A majority of the New Testament addresses false teachers within the church. Passages such as 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 2 Peter 2:1, and Romans 16:17-20 talk about false teachers, doctrines of demons, destructive heresies, and deceiving spirits. Hebrews 13:9 comes with the warning to “not be carried away with various and strange doctrines.” Jesus even warned against the false prophets in Matthew 7 saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”
will be led away into destruction. Think of the imagery of the ravenous wolves. This is why we are also called throughout scripture to be discerning. We are to always judge what is taught to us against what is in the Scriptures, just like the Bereans did (which implies we must first know what the scriptures say). We are even told to test the spirits to see what is truly from God because not all “spiritual” things are from God.
But Satan, as the father of lies and the great deceiver, is much shrewder than we give him credit for being. He knows that even the least knowledgeable person of the scriptures could detect certain heresies as blatantly false. So he is trickier than that; he works like the old saying “stealing the sausage one slice at a time.” It is the slow deception of the truth that leads us down the bigger path towards the false , thus, the title of this post: the subterfuge of Satan. Subterfuge is defined as “deception in order to achieve one’s goal.” In order to see how Satan is going to deceive us, we have to think about what his goal is. What is Satan’s end game? To lead as many people away from God and out of God’s presence as he possibly can. That is his single mission. How does he achieve that? Deception. Satan even parades as an angel of light for the express purpose of deceiving us. Before we see what takes us out of God's presence and away from God, we must see what makes us in God's presence and with God. According to John 14:6, the only way to God is through Jesus. John reiterates that point in 1 John 5:12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” And Romans 10:9 tells us, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” So anything that is different from that truth will accomplish Satan’s goal. If he can get you to take one step away from that truth, then Satan wins. If he can pull you away from confessing Jesus is Lord, away from believing that God raised Him from the dead, and away from thinking that the only way to God is through Jesus, then Satan has deceived you with false doctrine unto your destruction. How does he deceive us into that?
How does Satan do that with us now? Well, we have a plethora of denominations that alter that core true doctrine of who Jesus is and what Jesus did. Some denominations say that Jesus wasn’t really God. If He wasn't God, then His sacrifice on the cross was insufficient. Many denominations say that you are saved by faith plus man’s traditions, man’s rituals, or man’s effort. They say if you do these steps or repeat these words then you can find forgiveness. They are just like the Judaizers adding to the work Jesus did on the cross as though it were insufficient, as though our effort has something to do with our salvation. But Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that it is only by grace through faith that we are saved, but it is not by our works, specifically so that we cannot boast in our salvation. It is only through the work Jesus did on the cross that we can boast, not in ourselves. Many denominations say that any path to God is valid. They don’t want to claim the exclusivity that Jesus claimed. When Jesus said that no one comes to the Father but through Him, Jesus was excluding all other religions as false and unacceptable to God. It doesn't matter how sincere or nice another religion is, it is equally abhorrent to God because it does not all on the name of Jesus for salvation. In each of these denominations, Satan has twisted scripture to lead people astray from true doctrine, which will lead to their destruction.
Some denominations even twist scripture to make it approve of sins in which they want to persist. They redefine the words clearly written in scripture so they can call “good evil and evil good.” They think since grace abounds we have no need for the law. But the law is useful, as Paul says in 1 Timothy 1, to show us our sin. He says the purpose of pointing out sin is to draw us to repentance. That is why in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul tells the church to call out one man’s sins so that “his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” The reason for identifying his actions as sin was so that the man’s spirit may be saved. What if Paul had never called that sin? The man would have persisted in that sin to the glory of his flesh but to the destruction of his soul. That is exactly what Satan wants. Satan twists scripture, so that we redefine sin, so that we may satisfy our flesh, but destroy our souls.
Yes, we are commanded to love one another. I am certainly not saying that we are not to do those things to help “the least of these.” But we are also commissioned to go and spread the Gospel because telling others about Jesus is showing love. So if you are going into the communities of the least of these to give them physical aid but never speak about Jesus, then you are missing the point of why Jesus sent us out. In Matthew 28:19 He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Yes, showing love and meeting physical needs should be a part of that. But the whole point is to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey His words. Many churches reference Acts 1:8 for their model for mission. But that doesn’t tell us to pick a cool beach spot for our youth group to hand out bottled water. It tells us to be witnesses of Jesus to the world. Being a witness involves speaking. We are to tell people about Jesus first and foremost. Satan has won if he can convince us that we only have to be kind or show love and not speak the name of Jesus. Satan knows that we don’t have to teach false doctrine to prevent others from reaching God, we just have to neglect to tell them the true doctrine.
Imagine if in a war, our military was so focused on arguing over the color of their uniforms and which food was better to have in the field that they neglected to actually attack the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy was busy plundering and slaughtering the local village and kidnapping our own military’s families. That sounds insane but that’s exactly what the church does when it becomes preoccupied with things indifferent instead of focusing on the lost and dying world around us. When we do that, not only do people die without salvation, but the enemy slips in and steals the minds and hearts of our children because we were too busy boycotting something to teach our children the fundamentals of their faith. We were too busy entertaining our children at church to educate them in the basic logic of Christianity. We were too busy making Christianity fun and palatable for the masses to give believers any depth of scriptural knowledge.
Satan is called the deceiver and the father of lies. His whole business is convincing you that the truth is not true. And he will resort to any means necessary to accomplish that goal. Be mindful of your adversary! He prowls around like a roaring lion seeking those whom he can devour. Don’t let that be you or your children. Be alert and watchful. Guard your mind, taking every thought captive. Demolish every argument he uses. Use the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God, to attack the enemy. Take up your armor and go to battle for the kingdom of God. Be deceived no longer.
I’ve been working on what I hope will be my second book for strengthening and equipping people in their faith. The subject matter is one that is universal to everyone: the idea of suffering. Suffering is all around us so it is important to assess how your worldview not only explains it but gives you counsel in it. Many times people think the existence of suffering means that there can’t be a God. So I think it’s important that we are able to logically understand that suffering does not mean that God does not exist. We may sometimes wonder why evil and tragic things are happening, but that does not negate the existence of an almighty Creator. And there are multiple reasons for that. In reality, the fact that we can even identify evil exists proves that a good, loving God exists.
But I don’t want to go into the purely logical arguments for that right here (hopefully you’ll get to read that in my book soon!). I wanted to speak more to the heart of the idea of suffering. Because suffering is something that affects us all in a very real and personal way. In fact, it has hit me in a real and personal way again this week. What I wanted to discuss here is the uniqueness of the Christian God in the midst of suffering. You see, every worldview (whether atheistic or theistic or polytheistic) must explain the existence of suffering. It must to our heads about understanding a world that has suffering in it. But your worldview must also speak to our hearts. Your worldview must explain why we respond like we do to suffering. Our response to suffering tells us an awful lot about the human spirit and the God who created us. We respond to suffering with brokenness, sadness, and grief. We use words like “tragic” to convey that this thing just ought not be so. How does your worldview give you comfort and peace in the midst of suffering?
Some worldviews imply that your suffering is just an illusion, that you haven’t overcome your circumstances with your mind. But that implies that suffering is not real – yet we know suffering is very real. Most other worldviews imply that your suffering is from some fault of your own. It is your karma or bad decisions that have led to this suffering. Granted, many times suffering is a consequence of your bad decisions, but not all suffering can be explained that way.
So here’s where I want to explain the Christian God because the God of Christianity is a God of compassion, a point that believers and unbelievers alike often miss. Many times when tragedy strikes we picture God up there with a frown on His face and a disapproving shake of the head, saying, “That’ll teach ‘em!” Or we imagine that He is sadistically laughing with delight when we stumble and fall on our faces, mumbling to Himself, “I told them so.” And while there are plenty of Biblical examples of God using suffering as a judgment on our sin, that is not always the case. We must also see this creation from God’s perspective to realize how much our pain and suffering must break His heart. Sickness, disease, and evil was not a part of this world in the beginning. When He created everything he declared it was “good.” His initial creation was with us living in peace and fellowship with Him; walking in His ways and in the beauty and perfection of the Garden of Eden, a phrase that now to us only symbolizes an idyllic place was once a real entity. He wanted that to be the life for His creation and for His children.
But our sin broke that. Our choice to reject His ways, to walk in disobedience, that Garden of Eden cannot be a reality for us. And it broke not only our fellowship with Him but it broke His heart. It broke His heart to see His very creation reject that goodness, that perfection, that beautiful place of peace. And now He knows that suffering is going to be an ever-present part of our existence. Evil decisions will have evil consequences. A nature no longer “good” will be rife with sickness, hurt, and pain. And God, knowing that was not how it could have been, is hurt by it too. So when we hear the word “cancer” for a loved one, it not only breaks our hearts, but it breaks the heart of God too – not out of surprise that it happened because He knows all things, but that cancer is even a part of this world. He sees this fallen creation and knows what it should have been like. He sees our hurt and our pain and it breaks His heart. It is just like a mother watching over her child, desiring the best for her child, but knowing because of the sinful world in which we live, this child will experience heartbreak and injury. This child, whom she wants to protect from all harm, must still navigate the pitfalls of life in order to grow, in order to learn. This child, whom she loves more than her own life, will make decisions to disobey the rules she laid down out of love. And this child, whom she wants to have peace and joy, will then find himself in suffering and pain.
And the Christian God has compassion on us. Mark 6:24 says, “And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.” Jesus had compassion on them. We are so clueless and helpless and bumbling around that God felt compassion on us. We are completely lost without Him. So He Himself came down to teach us. We suffer and have pain and loss and hurt because of our sin. Out of His compassion, He came down so that we could have a better hope, a better future than what sin had for us. Jesus was so full of compassion that He asked God to forgive the very men who were crucifying Him on the cross. He saw that those men – and ourselves – are so lost that they didn’t even fully grasp what they were doing. So He said, “Father, forgive them.” He saw they needed His compassion. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” He has compassion on us for the burdens that we carry, for the labor that we struggle under, so He gives us rest. First Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you.” He has compassion for our anxiety and tells us to bring it to Him. Jesus said in Matthew 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” He wanted to give us peace. He had compassion on us for our troubles and our fears so He gives us peace.
So when we suffer, are anxious, and feel burdened, God has compassion. God offers us peace and rest. He has compassion on His children, just like we as earthly parents do. What do other gods of religions do in those times? Are they compassionate? Most of them tell you that it’s your own fault. It’s your karma from bad decisions. It’s your retribution for not showing enough devotion. Where’s the compassion? Where’s their god that says, “Come to me when you’re troubled. Cast your fears, your worries, your burdens on ME so that you may rest.” Where is that god in man-made religions? Jesus wept when Lazarus died – KNOWING He was about to raise Him from the dead. But He cried along with humanity for what sin has done to His perfect creation. He understands the sadness of loss and His response was to weep. When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane the night of His arrest He said, ““My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He understands the fear of death and His response was to cry out to God – and then submit to His authority. “Not My will, but Thy will be done.” And in that moment, His compassion on us in our sins, His compassion while we reject His authority, was so great that He laid down His life for us. He loves us so much that He died to free us from the pain and suffering that our sins have brought us. His compassion was so great and His heart was so broken for us that He walked among us, that He suffered alongside us, that He suffered and died in our place, and that He defeated death for us so we do not have to walk this road of suffering alone.
I was asked in a recent interview what goals I would encourage others to have for the year 2017. Typically when we set goals for a new year we focus on some area of our life in which we want improvement. But that can sometimes be very personal. Does someone feel like they need to work on a healthier lifestyle? Then they set goals for healthier eating choices and maybe starting an exercise routine. Does someone feel like they are missing out on enjoying life? Then they set goals to work less and maybe take up a new hobby, maybe check off an item from their bucket list, maybe take a trip somewhere they’ve been wanting to visit for a while. Does someone want to learn more? Then they decide to read more books this year, maybe even read your Bible more. But typically as the year progresses, we find we just never have enough time so we let the gym membership expire, we quit that new hobby, we can’t find an open week for that vacation, and we never get around to reading anything new. And at the end of the year we find ourselves just as frustrated in December 2017 as we were in December 2016.
Our problem isn’t that we don’t desire to do more with our lives or to grow in our areas of weakness. Our problem is with insanity. We keep doing the same old things but expect different results. We think that we can add these great goals for personal growth without ever subtracting those things that don’t lead to growth. We want to learn more but we still watch more television than read a book. We want to enjoy life more but we still end up working more hours than spending time with our families. We want to lose weight but we still stuff ourselves with junk food and put off working out. We want to have a better faith, a faith like David or Daniel or Joseph, but we still never read our Bibles. We may add to our reading lists a bunch of books about the Bible, but still not the Bible itself. We may finally buy a devotion book, but only one that requires five minutes a day.
So now I’ll get to what my encouragement was to folks for their goals for 2017. Set aside an extra 30 minutes a day to actually study the Bible, not just a book about the Bible or something written by someone who believes the Bible. But go to the very source of God’s wisdom itself. The Bible is God’s Word to His people. Why are we neglecting to look at it? The next challenge though is to not just read it, but study it. The Bible is not just one book; it is a collection of books. It holds 66 books written by 40 different people from different backgrounds covering a span of 1,500 years. So each book contained in the Bible was written by a different author to a different audience in a different time and place. You have to look at all of the context around the individual books to understand what is meant by it, why the author wrote it, and what the audience would get out of it. You would do that with any other kind of book you would read or study in literature class. If you picked up a book by Chaucer, you would want to know when he lived and what kind of style he used. You would want to know why he was writing and to whom he was writing. So do the same thing with the Bible. Many of the books are letters. Think about if you received a letter from a friend of yours. Would you just read the first paragraph and say you knew what it was about? Would you just read the middle sentence from a three page note? Of course not. So we can’t do that with the books in the Bible either. They need to be read in their entirety so that we can understand the heart of what the author was writing and see the material in context. The Bible was not meant to be read in a 5-minute devotion with one verse selected from a random passage each day.
We are somehow the most Biblically illiterate generation since the first century, yet we have more and easier ways to access the Scripture than ever before. Want it on your iPhone? There’s an app for that. Want it where you can take notes? There’s a Bible for that. Want it in a different language? There’s a translation for that. Need a commentary to help your understanding? There’s a book for that. Want it with pictures for your kids? There’s a version for that. We have so many ways to access and read the Scriptures at any moment of convenience, but do we? Do we, in this land of religious openness, free from persecution, ever actual read the Bible? No, instead, we find 5-minute devotions that cherry-pick just a few random, feel good verses out with a cute little life application story to go along with it. How then can we ever expect to grow in our faith? No wonder we don’t feel like we could ever be like Daniel, standing up for God in the face of the King and culture. No wonder we don’t have the boldness in witnessing like Paul. No wonder we don’t think we could withstand trial and tribulations like Job. Those men were able to do those things because they had a close relationship with God. They were able to face giants, persecution, troubled times, and doubt because they spent a significant amount of time with God. They could interpret dreams and boldly proclaim truth because they were steeped in God’s ways and soaked up God’s wisdom. Do you think they did that with a 5-minute devotion?
So if your goal is to study the Bible more in 2017, let’s put some actionable steps to being able to do that. First, select a single book of the Bible for you to study. If you’re not sure where to begin, pick a simple one to start with (in other words, don’t start with Leviticus or Revelation). Choose one of the Gospels. Matthew is written by one of Jesus’s disciples and John is written by Jesus’s closest friend. Mark is written from Peter’s account and Luke is written like the research from an investigative journalist to put down an orderly account of the ministry of Jesus. Or pick Acts, which gives the history of the founding of the church and the missionary journeys of Paul. You could go with some of the letters written by Paul, like Ephesians and Galatians which give instructions to the churches established in those cities for living a Godly life.
Second, find a commentary or two to go along with those books. Those will help give you the background information on the book and its author. It will help you understand more difficult passages and maybe even make connections to other areas of Scripture that discuss a similar theme to give further understanding of a passage. Third, either wake up earlier, go to bed later, or eliminate wasted time during the day to give yourself time to studying this book. If you continue with your same old routine, you will find that “you just don’t have enough time” to read the Bible. That is why your routine will need to change. It is the same way with anything new we want to try. If you want to start losing weight by going to the gym, you have to either wake up earlier, stay up later, or remove wasted activities from your day in order to make that a priority. And that’s what it is all about: your priorities. This should be the most important thing we can do during the day, studying God’s Word. It is how we get to know God and how we get to know how God wants us to live. It shouldn’t be about an obligation to check the box and say you did it for the day. It should come from deep within our heart out of love for what He has done for us. It should be from the same place where our attitude of worship comes. Because of God’s love and sacrifice for us, we want to know Him, praise Him, and obey Him. Not from a dutiful obligation, but from a heart full of love and gratitude.
Fourth, and last, you should be uncomfortable. I’m not saying you have to sit in an uncomfortable chair while you study, but learning more about God should make you uncomfortable. Studying God will not result in an affirmation of everything you do. Studying God will continue to show us where we need to change and where we need to grow. It will highlight things to stop doing and underscore things to start doing, again all out of love for God. We walk in obedience to God not so that we can be saved but because we are saved. In many of Paul’s letters, he calls on his readers to “walk worthy of the Gospel.” He knows our walk is not the mechanism for our salvation. But because God has loved us so much, we should walk worthy of that salvation that we have received. So studying His Word will make you uncomfortable in your sin to move you to repentance and obedience. Studying God’s Word will change your heart and your thoughts on things in your day-to-day and on things in the culture around you. And that is what it truly means to be walking as a Christian. Being a Christian isn’t just a label we wear because of what we do on Sunday mornings. It is to be a mind set on the things of God. God’s Word should be the foundation for every opinion we form on things. Through studying His Word, we are taught to die to our own thoughts and desires in order to submit to His.
Will you in 2017 be willing to change your routine so that you can be uncomfortable in order to walk worthy of your salvation?
Since the very beginning of time itself, the battle has not been between good and evil but between humility and pride. When we read in Isaiah 14 about the fall of Lucifer (aka Satan, the deceiver, the father of lies, and the ruler of darkness) we know that it all started with his pride. He said in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.” It all started because he wanted to be more powerful and more exalted than God. It was pride. And that pride was therefore, his destruction. Lucifer was cast out and destroyed because, though he was full of wisdom and beauty, he was corrupted by his pride (Ezekiel 28).
Lucifer knew that the easiest way to draw people away from God was to tempt them in their pride. It was his method to attack the crowning jewel of God’s creation – mankind. He used the temptation of pride to draw Eve away from her direct fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden. He started with making her question God’s commands. “Did God really say?” Satan made Eve consider whether God’s commands allowed for wiggle room. Did He really say that was forbidden? Maybe you misunderstood Him. Or maybe He said that but really meant something else (do we ever do that with God’s commands?). And Satan, as the father of lies, led the discussion with a lie about what God had actually commanded. Satan asked if God had forbidden them to eat of every tree, knowing it was just one particular tree. Then the lies continued. He wanted Eve to doubt God’s goodness. It was out of God’s goodness to protect Eve that He commanded them to not eat of that tree – so that she would not die. But Satan said that wasn't true. He called God the liar in order to make Eve question God’s purpose in His command. Then Satan added to his lie this little enticement for her pride. Satan said that instead of dying by eating the fruit, she would be like God. He wanted Eve to desire herself over God. He tempted her in her pride. Would she be willing to humbly submit to God's command or would she want to elevate herself? It’s exactly the concept that led to Lucifer’s fall and destruction; he wanted to be like God. It was that pride to be like God that, as Proverbs 16:18 says, led her to destruction. It was that pride that led to the destruction of all mankind.
Pride. It’s at the root of everything we do. We label movements and marches as taking "pride" in something; take pride in who you are; take pride in whatever it is that you are doing, whether it's good or bad. But pride is really the starting point of every sin we commit. Sometimes it's obvious but sometimes we don't even recognize it as pride. It is so subtle yet it is there even in the "good" things we do. We let it seep into our hearts without even knowing it. We tell ourselves that we are not overly prideful people; we don’t mind helping others and serving others. But as C.S. Lewis said, "If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed." So think about the subtlety of pride in how we even read scripture. Consider how you read Romans 14. Paul is talking about not judging a “weaker” brother who is convicted about not eating certain things or the one who is convicted about honoring certain days over others. He starts by saying, “Receive one who is weak in the faith.” Do you ever consider yourself to be the one who is weak in faith? Of course not. We always think of someone else in that case. We tend to identify with the “strong” in faith, even if we’re not. We never associate ourselves as being the weaker brother but only as the stronger one. In our minds we always think of someone else to serve as the example of the “weaker” brother, never considering that maybe it is yourself who is weak. It’s the same concept in Ephesians 4:14-16. Paul says that we should grow in our faith, no longer being “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” But we always think of ourselves as mature and others as children. Because of pride. Someone might in that very moment be swayed and tossed about by false doctrine because of their immature faith, yet they will stand there and read that scripture pointing to others as “weak” or “children” of the faith and not themselves. Because of pride.
Look closely at 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Paul gives some commands to the believers there in Thessalonica. He says to warn the unruly, comfort the fainthearted, and uphold the weak. I’m sure you thought of several people you know that would classify as each of those. But where did you put yourself? We never consider that we might be the unruly, we may be the ones in fear and doubt, or that we may be the one of weak faith. Nope, our pride tells us that those adjectives all belong to someone else. In doing that, we get to point fingers at other people; how they need to mature; how they need to grow in faith; how they need to stop being unruly, or fearful, or weak. We never consider that as a description of our own faith calling us to grow and mature. Because of pride.
Pride is not only what prevents us from growing in the faith by blinding us to the reality of our own faith condition, but it is what prevents us from finding faith in the first place. It is out of pride that we think we are good enough to merit our salvation. It is from pride that we falsely believe we could ever be “good enough” to earn God’s favor. We have to come to an understanding that we are hopelessly, horribly lost in our sin – every single one of us. But our pride tells us “you’re not that bad” or “you’re a pretty good person.” But God’s standard is not being “pretty good” or “not that bad.” His standard is perfection. His standard is to have no sin at all. I heard it put so perfectly by Pastor James Roberson from the Bridge Church in Brooklyn, NY. How can we possibly think we adhere to God’s standard when we don’t even adhere to our own? None of us even act the way we think we should act, much less how God thinks we should act. We can’t even follow the advice we give others or heed the admonitions from our own earthly parents. What makes us think we can possibly pass the standard of perfect holiness as required from a perfect, holy, and just God? We constantly talk about our “rights” and what we “deserve.” Consider what we really deserve from the almighty God creator who will one day judge all of earth. For every lie you’ve told, every seed of anger, every fleeting moment of jealousy in your heart we deserve judgment. We deserve nothing. Actually we deserve worse than nothing. We deserve to be cast out from the presence of God forever. But He gives us mercy, withdrawing a judgment that we deserve. And He gives us grace, rewarding us with a blessing that we didn’t earn.
Yet we dare to stand in our pride and demand God accept us without any contrition of heart and, for some, without any acknowledgement of His existence at all. And again, the battle is between pride and humility. Will you humble yourself before God and acknowledge that you don’t deserve His mercy? Will you put aside your pride to see that you can’t merit salvation on your own good works to accept the undeserving gift of grace He has given? Jesus paints this very picture of the battle between pride and humility as He is facing the cross. And here in a different garden than Eve’s, we find a different outcome of this same struggle and temptation. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal, He is praying for there to be another way, but He humbly submits to the will of God to go forward to His death on the cross. Even knowing death could not hold Him, He was still praying for there to be another way. But He prayed in humility to yield Himself up for God – and for you. Throughout that night there were moments that if given over to pride Jesus could have made a very different end to the story. After Peter had cut off the ear of the solider coming for Jesus’ arrest, Jesus said to him, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” Out of pride for Himself, Jesus could have done that, but He humbly allowed the soldiers to arrest Him. At any moment during His trial while the soldiers struck Him and mocked Him, Jesus out of pride could have called down those angels and demonstrated His full power and deity. He could have prophesied not just who struck Him but everything about those who struck Him. But He humbly stood silent, submitting to the will of God. As He hung on the cross, the soldiers and Pharisees mocked Him and dared Him to save Himself. Out of pride He could have saved Himself from the cross and destroyed those who mocked Him. But in His humility, He gave up His spirit into the Father’s hand.
Pride vs. humility. Jesus, the only one who has a right to be proud because He is the perfect Son of God, humbly submitted Himself to God’s authority. Yet man, who has no right to make demands because he is covered over in sin, stands in pride shaking his fist at God as though he deserves something more. But man has the opportunity in humility to acknowledge his sin and seek forgiveness to gain mercy that he doesn’t deserve and receive grace which he did not earn. Pride vs. humility. Which choice will you make?
How do you feel about the word doctrine? What about the word theology? Doctrine is defined as “a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” Theology is the study of God and His relation to the world. To folks today both of those sound pretty boring. Principles? Studying god? System of belief? Who cares as long as I feel something during worship? Why study about God when I sense His presence? Can’t we just be led by the Spirit without having to drag it down with doctrine, study, principles, and theology? The resounding answer to each of those questions is no. Absolutely not.
John 4:21-24 talks about how the true worshipers will worship God in spirit AND in truth. Why must it be both? Because if you are not worshiping in truth then you are worshiping a god of your own creation. You are worshiping what you want God to be and how you want God to relate to you. And that most likely is a false god. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I believe that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of the child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” The most important thing you can do is study God. If you are going to devote your life to Him and worship Him, then you ought to know whom it is you are worshiping!
There are many examples in the Bible where the people are indeed worshiping in their “spirit” but certainly not in truth. But one of the clearest illustrations of where that leads is found in Exodus 32. Most of you are familiar with the general description of the story; it is where the Israelites have decided to make for themselves a golden calf to worship while Moses is still on the mountain with God. The last thing the Israelites had done (in Exodus 24) was commit to following the Lord and being obedient to Him. They participated in a ceremony of sacrifices and offerings committing themselves to this covenant. Moses, his aids, and the elders then witnessed the very glory of the presence of God. God’s presence covered the mountain like a cloud and His glory was like a consuming fire. But the people got impatient. In only a month’s time, they decided to make a god for themselves who would lead them. So Aaron, the future first High-Priest of the Israelites, gathers their jewelry, melts it down, and forms with an engraving tool a golden calf. They declared that to be their god – as the one who had led them out of Egypt!
Aaron announced that they would have a feast and offerings unto the Lord. They built an altar, made a feast to the Lord, and “rose up to play.” This phrase includes drunken and sexually immoral activities that went along with pagan worship. Yet they were doing this "to the Lord"? The Israelites not only made a false idol but were mixing false idol worship with worship to the true God (also known as syncretism). What an insult to the true God! Even if Aaron thought they were simply adding this golden calf to their worship of God, he was still violating the commands of God to have no other gods besides Him. You can’t add something to God and think that is ok. This shows us how important it is to worship in spirit and in truth. We might think, well, hey they were still worshiping, right? But that was not worshiping in truth. And worshiping in something other than the truth is idol worship. It makes a mockery of God. And God's response, had Moses not pleaded for mercy, was to destroy them for their sin. His wrath burned hot against them, and He was going to consume them. It shows us how serious this sin was. Sometimes it seems impossible that so soon after receiving the commandments and revelation of God that the Israelites could sink so low to mold a golden idol for themselves. But the Christian experience today is oftentimes the same. It might reveal something of the superficial nature of one’s faith how quickly they turn away from the truth. How often do we think we can set aside truth, that boring thing called doctrine and theology, to just worship in spirit? But it is our doctrine and theology that makes our worship in the spirit either honoring or dishonoring to God.
Because Moses delayed in those 40 days on the mountain with God, the Israelites abandoned the God who had rescued them, provided for them, sheltered them, and protected them. How long does it take us in our pain or in the perceived silence of God for us to turn away from him? How quickly do we turn back to our old ways of sin or our own strength and desires when we get impatient with God? How we handle God’s ordained delays is a good measure of our spiritual maturity. If we allow those delays to make us simply to take our eyes off Him, then we drift into sin. But if we allow such times to deepen our faith and strengthen our walk with God, then those times are of good use.
Granted, we don’t typically melt down our jewelry in idol worship but we can turn our hearts away just as easily. How can we consider this at play in our own culture then? How often do “churches” do worship that is only in spirit and not in truth? This is why we must be discerning about what we are taught and in what spirit we are worshiping. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul talks about the ability to discern false prophets and false teachings. He says, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” Satan, false prophets, and false teachers will disguise themselves as light. Satan wants the bad to appear to be good so that we will be all the more tempted by it. We are to therefore judge the spirit to see from where it came. John states in 1 John 4, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
We see this discernment in the people of Berea when Paul came and preached the Gospel to them. They are praised for searching out to know if what Paul had taught was true. But they didn’t just sit around and think about it and decide based on their own feelings. The Bereans didn’t say, “Well, this just feels right to me.” Or “I had this great moment of experience and elation when I heard Paul talking so I’m going to follow what he says.” Not at all! We must then ask the question, “Based on what are we discerning?” In other words, in order to judge whether a line is straight or not, you must know the characteristics of a straight line. We only know when something is crooked because we have a concept of what straight is. Likewise, you can only judge whether or not something is from God if you know what things from God would be. We can’t judge based on our own concepts or ideals, we must judge them against something accurate, against some standard, to know whether it is from truth or not. So how did the Bereans do it? In Acts 17 it says they searched the Scriptures daily. They examined the Word of God every day to check it against what Paul was teaching. Keep in mind, at this point in time, the “Word of God” was only the Old Testament. They were doing that "boring drudgery" of studying God’s Word, reading the Scriptures, checking their doctrine, and assessing their theology. And they were called noble for doing it. That is why it is so important for us to do the same – studying God’s word, reading the Scriptures, checking your doctrine, and assessing your theology.
They were doing that diligent work to make sure they didn’t just seize upon some new teaching because it sounded nice, or made them feel good about themselves, or didn’t make them feel too guilty about their sins. They checked the Scriptures. They judged the Spirit in which Paul taught against the Spirit of God. And for that reason, it says that many of them believed. And that belief, I feel sure, was a confident belief that would not be swayed by persecution or doubt because they had rightly judged those teachings against the truth. And they saw that it was the truth.
In our culture, though, the whole idea of discernment and judgment has such a bad connotation. For some reason, saying you have “judged” something will get you labeled something not so nice. It’s as though our culture as declared that judging and being judgmental are the same thing, but they’re not. Judgmental is defined as “tending to judge people too quickly and critically.” But judging is defined as “forming an opinion through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises.” Those are two entirely different concepts. We have to judge things, and honestly we wouldn’t want to live in a culture that did not judge things. We judge things by examining the evidence and considering the facts. We make judgments like that every day – is that car going to stop at the intersection? Is this meat safe to eat? Is what this person telling me the truth? But in those judgments, we must know by what standard we are judging, what evidence and facts we are considering. In spiritual matters, it means we must have sound doctrine, theology, and Biblical understanding so that we too can rightly judge things against the Spirit and Word of God. Judging by your own feelings and opinions will not get you to the Bereans, it will get you to the golden calf. But judging according to the Word of God will strengthen your faith and ensure you are continuing to walk in the true light of God.
As we embark on a new year, many people will take stock of where they are in life and what their goals for the new year are. Some may make plans to finally use that gym membership or read one of those books that’s been sitting on the shelf for a while. Some may plan to quit a bad habit or to start a good habit. Some may decide to spend more time with family or make time to travel more. Whatever the goals for the new year may be, they are always in an effort to make an improvement, striving to better ourselves. So we ought to stop and ask ourselves: why? Why are we trying to better our lives? It goes straight to the heart of the meaning of life. We are trying to improve ourselves because we believe that life has meaning somehow. Otherwise, why bother trying to improve?
So where do we find this meaning in life that makes it worth improving? Trying to find that meaning of life and purpose for improvement can’t be done in the world defined by the atheist. Though the atheist may say they too can desire good things and strive to be a better person. But according to the atheist, we are just an accidental by-product of matter, chance, and time. There is no real reason or purpose in that. It says that we are only here because of pure blind luck so there's no real reason why should or should not exist. It says that all we have is this life now and nothing afterwards. All we face is death-nothing more. Is death truly all we have to live for? If there is no immortality there is no purpose. If there is no immortality, then live as you please in the moment; after all, what difference does it make? So yes, you can believe anything you want about eternity and still want to be a good persono and live a better life. The question is why would you bother if you didn't believe in eternity? Why would we still feel this innate compulsion to improve our lives, to live good and justly? It is because we are aware of an immortality whether we choose to believe in it or not. That immortality is necessary for life to be meaningful.
However, having immortality alone does not give us the significance that we seek. For an eternity of a useless and purposeless existence is torture. That explanation to our significance without the existence of God is terrifying and depressing. Mere duration of existence does not make that existence meaningful. If man could live forever but there were no God, man’s existence would still have no ultimate significance. So it’s not just immortality man needs for significance, he needs immortality and God. If there is no God, then life, even an eternal life, becomes meaningless.
See, modern man thought he was oh so clever to get rid of God because he thought he was finally free to do as he pleases. Man could live without being inhibited by God’s existence. But what he only succeeded in doing is creating a miserable and insignificant life for himself. Without God and without immortality, man’s life is absurd. William Lane Craig says, “One cannot live happily and consistently on an atheistic worldview. In order to be happy, one must believe in objective meaning, value, and purpose.” And you can’t have objective meaning, value, and purpose without the existence of God.
So while you are making your plans for a better life in 2017, remember what it is that gives that new and improved life purpose. And rejoice that we do have a God that gives our lives meaning and purpose as well as the opportunity to have an immortal life with Him, if we would only trust in His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Last week I had the privilege of participating in the pro-life sidewalk ministry outside an abortion clinic. Back in October, I had the opportunity to speak at a 40 Days of Life campaign and since then I have wanted to come out and see what the pro-life sidewalk ministry does on a daily basis to minister to the people at the clinic and in that community. Before I talk about the ministry though, I want to turn your attention to the clinic. It is quite misleading in its sign on the building: Women’s Center. As you drive by you may get the impression that it provides medical care for women, maybe even helping women who can’t afford medical care. To the passersby, it seems like a good thing to have in a lower-income community. However, on its website it clearly outlines exactly what it does. It mentions first and foremost that it provides “reproductive alternatives,” offering abortion services on women pregnant up to 21-weeks. 21 weeks!!! Here’s what your baby looks like at 21-weeks’ gestation. It has already formed every organ necessary for life so this week in the womb is spent growing eyebrows.
It is clear that providing abortions is the clinic’s primary purpose. It only in passing mentions “other services” it may provide, like contraceptive counseling, STD testing, and OBGYN services (is that a conflict of interest?). Don’t be fooled into thinking this clinic is there to help impoverished women get healthcare. It is there to relieve women of the burdensome child they are carrying in the womb. Although this is not a Planned Parenthood facility, the same ideology permeates through any abortion clinic. It parades itself around as a “choice” for women with inconvenient pregnancies yet the founding principles from Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was eugenics, the belief and practice that aims to eliminate certain groups of people. Sanger sought to sterilize and end reproduction for the “less desirable” people. Her disdain for blacks, minority groups, and the diseased and disabled led to the corporation of abortion to profit from the killing of the weakest and most vulnerable. That is why these clinics are strategically situated in lower-income communities among minority groups.
The statistics today highlight this fact. African-American women are five times more likely to choose abortion over white women. Abortion remains the leading cause of death for the black community. Though African-Americans represent only 13% of the population they represent 30% of aborted children. In fact in New York City, a black baby in the womb is more likely to be aborted than to be born. Sanger once said, “We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.” If you want to find a truly racist organization that is still alive and thriving, look no further than Planned Parenthood. Sanger also stated about immigrants, “They are…human weeds, reckless breeders, spawning human beings who never should have been born. Organized charity itself is the symptom of a malignant social disease…Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks [of people] that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant.”[i]
In an interview in 1957 with journalist Mike Wallace, Sanger says that the greatest evil is a family that chooses to bring children into the world. She advocated for a system where every American family had to submit a request to the government to receive a “birth permit” before having children. She goes further by saying, “I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world – that have disease from their parents, that have no chance in the world to be a human being practically.” Did you catch that? She believes there are certain children that have “no chance to be a human being.” Yet there are people today who are fighting to keep these facilities open. They say those who are pro-life are the racists and bigots. But the pro-life people are the only ones wanting these children – children of any race or background or status or ability – to have the chance for life. How can that possibly be deemed racist? Dr. Alveda King commented herself on the racism of Planned Parenthood:
“The most obvious practitioner of racism in the United States today is Planned Parenthood, an organization founded by the eugenicist Margaret Sanger and recently documented as ready to accept money to eliminate black babies.”[ii]
Planned Parenthood may like to call themselves “pro-choice” but these clinics are not wanting the women to have a choice at all. Having a choice means you have data from all options. You are able to consider all the aspects, consequences, and benefits of option A. Then you are also able to consider all the aspects, consequences, and benefits of option B. At that point, you are then able to make a choice between A and B. But that is not what is going on at these clinics at all. These abortionists don’t want women to know all the aspects, consequences, or benefits of either option. They don’t tell these women that women who have abortions are 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide (teen girls are ten times more likely to commit suicide).[iii] Women are 81% more likely to have mental health issues after an abortion.[iv] They don’t tell these women that many post-abortive women are then unable to have children at a later time, or that they are more likely to suffer from depression or substance abuse.[v] They don’t tell these women where they can get prenatal help and services to give them the support they need through an unexpected pregnancy. So in reality, they aren’t really pro-choice at all, but pro-abortion. Because that is the only information given at these “clinics.”
My experience last week highlights this very issue. The pro-life ministry is not allowed to step foot on the abortuary’s property to speak directly with the women. The abortionists have their customers park in the back of the parking lot, as far away as they can possibly get from a voice from the sidewalk offering hope, help, and love. And they escort women into the building under a barrier of an umbrella so they don’t see messages of where to go and who to call for help and support. These abortionists want women to have only one choice, which then is not a choice at all. They want them to kill their baby so they can make money. One particular nurse at this clinic says that she chose to work at this abortuary because only there can she make enough money to buy her shiny new Mercedes parked out front – literally funding her greed with money from slaughtering innocent lives.
This lack of communication is what I found to be so frustrating! I wanted so desperately to walk up to each woman and tell them that there is hope. But that this decision leads only to death and despair – both for the child and for the mother – and for the father! I wanted to hug each woman and tell them that God loves them and their baby. I wanted to reassure them that this decision to have a baby that was unexpected or unplanned, and possibly even unwanted, will be difficult, but oftentimes doing the right thing IS difficult. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the right thing. I wanted her to know that there is a plethora of support for her to have this baby if she would only reach out for help instead of reaching out to a hand that will literally rip apart her baby in the womb – a baby that will FEEL every tear and rip. For the clearly post-abortive mom that came out, I wanted to hold her hand and say that God could and would forgive her of this – and every sin – if she would just come to Him. Only He can give her hope and healing from this, healing that she is going to need as she carries this darkness inside her for the rest of her life.
But I couldn’t do that.
Because the abortionists don’t want that message to be heard.
The pro-choice supporters don’t want that choice to be made.
Instead of encouraging life, they want to question if the pro-life movement is going to support that baby once it is born. And the response to that is absolutely! There are thousands of ways that women and their children can get help. There are eons of government programs, church ministries, fostering and adoption programs. This pro-life group in particular have opened up their own pocket books to pay for prenatal medical care, to stock nurseries, and to adopt. But I also heard a great analogy to this issue. Do we ask the same question of firemen? When they rush into a burning building, do we ask if they are willing to support the person they rescue for the rest of their life? Would a fireman refuse to save the life of a child if the child might end up in the foster care system? Do we ask the same question of the ER doctors? Are they only going to operate if the child will have a stable home life? No we don’t. We wouldn’t dream of having first responders only assisting the lives they think matter to be saved. We would stand appalled at a first responder who said they just didn’t save that person because, well, they might not have the best quality of life. No, they don’t do that at all. They save all lives. Why is that? Because somewhere we know that all life has value. All life matters – no matter how old or how young.
From my experience I got to see firsthand how sidewalk ministries are really conducted against how pro-choice and main stream media want you to think it’s conducted. Were we shouting? Yes, but only so we could be heard across a parking lot and over the street traffic. It was the same way that I would shout out to a friend about to step into oncoming traffic to warn them of the danger ahead, desperately hoping that they heard one last voice of warning before something tragic happens. Were we holding signs? Yes, but only so that the message of hope could be read since it most likely could not be heard. Were we shouting out judgment, hate, and vitriol? Absolutely not. We were telling them that God loves them - all of them, regardless of their color or status. We were telling them that there is a better option, that there are in fact many other choices besides this one. We were telling them that we can help. We are willing to pay for their prenatal care. We are willing to provide their needs for a nursery. We are willing to locate a family to adopt. But please come talk to us. And please, please, please allow your child a chance to live.
Many people question this approach, wondering how this could actually save lives. At this particular clinic alone there have been 19 confirmed babies saved here this year, and countless others who have turned around and changed their minds because of this sidewalk ministry. There is one couple who has been ministering on this sidewalk for many years now. They have more than 600 confirmed lives saved by their work there. How can you say that those lives don’t matter? How can you say that standing out there for a few hours isn’t worth it when you see this picture of Taylor Marie, a beautiful little girl, saved this year by a sidewalk ministry? How can you look at that picture and NOT want to help? The ministry on the sidewalk is the last voice of hope for the life of that child. They are the LAST defense for the defenseless as they are escorted off to their death. And before you think that it doesn’t happen that often, this particular clinic in a small city in the south committed 2,000 murders this past year alone.
2,000 lives lost in that small non-descript “women’s clinic.” 2,000 less students to be part of the graduating class of 2034. 2,000 less teachers, astronauts, doctors, ministers, salesmen, inventors, business owners, electricians, plumbers, maybe even the future President of the United States. We’ll never know.
But sadly, this ministry does not have enough volunteers to be on that sidewalk every minute the abortuary is open. That means there are several hours a week that a person could walk into that abortuary and not encounter a single person offering them a message of hope. They don’t see anyone fighting the last fight for the life of their child. How can that even be possible? Do you realize how many churches are on every corner in that city? If ONE person, just ONE person, from each church would step up and give one hour of their time to give love and support and hope to those women, what a difference that would make!! How can we not find ONE person per church willing to do that? How is it that it’s the same team of only a handful of people, people who refuse to ignore what is going on in their own backyard? A handful of people who will stay silent no more. A handful of people who want to save the life of every child, no matter their color, gender, status, or position. Where are you, Church? Where are you while these babies are slaughtered? Do you not hear their cry? Do you not think God is mourning the loss of these innocent lives?
So I want to leave you with a challenge. Where is the abortion clinic in your city? Are you aware of what is going on right in your own backyard? Be a part of this ministry in your city. If every believer would take just one hour a week to stand up for those women and those babies, what a difference it would make! So find the information for shelters and charities that provide care for women with an unplanned pregnancy, and share that information to women who are in a moment of desperation. More importantly, take the message of hope that is found in the love and forgiveness given through Jesus Christ. He is there to help them through a difficult pregnancy and through the tough decision of keeping or giving up for adoption a life. And only He can offer forgiveness for sins to give us the eternal hope that we all so desperately need.
Chapter 5 of Teaching Others to Defend Christianity, explores the evidence that affirms the validity of the New Testament Scriptures giving us confidence that the Scriptures are true. (for your copy, go here). As believers though, we not only believe that they are true in an “honest reporting of the facts” way but as the inspired Word of God. That means it is unchangeable, immovable, final, perfect, and holy. This view of the Scriptures is often referred to as “verbal plenary” inspiration. That means the inspiration extends to the very words themselves —not just concepts or ideas—and that the inspiration extends to all parts of Scripture and all subject matters of Scripture. (2 Peter 1:21 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.) Even though God used men with their distinctive personalities and writing styles, God divinely inspired the very words they wrote. In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus reinforces the accuracy of the Scriptures down to the smallest detail and the slightest punctuation mark – because it is the very Word of God. And because God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely perfect, His Word will by its very nature have the same characteristics. The Word of God is both inerrant and authoritative.
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” So God inspired all Scripture; and all scripture is profitable to us. It is not just the parts of the Bible that deal with religious doctrines that are inspired, but each and every word, from Genesis to Revelation. Because it is inspired by God, the Scriptures are therefore authoritative when it comes to establishing doctrine, and sufficient for teaching man how to be in a right relationship with God. The Scriptures even have the supernatural ability to change us and make us “complete.” So we are to use the Word of God to teach us, to instruct us, to guide us, to equip us so that we can be complete. In John 17:1-3, Jesus says that eternal life (or salvation) is knowing God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God sent. How do we get to know God? By studying Him and His Word. By reading the very words He breathed out for us. If the Bible is true, God-breathed, and forming our decisions on everything in this life, then why would we not study what it says? This seems like a simple topic to cover. Yes, of course we should study the Bible. But how well are we doing it?
One common way people “study” the Bible is in daily devotional books. Those are usually intended to be read in at most 5 minutes. They usually have a short passage of verses, or maybe sometimes one verse; and then give a short personal story of how those verses were applied to some situation. There is nothing wrong with this approach in itself, but if this is the only thing you are doing, how well are you really learning the Word of God? Do you have any idea how those verses are read in context? Have you actually learned about why God gave us those words and what was happening to the person when those words were written? Or did you just get some fluffy story about how those words were applied to someone’s personal situation? Now, this method could be valuable if it is supplementing actual scripture study but this should not be the only thing you are doing.
I understand we all like the idea of only taking 5 minutes to do our devotion but consider what that says about our priorities. We’ll spend hours each day on Facebook/Twitter, video games, TV, hanging out with our friends, or surfing the internet, but we only want to give at most 5 minutes to the God and Creator of the universe. Spending only five minutes a day in the Word, especially when most of that time is reading some else’s interpretation of that Word, does not really implant the Scriptures in our hearts. Psalm 119:11 says that we are to hide His word in our hearts so that we might not sin against God. Does this approach to reading His Word actually serve to hide it in our hearts? To write God’s words on our hearts, we must understand them – and understand them in context – to really have them change our daily lives. We see this concept for anything else we do. If you only spent 5 minutes a day exercising, can it really change your body type? If you only spent 5 minutes a day practicing your instrument, could you really ever advance in the complexity of music you can play? So to really have God’s Words stored in our hearts and transforming our minds, we must spend more time studying the Bible. The 5-minutes devotion may allow you to memorize a few verse here and there to spout off but it’s not hidden in your hearts. You haven’t learned the full depth of what God gave us. And think of all the verses YOU miss out on. Some of the most meaningful passages may come from those other verses that aren’t highlighted in a 5-minute devotion. It may come from your own study of the scriptures themselves in their fullness.
Another common method is the read through the Bible in a year studies. But let’s be honest; none of us usually make it all the way through December with the plan. But think about how much you’re studying the Bible with this method. You read about 10 verses in one book then a few random verses from Psalms or Proverbs. How much context and digestion do you really get that way? Do you know why that Psalm was written? Do you understand the historical context of that passage from 1 Kings? And usually it is still geared for just a 5 minute study a day. This can be done in a profitable way but I at least find myself just reading them to check off the list for that day’s assignment instead of really studying and thinking over those passages.
So what is the best way to do this? Plan a study time. Yes this may mean losing 20 minutes of sleep to get up a little earlier to spend time in God’s word – to really study God’s word. But it is so worth it! And isn’t that what we should PREFER to do?? We should rather study the Word given to us by God than watch another mindless sitcom on TV. And I promise, the more you are in the Word, the more you’ll want to be in the Word. Yes, it’s hard to commit to this. And there will be some days you won’t. But let’s set a goal here to work towards actually growing in right understanding of God’s word.
And then plan on reading the Bible itself. So often we read books about the Bible but never actually read the Bible. Get a Study Bible that will help you with explanations, introductions, outlines of the text, cross-references, and notes. Notes will help you with dates, places, and expanded definitions of words. They’ll also have maps and a topical index. The Bible is recording the real history of real people, events, and places. Seeing that in context helps the Bible come to life for you. Use the maps and notes to see where these people were living and what they were doing when these things happened. It reveals the hand of God is a much more amazing way. You could even get a topical Bible that organizes Scripture based on a special area of interest, like prayer, marriage, or salvation. Bible dictionaries, timelines, maps, and atlases can help too. There are also commentary books for every book in the Bible. Those are entire books dedicated to expounding on the text found within one book in the Bible. I have found the most fruitful way to study the Bible is using those commentary books. It’s a good idea to have more than one commentary too – not all theologians agree on certain passages.
I’ve found that once I can put a book of the Bible in context, in a time of history, I have a deeper appreciation for God’s Word and God's Sovereignty. The 5-minute devotionals left me with this shallow feeling, like I wasn’t really learning anything new– and I think for good reason. Because it is shallow. And it is the same fluff lesson that could probably be applied to anything. How can we be fulfilled with God’s word in only 5 minutes with just some watered-down application of a random few verses? How can you really even effectively apply those random few verses to your situation if you have no greater context? No appreciation for the author or the setting? The quote “et tu, Brute?” only has impact when we understand the characters and the context and what was at stake. We can’t live out the Scriptures and appreciate our doctrine and know to stand on it in face of persecution, scoffing, and criticism if we don’t understand the characters and the context and what is at stake. How can we defend God’s word to the world if we don’t truly know what it says? How can we answer criticisms about God’s character from certain passages if we don’t understand it in context; if we’ve only read a random selection of verses scattered across the Bible?
So think seriously about how you approach reading God’s word. Again, I promise the more you are in it the more you will want to be. If you only dabble in enough Bible reading to fill a few minutes each week, then you’ll never feed your soul or move from the milk of babies to the steak of the mature walk. I think no matter how much or little you know about the Bible, we all know enough to stand in awe of the strength of faith of men like Paul, and David, and Abraham. But they had that strength of faith because they were daily committed to knowing God. We can’t just sit back and wish we had that yet do nothing different in our daily life to make that happen. If you never spend time with God, then how could you ever live a life like Daniel or Paul or Peter? If you never study His Word, how can you ever know Him? We study the Bible to know God; to enjoy and love God; to understand His commands; to learn direction in life; to find comfort and hope; to let God expose our innermost thoughts and desires; to become pure and holy; to obey the Great Commandment: to love God with all of our being.
How do you study the Bible? Let me know in the comments below. And here are some tips I've found helpful as well...
Many people question the validity of the Bible because of the accounts found in the Old Testament. Honestly, it was on that point, that someone first really challenged my faith. I’m sure you’ve heard questions coming from the same point of skepticism. How can you believe Jonah was really swallowed by a whale? Did Moses really meet God in a burning bush? Did God really create everything in six 24-hour days? Those are certainly valid questions, particularly for an unbeliever to ask. However, there are many things in the Scriptures that unbeliever will not understand, as Paul tells us in two of his letters to the Corinthians.
But where I struggle when I encounter this disbelief in Old Testament occurrences is when it comes from a believer, someone who already believes in the supernatural and accepts the Scriptures as being the inspired Word of God. There is a real issue when a believer still wonders how Jonah survived in the whale, how Noah built the ark, and whether Adam really could name all the animals. It seems they want to find a naturalistic explanation to those things. And that usually results in their searching for some “new” understanding of Scripture. Or they just decide to only believe in the New Testament and the life about Jesus and the church, as if you can separate the two. But Jesus said Himself that He came not to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). If He is here to fulfill something, then that something must be a real thing. Jesus fulfilled the law given to Moses and He fulfilled the prophecies given by the prophets. Therefore, if you begin to unravel the reality of Moses, the Prophets, and the rest of the Old Testament, you start to unravel part of the identity and purpose of Jesus. You cannot separate the Old Testament from the New Testament.
So why is it that the believer may struggle with the Old Testament accounts? If we truly believe in the virgin birth of Christ, that Lazarus was raised from the dead, and Zacharias was mute for 9 months, why do we doubt the accounts of Jonah, and Daniel, and Noah? If Jesus could change water into wine, calm a storm with a word, and walk on water, why can He not create according to Genesis? If we as believers do have such confidence in the New Testament, then maybe we should consider what the New Testament has to say about the Old Testament.
The author of Hebrews describes how God made this universe and everything in it out of nothing, ex nihilo (Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”) which takes us to the opening line of the Bible; that in the beginning God created everything. Then in the genealogy of Jesus, Luke lists Adam as the first man created, describing him as the “son of God” (Luke 3:23-28). Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, in his book uses Adam as a reference point in the genealogy of Enoch. Both of these men saw Adam as a real historical person, the first man created by God from whom all others descended, including Jesus.
Throughout many of Paul’s writing, Paul refers to Jesus as the “second Adam,” which only makes sense if there were a “first Adam.” In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul writes, “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.’” He is referring to a literal person of Adam as the first man and the literal person of Jesus as the life-giving spirit, or the last Adam. He says again in his first letter to Timothy, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Why would Paul say all of this if Adam and Eve were not literal, physical people formed in the beginning according to Genesis? He explains it more fully in Romans 5:12-19:
Even John the apostle in 1 John 3 reaffirms Adam and Eve by discussing the sin brought in the next generation. He discusses the sin of Cain when he murdered his brother. He is discussing it as a real historical event found in Genesis 4. If we accept that Paul, Luke, John, and Jude were writing words inspired by God and that they had apostolic authority to preach the truth of Jesus Christ and provide sound doctrine for us to follow, then we must accept their teachings of Adam and Eve as literal, physical beings that were the first male and female specifically created by God. This ought to rule out any origins theory that includes any of type of evolutionary progression of man – whether it’s from apes or just from a Neanderthal pre-historic semblance of man. If you’re struggling with that because it came from Paul, Luke, John, and Jude then consider what Jesus Himself says about the creation of man and woman.
Jesus even talks about the account of Cain and Abel. Matthew 23:34-35 “And Jesus said, ‘Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.’” You can read the same account in Luke 11:49-51. And the event is affirmed again in Hebrews 11 and 1 John 3.
Jesus affirms the account of Jonah. Matthew 12:39-41 “But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.’” This can be found in Luke 11:29-32 as well. He says in Luke, “For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation…The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.”
In the book of Mark, Jesus upholds the prophecies of Daniel. In Mark 13:14 Jesus says, “So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” And he refers to the life of David as he is fleeing from the rage of Saul, “But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” (Mark 2:25-26).
What about Noah and the ark? Did the flood really destroy things and was it really over the whole earth? First, take a look at what it says in Genesis 7: And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive.
It says repeatedly that “all” things were destroyed, “every” thing that had breath, “all” living things so that “only” Noah and those on the ark remained alive. That seems pretty clear to me that the intent of the flood was to literally destroy everything that was not on the ark. Of course that’s the Old Testament description. What does the New Testament say? Jesus said in Matthew 24:37-39, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Jesus used the flood of Noah to compare to the Second Coming. Do you think some will be spared in the Second Coming? Or that only a portion of the world will be aware of the Second Coming? Jesus is using the analogy because both the flood and the Second Coming will be global and will affect all living things. Jesus said that the flood took “all” of them away just like the coming of the Son of Man will do. The same comparison is used in 2 Peter 3:1-7. Peter says in the days of Noah that “the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.” Peter also says in 1 Peter 3:18-20 that only “eight souls” were saved through water, meaning all other souls perished who were no on the ark. And he affirms again in 2 Peter 2:4-10 not only the global judgment of Noah, where only Noah, “one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness” was saved, but also the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, “condemned to destruction” where God only “delivered righteous Lot.”
All of these people and their real histories are recorded first in the Old Testament, honored for their faith in Hebrews 11, spoken of by Paul and Peter in the founding of the early churches, and most importantly, reaffirmed by Jesus in the New Testament. Why do we struggle then with believing what is written to us from the Old Testament? I know in the church now, this is not considered the “popular” belief. But are we called to base our doctrine on what is popular or on what is in God’s word? If we believe as fact that the virgin Mary gave birth, Jesus cast out demons, and Peter made a lame man walk, then why can we not believe that God parted the Red Sea through Moses, He conquered Jericho through Joshua marching around the city, He took down Goliath through David’s slingshot, He judged the sinful world saving only the righteous through Noah, and He spoke every living thing into being out of nothing, uniquely made reproducing each according to their kind, and that He formed man from the dust of the ground in His own likeness and image and breathed life into him. In Martin Luther’s day, the church compromised what the Bible clearly taught. So he nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the church to call them back to the authority of God’s Word. In the same way, the church today has, by and large, neglected what the Bible clearly says in the Old Testament. It’s time to call the church back to the authority of God’s Word, beginning with Genesis 1.
My three-year old is an extremely strong-willed child. When my oldest child was this age I used to think he was strong-willed, but since my second one has come along, I realize now that he just barely scratched the surface of that. My second one though is the textbook definition of strong willed, which is completely different from just being stubborn. And although we battle over many things – ok, everything – God is using him to teach me a lot about myself, also the second-born strong-willed child in my family. And in this world of parenting, I have found it is a common thing that God uses our children to teach us, to grow us, and to show our utter lack of control in situations so that we will trust more in Him. It also has been a huge instrument in improving our prayer life…
But it’s not just the lessons we learn about ourselves through raising a child, it’s the lessons we learn about God and how He relates to us. It’s a beautiful analogy of God and His creation. The latest battleground with my preschooler is over nap time. Meaning, he doesn’t want one even though he still really needs one. More importantly, mommy still needs him to have one! You have to give him credit though that he typically chooses a battle on something I truly cannot force him to do. I cannot physically force him to chew and ingest food so we battle over meals. And I cannot physically force him to close his eyes and fall asleep, so we battle over naps. So the rule for naptime is simple. Stay in your room and be quiet. I don’t care if you sleep or not, just stay in your room and be quiet. Rest. We both need you to.
In my latest effort of creative discipline in this battleground, I decided that each time he got out of his room (which was literally 5 seconds after I walked out his door), I would take a toy out of his bed. Honestly, between you and me he had WAY too many toys already in his bed but that was a battle I abandoned months ago. So we had a bit of an exchange where he would leave his room and I would remove a toy. Several toys and many tears later, I put him back in the bed and picked up another toy. Then with tears full in his eyes, he looks up at me and says, “Mommy, I don’t want you to take my toys away.” I gently explained to him that I didn’t want to take his toys away either. I’ve given him a very simple way to keep his toys. How does he get to keep them? He points to his bed, knowing he must stay in his bed and be quiet. So I tell him that the choice is his. If he chooses to stay in his bed, he can keep all his toys. But if he chooses to get out of his room or scream, then he’ll lose toys. The choice is entirely up to him.
And as I explained this to him, I realized this is exactly how God deals with us. At the end of this life, we will all stand before God and be judged for what we did with our time here. God will judge us and determine our just reward. For some, it will be an eternity of life in heaven and for some it will be an eternity of life in hell. Jesus describes hell as a place where “the fire will never be quenched” (Mark 9:45). In Luke 16 in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus describes the two eternities as one “resting in the comfort of Abraham’s bosom” and the other across the chasm as a place of “great anguish and torment, to the place of the dead.”
Unfortunately (and fortunately) there’s nothing that any of us can do – and God knew that. It’s not up to our works. That’s why God did it. The level of righteousness required is unattainable so God provided a way for us to gain righteousness, and it has nothing to do with what we do. It has to do with who we know. John 17:3 says, “This is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” That’s it. It’s nothing about what we do but who we know. Do you know Jesus? Only then can you have that righteousness. Because only then will God see Jesus instead of you during that judgment. He will see holiness and perfection and righteousness instead of your filthy rags. But without knowing Jesus, you WILL have to rely on what you did with your time here, your works. All of them. All of the nasty things you’ve said behind people’s backs. All of the angry words spoken to your enemies. All of the jealous thoughts you’ve had of your friends. All of the lustful ideas you’ve had of other people. No matter how much “good” you do, those things are still there. And where will that get you?
People oftentimes think that is so horrible for God to send people to an eternal damnation and judgment. How could God send someone to a place where the fires are never quenched? A place of eternal torment and punishment? How dare God judge us and deny us that eternal life? How dare God “take away our toys”? But meanwhile, God is saying to us, “I don’t want to take away your toys either. I’ve given you a very simple way to keep your toys and have eternal life. How do you get to keep them?” You point to the cross, knowing you must believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. “So I tell you that the choice is yours. If you choose to follow Jesus, you can keep all your toys. But if you choose to reject and deny Jesus, then you’ll lose your toys. The choice is entirely up to you.”