Handling Accurately the Word of Truth

August 27, 2016

Charles Shultz had a great “Peanuts” cartoon where Charlie Brown is so busy reading his Bible that he forgets to feed Snoopy. Snoopy bangs on the door, enters and fixes his own meal, but before leaving has Charlie Brown read Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee.” Charlie Brown cries out in reply, “Give me two weeks and I’ll find a verse to answer you.”

In his cartoon, Schultz poked fun at an all too common approach to scripture. Many people take the verses of the Bible as if they were a string of unrelated statements which can be pulled out to prove just about anything.

We must guard ourselves against this danger. Even though the Bible is inspired by God, we must use the same kind of common sense approach that we would use in understanding other books. We need to ask what kind of writing is this? For example, is this part of the Bible narrating history? Is it a letter? Is it prophecy? Is it poetry? After determining what style of writing it is, there would be further questions. To whom is it written? (In answering this question, we would want to include in our answer whether it is written to people under the old covenant or the new covenant.) And we need to ask who is speaking. After all, Satan is quoted in the Bible.

We would want to understand the verse within its immediate context (the surrounding verses and chapter), the wider context of the book, and the overall context of the whole Bible. We would want to interpret difficult and obscure passages in the light of clearer passages on the same subject.

There are in fact two distinct steps: (1) what does the passage mean, and (2) how does the passage apply to me. In the first step, we are asking what did the passage mean when first written and read by its first readers. After determining that, we may ask how do we apply this to ourselves.

Let us go back to the example of Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee.” In the psalm this quote is spoken by God. He is rebuking his people for combining wickedness with worship. They continue to offer the sacrifices, but it is not matched by right living. He reminds them that the sacrifices are not made because God is hungry or has needs, “for the world is Mine, and all it contains” (Psalm 50:12b). In application to us, this psalm can remind Christians that we must serve God in all things, both in our worship and in our everyday behavior. God doesn’t need us; we need him. But clearly the verse means something different in the context of scripture, than it did in the context of the conversation between Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Their error is an easy one to commit, but with care an easy error to avoid.

The Bible is not an impossible book to understand as long as we approach the Bible the right way. May we follow Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB).

To Have a Second Chance!

August 15, 2016

She felt herself being carried along by the mob, like driftwood bobbing on the waves. The most intimate of human moments—and one that she definitely had hoped would always be a secret—had now become glaringly public. She had barely grabbed her clothes. She felt and looked disheveled.

And where was he? Her friend. Her lover. Her downfall. Why did it suddenly look like he was a co-conspirator in destroying her life? The forbidden fruit that had looked so alluring was beginning to taste bitter. She cried. But tears to a mob are but one more thing to taunt.

She feared for her life. No legal court would have executed her. The Romans had reserved that power for themselves. But would the mob that had burst into her life play by those rules. Anyway she thought, she might as well be dead. Her life was ruined.

She overheard them, “If he sides with Moses, we’ll condemn him to the Romans. And if he sides with the Romans, we’ll condemn him to the people.” They looked so pompous—they had their large, scripture-box phylacteries and long blue tassels on their garments. They, the powerful, had trapped her to be the bait in a bigger trap. So the kangaroo-court of a mob made its way to Jesus.

“Teacher,” the spokesman began, “this woman was caught in the very act of adultery.” You could hear the sneer in his voice and see the look of contempt. He continued, “In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a one. What do you have to say concerning her?”

The air was charged with tension, but Jesus stooping down wrote on the ground. They continued to prod with their question. Jesus stood and said, “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone at her.”

She flinched thinking it was all over. She had wasted her life. She waited for the first stone. A stone that didn’t come as they all left from the oldest to the youngest.

Jesus looking up said, “Women, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

Having acknowledged his question, she could hardly believe his reply, “Neither do I condemn you. Go—from now on—sin no more!”

To have a second chance! Forgiveness! Good news!

Postscript: I’ve used my imagination to picture the scene — to think about what it might have been like. But let me encourage you to read John 8:3-11. What does it feel like to have a second chance?

Reflections on an Old Bible

August 5, 2016

When I was at my Mom’s house, I found the Bible I had as a teenager. It was a King James Bible that my grandparents had given me as I entered my teen years. Later, I purchased a NASB right before I headed to college. The complete NASB (Old Testament and New Testament) was first published in 1971, which coincides with my high school graduation and first year of college. So somewhere along the way this old Bible was left on a bookshelf at my Mom’s house.

It was fun to look through my old Bible after so many years. It’s a bit dilapidated. I may have been rougher on it than I should have been, however, Bibles are meant to be worn out. Our frequent use of them should take a toll on them. I once read that Bible publishers suggest that the life expectancy of a bonded leather Bible is about 10 years, 5 years for a hardback, and 1 year for a paperback.

I was interested in the notes that I had placed in it. Bible knowledge is not gained in a day. It takes a life time of study. The notes that I had made as a teenager were very basic. It contained scripture references that today I probably wouldn’t need any help finding. I had written down concepts that back then I probably understood very imperfectly. For example, I misspelled the word “Pentateuch” — a word that means 5 scrolls which is normally applied to the first five books of the Old Testament, and I don’t believe that 1 Timothy has 15 chapters the last time I checked. I was told not to write in a book as a child, which meant do not write in the school owned textbook, because someone else is going to use it. We should ignore that order when it comes to books we own. One important was of learning the content of a book is underling or highlighting passages and making marginal notes.

All these notes represent an effort on my part to learn. Learning always involves effort. We cannot be passive listeners and expect to gain much from the lessons we hear. I am afraid that a verse that is true of many is 2 Timothy 3:7 — “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (ESV). Listening to sermons and Bible class lessons is not like watching television. It should not be a passive experience. Our Bibles need to be open, notes need to be taken when appropriate, and our minds need to be engaged in active listening. Active listening searches for the main points, the evidence for the points advanced, and an evaluation of the truthfulness of what is presented. A biblical example of just this sort of thing is found in the case of the Bereans in Acts 17:11: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (NASB).

Finally, in looking at my old Bible I remember that I had some teachers who really cared. They worked hard at teaching. I still have taped in that Bible a handout from one of my teachers. Teaching is more than filling a 45-minute period. We are doing something that may help shape the spiritual lives of our students. It is a great responsibility. We must be students of the Word ourselves in order to be good teachers. Likely, we will have to go beyond the printed prepared materials in order to give our students everything they need. Teaching requires the commitment of time and study, but it gives great rewards.

“You have heard the things that I have taught. Many other people heard those things too. You should teach those same things. Give those teachings to some people you trust. Then they will be able to teach those things to other people” (2 Timothy 2:2, Easy-to- Read Version).

The Difference Is Faith

July 23, 2016

Complaining can become a lifestyle — always finding something wrong, always craving for the next desire, and never finding contentment. Daily needs met and blessings received aren’t considered. Such were some of the Israelites. They complained, “Who will give us meat to eat?”

They had been slaves and now were free. They had faced an army with chariots but were miraculous delivered through the sea. They had been thirsty and water was given to quench their thirst. They had been hungry, and God gave manna. They complained instead of asking God who gives good gifts. They treated God’s present blessings with contempt, “we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:6, NIV)

Burdened by a complaining people, Moses prayed. He too complained, but to God who answers prayers. “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? …Where can I get meat for all these people?” (Numbers 11:11, 13 NIV) And the God who answers prayers gave the seventy elders to aid Moses in his burden.

God also promised meat for the people for an entire month. Moses states the situation, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” (Numbers 11:21-22, NIV)

Moses’ implied question to God is, “ How?” God’s reply is not about how but who. “Is the LORD’s arm too short?” (Numbers 11:23) “So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said.” (Number 11:24, NIV)

Moses who didn’t know how God was going to do it trusted God enough to tell a complaining people that they would have meat for a month in the middle of a wilderness. What’s the difference between the complaining people and the praying Moses? The difference is faith.

The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

July 8, 2016

Someone recently asked me what is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Years ago, I even counseled with someone who thought she had committed this sin. It is a perennial question for Bible readers. The relevant passages are Matthew 12:24-32, Mark 3:22-30, and Luke 11:15-23, 12:10.

Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul (other manuscripts spell it Beelzebub). It is clear from the context that Beelzebul is another name for Satan. Beelzebul is “the prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24). The parallel of “if Satan casts out Satan” with “by Beelzebul … this man casts out demons” also makes this clear. Beelzebul is another name for Satan.

What is blasphemy? It is “speech that denigrates or defames, reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander.”1 In these passages, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. So the conditions for this sin to occur are: (1) Jesus performs a miracle by the power of the Holy Spirit, and (2) someone ascribes the work of the Holy Spirit in this miracle to the work of Satan. It would seem from context that you would have needed to have been present at Jesus’ ministry and witnessed a miracle to commit this particular sin.

Why is this an unforgivable sin? The miracle is a pointer to Christ’s identity. The person who has become so hardened that he believes Christ is in league with Satan will not come to Christ for salvation. Since salvation is found only in Jesus (Acts 4:12), there can be no forgiveness for such a person. F.F. Bruce notes one other factor: “The answer seems to be that the nature of this sin is such that one does not repent of it, because those who commit it and persist in it do not know that they are sinning.”2

Jesus reasons with his accusers. Every kingdom divided against itself will be left desolate, so it doesn’t make sense that Satan would cast out Satan. By what do your sons cast out demons, therefore they will be your judges. The casting out of demons is evidence of the Kingdom of God. The plundering of Satan’s possessions is evidence that someone stronger than Satan has arrived on the scene. This reasoning with his accusers suggests to me that maybe even they have not yet reached the unforgivable stage, but they are in danger of it. A settled opposition to Christ would leave them without hope of forgiveness.

The bottom line is this: if you have some sensitive soul who is fearful of having committed this sin, but also desires to repent, then they definitely have not committed this sin. But this passages warns us to guard our hearts. It is possible to harden our hearts so much that we are no longer responsive to the call to repentance.

1“βλασφημία,” BDAG, 178.

2F.F. Bruce, Hard Sayings of Jesus, p. 90

Endowed by Their Creator

July 4, 2016

July 4th, Independence Day, celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The document did more than declare that the thirteen colonies were now states independent from Great Britain. The declaration announced some important principles which have touched all of our lives.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The desire for freedom and an understanding of inalienable rights led to the Bill of Rights in order to secure the approval of the U.S. Constitution. Citizens wanted their rights spelled out.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — The Bill of Rights, Amendment I

By basing rights on something higher than the state, this country became a place of freedom and opportunity. It has not always lived up to those ideals, but those ideals have led to self-correction and have held up to us what we should be. It is still a place to which many long to come.

As we approach this important national holiday, it is a good time for us as Christians to pray. First, we should pray because we have been commanded to pray:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1–2, ESV)

Second, we should pray because we have been greatly blessed. We have enjoyed freedom and prosperity. We have been able to practice our faith without interference from the state. Our freedom of religion is more than just the freedom to worship, but it is also the freedom to evangelize. We enjoy the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly.

Third, we should pray because no people can stand unless they are moral. The lesson of history is that moral decay is dangerous. Pray for revival. “Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1b, ESV).

Fatherhood Truths

June 17, 2016

Truth #1. Christian fatherhood (as all fatherhood) is on the job training. I didn’t have to pass a test to become a father. No classroom work followed by apprenticeship before doing the real thing. We may wish it were that way at times, but it is not. No user manual was twisty-tied to the umbilical cord at any of my children’s births. I have tons of user manuals for various consumer products with special readme sections before you dare try using this product, but fatherhood is on the job training.

Fortunately, we have probably learned some things about being a parent from our own family of origin. (Hopefully, that is more good than bad.) The Bible is in many ways the owner’s manual for living. If we let it, it can be a great source for learning about family. I’ve also known some great Christian men who have modeled family life for me. I read baby books as a young father which instructed me what to expect at various ages, and I read some good books on being a Christian father (focusonthefamily.org is a great source for some ideas).

Truth #2. Christian fatherhood is not always perfect but should be principled. We juggle the work-a-day world and other issues of life all while being a father. Few (if any) of us would claim to be perfect fathers. We make mistakes. We are always adjusting the balance under the pressures of life’s demands. But there should always be principles guiding the Christian father. We are pointing our children beyond ourselves to God and his word.

I think the reality is that Christian morality works. If you follow the Bible’s teachings, I believe you will be happier, better adjusted, and lead a more productive life. If we instill Christian principles in our children, they will be better prepared for life and will also be prepared for eternity. You will dramatically reduce the chance of your children living in poverty, if you get them to do the following in the right order: education/preparation for a job, marriage, sex, and children.

Truth #3. Christian fatherhood (as all fatherhood) is a time sensitive role. Older people will tell you how quickly time passes, and you may not believe it until you are an older person telling the younger generation how quickly time passes. Life is like that. Children will not wait. Enjoy your moments with them now because time is fleeting. Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord now, because later may be too late. Discipline problems as children, if not dealt with, can grow into great headaches and heartaches when they are teenagers. The time for Christian fathers to be fathers is now. It is a time sensitive role.


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