Good News and Bad News

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.3.36.csb

My daughter asked me last night if I wanted the good news first or the bad news first. I wasn’t sure so I said, ”chronological order.” She looked at me uncertainly, and then told me news about the bread she had baked. Huh? Well, sometimes it’s not terrible.

Sometimes the difference is life and death, even eternal life and death. So it is with our text today. It is said that Jesus Christ will stand over all in judgment on the last day at the great white throne. But it should be obvious that the judgment has already been made by the time we get there. And Jesus isn’t the One who judges. What? Jesus is the cause for judgment, but each and every person makes his own judgment whether he believes Jesus is the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, and the essential Savior we need for our sins. So much rests upon individual faith that our eternal destiny depends on it. Each of us knows by the time we get to this glorious throne what the judgment will be.

I know there are those that will reject this truth outright, refusing to believe there is any kind of God, or that He would have a Son in a human being. It all seems crazy. Our five senses just aren’t ready for supernatural stuff. But we have other senses. Pardon me for getting a little weird, but, we also have a sense of right and wrong. We have a sense of beauty and perfection. We have love and joy and peace. We know when things are peaceful and when they are tense. We are aware of more than our five senses tell us. There is more than our five senses can sense. We know this inherently. That’s why we also have a sense of awe and wonder, of things too wonderful for us to understand. We have a sense for God.

So when we read stuff like this verse, we are compelled to respond. We can not remain neutral, because there is not middle ground here. Either we joyfully accept it, or we reject it. We know it means something, because our spirit responds to it. Scripture is like that. Few find a neutral position with Scripture. If God chose to speak to us, He must have something important to say.

How will you respond today?

Advertisements

No Need

www.bible.com/72/php.4.19.hcsb

Need anything? This question gets asked around our house when someone is texting from WalMart or Kroger or somewhere else. It is an expression of love, a willingness to get something when that person can’t physically be at the store, but still lacks.

As Christians, especially American Christians, we have so much and our needs are so often met that it’s hard to discern between what we need and what we desire. I imagine God sees our needs in a couple of ways, our physical needs (air, water, food, shelter, clothing), our social needs (companionship, love, mentoring), and our spiritual needs (forgiveness, grace, knowledge, hope, faith, and love). My lists are not exhaustive but point to some things as human beings we need, but often neglect. We favor and savor desires for self and pleasure more than we ask for peace and joy. We might prefer a slice of chocolate cake over reading and savoring a passage of Scripture. Or maybe going out to the movies than a Home Bible Study.

Yet God knows what we need. If we will seek Him, He will supply all of them through Christ Jesus. We cannot get what we need through Shiva, Baal or Isis. Nor through Mohammed, atheism, or Wicca. There is only one path to meet the needs that God Himself installed: Jesus Christ.

So which of the countless ways to Jesus is the right path? It’s easy to dismiss alternative religions, but Christians don’t make it any easier. How can I know which church is true? Don’t be daunted by the number of Churches. Christian Churches all follow the same Bible and preach the same Jesus, more or less. Whether you find a Methodist, Baptist, Christian, Catholic, Pentecostal, Apostolic, or Fundamentalist, all of these churches revere Jesus and worship Him. But I would not attend a church that doesn’t believe in the Bible and teaches from it regularly. If they need other books, walk away. If they don’t preach salvation through Jesus, leave them behind. I can’t tell you which one to go to, because some individual churches in extremely liberal denominations are still very conservative and preach and teach Jesus and the Bible. Some pastors have not given in to social pressure and still preach truth. But they are getting harder to find. For myself, I attend a Southern Baptist-type church on Sunday morning and an acapella Church of Christ on Wednesday night. That’s where I am at present.

If you can’t find a good church, at least start reading the Bible on your own. Get a group of you and some interested friends to study together. That’s how the church started, followers of Jesus meeting in homes. I want to encourage you to become part of a fellowship as soon as possible.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. Have a great Thursday and God bless!

Hiding

www.bible.com/1713/psa.119.11.csb

Need a minute? I know I’m busy. And I am sure this note finds you in the middle of something. It’s been a busy morning already. Had to go out of town this morning as a favor. Now I am on my way back and stopped for breakfast. My oldest turned 21 yesterday, so now I feel older. 😊

We are working on a get together for the family next week, so the plan is to go to Colorado and visit with family I’ve not seen for decades. Because of that, I’ve also been working on compiling family history data, and I’ve got that to finish up.

Ugh.

Add that to work and marriage and kids.

No, I am not especially busy. There’s always a lot to do. But when I sit down and think about it, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

So I am sitting here sipping coffee and contemplating the verse above. In one sense, I am hiding for He moment from my responsibilities today. But I am also thinking this word seems odd. Why would I hide God’s Word in my heart? Would I not want to share it?

But hiding the Word in the heart is more about the appearance than the intent. You are not hiding to keep it from others. You are hiding it to store it, like a squirrel does nuts for winter, to be able to draw from when times are lean, or when you need a ready verse at hand for counseling and advice. This takes time reading and studying. And as you do, your internal, hidden library will grow with good stuff. You already have baseball stats and movies in there. Put some useful stuff in there too.

And when your verses are well hidden, you will have a supply spilling out of you in your speech and your writing. The beauty of it is, the word of God will not stay hidden, but as Jeremiah once said, it is a fire burning within him. It will burn within you, and burn away the junk.

May God’s Word bless you today.

Book of Instruction

www.bible.com/1713/jos.1.8.csb

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

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.14.26.csb

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

https://www.bible.com/bible/1713/TIT.3.10.CSB

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

www.bible.com/1713/pro.3.7.csb

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.