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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

How Do We Understand God's Word?

Hebrews 4:12 (NIV) 12  For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

We must be careful in our biblical interpretations. It seems easy for us to support a doctrine when it is right next to other scripture that we dismiss as speaking to the culture of the day. Yet, we must take scripture in context of the culture, the scripture near it, the book it is written in and the whole of the Bible before we can get the best interpretation. Too often, I am afraid we only see scripture through the eyes of those who could criticize us for not interpreting it as they do. We parrot what has been said to go along with the party line.

For example, we say that women can't teach but they can braid their hair and wear jewelry. Not braiding hair or wearing jewelry is 1 Timothy 2: 9. Not teaching is 1 Timothy 2: 12. How did we determine that one is doctrine and the other is culture? There doesn't seem to be any indicator that tells us that Paul is switching from one to the other. If he is speaking in principles, then each principle is noted. Women should not flaunt their wealth or their looks. Women should not teach in a way that exercises authority over a man. I don't think of my teaching as exercising authority simply because I teach. It is the scripture that has the authority, not me. I can see how a person can be so forceful in their teaching that they oppress others. That isn't the purpose of biblical teaching.

I have read many arguments on these exact verses. Most want to leave out the scriptures they don't wish to speak of. That is generally poor biblical interpretation. And even those who say women can't teach at all rarely follow that principle. You'll find women teaching in their churches whether they call them teachers or not.

Let's be honest: our humanity prevents us from understanding the scriptures. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we truly understand. We reveal ourselves as immature when we give argumentative interpretations. That doesn't mean that we are wishy-washy in our interpretations. We should stand firm when there is a firm truth. We should be vague when the Bible is vague. Most arguments come from standing firm on something that is vague.

The Bible does not need our help. It is living and active. It will cut through our human arguments to reveal the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. This is the action of the Holy Spirit revealing the scripture's interpretation. I get to this point through prayer and study. I try carefully to let the scripture speak for itself without my manipulations. I am not always successful. I admit I have been wrong, at times.

So, often I cry out, "Fill me with your Spirit, Lord for I cannot know you otherwise. Teach me your word, Lord, for I am inadequate to know it without Your Spirit reading it to me."

1 Corinthians 2:13 (NIV) 13  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Yoke of Jesus Is Easy and His Burden Is Light

 Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV) 28  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Age has made me look back on the things I have done; the things I have preached, too. I have so often preached how hard it is to live the Christian life but Jesus says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. How could I have been wrong for so many years?

The truly difficult journey in the Christian life is a daily picking up the cross. It is dying to self each day so that you can live for the Lord. When that dying is complete, the burden that we take from Jesus becomes easy and light. Trying to take on what Jesus wants to give us is impossible while carrying the desires of the world. Saying that you are doing both at the same time is deceiving yourself. There is a war that goes on that only makes you weary and burdened.

James 4:1 (NIV) 1  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 

The Christian who has truthfully trusted in Christ and seeks to serve Him will constantly battle with his own desires if he does not take up his cross daily. The problem is, we preachers haven't told him that this is possible because we preachers aren't taking up our crosses daily either. 

That isn't to say that we don't occasionally take up our crosses and follow Jesus. It just isn't a daily thing for most of us. We fail to realize that the reason that Jesus could take up His cross when He was crucified was because He had taken His cross daily.

Most of the movies I have seen about Jesus never have Him laugh. He seems to carry the burdens of the world all the time. I have had people quote Isaiah 53:3 to me when I have said I believe Jesus laughed.

Isaiah 53:3 (NIV) 3  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

While this may be the overall characteristic of Jesus, it is hard for me to see Him as one who constantly frowned and gathered people around Himself. It is hard for me to understand why anyone would say, "Hey, you are sad. I'd like to be like you." I don't think it was all laughter but I simply can't understand how it could be all tears either. 

Honestly, would you call Peter the one who denied Jesus or the one who proclaimed Jesus? Of course, he had done both but he was characterized as one who would preach the gospel message for the rest of his life. So, would you call Jesus all sorrow?

So, today, I need to take up my cross and accept the yoke and burden that Jesus places upon me. They are easy and light.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Stuck in What I Have Always Heard

It is easy for us to look back and ask why the most religious people of Jesus' day didn't know He was the Messiah. Maybe they couldn't see because they were so convinced that what they had heard much of their lives didn't agree with the One walking amongst them. He didn't look like the Messiah they expected. He didn't act like the Messiah they expected. He wasn't political and didn't wait for them to vote Him in as the Messiah.

Many times people disagree with me on this blog. They have the right to do so. I look for substantive reasons they might give me for their disagreements. Most of them don't give me any. They just state their conclusions without any evidence. They have heard what they what they have heard for so long that they can't understand why I don't agree with them. In other words, saying, "That's not true," isn't a reason for something not being true.

People have always tended to lean toward the majority of people. Yet, saying that 98% of theologian agree with me doesn't make anything true either. Even 100% wouldn't make it true by the fact that there were 100%. It could be that everyone is wrong. Remember that religious people said the earth was the center of the universe at one time. I don't know what the percentage was but I would say it was a great majority.

Quoting very smart fellows doesn't make something true either. There are some preachers that I respect greatly but disagree with them on some of their theology. I believe in a God who still speaks to His people. I believe that the spiritual gifts are as valid today as ever. There are preachers whom I respect who don't believe this. I have even looked at their reasons and their reasons haven't convinced me. At least, they have reasons.

I have come to the conclusion that I need to let the Bible speak for itself. I don't need to let my own prejudice or my denomination determine what the Bible says. I need to go where the Bible leads and believe what the Bible says. I need to take it in context of the time it was written and within itself. The context is in the sentence, in the paragraph, in the book and in the whole of the Bible. I can't take out a passage and make a doctrine that doesn't agree with the rest of the Bible.

All that being said, I have been wrong many times and have appreciated those who have given me solid reasons to straighten out my errors. Of course, I don't think there is a chance followers of Christ will miss Jesus' second coming but I do believe that I might miss the work of the Lord right now if I just repeat what I have always heard without any solid reasons.

Much of what I have always heard has substantive reason. I still hold to it because I believe it is true. 

But on the other hand, I still long to see Jesus. I'm afraid I'll miss Him if I am stuck in what I have always heard if I don't have reasons to believe what I have always heard.

Our faith is based on evidence; not wishful thinking. The cross was real. The empty tomb was real. The resurrection was real. The word of God is real. Jesus is real. The Holy Spirit is still working in a real way today. I believe in Someone I know is true. I don't want to miss Him. I want to know Him today. Sometimes I have to give up what I have always heard.

Philippians 3:10 (NIV) 10  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Who Is God on Tuesdays?

 We know who God is on Sundays. He is the One we worship. He is the Almighty. He is the One we pray to, sing to and even listen to. We did all those things for Him on Sunday. We sang, clapped and maybe even danced for Him. Did we leave Him at church on Sunday? Did we say, "See You next week, God," as we left?

Who is God on Tuesdays? Is He still at church? Is He like the light in the refrigerator that only comes on when the door is opened? Is He still God if we don't consider Him God?

By Tuesday, we are back in what people call the real world. Church is not the real world, right? Church is believing in what Mark Twain was referring to when he said "what you know ain't true." It makes you feel good but it doesn't always apply. This is why worry is banned at church but fully accepted on Tuesdays. At church, God is now here. By Tuesday, God is nowhere. Church is like what Rod Serling said of the Twilight Zone: 

"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge."

Yes, many think that going to church is like going into another dimension. It isn't real. It's made for Sundays.  It isn't made for Tuesdays. The God of Sundays doesn't exist on Tuesdays, does He?

But taking another quote from Rod Serling: "Imagine if you will . . . ."

Imagine that God is the same on Tuesdays as He is on Sundays. Imagine that He is just as worthy of praise. Imagine that He is just as able to deliver. Imagine that He is still wanting you to walk with Him. Imagine that He is now here.

I suppose that imagining is all that some people do. They don't know what reality is. They don't know God as Someone who is present on Tuesdays. They don't know that He doesn't change from Sunday to Sunday or any of the other days of the week.

Maybe you knew all of this. Maybe you just forgot and started back to worrying about the circumstances that seem insurmountable. Maybe you think things are only in God's hands when you have been given the cancer diagnosis. Maybe you didn't know you were always in God's hands. Even on Tuesdays.

God doesn't change because we forget. He doesn't change because we focus on something else. He doesn't change if we walk away from Him or walk beside Him. He continually loves us even when we don't think of loving Him. He is God always. Even on Tuesdays.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV) 22  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Immaturity Is Invisible to the Immature

I suppose I have never thought of myself as immature. This must be a characteristic of being immature. I can look back and see immaturity, though. I see what I have done or attitudes I have had and know them as immature now.

One of those immature periods was in thinking that everything was going to be fine if I just had. . . whatever. If I just graduated from seminary. If I just obtained my D. Min. If I just went to a large enough church. If I just built this or had this technology or . . . whatever.

When things weren't just fine after I had these things, I always found a way to blame something. It was the lack of giving of the members, it was the church location, it was the church reputation, it was a staff member or it was . . . whatever. And, oh yes, I sometimes blamed God.

What I failed to do was look in the mirror. Maybe I didn't want to admit it, but much of the problem was me. Much of the problem was my own arrogance. I was quite glad to tell God what I needed to be doing without truly asking Him. I was quite glad to remain who I was without walking with Him and becoming more. I was quite glad to make excuses for partial obedience while calling it complete obedience. I had never lived in the moment. I lived in the future I had created. It wasn't my calling because it had nothing to do with calling. It was just my own desires trying to make them God's desires. I failed to look in the mirror to see who was a fault.

Immaturity often fails to look in the mirror. Many fail to do so. They can't imagine that their problems may have been their problems because of what they have done or failed to do.

So, I am reading 1 John 1:9 a couple of days ago while thinking of God's wonderful love that welcomes us home with just a confession (which includes repentance by the way). It was then that God interrupted my bliss with verse 10.

1 John 1:10 (ESV) 10  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The truth is: it is rarely solely the fault of others. Most of the time, I own some of the blame. In fact, if my actions were different, maybe the other factors would either never have happened or wouldn't make much difference in the results. 

You see, I wasn't owning up to my own sin. I acted like I had none at all. That is truly immature.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Preacher, You Should Have Seen This Coming

 I once was young but now I am old. Yes, that is the beginning of a Bible verse. Yes, I just took it out of context. Yet, it is true for me. I have been in the ministry for over forty years. I can't say that I have seen everything, but I have seen a lot. I think I know many of the struggles people going into the ministry have. I know the ones that surprised me most.

I have always loved my pastors. I thought they were incredible men of God who were led by the Holy Spirit to deliver messages that helped me walk with God. I loved that they were men of God's Word. I loved that they could explain it to me. I thought that everyone would love me as I did my former pastors when I became a pastor.

A great surprise for me came when they criticized me for things that didn't have anything to do with God's word. They said they didn't think I cared about them. It hurt because I thought the messages I struggled to deliver proved that I cared about them. They were talking to me about their feelings, when I was trying to talk to them about their souls.

Another surprise came when they criticized the sermons I delivered. Yes, there are times that I have said things I shouldn't have. There have been words said that were insensitive without intending to be such. These were not the criticisms I received. They criticized the times when, according to them, I went too long. They criticized when I failed to recognize someone in the congregation or even when they thought I was talking about someone in the congregation when I gave an illustration. I am not that subtle. You will absolutely know if I am talking about you. However, I have never used an illustration of someone in a current church unless it was a positive affirmation of what they did.

Yet, another surprise came when I was told that I was too rigid. If the Bible says we ought to do it, I am not too flexible. We ought to do it. When that was pointed out, the response was one of allowing people to deviate from God's word because we loved them. I don't understand what love has to do with allowing people to deviate from God's word. Love should help people follow God's word; not excuse them for not following it.

Of course, there were those who didn't think Jesus was the only way to salvation. There were those who thought that the crowd that a televangelist gathers proves he or she is doing God's will. There are those who were fans of Jesus and made all of His commands optional. There were those who acted as if they hated me. If what they were doing is love, then I misinterpreted it.

But, I should have seen it coming. All you that are going into the ministry should see it coming too. This is not intended to discourage you. It means that you are following the pattern of your Savior. Yes, you love Him with all your hearts, souls and minds. Yes, you want to follow Him with every ounce of your strength. You want to become like Him. 

And when you are opposed by some of the people you came to, you will have become like Him.

John 1:11 (ESV) 11  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

It's Happened Before and It's Happening Again

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV) 9  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 

I just read an article published from entitled "Instruction Manual for Despots and Dictators: 7 STEPS to Increase Your Power" by Mark Van Vugt, Ph.D. I think we should  all read it. I think what has happened before is happening right under our noses while we think we have come up with something new.

We are giving up our freedoms as we are manipulated into believing that ceding these freedoms will give us greater security. 

Yesterday, I went to a local store to pick up an order placed by my wife. The store policy is that only the person who placed the order can pick it up. It made no difference that I have a government ID with the same address and a credit card in my name with the same number as the one used on the order and my last name is the same as my wife's. They want security. The only way to get absolute security is to go out of business. That means that someone, like the state, controls all commerce.

Freedom is very risky. Becoming free was very risky. Freedom was achieved at the extreme cost of lives. It seems strange that we would give it up to be safe when nothing about freedom is safe. 

Jesus came to set us free. It cost Him His life. If we were looking for a safe religion, this one just isn't the one. He set us free from the sin that determined our future. He set us free to follow Him. Truly following Him is not safe. He may ask you to give your life, too.

John 8:31-32 (ESV) 31  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Lies sound better but it is the truth that sets us free. Truth releases us from the power of the lie. Lies require more lies to protect the lies. Truth destroys the lies. Truth gives us the power of decision. We make our decisions according to the truth. Truth does not control us. It sets us free.

Yet, people are giving up the truth for the lie. The lie is believed because it is desired. The lie says this is the only heaven you will ever have. The lie convinces people that it is the truth. The lie places people into the slavery of the lie. Any decision that is made under the lie is a lie. The lie promises prosperity and delivers poverty. This is true when we speak of what truly matters. The soul is in poverty when all that matters is wealth in this world.

Why will a free people go back to being under slavery? (I am not speaking of the slavery placed upon people because they were captured and forced into slavery. I am speaking of the slavery that they usher in for themselves.) Maybe they forget what they already knew. They knew how people were oppressed under slavery but they forgot what got them under slavery.  Maybe they believe the lies. Maybe they want to be rescued from making decisions. They certainly don't acknowledge the truth.

Despotism, slavery, oppressive rule and the desire for absolute security are nothing new.  They have returned to popularity because only a few know what is is like to live under this rule. Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. We want what we don't have. Once we  have it, we don't want it anymore.

No, there is nothing new going on here.

(Please don't read this superficially. Take into account the spiritual and the civil.)