Posts Tagged With: Bible

 
 

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
 
 

Special Revelation IV: Recording the Revelation of Jesus

The writers of Scripture were not passive in their writing. I think many Christians treat the Bible as if its writers operated like robots, merely scribbling down thoughts that the Holy Spirit threw into their brains while they did not think. Yet, this is not the case. Especially in the New Testament, the writers of Scripture wrote as they shared their own encounters with Jesus.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (I John 1:1–4; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated).

The writers of Scripture, including St. Paul, probably used some very normal methods of research and writing as they shared what they knew about Jesus. Painting by Valentin de Boulogne [1591-1632; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

John was not mindlessly scribbling random thoughts that popped into his head. He wrote what he knew. He had sat by Jesus’ side at the Last Supper. Jesus had entrusted the care of His mother to John. Throughout his Gospel, John referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He must have thought of himself as Jesus’ best friend. When he wrote his Gospel and his three letters, he wrote as one remembering some unforgettable moments that he had shared with a real Person, and he wanted his readers to know that Person as well as he did.

Peter likewise wrote his letters based on that experience:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter 1:16).

Why would Peter write the bold statements in his letters? Because he, along with John and James, had seen Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. He had denied Jesus, but then he knew Jesus’ forgiveness intimately. He had walked on water with Jesus. “I am not writing cleverly devised myths or clever stories I made up. I saw Jesus’ glory. I saw Him. I know Him! I am just telling you Who and what I experienced and know!”

It is true that some of the biblical authors did not personally know Jesus during His earthly ministry. We do not know if Paul ever met Christ. Perhaps he was one of the Pharisees who challenged or argued with Him in the Gospels. He could have been part of the crowd demanding Christ’s crucifixion. However, we know he did not become a disciple of Jesus until some time after His ascension. Likewise, Luke most likely never met Jesus. While his knowledge about Jesus was more second-hand, it was still thorough and was still guided by the Holy Spirit. Actually, Luke’s approach to writing his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles will sound very similar to the work many authors perform when writing about events we did not personally witness:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1–4).

Luke wanted his reader, Theophilus (Greek for “friend of God”; we are not sure if it was an actual person or just a reference to any friend of God or follower of Christ who may read it), to know for certain about the things he had been taught. Luke wrote 30 or 40 years after Jesus ascended to heaven. Some of the eyewitnesses to the life and death of Jesus were already deceased. Time and distance separated many Christians from the life of Christ. How could they know for certain the truth about Him? How could the faith survive? Luke wanted to make certain that the testimony of those eyewitnesses, apostles, and other ministers of the Word would be preserved so that “friends of God” could remember them later. Like most writers, Luke did his research. He checked the original sources. He tried to assemble his facts so that he could present an orderly account. A lot of human work went into it so that he could accomplish a goal that lay on his heart. It was a very human process, even if it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may have placed the desire in Luke’s heart and guided his research and writing, but I would not be surprised if Luke felt very much like this was his project while he was doing it. Luke’s Gospel did not merely fall from the sky. It bore his sweat and effort as he achieved his goal.

While Luke wanted his readers to be certain of the truth about Jesus, John spelled out his purpose in writing. He had a lot to choose from: As mentioned previously, he was a witness to the life of Christ; he knew everything first-hand, and he had a lot to choose from (in John 21:24–25, he wrote that the entire world could not contain the books if everything Jesus did was recorded). John was consciously selective about what he shared in his Gospel:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).

The certainty Luke offered served the same purpose. We should seek to be certain about the truth of Jesus so that we can have life in His name. The Scriptures are intended to make us wise to salvation (2 Timothy 3:16). As we read the Bible, we should seek to look beyond the written word to know the Living Word who spoke to us.

The Bible is a book like no other. It is living and active because it is a divinely-inspired record of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. Let us read and study that Word not so much to gain intellectual knowledge, but to come to know the Author and Source of all Truth.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare II: Destroying Strongholds with the Sword of the Spirit

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (Second Corinthians 10:4–6).

immaculate_conception_catholic_church_28knoxville2c_tennessee29_-_stained_glass2c_sword_of_the_spirit

“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). By Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Since we are dealing with a spiritual enemy, our weapons are spiritual. In Ephesians 6, Paul refers to the Word of God as the “sword of the Spirit.” He then urges us to pray. Scripture and prayer are our two primary weapons. The sword of the Spirit is particularly useful for destroying strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).

Many Christians assume that “strongholds” are sins or temptations that are particularly troublesome to a particular individual. They mistakenly believe that it is something that has a “strong hold” on a person, thereby being something that forces them into bondage. However, this is not what Paul is saying.

A “stronghold” (ὀχύρωμα in Greek) is a fortress or place of refuge. This word appears only once in the New Testament but appears elsewhere in ancient literature. While most ancient authors used it to refer to a fortress, some used it to describe a prison (in which case, Paul is engaging in a play on words when he proposes that we destroy strongholds so that we can take every thought captive). A word study on Biblehub.com observes that, in this verse, the word:

… is used figuratively of a false argument in which a person seeks “shelter” (“a safe place”) to escape reality…. In its use here there may lie a reminiscence of the rock-forts on the coast of Paul’s native Cilicia, which were pulled down by the Romans in their attacks on the Cilician pirates. Pompey inflicted a crushing defeat upon their navy off the rocky stronghold of Coracesium on the confines of Cilicia and Pisidia.

People seek refuge in all sorts of lies to justify sin or rebellion against God. It was true in Paul’s day; it remains true in ours. Much of what Paul wrote was in response to lies people chose to believe. First and Second Corinthians contain extended illustrations confronting false ideas and values regarding sexuality, the role of the ministry, suffering, family relationships, giving, etc. People would hide behind excuses to live a life that was not consistent with the will of God. Today, we continue to do so. We find clever excuses, including arguments and lofty opinions, for our sins (often secular worldviews baptized into biblical-sounding jargon). We may justify sexual sin because a pop-psychologist offered an excuse, or because we view ourselves as mere animals, the product of random evolution in a godless universe. We may justify greed or financial dishonesty because it seems like good business sense. The Christian must demolish these strongholds. They are castles built of lies, and they must come down. The strongholds of rebellion must come down so that we can bring every thought and action into obedience to Christ.

The battle must begin in our own minds. We must bring our own thoughts captive to obedience to Christ before we can expect to tear down strongholds in anybody else’s mind. As we study the Bible, we must confront our own thinking, recognize where we are not in obedience to God, and submit our thinking to His. If Scripture reveals sin in our lives, we must tear down the strongholds we have accepted and confess, “You are correct, Lord, and I am wrong. Forgive me and strengthen me to do Your will.”

Christians also have an obligation to tear down strongholds in the lives of other believers:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1–2).

Many people (including some Christians) think we should never suggest that another person is doing something wrong. They claim that is “judgmental.” This is, in fact, just another demonic stronghold. When Jesus told us not to judge others, He was not telling us we can never correct those who are in sin or claim that certain acts are sinful. The modern secular abuse of Matthew 7:1 is purely a demonic stronghold. The church must repent and tear down that stronghold if we expect to advance the kingdom of God. That is especially true in our dealings with other Christians.

Our weapon and enemy remain the same when tearing down the strongholds of non-Christians, but the strategy may be a little different. Church discipline or reproof of believers is very different from evangelism. In evangelism, our goal is to invite a person into a relationship with Jesus Christ, so that the Holy Spirit can begin to clean them up. We focus less on specific areas of sin and more on the fact that everybody needs a Savior. We point to Jesus. We wield the sword of the Spirit to bring a person to a proper understanding of who He is and what He has done for our salvation. However, we must still be ready to attack strongholds. Nonbelievers may hide in strongholds that keep a person from following Christ: “I am a good person. I do not need a Savior. I can go to heaven by doing good things, or at least by not doing anything that is too bad.” Or “Everybody will go to heaven anyway.”

The committed Christian must be a good student of the Bible. He must be diligent to attack the strongholds that have been built in his own heart and mind, and then fearless yet gracious in attacking those in other people’s lives. The enemy of God and of our souls is building strongholds to destroy millions. It is our job to tear them down so that we may build a holy edifice on a firm foundation:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24–27).

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Renewing the Mind Reflections, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Word, the Light, and the Lord

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalms 119:105, ESV).

bantry_church_of_st-_brendan_the_navigator_third_north_window_i_am_the_light_of_the_world_detail_2009_09_09

Jesus Christ, the Light of the World and the Word of God incarnate.  Stained-glass window at Church of St. Brendan the Navigator, Bantry, County Cork, Ireland. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en), CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

A few English translations adapt the wording of Psalm 119:105 to say that God’s Word is a “lantern” instead of a lamp. The Living Bible gets even more contemporary, saying “Your words are a flashlight to light the path ahead of me and keep me from stumbling.”

Whether it is a light, a lamp, a lantern, or a flashlight, this anthem to the glory of God’s Word reminds us that the Bible is intended to shed light on our paths and show us how to walk through life. If we cannot see where we are going, we are likely to get lost, trip over things, or crash into obstacles. As we walk by faith and not by sight (an absolute essential in the spiritual life), a light for our path becomes even more necessary.

 

Growing up on Long Island, I was always surrounded by light. Even at night, street lights or the light from neighboring houses would provide a way to see where I was going. An occasional journey out of the New York metropolitan area would provide a reminder of how dark the world can be without electric lights. Riding a bus to Syracuse during my college days, we would pass through some areas where I could see nothing outside the window. Eventually, there would be a faint glow in the distance ahead of us: That glow was the city of Syracuse. Light becomes more obvious when one is surrounded by darkness.

I remember one time when I lived in Missouri, making a pizza delivery on a dark country road outside the city limits. If I turned off the car’s engine, I might have a hard time finding it when returning from the front door of the house! I can only imagine what life was like for our ancestors before the invention of light bulbs and artificial light sources.

The Bible often closely associates God with light. It is an essential part of His nature. Jesus said that He is the “light of the world.” According to Genesis 1:3–5, the very first thing that God created was light. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt under Moses, He would send a pillar of fire to lead the way at night.

John (who also told us that “God is love”) tells us first and foremost that God is light:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:5–7).

John would later tell us that the glory of God will be the light of the New Jerusalem, and the Lamb of God (Jesus) will be its lamp for all eternity (Revelation 21:23). Jesus shows us the way to the Father. In fact, He IS the way to the Father (John 14:6–7). If we can see Jesus, we see God, and we see the path to follow as we walk into everlasting life.

The Word of God is the light that leads us to God and shows us the path we should walk in. Jesus is the Word. He is the light. He is God incarnate.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9–14).

As we read the Bible, we should seek the answers to a few questions:

  • What does this tell us about Jesus? First and foremost, we should seek to know Christ through the Word of God. Jesus said to the religious legalists of His day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). How many professing Christians make the same mistake today?
  • What is the path that God is calling me to follow today?
  • What obstacles will I face on that path today? (Temptations, distractions, or challenges will come our way.)
  • How can I avoid these obstacles, or get around them, or walk over them?

We should not read the Bible merely to read a good story or learn theology. As we open the Bible, we should ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to us and show us the path through life. God’s Word gives direction. It gives wisdom. It gives life. It reveals Jesus, Who is the very embodiment and personification of that Word and Light.

If you would like to read more thoughts about the light of the world, you can look at this series of posts:

Reflecting the Light of the World

A Prayer Acknowledging Jesus as the Light of the World

Light of the World: Exposing the Deeds of Darkness

Walking in the Light of the World. I: Time and Wisdom

Walking in the Light of the World. II: Filled with the Holy Spirit

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the World, Not of It (Revisited)

This month, I am reposting a few favorite articles from the past. This article was originally published on July 25, 2015.

In a recent post, I shared my thoughts about how Christians should respond to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling legalizing gay marriage. This ruling reflected the state of our society: we cannot consider America a “Christian nation” at this time. Likewise, our response to the ruling should be a reflection of our faith. Neither the Supreme Court ruling, nor the Church’s response, occurs in a vacuum.

Christians should not be surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Neither should we be surprised that a growing majority of Americans have come to favor legalizing same-sex marriage in recent years and, as a corollary, have come to view pro-traditional-family Christians as bigoted, hateful homophobes. Jesus warned us that Christians would always find themselves as “outsiders” in the world:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:13-22, NASB).

Most American evangelicals have lived comfortably in a society that has been at least courteous to, and at times even supportive of, our faith. However, as the above passage and countless other Bible verses show, Christians should not really be surprised that society is growing increasingly hostile towards us. We should be surprised that we have enjoyed a somewhat favorable status in American society for so long. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them.

As the world’s hostility becomes more visible, how should Christians respond?

First, I would urge Christians to begin reading the Bible from a different perspective. We have grown accustomed to reading the Bible as if it were written to people with a socio-cultural experience similar to our own. We imagine Jesus and the disciples as a bunch of working-class guys—like the working-class guys we know from our jobs. However, American comforts would have been foreign to them. When Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” they probably took it literally: Pray for food for the day. They did not think long-term, budgeting a two-week paycheck so that you can buy several weeks worth of groceries and make your car payment. Their idea of “prosperity” was probably having leftovers after dinner. The so-called gospel proclaimed by some preachers—those who claim that faith in God will bring us health, wealth, success, and comfort—would seem odd to the first Christians. To them, faith meant that you would still call yourself a Christian and believe you had eternity with Jesus as the executioner’s sword was coming toward your throat.

The Bible was written primarily to oppressed people. The Old Testament was written to a small country, which was frequently threatened by the great empires of its day. The New Testament was written to members of a fledgling religious sect, considered extremist by many and treasonous (after all, they claimed that Jesus was their King) by the government. Their neighbors probably thought the early Christians were as odd as the Amish, as wacky as the Heaven’s Gate flying-saucer cult, and perhaps as dangerous to society as an Islamic terrorist organization.

As you read the Bible, take time to remember that Jesus is speaking to “outsiders.” Paul is writing to people who may have to sneak to church (the church in Ephesus did not run newspaper ads), whereas we casually arrive, carrying our big Bibles for all to see.

The Bible is speaking to people who hear the word temptation and think, “The Romans might threaten to throw me into an arena with lions if I say ‘Jesus is Lord.'” They probably did not equate “temptation” with an ice cream sundae.

We need to repent of a world view guided by the secular culture:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).

Scripture should renew our minds, transforming us so that we may no longer be conformed to this world. Many Christians are shocked when the Supreme Court determines that marriage should be defined by whatever makes some people happy. Yet, how many Christians base their life choices on personal happiness instead of the “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God? How often do we try to “baptize” sinful attitudes (pride, self-righteousness, greed) and try to make them seem spiritual?

Perhaps more can be written on this topic. I expect that future posts will be written from this perspective, as it has begun to shape how I read Scripture during my daily devotions.

I will conclude by saying that the standard American brand of Christianity will not be adequate to stand against the most recent onslaughts against our faith. We need to reclaim the faith that recognizes that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world.

[PS: In my previous post, I proposed that the church should “eliminate the connection between civil marriage (which requires a license) and holy matrimony (which is a sacrament or ordinance performed by the church or other religious body).” I would like to clarify that this was not intended as approval of redefinition of marriage. Rather, it should be seen as more of an example of resistance against the ruling: Christians and other religious groups should never have allowed the secular government to define marriage for us, and we have reached a point where a state-issued marriage license no longer means what true Christian churches mean when we speak of “marriage.”]

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—First Corinthians 2:14–16

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16, NASB).

In recent years, members of Westboro Baptist Church generated a lot of controversy by protesting in various places (including military funerals), claiming that “God hates fags” and that His wrath is upon our nation for accepting homosexuality.

I have to object to this method of ministry outreach. For one thing, while the Bible teaches that God hates sin, it also teaches us that He is love. Thus, while God may hate different forms of sexual immorality, He loves the people who are bound or deceived by those sins and wants to forgive, heal, and restore them.

Second, even if the tone of the message was appropriate (if they were lovingly speaking against the sin without claiming that God shared their hatred of other people), it would still be the wrong message. The biblical mandate for ministry to the lost has not changed, even if society has:

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age'” (Matthew 28:18–20, NASB).

God has called us to make disciples of all nations. Our first task is to invite people into a relationship with Christ. That is our starting point. There is only so much a person can truly understand about the Gospel before the Holy Spirit takes up residence in their heart.

First Corinthians 2:14–16 reminds us that the natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God. They sound like foolishness to non-believers. Yet, all too often, Christians begin by trying to explain secondary issues to those around them. Those things will seem illogical if the Holy Spirit is not giving wisdom to the listener.

Try to explain biblical sexual morality to someone who does not accept Jesus Christ’s authority as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It does not work; the secular world’s system of values seems completely logical to an atheist, agnostic, or anybody else who does not accept the personal God of the Bible. The same is true for the creationism/evolution debate and countless other areas where Christians and the secular world find controversy.  The reality and authority of Jesus Christ establish the entire foundation for the believer’s worldview.

As we minister to a lost world, and as our society drifts further from its Judeo-Christian foundations, we need to remember to keep the focus on Jesus. People need to see, trust, and know Him before they can really be expected to make sense of the “things of the Spirit of God.” A note on 1 Corinthians 2:14–15 from The Life Recovery Bible sums this up very well:

People who refuse to turn their life over to the care of God cannot understand God’s truth or his plan. That’s why recovery begins not with understanding but with a decision to follow God. Prior to that decision, God’s way may seem like madness. Only when we face the fact that our life is insane can we open ourself to God and his plan for us. [Life Recovery Bible, New Living Translation, 2nd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), p. 1458].

May we always remember to begin with a relationship with Jesus Christ, guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, so that we may understand and proclaim the full truth of God’s Word.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge

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This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

In the World, Not of It

In a recent post, I shared my thoughts about how Christians should respond to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling legalizing gay marriage. This ruling reflected the state of our society: we cannot consider America a “Christian nation” at this time. Likewise, our response to the ruling should be a reflection of our faith. Neither the Supreme Court ruling, nor the Church’s response, occurs in a vacuum.

Christians should not be surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Neither should we be surprised that a growing majority of Americans have come to favor legalizing same-sex marriage in recent years and, as a corollary, have come to view pro-traditional-family Christians as bigoted, hateful homophobes. Jesus warned us that Christians would always find themselves as “outsiders” in the world:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:13-22, NASB).

Most American evangelicals have lived comfortably in a society that has been at least courteous to, and at times even supportive of, our faith. However, as the above passage and countless other Bible verses show, Christians should not really be surprised that society is growing increasingly hostile towards us. We should be surprised that we have enjoyed a somewhat favorable status in American society for so long. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them.

As the world’s hostility becomes more visible, how should Christians respond?

First, I would urge Christians to begin reading the Bible from a different perspective. We have grown accustomed to reading the Bible as if it were written to people with a socio-cultural experience similar to our own. We imagine Jesus and the disciples as a bunch of working-class guys—like the working-class guys we know from our jobs. However, American comforts would have been foreign to them. When Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” they probably took it literally: Pray for food for the day. They did not think long-term, budgeting a two-week paycheck so that you can buy several weeks worth of groceries and make your car payment. Their idea of “prosperity” was probably having leftovers after dinner. The so-called gospel proclaimed by some preachers—those who claim that faith in God will bring us health, wealth, success, and comfort—would seem odd to the first Christians. To them, faith meant that you would still call yourself a Christian and believe you had eternity with Jesus as the executioner’s sword was coming toward your throat.

The Bible was written primarily to oppressed people. The Old Testament was written to a small country, which was frequently threatened by the great empires of its day. The New Testament was written to members of a fledgling religious sect, considered extremist by many and treasonous (after all, they claimed that Jesus was their King) by the government. Their neighbors probably thought the early Christians were as odd as the Amish, as wacky as the Heaven’s Gate flying-saucer cult, and perhaps as dangerous to society as an Islamic terrorist organization.

As you read the Bible, take time to remember that Jesus is speaking to “outsiders.” Paul is writing to people who may have to sneak to church (the church in Ephesus did not run newspaper ads), whereas we casually arrive, carrying our big Bibles for all to see.

The Bible is speaking to people who hear the word temptation and think, “The Romans might threaten to throw me into an arena with lions if I say ‘Jesus is Lord.'” They probably did not equate “temptation” with an ice cream sundae.

We need to repent of a world view guided by the secular culture:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).

Scripture should renew our minds, transforming us so that we may no longer be conformed to this world. Many Christians are shocked when the Supreme Court determines that marriage should be defined by whatever makes some people happy. Yet, how many Christians base their life choices on personal happiness instead of the “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God? How often do we try to “baptize” sinful attitudes (pride, self-righteousness, greed) and try to make them seem spiritual?

Perhaps more can be written on this topic. I expect that future posts will be written from this perspective, as it has begun to shape how I read Scripture during my daily devotions.

I will conclude by saying that the standard American brand of Christianity will not be adequate to stand against the most recent onslaughts against our faith. We need to reclaim the faith that recognizes that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world.

[PS: In my previous post, I proposed that the church should “eliminate the connection between civil marriage (which requires a license) and holy matrimony (which is a sacrament or ordinance performed by the church or other religious body).” I would like to clarify that this was not intended as approval of redefinition of marriage. Rather, it should be seen as more of an example of resistance against the ruling: Christians and other religious groups should never have allowed the secular government to define marriage for us, and we have reached a point where a state-issued marriage license no longer means what true Christian churches mean when we speak of “marriage.”]

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Read and Study the Bible

Countless sermons and articles emphasize the Christian’s need to read and study the Bible and the blessings one can receive from God’s Word. Unfortunately, though, many Christians fail to receive such blessings because they do not know how to read the Bible. Some try to read through the entire Bible and began reading at Genesis 1, but give up within a few weeks because it takes too long.

As we approach Bible study, we would be wise to remember the profound counsel of this corny quip: “How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” Reading the Bible should be a lifelong project for the Christian. Disciplined avid readers will be able to read through the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation, in about a year. Extremely ambitious ones will do it in a shorter amount of time: When I was new to the faith, I read through the Bible in about seven months. Since then, I have taken a more deliberate approach. Having read through the entire Bible on a few occasions, I now focus on shorter passages; my goal in Bible reading is quality of insight and personal application, instead of quantity of chapters.

This article will offer guidance and suggestions for reading and understanding God’s Word and applying its truths to everyday life. These guidelines will apply almost exclusively to the study of individual passages of Scripture. I do not specifically discuss topical studies, in which a reader examines verses from different parts of the Bible which are related via a common theme. However, my advice about interpreting Scripture and applying it to your life will still be helpful in a topical Bible study, which is really a series of interrelated “passage studies.”

First, you must have a good translation of the Bible to read. It must accurately translate the thoughts and ideas of God’s Word (which was originally given in Greek and Hebrew) into easy-to-understand English. I strongly recommend either the English Standard Version or the New American Standard Bible. The New International Version is also a reputable, reliable translation. The translators of these versions painstakingly examined ancient manuscripts of biblical books to discern what the author actually wrote and to express it in modern English, so that the average American can understand it.

Some Christians prefer older translations, like the King James Version. However, many readers (especially those who are new to the faith or to Bible reading) have trouble understanding its seventeenth-century vernacular; we are not accustomed to saying “thee,” “thou,” “whithersoever,” or other terms which have disappeared from our language. Make certain that you can understand your Bible; it is more important that you can understand and apply the Bible to your life, than that you sound “holy.”

Now that you have an accurate and understandable Bible in hand, you should have a plan for reading and study. Although we should allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in all things, especially study of His Word, He usually does not give us immediate clear direction to a specific Bible passage. Some Christians like to open their Bible at random and just start reading; or, they will read the first passage that jumps into their heads. Although this might be helpful from time to time (the Holy Spirit may direct us to a specific passage in a moment of crisis), it will not ensure that you will gain a thorough knowledge of Scripture. Many Christians who rely on these approaches tend to read a few favorite passages over and over again. You should seek a Bible reading plan that will direct you to diverse segments of the Bible, ideally one that will lead you to eventually read the entire Bible.

As I mention elsewhere in relation to prayer, you should set aside several times every day for Bible reading. Psalm 1:2 encourages us to meditate on God’s Word day and night. My “three spiritual meals” philosophy applies here as well. Just as we eat food at least three times per day, we would be blessed by spiritually “eating” God’s Word three or more times per day. See my article on “Finding Time for God,” where I mention the three spiritual meals concept.

Combine readings from different books of the Bible. Several churches, organizations, and ministries have devised Bible reading plans that will guide you from Genesis to Revelation within one year. However, many of these plans lead you directly from beginning to end, so you do not enter the New Testament until September. This is not conducive to a healthy spiritual diet.

A good Bible reading plan will effectively intersperse the Old and New Testaments. The Daily Office lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer provides, for most days, an Old Testament lesson, several Psalms (you essentially read through the psalms every few weeks!), a New Testament reading, and a reading from one of the four Gospels. Although it skips over a few passages (it avoids a number of the lengthy genealogies in the Old Testament, for example), it does offer a balanced mixture of Bible passages. It is also at times “season-sensitive”: the readings during Lent, the weeks between Easter and Pentecost, Advent, and the weeks following Christmas all relate to themes appropriate to the season. You read about the birth of Christ around Christmas, and about His death and resurrection around Easter.

Likewise, The One Year Bible divides the Bible into readings for each day of the year; each day’s reading includes passages from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. While it covers the entire Bible (no passages are missed), it lacks the season-sensitive quality of the Book of Common Prayer. Instead of reading about the birth of Christ on December 25, you will probably read a passage from the Book of Revelation.

Halley’s Bible Handbook contains a chapter that assigns books of the Bible to each week of the year. One week you will read from the Old Testament; the next week you will read from the New Testament. Like The One Year Bible, it guides you through the entire Bible within one year, without forcing you to go eight or nine months without cracking the New Testament. This plan also assigns a book (or set of books, or large part of one of the longer books) to a week; it is the individual’s responsibility to decide how many chapters to read each day to meet his goal. As a result, Halley’s approach to reading through the Bible requires some extra planning on your part.

Devotional guides, such as Our Daily Bread or The Upper Room, offer more aid for Bible reading. These booklet-sized magazines (usually published quarterly) provide a short Scripture passage for each day, along with a one-page meditation or application about each passage. Some such devotional guides close with a suggested “starter” for prayer.

Select a plan, or combination of plans, that will suit your personal needs. If your church or ministry has a Bible reading plan, make sure to include it in your devotions. As a member of the Brotherhood of St. Joseph, I have taken vows to follow the Daily Office of Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. In addition, I supplement my reading with passages from the BCP’s Sunday-worship lectionary and from other sources.

Pray for guidance and insight as you read. The Word of God requires spiritual discernment (First Corinthians 2:14–15). Therefore, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to teach us through His Word.

You should seek spiritual growth as you read. Do not read merely for entertainment, to learn facts, or to reinforce favorite doctrines. As you read, tell yourself, “God wants to speak to me through His Word. I need to hear what He wants to say to me.” Likewise, pray as the psalmist said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and See if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23–24).

Read the passage thoughtfully, and repeatedly if necessary. If it is a short passage, perhaps 10 verses or less, you might read it two or three times. If you are reading the Bible with a devotional guide, or a study Bible with notes and commentary at the bottom of the page, you might follow this order: read the passage from the Bible; read the devotional, notes, or commentary; and reread the passage. You may find it necessary to read the passage only once if it is lengthy. If you are reading a few chapters, pay close attention to the “big picture,” such as the flow of thought, context, and so on. Read deliberately. I generally try to look for perhaps one key idea to bring away from a passage each time I read it.

Interpret the Bible wisely. Many Christians go to one of two extremes when reading the Bible. Some people “spiritualize” everything they read in Scripture, without first seeking out the most natural meaning intended by the writer. They might focus so heavily on a possible symbolic meaning of a number, or how a color might symbolize an attribute of God, that they ignore the plain meaning of the text. Still others insist on interpreting every passage as literally as possible, even if the writer used a literary genre that relied heavily on symbolic language. For example, the Psalms are song lyrics or poems, and therefore use words in a way that would be unacceptable in prose. Some of the prophetic books, especially Revelation, used a literary genre known as “apocalyptic,” which demands a less literal interpretation. “Prophecy experts” who overlook this fact, and ignore the way that Revelation very often quotes or alludes to the Old Testament, have been guilty of some of the most embarrassing attempts at theology in our time.

Peter wrote, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (Second Peter 1:20–21). Therefore, we must not try to read a message into a passage of Scripture. Instead, we should first try to draw out of it the natural meaning that the human author intended to convey (i.e., the most obvious meaning of the words, in light of their context in Scripture and in the writer’s time and culture). God has chosen to speak through people, and to express Himself within the confines of human language and communication. As a result, we should expect that He has chosen to follow the basic rules of language and communication. Some people interpret Scripture without considering the natural meaning of the human author; this is little more than a demonic or egotistical attempt to create a false god of one’s own making, twisted out of the words of the One True God.

This natural meaning can be discerned by considering questions such as the following:

  • What is the immediate context? What precedes this passage of Scripture? What follows it?
  • What is the time period and cultural context of the writer, and of the people in a Bible story? What was going on in the world at that time?
  • What is the situation? If it is a story, how did this come about? To whom is Jesus speaking? If it is a prophecy or one of Paul’s letters, what led the author to mention this?
  • What is the literary form or genre of this passage? As mentioned before, historical stories should be read differently from songs, poems, apocalyptic literature, and letters. When we read a Sunday newspaper, we read the comics from a different perspective than we read the main news stories and the editorials. In the same way, we should keep in mind that history, poetry, letters, and prophetic visions all serve different functions of communication.

Any “spiritual” meaning that is not grounded in this natural meaning could be inspired by the wrong spirit.

A resourceful reader might invest in good reference materials that will provide background information to help you study God’s Word. A good study Bible, Bible handbook, Bible dictionary, and commentary will give information about the culture, language, history, and other factors related to passages of the Bible. You should look for recent publications. Bible scholars have published many excellent reference materials throughout the centuries. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948, and other archaeological finds since then, have multiplied our knowledge about Jewish culture and world events during the times of the Bible. While some nineteenth-century commentators had profound insight into Scripture, they did not have access to some of the background information we have now.

A few good study Bibles fulfill the roles of multiple reference materials. The NIV Study Bible and the Full Life Study Bible are two excellent resources that help explain the meaning and background of the Bible. They contain the Word of God at the top of the page, with explanatory notes and background information at the bottom. Cross-references are provided to direct the reader to related passages in the Bible. Both of these study Bibles, and many others that have come out in recent years, are very readable, so you do not need to be a Bible college graduate to understand them.

Having read and interpreted God’s Word, it might be helpful to write a one-sentence summary of the passage in your spiritual journal. What is God saying through this passage? Having figured out the meaning of the passage, personalize it. Ask God how this truth affects you individually. How does it affect your job? What does it say about your relationships with family, friends, and co-workers? Does it mention any sinful actions and attitudes that you must confess and repent of? Does it mention anything you should do more often? Develop a strategy for incorporating this passage’s guidance into your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you seek to apply the principles of God’s Word to your everyday life.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Unceasing Devotion

In First Thessalonians, Paul wrote to a church that eagerly awaited Christ’s return. The church in Thessalonica had sprung up suddenly when Paul preached there. Persecution arose shortly thereafter, and Paul had to flee to Berea. In spite of persecution, the church grew. The members struggled, enduring hardships and wondering what will happen to the church’s deceased members when Christ returns. They loved the Lord, but they needed reassurance that their faith was not misguided.

Today, our society can create confusion for Christians as well. Legislators pass laws in defiance of God’s edicts, and judges “legislate from the bench” in opposition both to God’s law and our nation’s Constitution. The media depict Christians as a flock of bigoted, narrow-minded, ignorant fanatics; many of our friends and co-workers are brainwashed to believe these stereotypes. As we await Christ’s second coming, we must be prepared to face whatever challenges may come. Outright persecution may arise. Religious freedom is gradually disappearing, even in America, despite the First Amendment. Our nation’s fountain of prosperity seems to be drying up. We need to learn how to follow the Lord so that we may not falter in hard times. We also need to wait patiently in hope for the return of our Lord.

How shall we live and act as we prepare for Jesus’ second coming? A familiar passage in First Thessalonians 5:16–18i provides some insight:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

This can look like three separate commandments. However, the passage bears a parallel structure, much like the Hebrew poetry found in the book of Psalms. This parallelism suggests that this passage is one command in three parts. To follow God’s will for us, we must rejoice, pray, and give thanks continually.

These three attitudes work together. When we pray, we give thanks, and such thanksgiving brings us joy. Such joy encourages us to pray some more, increasing our reasons to give thanks. Prayer, thanksgiving, and rejoicing become a cycle.

The most significant message here is that we should continually worship God. The emphasis is on the continual nature of this command. In the original Greek, these three adverbs—”always,” “without ceasing” (or “unceasingly”), and “in all circumstances”—appear before the verbs. Paul emphasizes the continual nature of these actions. This passage does not encourage us to rejoice occasionally, pray periodically, and give thanks on the fourth Thursday in November. We should do these things continually. They should be more than activities: they should be part of our very character.

That can be difficult. It is easy to rejoice when your favorite sports team is winning, your checking account balance keeps growing, and you have a productive day at work. It is not as easy, though, when your favorite sports team is on a prolonged losing streak, your checking account balance approaches $0, and work equals drudgery. If we cannot accomplish God’s will for us in Christ Jesus at these times, though, how will we fare during full-fledged government-sponsored persecution?

Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual fruit grows from spiritual seed. How do we grow joy? By keeping our eyes on spiritual blessings. In Matthew 5:11–12, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Elsewhere, Jesus told his disciples to rejoice, not because of the supernatural power he gave them, but because their names were recorded in heaven (Luke 10:20). Therefore, we grow eternal joy by reminding ourselves of our eternal rewards.

We can get so addicted to this world that we forget about heaven. We may get dangerously comfortable here. If Jesus were to ask our permission to rapture us into heaven tonight, many of us may balk because of all the things we would have to leave behind! “Lord, I need my TV; I never miss an episode of ‘American Idol.'” “You mean to tell me there’s no football in heaven? What am I supposed to do on Sunday afternoon there?” “I’m still making payments on that car! I can’t leave it here!” Perhaps if we truly considered our heavenly treasures, and all that awaits us there, we would not cling so tightly to the things we have here.

Perhaps that is why Christians in some Third World countries receive the word of God with such enthusiasm. They are not enslaved by possessions. They count themselves blessed if they eat enough to stay healthy, own two changes of clothing, and have a roof over their heads (even if that roof is made out of mud or tin). Their only treasure is whatever they are storing up in heaven. They realize just how temporal earthly pleasures are.

Praying without ceasing is central to rejoicing and giving thanks. Unfortunately, it is easy to make excuses to disobey this command. There are times when conscious prayer might hinder us from fulfilling our other duties. As an editor, when I am working on authors’ proofs, I need to concentrate on the pages in front of me. Most of us encounter similar circumstances, where our full attention must be directed to a task at hand. However, this should not become an excuse for spiritual laziness.

Are you at least consistent in prayer? Do you pray every day? Do you set aside time for prayer and then stick to it, or do you wait until you have nothing else to do before praying? In the Old Testament, the Israelites were often commanded to offer their first fruits to God. In other words, they sacrificed to him first. Likewise, we should set aside time for prayer as a top priority. If we wait until there is nothing else to do, we will never pray until we are in a crisis.

Perhaps many of our lives are too cluttered. It is difficult to pray while listening to the radio or your IPod. It is even harder to pray while watching television. We need to decide whether prayer or worldly pleasures are more important for us.

Prayer is our spiritual lifeline. We need constant spiritual protection. In First Peter 5:6–9, we read the following:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

Satan prowls as a vicious predator seeking souls to devour. Everything can be flowing smoothly in your life. You can be walking in victory. You might feel like you have finally overcome that addiction or life-controlling sinful habit. Suddenly and unexpectedly, life throws you a major crisis. In the midst of that stress, you are tempted in your weakest area. Maybe that sin, which you thought you had overcome, suddenly crops up as an overwhelming urge. If you have not tapped into the Lord’s power through prayer, you will be at Satan’s mercy until you call on the Lord. By the way—Satan has no mercy.

Remember to give thanks in all circumstances. If we pray continually, thanksgiving will flow. It is hard to thank God in hard times. However, when we recognize that in all things God is working for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes (Rom. 8:28), we can thank him for what he is doing, even if we are not currently comfortable in our circumstances.

Let us take these exhortations to heart. Rejoice always, even when you should feel like crying. Pray without ceasing, especially when you feel like God is ignoring your situation. Give thanks in all circumstances, even if you are not sure what God is doing. You may not see the blessing now, but if you remember that God loves you and is in control of all situations, you can rest confident in the hope that he will produce a good outcome in your circumstances.

Most importantly, remember that God is the One who will sanctify you and declare you blameless. His power strengthens us. His love encourages us. His guidance leads us. His Holy Spirit seals us. He holds us in His hands, and he will not let go of us. We are precious in his sight, so he will preserve us against any trial as we draw closer to him.

iScripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Looking Ahead: New Article

I just posted a new article on this site, entitled “Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Looking Ahead.

This is the text of the sermon that I preached this morning at Half Hollow Community Church in Dix Hills, NY. The nondenominational church was celebrating its 134th anniversary, and I was asked to fill the pulpit. The minister, Rev. Juanita Hilsenbeck (my former pastor from People’s Church, Long Beach) was on vacation. A former pastor of Half Hollows, Rev. Garfield Brown, was originally supposed to fill in, but was unable to make it after his wife was injured. (She is recovering from a fall and apparently coming along just fine; thank God.) It is mostly an elderly congregation.

During the past couple years, I have thought a lot about the importance of leaving a legacy behind. I felt this particular church anniversary, coupled with St. Paul’s words of encouragement in 2 Timothy 1: 3, 5 and 3:14-15, was a good opportunity to look at how a church can make an impact on future generations.

Read the article and let me know what you think of this subject.

Categories: Bible meditations, Family, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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