Bible meditations

 
 

The Spirit of Truth in the Life of the Believer

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

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

The Holy Spirit will speak to us as a reflection of His nature. He is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16–17; 16:13). This is who He is. His very essence is truth. God’s Word is true because the Spirit of Truth inspired it and illuminates it to us.

As the Spirit of Truth, He dwells within us and guides us as our helper or counselor. In John 14:26, Jesus calls Him the “parakletos,” a Greek word meaning “the one called alongside to help.” It has a broad meaning, which no single English word translates adequately. The ESV translates it as “helper.” Other translations say “counselor” or “advocate,” all of which seem to emphasize one part of the Holy Spirit’s work. He helps us. He counsels us, guides us, and gives us wisdom and insight. He serves as an advocate for us. Some will say He does this by defending us before God the Father, like an attorney defends a suspected criminal before the court. Perhaps, more importantly, He defends us against the lies of Satan. When the accuser of the brethren seeks to condemn us by reminding us of our sins, the Holy Spirit will remind us that there is no condemnation for us, since we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

The Holy Spirit also speaks to us out of His relationship to us and to the rest of the Trinity. He dwells within us, perfecting our relationship with Christ:

“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20).

The Holy Spirit takes the things of God—the blessings available to us in Christ Jesus—and bestows them to us. He imparts the life of Christ to us by living within us. John 14:20 suggests that the Christian’s union with Christ is somehow connected with Christ’s union with the Father. While we may not be exactly like Jesus in this life, the Holy Spirit is imparting that life to us. As He lives within us, He gives us the wisdom of Jesus. We do not have to accept second-rate Christianity. We can receive the fullness of God’s blessings to us through the Holy Spirit.

God is always speaking, always revealing His love and life to us. His Word offers us great promises of life and hope. The Holy Spirit within us is holding these blessings out to us. As we read God’s Word, let us hear the voice of God empowering those words to bring spirit and life to our souls.

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

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The Spirit of Truth and Scripture Memorization

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse. Painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319), public domain, via Wikipedia Commons.

During the night before He was crucified, Jesus gave one of His longest recorded teachings, “The Upper Room Discourse,” which appears in John 14–17. It contained His final instructions before death for His disciples, and one of its key themes was the role of the Holy Spirit in the disciples’ lives. Jesus had taught His disciples for three years. After He was gone, His Holy Spirit would continue that work. He would teach the disciples “all things.” Some of that teaching would inspire some of them to write the New Testament. Since then, the Holy Spirit continues to teach us.

An important aspect of the Holy Spirit’s teaching is that He brings Christ’s words to our remembrance. Remembrance means that one recalls something they had already learned. We have to hear God’s Word before the Holy Spirit can bring it to our remembrance. This is why a committed Christian should read the Bible daily. Perhaps a verse of Scripture may seem unimportant while we are reading. Later, though, it may take on a life of its own as a problem arises and the Holy Spirit reminds us of that verse. “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). The Word of God does not lie dead in the pages of a book. It is not a lifeless set of thoughts and ideas. It is spirit and life. It imparts life to us as we need it. When problems and temptations arise, the Holy Spirit will bring the Scriptures that we have read, meditated upon, and heard to our remembrance. He will show them how they relate to our circumstances and how God wants us to respond.

One of the first verses I memorized after becoming a Christians was Proverbs 17:22:

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Having suffered depression for much of my life, verses like this are lifelines. I will not claim that I am totally healed of depression, only that it is in remission. If I am not careful, I can slip back into self-destructive thought patterns. At times, I may be tempted to wallow in the mire of negativity. The Spirit, speaking through the Word, will remind me to pursue a joyful heart. Get outside! Go for a walk! Listen to worship music! If that does not work, find someone who has an encouraging personality to spend time with.

During a particularly difficult time in my life, I wrote 50 or more Bible verses on index cards to carry with me. Some spoke of the joy of the Lord; others spoke of God’s promises to His children; still others reminded me of who I am in Christ. I would pull the cards out and read one whenever I had a chance. Stopping for a red light became an opportunity to hear from the Holy Spirit. Eventually, those verses would come to my mind whenever I needed them.

Those of you who struggle with depression or other emotional illnesses may try the same approach. Go to author Neil T. Anderson’s website at https://ficm.org/free-downloads/. Scroll down to “Truth About Me.” Download the PDF file. Memorize and meditate upon the Bible verses that are listed. Let those words seep into your soul. Then, the Holy Spirit will bring those words to your remembrance as you need them. You may try a similar approach for whatever temptation or besetting sin causes you the most difficulty. There are similar resources available with Bible verses about other life-controlling problems. Meditate on the Word of God so the Spirit of God can bring it to your remembrance when you need it.

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

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The Spirit of Truth and the Necessity of Scripture

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Christians can make several mistakes when trying to find out God’s will for their lives. One is to read the Bible and try to figure things out with their own logic and reason. The other mistake is to expect the Holy Spirit to speak directly to us without the Bible.

The Bible tells us that God determines the number of the stars and calls them by name. Here is just a tiny fraction of them. Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, via Wikipedia.

The Holy Spirit is not constrained by the Bible. God is bigger than His Word. His greatness and glory exceeds anything we can imagine. Psalms 147:4 tells us that God determines the number of the stars and gives names to all of them. Scientists are still estimating the number of stars, know they have not discovered all of them, and have named only a small fraction of them. According to Wikipedia, “Of the roughly 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye, only a few hundred have been given proper names in the history of astronomy.” Some scientists believe the universe contains 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, many more than mankind has seen. Yet, God has given names to all of them. This is just a hint of the greatness of God, but many of us are tempted to think we can contain Him. God is greater than anything we can imagine, even with the help He gives us by revealing Himself in His Word.

Thus, there is an even greater danger when we try to seek God’s will without His Word, like some people do. They rely on their own wisdom. Perhaps they learn something from pop psychology or the latest public-opinion poll, baptize it in religious lingo, and say, “God told me to do this.” If it clearly contradicts God’s Word, God did not speak to you.

“God told me to move in with this woman I barely know so that we can see if we should get married.” (I do not think so.)

“God told me to leave my wife and trade her in for a younger woman. After all, God wants me to be happy!” (No, you want to be happy. God wants you to be holy, but that’s for another article.)

“God thinks it’s OK if I cheat on my tax returns or steal supplies from my job. After all, He wants me to prosper. Besides, everybody does it.” (What part of “Thou shalt not steal” do you not understand?)

(PS: I would like to claim that I was being creative with those three quotes, but that is not the case. I know people who have said things very similar to these. Most of them have claimed that they are deeply committed Bible-believing Christians.)

We cannot know God’s will without the Bible. We also cannot know it without the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives. The two go hand in hand. We must rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, but He will use the Bible to impart wisdom to us, and He expects us to use the Bible to confirm whether He is the One Who is speaking to us.

Knowing God’s will requires both. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but we also need the Word of God. The Holy Spirit frequently speaks to us through the Word of God. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to truly understand the Word and will of God.

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

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The First Easter Sermons: The Central Theme of the Bible

“And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25–27; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:44–47).

Jesus gives His first post-resurrection Bible study, in “The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road,” by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikipedia Commons.

After Jesus rose from the dead, His teaching to His disciples took a new focus. In each Gospel account, He told them that He was giving them a message to proclaim to the world. He told the disciples that His death and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, the significance of these events in God’s plan for mankind, and the disciples’ new role as Jesus’ messengers.

The messages Jesus shared with the two disciples He met on the road to Emmaus (vv. 25–27) and with the other disciples in the upper room later that evening (vv. 44–47) are now our message. This is the central theme of the entire Bible. This is the Good News that He sends us to share with the world.

First, Jesus told the disciples that His death and resurrection fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. Many people in Jesus’ day believed that the Messiah would be a political or military hero who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression and bring God’s kingdom to Earth. Jesus did not fulfill that political role, but He showed that His redemptive work was the real message in God’s Word all along. People had seen what they wanted to see in the writings of Moses and the prophets. They missed the core message.

Other authors have written excellent summaries of the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. Those who are not familiar with these prophecies will benefit by reviewing the chart at http://jesusplusnothing.com/jesus66books.htm which lists messianic prophecies in every book of the Old Testament. A more scholarly discussion about Jesus in the Old Testament, by Bible scholar Walter C. Kaiser, can be found at https://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Jesus-in-the-Old-Testament.cfm. Those prophecies revealed that the Messiah would suffer, die, and rise again.

Our response to that miracle should be repentance. While that word sounds holy and spiritual, it simply means a change of mind or life’s direction. We have been walking away from God, trying to do our own thing. Repentance means that we acknowledge that there is sin in our lives and choose to follow Jesus instead. It is the first step in new life with Christ.

Christ’s free gift is forgiveness of sins. This is what we should offer to the lost. It is the message the apostles—a group of Jewish men—were to proclaim to the entire world, beginning from Jerusalem but spreading out too all nations.

Too often, we preach politics, morality, and condemnation. We may be willing to preach forgiveness to people who are like us, but do we preach that same message to “those people?” The New Testaments book of the Acts of the Apostles shows how the early Christians broke free from their cultural biases and proclaimed the Good News to those despicable half-breed Samaritans, those Roman terrorists, and all of those other weird uncircumcised Gentile pagans. Are we ready to preach repentance and forgiveness to homosexuals, transgendered persons, illegal immigrants, Muslims, etc.? Or, do we have a different message for them in the name of “culture warfare?”

Jesus’ message must begin with us. We must remember that the most devout Christians is merely a recovering, repentant, forgiven sinner. In the core of our human nature, we are not better than others. We are merely fortunate and blessed to have found out the Good News that Jesus died for our sins.

This is the message for Easter and every day of the year: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. He suffered and died for our sins. He rose from the grave to conquer sin, hell, death, and Satan. He offers forgiveness of sins to all who will come to Him.

This is the message all Christians are called to proclaim. It is the central theme of the entire Bible. Let us go forth with this word every day, inviting the lost to the new life and forgiveness Jesus offers, so that it may be Easter throughout the year.

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

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: III. How to Read and Meditate on God’s Word

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

How do we diligently apply ourselves to God’s Word? Here are four steps which will allow us to experience God’s blessing through the Bible in our lives.

First, we need to read God’s Word on a daily basis. When I first began to follow Christ, several people urged me to read the Gospel of John first. After reading the Gospel of John, I read the entire New Testament. Then, I went back and read the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation. The entire process took about seven months.

The “read John first” advice is very popular in evangelical circles, but I do not think it is appropriate for everybody. People have different personality types, and each of the Gospels speaks more clearly to different personality types. I think many people would actually benefit more by reading Matthew or Luke first.

Perhaps you are not as ambitious a reader as I am. You may prefer to read about three chapters per day, thereby reading the entire Bible in one year. This will require about 15 minutes per day. If you want to try that approach, consider visiting oneyearbibleonline.com. This site provides a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs every day. On some occasions, the Proverbs reading is only one or two verses. This plan will have you reading the entire Bible once and the Book of Psalms twice every year. Print versions of The One Year Bible are available for purchase.

Another option is Our Daily Bread, a devotional guide available as a printed booklet or a website. It contains a through-the-year plan, with one reading from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. It also includes a third short reading (perhaps part of a Psalm, one story, or a paragraph) with a brief devotional and thought for the day. The devotional reading is what Our Daily Bread is famous for. Many people subscribe to the daily devotion to supplement a more thorough Bible reading plan.

With either of these plans, you may start at any time; even if you start in the middle of several different books, you will catch on soon enough. God can speak to you even if you did not begin at page 1. Your mission is not to read the Bible like an ordinary book, but to meet God and His Son Jesus Christ through His Word.

Some churches and denominations recommend other reading plans. Like many people in my denomination, I follow the Daily Office readings in the Book of Common Prayer, which provides several Psalms for morning and evening prayer, with brief readings from the Old Testament, New Testament (Acts, letters, or Revelation), and Gospels. I usually supplement this with additional reading, including the devotion from Our Daily Bread. You can follow the Daily Office, which includes structured prayers with the readings, on the websites of Mission St. Clare or my denomination, the Charismatic Episcopal Church.

Next, take some time to understand what the passage means. If you are reading three chapters, you probably do not have time to analyze every verse. That is okay. Bible reading is a lifetime journey. What you do not understand or notice in a passage now may take on meaning when you read it again in a few years. You can consider your Bible reading a success if you can find one key idea or thought in each reading.

As you try to glean the Scripture’s meaning, follow some basic guidelines for interpretation. Seek to determine the natural meaning of the passage to its original hearers or readers. How would the crowd have understood Jesus’ parable? How would the Corinthians have understood Paul’s instructions in his letter? We need to understand what God meant in His Word before we try to determine what He is trying to say to us. Do not try to twist Scripture to mean what you want it to say. Try to determine what God is saying, even if it is uncomfortable or unpopular.

Invest in a few basic reference materials to help you better understand the Bible. A good study Bible will provide reference materials and explanatory notes to help you better interpret God’s Word. Another option is a paid subscription to biblegateway.com, which will provide access to commentaries and study materials.

As you read the Bible, take note of anything that grabs your attention. Meditate on that part throughout the day. It may be one sentence, or one phrase, or one word or idea that was repeated throughout your reading. One of the Hebrew words for “meditate” is related to the word for chew. Like a cow chews the cud, keep chewing on that word. Do not let it depart from your mouth. Ponder it throughout the day. Ask God to make its importance clearer to you. Ask Him to show you what He wants you to do about that word.

Sometimes, during a period of contemplative prayer, I will spend some time in silence simply meditating on Scripture like this. It may be just one word, but I will wait to hear what God wants to say to me.

All of this leads to the entire point of Bible study. Obey what God tells you to do. Is He revealing a sin which you need to repent from? Is He directing you to witness to somebody? Sometimes particular thoughts may pop into your head as you ponder the Scripture. The Bible may not literally say, “Stop watching that TV show,” or “You need to witness to {particular person’s name},” but these thoughts may come to mind as you ponder a verse. If it seems like a logical application of a Bible passage, it is probably the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to you as you meditate on His Word. As God speaks, say yes and do what He has called you to do.

Meditation and study demand balance. Many Christians overemphasize study. They try to dig into every nuance of a passage, trying to figure everything out. They study the Bible as if it is a science or history book and can miss the God Who appears in, with, and under every word. They seek intellectual knowledge, not true faith.

On the other hand, some may be tempted to meditate without study. Grabbing one verse out of context, demanding that it means what you want it to mean, is not biblical meditation. Biblical meditation begins with the objective truth of God’s Word and receives a subjective personal application from His Holy Spirit.

By hearing or reading the word of God, meditating on it, and seeking to obey it, we can succeed in doing God’s will, whether we pastor a church or serve burgers at a drive-through window.

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

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: II. Rightly Handling God’s Word

In our last post, I mentioned some translation issues with 2 Timothy 2:15. Let us look at that entire passage:

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

Paul was writing to Timothy primarily in his role as a young bishop and pastor. He was to be diligent, making his best efforts to prove himself as a master craftsman handling the word of truth. Half-hearted Bible juggling would not suffice, since others’ faith and souls were at stake.

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons  

Elsewhere, the Bible speaks of itself as a weapon, the sword of the Spirit. Do we handle the Bible as carefully as we handle a weapon? Several years ago, I went several times to a gun range with a friend. He showed me that there is a proper way to handle a gun. There are several things you must do to handle a gun safely. You make certain you are not pointing it at another person (unless you are willing to shoot them). You have to hold each gun a certain way if you want your bullet to hit its intended target without injuring yourself. There is a proper way to load your gun, a proper way to hold it, a proper way to fire it, and a proper way to clean it and store it when you are done. Many things can go wrong when you mishandle or misuse a gun. A wise man will make every effort to diligently properly handle his weapon.

Likewise, many things can go wrong when you mishandle or misuse God’s Word. People’s faith or spiritual well-being can be harmed or damaged. Paul warned Timothy about a pair of teachers “who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.” End-time prophecy pundits can often do much damage to the spread of the Gospel and the faith of their listeners. From time to time, a friend calls me, panicking because someone told him some new prophecy fad: “The government’s going to force everybody to implant a microchip under their skin! It’s the mark of the beast! Donald Trump’s the Antichrist! Pope Francis is the Antichrist!” And so on. Apparently, people tell him that they are experts because they study these things on the internet.

Not everything you read on the internet is true. The internet has given us some great opportunities. I can write this article on Sunday evening, post it online that night, and watch as people all over the world read it by the end of the week. Anybody with an internet connection can have a public platform. That is great, because it frees us to share our thoughts quickly and freely. However, it also gives that privilege to people who may not know what they are talking about. Not every person who claims to be a “Bible scholar” or “prophecy expert” deserves those titles. Any conspiracy theorist or fool can publish a crazy idea. Let us be diligent. Let us know God’s Word so that we can be discerning, especially when somebody says things like “God told me,” “The Bible says,” or “Biblical prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes!”

Would you trust a preacher who studies the Bible as well as this community maintains its roads?

More importantly, though, let us be diligent so that we can speak God’s truth carefully and accurately. If you teach a Bible study class, pastor a church, or write a blog, you need to spend time reading God’s Word. You need to learn it and know how to explain it properly to others. The Disciple’s Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 1988) says in a note on 2 Timothy 2:15 that ὀρθοτομοῦντα uses “the image of someone laying out a road.” People are going to walk on that road. It needs to reach its destination safely. It should be able to support its traffic. If you are preaching, teaching, or otherwise sharing God’s Word, others will rely on it to reach their spiritual destination. Be diligent to make certain you are properly guiding them.

The committed child of God should be diligent with God’s Word, just like we expect the people who build and maintain our roads and other infrastructure to be diligent with the tasks set before them. Our own souls demand it. Others’ souls may require it.

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

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: I. Meditating on God’s Word

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image from pxhere.com, under Creative Commons CC0 license.

As I was meditating on Joshua 1:8 this week, my wife emailed me a link to an article entitled “If You Want People to Grow Spiritually, Quit Telling Them to Study the Bible.” The author observed that the Bible rarely mentions studying Scripture. Instead, it tells us to “meditate on” or “delight in” God’s Word. Some readers may say, “Wait: Doesn’t 2 Timothy 2:15 tell us to ‘Study to shew thyself approved….’? Doesn’t that command us to study Scripture?” Probably not; that wording in the King James Version is not the most accurate. The Greek word translated “study” in that verse, σπούδασον, is translated “be diligent” or “do thy diligence” wherever else it appears in the King James Version. The KJV also misleadingly translates the word ὀρθοτομοῦντα as “rightly dividing” even though a more accurate translation is “to cut straight.” Just as a carpenter building a house has to cut straight while preparing wood, a man of God has to display proper mastery and expertise in handling God’s Word. Modern translations like the ESV are much more accurate:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

We will look more closely at this passage in a forthcoming post. However, let us note for now that God wants us to meditate on His Word.

Joshua 1:8 and 2 Timothy 2:15 share several common features. One feature is that they are both instructions given to men of God in their roles as leaders of God’s people. 2 Timothy 2:15 particularly instructs the young pastor about his role as a teacher of God’s people. Joshua 1:8, on the other hand, guides Joshua in his work as a military commander. The Old Testament verse may be more relevant to most believers than Paul’s instruction to Timothy. Most of us will not be pastors or bishops. We will have to serve God in very secular careers.

Even in that “secular” career as a military ruler of God’s people, Joshua needed God’s guidance to succeed. While God gave His laws to Moses and would give other messages to later prophets, He usually gave Joshua military strategy, administrative guidance, and organizational insight. The same is true for us. God’s Word will tell us how to fulfill our roles as editors, teachers, doctors, restaurant workers, etc. Before you think your career is for some reason detached from God’s call upon your life, consider what God told Moses about a man named Bezalel:

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft’” (Exodus 31:1-5).

This is the first time the Bible speaks of someone being filled with the Holy Spirit. Think about that: a craftsman, not a prophet or priest, is the first person God speaks of as being filled with His Spirit. God wants us to know and do His will even when our careers seem mundane, routine, nonspiritual, or boring.

As Joshua would meditate on God’s Word, he would need to remember God’s promises, wisdom, and rules. God had promised to be with him. God had promised the land to the people of Israel. God’s laws provided wisdom about how Israel should treat other nations, both enemies and foreigners who wished to live peacefully in their land. He also gave them laws which, if violated, would have serious consequences (Joshua 7).

We need the same wisdom Joshua needed. We fact challenges, circumstances, and crises on a regular basis. God offers us the same wisdom. He offers great and precious promises to us. Let us meditate daily on God’s Word, so that we may be careful to do all that He commands and enjoy success and prosperity.

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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