere symbolism to one so deceived.

Read your Scriptures. Study your Scriptures in context, in the context of the paragraphs and passages they are found in, their historical and literary contexts and how both original author and audience understood them. Also remember you have the Holy Spirit. He is with you to help you understand the Scriptures. If a teaching you receive sounds “funny” or “odd”, that may well be the Holy Spirit nudging you to study and pursue further. I have had many occasions for this this and been rewarded for my pursuit.

NEVER take a verse by itself. NEVER assume you know what a verse is saying until you read its context. NEVER let anyone tell you what a verse means if they don’t also include its context in their teaching. The world is full of false religions and heresies where single verses are ripped from their contexts and put together with others to create new doctrines.

Paul’s warning is clear. Heresy has no place alongside sound Christian teaching. If a false teacher will not recant, then he or she needs to be removed. In your study, don’t ever assume that you have come up with a new understanding of Scripture. The Bible has been around long enough that someone somewhere has already had that thought or that understanding. Research your interpretation. Check it against trusted sources. Remember also that the Church is old enough to have collected heretical baggage along her way and passed it off as doctrine, sometimes forming even whole denominations (which is also “heretical” when you think about it). As Glenn Beck says, do your own homework. You may have actually exposed some of it. Be prepared to face the backlash of the Unstudied and the “This is the Way We’ve Always Done It” Crowd. If you are right, be humble. Don’t go around saying you’ve found the “Truth” because nobody likes that. Instead, offer it as an alternative, and be certain in your facts.

Think critically, both of what you have learned and what you study. Be wiling to ask questions when something doesn’t sound right. God bless you in your journey.

You Aren’t Always Right

Recently I have been challenged on my interpretation of Scripture, and rightly so. I am not always right. I don’t know that anyone is. I also hate to be told that I am in error. Thus the warning of this verse. I make mistakes. I can be more right than I was yesterday, but i will never be perfect.

In fact, much of the truth we believe comes to us from others, who are also not always right. Parents, teachers, professors, managers, all flawed, imperfect human beings. Our best hope is that we get enough right to make good decisions about life.

Even the Bible, our most trusted source of information that ought and should be always right, still comes to us from the minds and pens of translators and scholars. Even if you know the Hebrew and the Greek, it still comes through that filter of training and discipline in learning those languages.

So can we know anything true? This is where Felix’s statement to Paul really comes true. “Your much learning is driving you mad.” You can go crazy trying to account for the error endemic to the human system. It truly challenges everything you think is true.

However, there are two notions in this verse that help us. One is to fear the Lord. The other is to shun evil. We cannot do either of these things if we cannot know what they are. I think it goes without saying that we can identify evil. We instinctively know what evil is. It does not have to be taught. We also identify the opposite of evil, good, and that of absolute good, the Lord. We can identify God’s handiwork with no formal education. He is transcendent.

Since we can know both God and evil, and favor the one and shun the other, then all other truths fall in line with these two poles. Fearing and respecting God helps us identify Scripture as God’s own word. The Bible speaks often clearly of what God wants from us. Our knowledge of evil agrees with what the Bible says about evil. Thus, except for very rare instances, the Bible even as translated, is a source of truth. Everything that agrees with the Bible can also be accepted as truth.

The sciences, for example, anticipate a world that is ordered and rational, because it was created by a God of order and logic. If the world evolved in a random fashion, it would be impossible to do science, because every scientific result would be different. It would, in that random world, be impossible to expect an aspirin to relieve pain every time, or even most of the time. Science expects the same result every time given the same set of circumstances. A random universe does not.

How can I know that what I know is right? Check it against your Bible. The Bible resonates with me, acts often as a mirror to my behavior showing me right and wrong. And the more I read it, the better I get. I am not always right, but I can learn.

Thoroughly Equipped

Is it possible to be thoroughly equipped for every good work? What people miss about this text, because they get stuck on the inspiration section, is that Scripture can thoroughly equip the servant of God for every work God calls us to do. I discovered this when I was getting some extra classes for counseling and this was pointed out. Biblical counseling doesn’t need the principles of psychology, based on man’s ideas, but the word of God.

Consider what “every good work” entails. Every work that God considers “good” toward advancing the Kingdom of God can find guidance from the word of God. Are you looking to make what you do something that God can use for His Kingdom, look no further than the word of God. Confused about what you can do in this world that matters to God? Apply the principles you find in the pages of this book. The Bible was written to equip you, not just in part, but thoroughly, so that you can do God’s good work.

Teaching, Rebuking, Correcting, Teaching in Righteousness. The Word instructs us in what is true. It rebukes is because we have sinned. It corrects us because we have made mistakes. It teaches us righteousness because it is showing us how to do it God’s way. The Word of God is a divine mirror, showing us not only our faults, but also the solutions. We cannot discern these things from science and nature. They have to be revealed to us. God has already given us what we need to do all He has called us to do. God will not call you if He has not equipped you for the task. The Bible equips you for every good work He calls us to.

There is in this a sense of priority. If the Bible has nothing to say about something I want to do, is it a “good” work? Am I spinning my wheels or wasting time? Am I expending valuable time and energy doing something God has not called me to? I know this is arguing from the silences of Scripture but it makes me wonder. Does everything I do need to have a divine decree behind it? I know Scripture says elsewhere, whatever you do, do for the glory of God. Is what I am doing glorifying God?

I can’t tell you what to do. But I can tell you that the Bible has something to say about everything we put our mind to doing, whether direct commands or passive ones. The Bible isn’t just a book on the shelf. It’s God’s express commands to us about how He says we need to live. Don’t let it collect dust.

God bless you today.

Selective Exegesis

I “love” how many Christians read this verse for its first part, the part where God keeps His covenant throughout generations. But then they fail to add the last part of the verse, that this covenant keeping is with those who keep their agreement with God. This was true in the Old Testament system. Though God is a god of grace and mercy, especially when we don’t deserve, this verse very clearly dictates terms. We may lean on God’s grace for all things, but it seems disingenuous when we ought to know better, and have been told what He expects of us. We become selective in our exegesis, conveniently eliminating those pieces that we feel we don’t need anymore, because we are “under grace and not under law.”

Did we forget that under The grace of Christ, He still expects us to keep His commands as proof of our love for Him? He still expects us to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey His commands. The New Testament is not a “do what you want! It’s all good!” But “do this and you will be saved!” “Do this because you are my disciples!”

When quoting Bible verses, quote them in context. Don’t pick and choose translations to best for what you want the verse to say. Study all of them, for they all contain nuance of the languages behind the translation. Study your Bible. Don’t just read it. This is the Word of God written down for your benefit. Don’t go praying to the heavens for a “WORD” from the Lord until you’ve exhausted the written word and wrung out all its meaning. Read. Pray. Study. Learn.

God bless you today.

No Empty Words

You ever say something you didn’t mean? I know I have. Or sometimes I say something out loud I didn’t mean to say, and then have to say, “I didn’t mean it. I was joking.” To tell on myself a little, there are sometimes people say, “Keep me in your prayers.” And then I say, “Sure.” Honestly I would not be able to track of such a prayer list.

But the words of God are never empty. He never says anything He doesn’t mean. He is always intentional in His words. Even those large tracts in Leviticus are meaningful and intentional, though it’s a challenge to read through them. That’s why when someone says, “God told me” I really have to question it. Because when a person who is not known to be a prophet invoked this absolute authority of the Word of God, I have to wonder if these words are truth. You really can’t joke about this, or overstate your case. If God spoke to you, in actual words, then they would be on the level of Scripture. If you had a feeling or a conviction after reading a particular verse, then God spoke to everyone! And you just happened to finally get it. Please don’t assume the mantle of prophet, because God’s word also says to kill anyone who pretends to speak for God. Just fair warning.

James 3 says that those who teach are held to a much higher standard, because they are assuming the mantle of speaking the word of God. We must do so accurately. Why is this so important? Because it is the word of God. His word never fails, and everything He says is truth. We cannot play fast and loose with Scripture. Read with caution, but speak the truth.

God bless you today.