Monthly Archives: March 2019

 
 

God’s Word, Daily Devotions, and the Family

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9; all Scripture citations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

It is not enough to know that the Bible is the Word of God. God gave us His Word so that we could know Him, His will, and how to follow His directions for our lives.

The above passage begins with a verse known as the “shema,” from the Hebrew word for “listen” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Some people call it the “statement of faith” of Judaism, the key verse of their faith. A few websites that call it “the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book” or the most important prayer in Judaism. Jesus referred to the very next verse (Deuteronomy 6:5) as the greatest commandment:

“And one of the scribes … asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:28–31).

Since both Jewish tradition and Jesus Himself consider these verses to be so important, we should take heed to the rest of this exhortation. How can a child of God follow the teachings of Jesus? By knowing God’s Word. To know and follow God’s will for our lives, we must store His Word in our hearts. We also must pass it on to future generations.

We need to read the Bible every day. We should read it alone. We should also teach it to our children.

To grow in your faith, you should read the Bible throughout the week. It is not enough to simply hear the Scripture readings in church on Sunday morning. We need daily reminders of all that He has done for us and all He wants us to know. Also, our children need to hear the Bible throughout the week. The Bible never mentions Sunday school, children’s church, or a children’s sermon, because God commanded parents to teach their children.

Read the Bible every day. Find a good Bible reading plan that will provide a passage for every day. I follow the Daily Office readings from the Book of Common Prayer. Many students of Scripture prefer to follow one of several “through the Bible in one year” plans. The devotional guide, Our Daily Bread, provides readings from the Old and New Testament every day to help you read the entire Bible within one year. It also provides a shorter reading with comments related to the passage.

Train your children in the Word of God whenever you can. Young children (up to seven years of age) learn most from stories. Read Bible stories and explain what they mean to them. As a child gets older, you can read other books of the Bible, such as the New Testament letters, with them and discuss the passage. Teenagers should be encouraged to read on their own, perhaps following a devotional guide or other reading plan.

Find teachable moments with your children. Deuteronomy 6:7 says that we should “talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Discuss Bible passages that relate to things they learned in school or situations they or their friends are facing. Some families do a brief Bible study or prayer time while they eat dinner. See what works for your family.

Finally, it is helpful to keep visual reminders about God’s Word and Christian truths around you. My wife will sometimes write a Bible verse on an index card and tape it to the bathroom mirror. That makes it certain that we will see that verse every day. This is especially helpful when the verse speaks about an issue that is important to you at this time in your life. We also have crosses hanging on a few walls in our apartment, reminding us of Christ’s sacrifice for us and His perpetual presence in our lives.

If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we will not reserve it for one day of the week. Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), not “I am with you one day per week” or “I am with you only when you go to church.” He wants to speak to us every day. He wants us to share His good news with everybody—especially our own families. Seek His Word daily.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

God’s Purpose in Scripture

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14–17; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

In recent posts, we looked at the authority of Scripture and its relationship with tradition. Now, let us look at God’s purpose in providing the Bible. What was His aim? What does He intend for us to learn from it?

St. Paul. Painting by Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

Keep in mind that God’s Word leaves out many details. We may be curious and want extra facts. But, God is silent about some things. The late Roman Catholic broadcaster Mother Angelica once said that 91% of Jesus’ life is “hidden.” Think about it: Jesus is God’s ultimate self-revelation. Yet, the book that preserves His revelation presents only a small fraction of His life. We read a little about the first couple years of His life. Then, we read about one family trip to Jerusalem when He was 12 years old (Luke 2:41–52). After that, God says nothing about Jesus’ life until He is about 30 years old. We read nothing about His carpentry career. We do not know what happened to His stepfather, Joseph; most Christians believe he died before Jesus’ ministry began, but we do not know when. God tells us what we need to know for salvation, not what we want to know to satisfy our curiosity.

Likewise, I recently had an online discussion with a seminary friend and his wife about Noah and Methuselah. Methuselah was the oldest man in the Old Testament, dying at the age of 969 years, and Noah was his grandson (Genesis 4:25–27). Genesis 4:25–32 and 7:11 show that he died in the same year as the flood. That raises a few questions: Did Methuselah die several months before the flood or just before the rains came? Did he drown in the flood? If so, why? Did Noah invite Methuselah on the ark, but he refused to come? Or, did God prohibit Noah from inviting Methuselah on the ark? We do not have the answers to these questions. God did not think Methuselah’s fate was important for us to know.

Many Bible stories, including the account of Noah’s ark, leave numerous details out. God focused on what we need to know. “Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat” by Simon de Myle (public domain, via Wikipedia Commons).

The story of Noah raises other questions, as my friend pointed out: How did only four men, with possibly some help from their wives, build such a huge ship long before the development of advanced shipbuilding technology? Did their neighbors help them? If so, how did they tell them, “No, you cannot come on our boat.” Once again, the Bible is silent.

We read with many questions that will never be answered this side of heaven. While the Holy Spirit did not provide all the details, He did reveal what we need to know for salvation. In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul wrote that the Scriptures make us “wise to salvation.” They show us what we need to know about everlasting life. The Word of God shows us that it is only through faith in Jesus that we are saved:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’” (Acts 4:11–12).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Human wisdom has limitations. We need special revelation from God. He gives it in His Word. It shows us why we need to believe in Jesus and what God wants us to know and believe about Him.

Paul concluded 2 Timothy 3 with the following statement about the inspiration of Scripture:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

As we saw in a previous post, these verses—particularly the phrase “breathed out”—provide the term “inspiration” of Scripture. They also list four functions of Scripture: teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Interested readers can study these four terms in this blog’s most-frequently read article, published in 2012. To summarize the distinctions between them, we can observe that they are complementary. They address both belief and practice. Teaching instructs the reader about what he needs to know; correction addresses errors and false beliefs. Reproof points out when one is doing something wrong; training in righteousness shows someone how to do the will of God. The mature Christian must have the right beliefs and act based on those beliefs. When learning what is right, we have to unlearn the things we have thought or done that are wrong.

Let us keep God’s purposes in mind when we study the Bible. We do not read His Word only because it is a good story. We read it grow in our knowledge of Him. He will tell us what we need to know for salvation if we read with the proper mindset.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Scripture and Tradition

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photograph from Max Pixel, under a Creative Commons Zero – CC0 license.

Last week’s post began with the title, “The Authority of Scripture,” yet also touched strongly on the role of church tradition. This can be a complicated discussion. It is so complicated that I think many Christians simply avoid it by seeking simple answers. For many, that simple answer is to simply call oneself a “Bible-believing Christian” and reject tradition entirely. The other simple answer is to accept the teachings of one’s church without examining the Scriptures to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). I think a more moderate stance—accepting the truth of God’s Word, but looking to see how the Holy Spirit has spoken through it in previous eras—is a wiser choice. It may not be feasible to address all that this entails in a simple blog post, but I will do my best in the following paragraphs. (I realize I am treading some controversial waters here: please read this entire post and the previous one before jumping to conclusions.)

Martin Luther. Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), via Wikipedia.

There are many conflicting beliefs about the proper interpretation of Scripture. Who do I trust? Do I follow Joel Osteen, Charles Stanley, or some other prominent modern preacher or best-selling Christian author? Do I accept the wisdom of a reputable contemporary theologian like J. I. Packer, or a respected Bible scholar or preacher from previous decades? What about the Reformers like Martin Luther or John Calvin, or later founders of Christian movements like John Wesley? In each of these cases, I am looking to the interpretation or opinion of somebody who lived over 1400 years after Jesus and His disciples. Some of these people had political or other ideological agendas mixed with their theology.

So, if I am going to allow a man of God to guide my interpretation of Scripture, is it better to look to one of these people, or to trust the opinion of Irenaeus or Polycarp? Who is this, you ask? Is Polycarp Greek for “a lot of fish” or is it actually a person’s name? Polycarp was an early Christian leader, ordained by none other than St. John, the apostle. He learned the Christian faith from John. He, in turn, taught Irenaeus. Thus, in the writings of these two men, we learn from people who were only one or two steps removed from Jesus Himself! Polycarp did not merely know the Gospel of John; he knew its author. He knew things St. John taught both in spoken and written Word!

Furthermore, the canon—the list of books accepted by the Church as the Word of God—is itself a product of tradition. Why do we read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while ignoring the Gospel of Thomas? Jesus is quoted saying some great things in Thomas, but we ignore it. While many say, “Thomas was not really written by the disciple” (I agree with that statement), many scholars question whether the four Gospels we read were actually written by those authors (Matthew’s Gospel gives no direct clues who its author is). We simply accept by faith that those first four Gospels are the Word of God, and the Gospel according to Thomas and similar non-biblical “gospels&rdquo are the words of men. Likewise, we accept Revelation as the Word of God, but have never read the Shepherd of Hermas (although many early Christians preferred that book). Finally, Martin Luther wished he could take the letter of James out of the New Testament. However, the historic early church has spoken: We recognize these books as the Word of God. Other books may be great devotional literature or completely heretical. We accept the early church’s witness without really thinking about it.

Yes, errors have emerged at times in Church history. However, errors and heresies continue to pop up today. Many are merely repackaged versions of false teachings we think we have rejected (the similarities between medieval Catholicism’s sale of indulgences and the modern charismatic teaching about “seed-faith offerings to claim a blessing” are really two heads of the same monster). We can benefit by seeing how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church throughout the ages, rather than jumping on new revelations or radical reinterpretations of the Bible. We have no authority to reshape the meaning of Scripture! Yes, we can reapply its principles to new situations; over the last 20 years or so, Christians have had to learn how to apply biblical principles to social media, blogging, and other aspects of the Internet, even though none of these are mentioned in Scripture. Modern Christians have to learn how to live biblical truth—written in societies usually governed by kings, emperors, and tyrants—in democratic and republican societies. However, the meaning of Scripture has not changed—what has changed is the culture in which we have to apply it.

Unfortunately, some Christians try to modify the Bible’s meaning to adapt it to a changed society. About 15 or 20 years ago, while teaching a Bible study at my church, I said that within a few years even so-called Bible-believing Christians would find themselves considering homosexual marriage “normal.” Most in the congregation doubted at that time, but look what has happened since then. It was legalized in Massachusetts; then in a few other states; and now, by Supreme Court ruling, it is legal in all 50 states. In response, some evangelical Christians have tried to redefine the meaning of biblical words about homosexuality, in an attempt to force the Bible into meaning what they want it to mean. Sorry, folks, you can convince yourself that your sophistry and rhetoric works, but God Himself is not moved: When Scripture lists “homosexuality” as a sin in 1 Corinthians 6:9, the Greek term is a compound word which literally means “a man who goes to bed with another man”; it simply does not and cannot mean “pedophile” or “child molester.”

Christians have become afraid to call sin by its biblical name, so many of us try to find ways to reinterpret Scripture to accept lifestyles that the Old Testament calls “abominations,” or to remove the Bible’s clear teaching about hell. I can only wonder how long it is until so-called Bible-believing churches accept transgenderism or polygamy. When we reject the wisdom of past decades of Spirit-led men of God and trust in our own understanding, anything goes. So, if a preacher is bringing a “new revelation” or “deeper truth” that was not taught in previous generations, be suspicious. Every time we ignore the Holy Spirit’s guidance of previous generations and assume He is correcting Himself, we are one step closer to apostasy.

Traditions have failed the Church in the past, but they still serve a valuable purpose. They give us a foundation upon which to interpret the hard questions of Scripture. They keep us connected with the universal Body of Christ throughout the ages. They keep a check on our pride and egotism, which may seek to distort Scripture to suit our own desires.

In my next post, we will take a look at how this relates to the purpose of Scripture and how God can use it to speak to us.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments
 
 

The Authority of Scripture

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photograph from Max Pixel, under a Creative Commons Zero – CC0 license.

Our recent study about special revelation (here, here, here, and here) addressed the nature of how God reveals Himself to us and what that tells us about the nature of Scripture. Since the Bible is the record of God’s self-revelation to mankind, it is the authority to which all mankind, and especially all Christians and the Church, must yield.

The Bible is not a man-made record of God’s self-revelation. It is a God-breathed record. The Greek word used here, “theopneustos,” is translated in different English Bibles as “inspired,” “God breathed,” or “breathed out by God.” The Word of God was breathed out by the Spirit of God into the hearts and minds of those who recorded it for future generations. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture and directed them as they wrote. He guided the apostles to understand truths they were not ready to receive during Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 16:12–13), and these now appear in the pages of Scripture. This is not an ordinary book. Sadly, many Christians treat the Bible like an intellectual Lego set, trying to piece it together to suit their desires:

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19–21).

This divine inspiration is the source of the Bible’s authority. Since the Bible bears God’s authority, we have an obligation to yield to it: the Bible does not yield to us. This should be self-evident to Christians, but a growing number of believers prefers to exercise their own authority over God’s Word. We have no right to force God’s Word to line up with our convictions. We need to know what it says and means, not what we wish it said and meant. Unfortunately, non-Christians are not alone in their rejections of Scriptural authority. At times, even those who claim to be “Bible-believing Christians” can try to place themselves outside its authority, even while seeking to reject “tradition.” To avoid the errors (or perceived errors) in Roman Catholicism, many choose to read the Bible for themselves and make up their own minds about what it means. While we should seek to know the truth (and avoid falling into the errors others have made), we must not use this as an opportunity to redefine biblical truth.

While Jesus was critical of “the traditions of men,” the concept of tradition is not always rejected in the New Testament:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Note that Paul told the Thessalonians to hold onto the traditions that they learned either via spoken word or letter. The “letter” here could refer to 1 Thessalonians, which shares a place in the Bible with this letter. What about the spoken words, though? It seems that these traditions could be traced directly back through the apostles to Jesus Himself. Until the New Testament was canonized about 300 years later, the Church’s official source of authority was “apostolic teaching.” If a tradition did not come from the apostles, it was not considered authoritative Christian doctrine. That apostolic tradition found its crystallized final form in the New Testament books we read today.

I am not advocating adherence to every tradition that was ever passed down. Some traditions contradict each other, and others that have emerged in church history clearly contradict the Bible. Roman Catholics believe Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, while Eastern Orthodoxy maintains that she was buried in Ephesus (where St. John, the beloved disciple, is also believed to be buried). One of these traditions is not true. However, many other historic traditional teachings remain trustworthy.

I realize I have entered some controversial territory here, but I do not think my stance is unique. Martin Luther (famed for the slogan, “sola scriptura”) did not stray too far from historic Church teaching on many subjects (e.g., the sacraments), and John Wesley balanced his devotion to Scripture with a desire to interpret it in light of tradition, reason, and experience. In a following post, I will add some more thoughts to show why it is important to connect our understanding of Scripture with some level of tradition.

A few final disclaimers: (1) My beliefs about the relationship and role of Scripture and tradition have evolved in recent years. I am still learning and studying, and my thoughts on this subject could change in recent years. (2) I do not guarantee that my thoughts on this subject, in this and the following post, exactly match the teachings of my church or any other denomination. (3) While I welcome comments and discussion, I may not respond to all comments directed to specific doctrines affected by this discussion.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments
 
 

Lent and Fasting

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it? Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am. If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:1‒12; all Scripture citations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

For much of my adult life, I ignored Lent. It seemed to me like a legalistic ritual. I thought it provided nothing for salvation or spiritual growth. You get some ashes smeared on your head one Wednesday; for the next 40 days, you give up chocolate. What makes this spiritual? Where is God in all of this?

The truth is that some people will go through Lent and get nothing out of it. However, that is not because there is a problem with the season or the traditions associated with it. It is a problem with how that particular individual is approaching the situation. We can take legitimate ways of approaching and worshiping God and do them without His presence. Even the holiest acts can be worthlessly mundane if we merely go through the motions.

God is not impressed if we just go through the motions of Lent or fasting. The true worshipers of God will serve Him in Spirit and truth, not merely in outward rituals. What God says about fasting in the above passage is just as true about all spiritual disciplines and practices, including Bible study, prayer, praise, worship, and serving others.

(For those of you who believe fasting is a purely Old-Testament practice that Christians can ignore, I urge you to read my article, “Principles of Fasting,” at https://darkenedglassreflections.com/2011/12/04/principles-of-fasting/. Jesus assumed that His disciples will fast, and in Matthew 28:18‒20 He told them to teach later generations of disciples to obey ALL that He commanded them.)

It is helpful to remember that one goal of any fast is to give up something physical or natural so that we can devote our attention to things that are spiritual. Many people will give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, along with a favorite kind of food and/or hobby for the entire season. Others may be more ambitious (perhaps going on a full no-food fast for a day here and there), while others may do something simpler (perhaps giving up only one food). However, whether we give up a lot or a little, we need to fill the gap with something spiritual. If you give up food, without adding prayer or other spiritual disciplines, you are dieting—not fasting.

So, here are a few suggestions for those who observe Lent:

  • While giving up food, add prayer. The time devoted to preparing and eating food can be used for additional prayer and Bible reading.
  • While giving up a hobby or activity (television, Facebook, etc.), add praise and worship. The time you would normally spend on your hobby can be spent playing favorite worship songs on a musical instrument, or listening to favorite praise and worship music on a CD, Spotify, or Pandora. (Yes, this can include songs you actually enjoy listening to in your favorite musical genre. “Holy and spiritual” does not have to mean “boring, tedious, and painful.”)

Let us take it even further, as Isaiah advises in the above Bible passage:

  • Let us give up anger and develop a lifestyle of patience.
  • Let us give up greed and develop a lifestyle of generosity.
  • Let us give up selfishness and develop a lifestyle of compassion and love.

Okay, I admit: That last list may be a little less fun than perpetually streaming a playlist of your favorite Christian contemporary musicians. However, this is what God is really seeking. He is not interested in creating a club of people who eat fish on Fridays. His goal is to mold us to be more like Him.

Therefore, let Lent be a season of self-examination and reflection. Take some time in the coming weeks to read Galatians 5:19–23. Take a look at the deeds of the flesh: Which of these have the most impact on your life? Where are your weaknesses? Next, take a look at the fruit of the Spirit: Which are most abundant in your life? Which would benefit most by a season of growth.

At its core, Lent is not about meatless Wednesdays, fish on Fridays, or 40 days without chocolate, coffee, or donuts. Like every other day or season of the year, it is a time that the Lord has made for us to worship Him (Psalms 118:24). Let us devote this season to a searching and fearless moral inventory. Let us confess those parts of the carnal worldly life to which we continue to cling, release those defects to God, and yield to Him so that He may manifest His holiness within us. Then shall our light break forth like the dawn, and our healing shall spring up speedily. Our righteousness shall go before us, and the glory of the Lord shall be our rear guard. We shall call, and the Lord will answer.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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