Purpose

A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: Salvation

The foundation for increasing knowledge is the fear of the Lord, which drives man to learn what God reveals and demands. A Christian's increasing knowledge of the Bible supplies guidance for life. The Bible is also necessary for increasing in the knowledge of salvation.

The Bible reveals "the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 3:15). That foundational understanding of salvation is merely the beginning; believers are expected to grow in their understanding of salvation. "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (I Peter 2:2).

Salvation is simple. The simplest explanations include "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13) and "You must be born again" (John 3:7). A child can understand and accept the gift of salvation.

On the other hand, salvation is too complex for any man to completely comprehend. Salvation has many amazing components that happen without a believer's even realizing they are occurring. Apart from God's planning of and providing for salvation, the actual process of salvation for each individual is distributed over what humans would define as three different points of time.

Terms like justification, redemption, and reconciliation describe salvation in the past, at the moment a person accepted Christ. These components have to do with God's taking a wicked, condemned person and declaring him righteous and redeemed.

·         "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7-8).
·         "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive" (Ephesians 2:4-5).
·         "For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13).
·         "That through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Glorification refers to the future aspect of salvation, when Christians are taken to heaven. Wonderfully, Christians who are currently oppressed by a sinful world and a sinful flesh will someday experience the ultimate abolition of sin.

·         "Having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23).
·         "Knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed" (Romans 13:11).
·         "It has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2).
·         "Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. . . . We will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, . . . and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:49-53).

A believer's increasing knowledge of salvation's past and future aspects provides a richer and fuller realization of what has happened and what will happen, thus prompting an increased appreciation for one's salvation. This appreciation is important, but I believe the most important growth regarding salvation involves the present aspect.

Beyond appreciation, sanctification involves application. The gradual, daily process of becoming more like the Savior happens as a believer learns previously unknown truth about the outworking of his salvation. Many of the epistles open with chapters about redemption and justification, but the later chapters are filled with truth about how that salvation should impact the daily life. It is in learning and following these instructions that a believer grows in his salvation.

In fact, it was ignorance that caused past ungodly behavior, and it is increasing knowledge that will produce future godly behavior. "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior" (I Peter 1:15).

·         "For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light, . . . trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8-10).
·         "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, new things have come" (II Corinthians 5:17).
·         "So as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles" (I Peter 4:3).
·         "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
·         "So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work" (Colossians 1:10).
·         "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident . . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:17-23).

Growth in salvation is expected. "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (Hebrews 5:14). Any believer who remains in the same position as when he was saved or who has reached a level of stagnation is missing God's very important expectation that he grow in his knowledge of salvation, not just in knowing about it but in displaying it practically.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: the Bible

This mini-series about increasing knowledge was prompted by a recent incident. Various factors had curtailed my preparation time for a children's class at church. Someone who heard the lesson and knew about the limited preparation time expressed amazement over the positive result. I don't advocate "winging it" when teaching God's Word, even for simple lessons to young students. I share the story because both the observer and I recognized that a redeeming factor in this less-than-optimal preparation was a previously established foundation of Biblical knowledge.

I have not always had that foundation, nor have I yet achieved ultimate success. As I reflect on my past position, however, I can definitely see a vast difference. I can easily remember times of great frustration and seasons of near despair regarding accessing the Bible's help. It was troubling to be in positions of desperately needing help for overwhelming situations, believing the Bible had the answers, yet having little or no idea of how to find those answers.

Probably the most troubling aspect of such situations was the sense of needing immediate answers. The situations often felt like crises. With a little bit of training, practice, and guidance, nearly anyone can study out a passage or a topic and can gain helpful truth - if he has the time to do that. I remember needing answers NOW and realizing that it might take me weeks or months or longer of random study to stumble across those answers.

While I still have far to go on my journey, I can now look back and realize that I finally enjoy a significant foundation that I longed for in the past. The foundation was established deliberately and gradually. The process could be compared to a couch potato who decides he wants to run a marathon (or even a 5K). He takes a long-term approach. He knows he will not be ready in a week or a month, maybe not even in a year. If he doesn't start taking steps, however, he will never be ready. He starts to regularly take steps, recognizing them as the pathway for achieving his goal. Although the goal is future, his actions must be regular and consistent in the present.

There is logic and simplicity behind the consistent actions needed to acquire a strong Biblical foundation. While tactics will vary individually, the basic premise is simply learning more and more of the Bible. Most often this is through personal Bible study: reading through the Bible systematically, studying a particular book of the Bible, restudying the same passage more than once, doing a word study, examining a topic, memorizing a verse, writing out a verse card, looking up a word meaning, linking one passage with another, and so on. These individual efforts gradually yield a stronger foundation.

Personal study can be supplemented by regularly attending church, listening to sermons, taking a Bible course from a fundamental institution, attending retreats, reading sound books, and doing similar activities. Whether personal or guided, each of these activities adds another brick to the foundation. No one will become a Bible expert overnight, but everyone can gradually grow from where he is.

In time (and perhaps without actually perceiving the change) one will realize that he is much better established in the Bible than he was previously. In my case, I can see tangible results such as writing a devotional book, writing this blog, having answers for patients I visit in my chaplain ministry, knowing a verse to share with someone who is struggling, and knowing where to find help for myself in my own struggles. At times I even have the conscious thought, "Ten years ago I would have been lost and helpless to find the answer. Now I knew exactly which passage to turn to."

That doesn't always happen. I don't have all the answers yet, which is why I can never abandon those deliberate and gradual steps toward increasing my knowledge of the Bible. My biggest problem now is not that I have no idea where to turn, but that I forget to focus on the truth I know. I can minimize the value of God's truth, thinking, "Sure, that's a verse that helped me in the past. I already know that." Well, if it helped in the past, it ought to be able to help now. I can't abandon the truths that created the foundation that I enjoy. For my increasing knowledge to have real value, it cannot be knowledge for knowledge's sake, but it must be as a current resource that I actively rely on for everyday life. Knowledge of the Bible does have benefit, and increasing knowledge only increases the benefit.

"And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:15-17).

"Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my mediation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:98-100, 130).

"The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward" (Psalm 19:7-11).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: Foundation

Knowledge has value. Whether regarding automobiles, health, investments, family, or more, people value experts who can provide accurate and helpful answers. A college education is promoted almost as a necessity. Through the educational process, students are expected to progressively increase in knowledge until they are well-rounded in the basics and proficient in something.

Knowledge really does have value, and increasing knowledge really is important. The key lies in the foundation of that knowledge. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). Knowledge is to be cunning and aware rather than ignorant, and the Bible states that its foundation is the fear of the LORD. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). In this case, beginning is the commencement or first occurrence of wisdom. Wisdom, skill for life, can't even start without the fear of the LORD.

Certainly the Bible is important in terms of knowledge and wisdom, which can grow over years of reading and hearing the Bible. The most valuable wisdom, however, doesn’t come from merely reading the Bible. The key is not one's accumulated biblical knowledge, but rather one's attitude toward that knowledge. If the knowledge is matter-of-factly acknowledged or is an end in itself, the profit will be limited to the mental. When one's Bible knowledge illuminates the vast difference between God and man, however, and man places himself in his rightful position, he can then have spiritual profit.

When one realizes his actual position before God, he ought to be filled with a strong desire to please Him. He ought to shudder at the thought of violating God's commandments or misunderstanding His truth. That is the fear of the LORD, which is crucial for growing in true knowledge and wisdom. When someone fears God, therefore desiring to please Him, he is impelled to search the Scripture to find out what is right and wrong. He now has strong motivation behind the gaining of biblical knowledge.

The fear of the LORD creates the difference between mental profit and spiritual profit. Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:12-14. "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine."

A wise person who fears God will hate what God hates (verse 13). This man, with a strong desire not to offend God, hates evil, pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the perverted mouth. He will have to study the Bible to learn what these (and other) offences are, and his fear of God causes him to take these offences seriously.

On the opposite side, a wise person who fears God will love what God loves and will embrace the qualities mentioned in verses 12 & 14. He will long for wisdom, prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, sound wisdom, understanding, and power. Again, he will have to examine Scripture to find fuller understanding of what God desires, and he will dedicate himself to learning and then doing those things.

With this foundation and motivation, man can have great understanding for decision-making and for life. He can now profitably counsel himself and others, because instead of speaking from his own thoughts or experiences, he will be sharing God’s thoughts. Accompanying his solemn desire to do what is pleasing before a great God is a realization that God has the answers that he doesn’t have. He is dependent on God to open his eyes.

Specifically addressing young men regarding harlots, the early chapters of Proverbs illustrate how wisdom helps with life choices (6:23-24, 7:4-5). God-fearing wisdom changes the entire path of life. It affects how one lives, helping him to evaluate and see dangers. Wisdom "walk[s] in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice" (Proverbs 8:20).

Illumination and guidance do not happen to everyone who reads the Word of God, but to those who humbly fear the Lord. With the barriers of pride and self-reliance properly broken down, God can effectively show His truth. "Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way. Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant" (Psalm 25:8-9,12,14).

Wisdom can indeed be found. "I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me" (Proverbs 8:17). Wisdom is freely offered to all who seek, regardless of their innate natural ability. "'Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!' To him who lacks understanding, [wisdom] says, 'Come. . . . Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding'" (Proverbs 9:4-6).

The power of wisdom through the fear of the LORD is illustrated dramatically by those who lack both qualities. When "there is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:18), man is "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 3:7). "Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22). Men with no fear of God get both basic and major things wrong. They lack knowledge and wisdom about earth's origins and its end, about the role of government and the rearing of children, about natural disasters and global warming, about end-of-life issues and abortion, about morality and entertainment,  about finances and education.

Rather than condemning others, those who have godly knowledge must be careful to follow it. It is dangerous to know the right thing and ignore it, but blessed to know the right thing and do it. "Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. But he who sins against [wisdom] injures himself; all those who hate [wisdom] love death" (Proverbs 8:33 & 36). 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

An Understanding God

It is hard to understand the struggles of others without having experienced those same struggles. In the midst of difficulty, many people believe that no one else understands them, and it may indeed be true that within their circle of acquaintances no one does. Many have also finally found someone who shares their experience and who really does understand; the level of understanding is almost unbelievable.

While people might not actually state the words, they often believe that God doesn't understand either and doesn't know how hard the trial is for them. God's knowledge of all things is unbounded. His omniscience alone guarantees that He knows; some special Scripture passages reinforce how much He also understands.

"Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:13-14).

God understands man's weakness because God created man. He knows exactly how weak human substance is, and He understands exactly how the body, mind, and emotions work, because He designed them.

God made man to be social, and He knows it is difficult when interpersonal relations don't go well. God made man with emotions that are impacted by various external and internal stimuli, so He knows the effect on the emotions. God made man with a mind that takes in data from multitudinous sources, so He knows how the mind can struggle when processing that data. God made man with a finite and limited body, so He knows that it can be pushed past its limits.

God knows man's makeup far better than man himself does. God perfectly understands the intricacies of DNA, hormones, brain waves, the nervous system, and every other aspect of man's body. Man is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), but he is also finite, weak, and frail. No one knows that better than the Creator.

"Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself also partook of the same. . . . Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:14, 17-18).

Not only does the Creator understand man's weakness, but the Savior also understands man's weakness. The Savior, who experientially knew nothing of weakness, took a man's body and experienced every weakness associated with such a body. The passage above explains why He did that. He had to know what it was like to be a man. He had to live in a human context so that He could understand what humans go through and so that He could come to their aid.

Hebrews 2:10 reveals, "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings." Jesus was already as perfect as perfection could be - a holy and powerful God in heaven. No one would have expected anything more from a deity than what Jesus was, yet the Savior was made even better through human suffering.

The incarnation of Jesus added another phenomenal layer to His person - that of fully and experientially understanding what life is like for those who are not divine. Jesus was already one hundred percent of what would ever be expected of God, but His suffering in a weak human body added even more greatness.

Jesus' suffering (and subsequent understanding) was complete. He was "tempted in all things as we are" (Hebrews 4:15). Physically, He suffered beyond what man can comprehend. Socially, He was rejected even by His own people and was betrayed by someone from His closest group. Spiritually, He experienced the direct, targeted attack of Satan himself. Emotionally, He was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Ministry-wise, He sacrificed everything and fully dedicated His life to reaching needy people, but they rejected and killed Him. Practically, He had no home of His own, no comforts or possessions, and no provision for meals and lodging. There is no category of suffering that man can undergo for which Jesus does not have firsthand, and often far superior, experience.

This Creator who knows how weak the human body is and this Savior who knows what suffering is like also knows everything that happens to every person. He knows every movement man takes, every thought he has, every path he walks, and every word he speaks before he even speaks it (Psalm 139:2-4). God knows every tiny detail of a man's life and every danger that threatens him (Matthew 10:29-31). The passages above teach that God absolutely knows and thoroughly understands not just the events of life themselves, but also what it is like for man to go through those events.

The greatest wonder of that divine knowledge is what God does with it. If God knew but didn't care, His knowledge wouldn't be very reassuring. If He knew but didn't act, His knowledge would be empty. Far from those disappointing responses, God's understanding prompts the best responses.

When the Creator sees man stumbling in his weak body, He has compassion on him, just as a father would on his hurting child (Psalm 103:13). When the Savior sees man faltering under temptation, He comes to his aid (Hebrews 2:18). This understanding Savior sympathizes with man and knows that he needs help; He graciously offers that help.

"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses. . . . Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Unavoidable Temptation

All believers face temptation. "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" (James 1:14) There are natural desires built into man, and those desires often clamor to be satisfied in the wrong ways, at the wrong times, in the wrong proportions, and for the wrong reasons. The major areas of temptation are "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" (I John 1:16).

Paul revealed, "I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. . . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not" (Romans 7:15&18). Paul knew what it was like to have a fervent heart desire to please God and yet to fall frustratingly short. The battle between the flesh and the spirit can be intense.

The Bible wisely advises, "Watch over your heart with all diligence" (Proverbs 4:23). The heart is where the victory will be won or lost, and believers must very carefully guard their hearts. Because the Christians' enemy, the devil, "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour," the believer must "be of sober spirit, be on the alert" (I Peter 5:8). This is serious business.

Christians should take steps to avoid temptation whenever possible. "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers" (Psalm 1:1). When one is aware of particular areas of struggle, wisdom instructs him not to go to those places, not to watch or listen to those things, not to hang out with those people. While believers' actions or surroundings may be innocent in themselves, if they habitually introduce temptation, they are danger zones to be avoided.

Unfortunately, while believers can minimize sources of temptation, they cannot avoid them completely. This fallen world is a place of constant assault, and it is neither possible nor biblical to withdraw into total isolation. Sometimes even places or people that should be safe introduce instances of temptation. Every believer lives in a broken body in the midst of a broken world, where everyone else, including fellow Christians and even leaders, is also broken. This means that by design, by default, or by carelessness temptations will regularly present themselves.

Temptations can arise unexpectedly from unlikely sources that a believer thought were safe and trustworthy. If a family member, a close friend, a respected leader, a trusted church, or a favorite organization wavers or changes position, such a shift can introduce disappointment and perhaps disillusionment. Not only is there the temptation to follow along and do what one has always believed was wrong, but there can also be a sense of hopelessness and doubt. Whether it be dress, music, leisure activities, morality, associations, or any other number of issues, one can wonder: "I always thought that was important. If this issue doesn't matter, what other things that I hold as important don't matter either?" The discouragement thus adds another level of temptation to the scenario.

Regardless of the source of the unavoidable temptation, there are things that a Christian can do to pursue victory, both in the temptation itself and in any resulting discouragement.

1. Seek the path to victory. A Christian does not have to fall. A faithful God will "with the temptation . . . provide the way of escape also" (I Corinthians 10:13). Often prayer is the key, asking God for help. God has enough grace for every situation, and the Spirit can minister self-control.

2. Support spiritual strength. A strong body supports a strong mind, so physical health is important. Proper sleep is especially key, because an exhausted mind cannot think well and has the tendency to exaggerate problems disproportionately.

3. Keep peace. The Bible repeatedly calls for love, unity, and peace among believers. If the temptation introduced by another is uncharacteristic or unintentional, the situation must not be allowed to grow into conflict or division. Romans 14 teaches compassionate understanding of the differing brother; the one does not intentionally place obstacles in the other's way, while the other does not judge the one whose position is different. Depending on the nature of the relationship, a Christian who believes his position is biblical can humbly attempt to influence the situation by sharing his concerns with the right person.

4. Recover from temptation. When falling even partially to temptation, a believer must wash his mind and heart. Depending on the severity of the situation, a Christian may need much time in the Bible, in prayer, listening to godly music or sermons, and perhaps in counsel. He needs God's truth to renew and refresh him.

5. Keep eyes on God. Job faced intense temptation over things that were completely out of his control. After he poured out his heart of frustration and despair, God finally came to Job with an answer: look at me. God revealed His power and wisdom to Job, intending to stabilize Job in the struggle.

6. Focus on personal faithfulness. Each believer is responsible before God for himself. If he can influence others for good, he should, but if he cannot, he must remain personally committed to truth and faithfulness. He must stand in God's strength so that he can please God, regardless of what others do.

The only ultimate escape is heaven. "We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2). Until God delivers Christians from their "body of death," they must faithfully continue to walk and work in the path God has ordained.

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).

Saturday, October 7, 2017

God Alone

Even in ordinary life, Christians desire the help and support of other Christians. This is increasingly true during times of particular struggle. The vast range of troubling challenges could involve family, marriage, relationships, employment, ministry, health, mistreatment, disappointment, addictions, temptations, spiritual growth, and more. In the midst of overwhelming situations, believers can find themselves limited in their ability to think and evaluate clearly; therefore, they value the supportive counsel of friends or leaders.

While God's plan is for the church to provide this type of support to each other, unfortunately it sometimes happens that no human counselor answers the cry for help. For some reason the hurting person could be isolated from others, or potential helpers might be unavailable, unaware, unwilling, or unqualified to help. It is hard for those who have not experienced a particular trial to fully grasp the intensity of others' struggles, causing them to underestimate the level of difficulty and, consequently, the need for support.

Regardless of the response of people, God is always available, always aware, always willing, and always qualified to help. When God is the only counselor, He is enough, and He is able to guide believers through every challenge. One who finds himself alone in time of need should consider the following truths.

God is aware of every struggle. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).

God knows how hard the struggle is. "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). "For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14).

God cares about the struggle. "Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (I Peter 5:7). "Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:13).

God wants His children to have victory. "But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail" (Luke 22:32). "So that the proof of your faith, being much more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:7).

God is actively helping His children to grow. "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18). "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

God always provides a way to successfully meet the challenge. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way to escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (I Corinthians 10:13).

God responds to His children's cries for help. "The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry" (Psalm 34:15). "Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us" (Psalm 62:8).

God has help for every situation. "Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (II Peter 1:3). "Moreover, by them [God's words] Your servant is warned" (Psalm 19:11).

God can open His children's eyes to understand truth. "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5). "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13).

God can do more than man thinks possible. "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20).

Practically, what do these truths mean for the struggling believer? First, he should welcome God as a viable source of help. God is not the last resort; He is the best resort. Second, the believer must be in the Word. While he may not know exactly where to turn for specific answers, God can lead and speak to a heart that is open. Third, the believer must cry out to God. God responds to a heart that humbly seeks Him, and He gives wisdom to those who ask. That seeking may need to be intense and may need to persevere over a lengthy time, but when someone earnestly, consistently, and dependently seeks God, God will answer.

Christians should not attempt to "go it alone" nor refrain from seeking out godly help when needed, but they must realize that when human sources are deficient, God is enough. It is unfortunate that those who should help sometimes don't, but no believer should feel abandoned or hopeless in the absence of human support. God wants the spiritual success of His children, and He can support them with specific direction and focused guidance in any situation. In fact, it is quite precious when one realizes that a loving, caring God has provided the exact help needed without the involvement of any external person or source.

"My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken" (Psalm 62:1-2).

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Greatest Hope

Life is hard. It can include frightening situations, emergencies, tragedies, sorrows, loss, obstacles, challenges, and trials. Life can present problems that man cannot fix and for which he can find no remedy. Life can rob hope and bring despair.

Consider worldly responses to such difficulties.
·         Self-reliance: I'm tough. I can beat this.
·         Resignation: I'll make the best of it, lemonade from my lemons.
·         Stoicism: It is what it is. I just have to tough it out.
·         Indulgence: I'll drown my sorrows with alcohol, diversions, or rewards.
·         Counseling: My therapist will give me coping strategies.
·         Detachment: I'll never let anyone get close to me or hurt me again.
·         Bitterness: My anger will give me strength.
·         Suicide: I will end this awful life.

The Bible reveals much better responses for Christians. It reveals that believers can learn more about God through trials and can be encouraged by His love and faithfulness. The Bible teaches Christians to trust God and be assured of His good hand in all things. The Bible teaches believers how to have peace and enduring faith and how to grow in maturity. It teaches Christians to pray and to be thankful in everything.

While this wealth of helpful instruction exists, one truth about dealing with trials is exalted above all others. The glorious truth of unparalleled benefit is the promise of heaven.

First Peter, a book about suffering, presents this truth very clearly. In the opening verses to believers who had been driven from their homes into exile, Peter presents the great hope. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (I Peter 1:3-5). Peter describes an inheritance from which no deficiency can arise due to its inherent nature, which no outside force can contaminate, which cannot be diminished by any means, which is guarded by God who holds it in readiness, and which waits for believers who are protected by God so that they survive to receive that inheritance.

These words of hope about the inheritance are not without purpose. Peter continues his thought in verse 6: "In this you greatly rejoice." Due to the difficulty of their lives, these believers were not rejoicing naturally; Peter acknowledges their present reality as having "been distressed by various trials" (1:6), but the hope of heaven was intended to bring rejoicing even in those circumstances.

Peter continues to direct the believers' gaze heavenward with an admonishment to focus on heaven above all else. "Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:13). Peter encourages them that heaven is coming soon. "The end of all things is near" (4:7).  He reminds them that God "called [them] to His eternal glory in Christ" (5:10). Christ's suffering, presented as an example for them, was linked to "the glories to follow" (1:11 & 5:1). 

Paul echoes this teaching in First Thessalonians. "Comfort one another with these words." What were the comforting words? "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord" (4:16-18).

When Jesus saw that His disciples' "heart [was] troubled," He encouraged them by saying, "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (14:1-3).

This truth sustained Abraham and other heroes of faith. "For he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. . . . All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. . . . They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (11:10, 13-14, 16).

Focusing on heaven doesn't make troubles disappear or get easier, but it provides important perspective. Christians are pilgrims, aliens, strangers, exiles, and sojourners on this earth. Compared to eternity, this pilgrim life is very short and its accompanying weight insignificant. "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (II Corinthians 4:17).

Believers should certainly draw encouragement from the Bible's other truths, but when those other truths fail to lift their spirits in especially difficult trials, this great truth remains: Soon this life will be over, and eternity in heaven awaits.
·         We will be reunited with loved ones.
·         We will be free from pain, sorrow, and death.
·         We will be delivered from our awful sin nature.
·         We will finally have perfect, complete peace and unity with God.
·         We will finally see the One who is so precious to us.
·         We will be able to embrace, thank, and adore our Savior.
·         We will remain in glory with Him forever.

"For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (II Corinthians 5:1).

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Having an Impact

I was recently thinking about people who have had significant impact on my spiritual journey. In most cases, they were people in some level of leadership who took seriously their God-given instruction to minister to others.

Impacting lives includes guiding and teaching those who will rise to positions of Christian leadership. "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (II Timothy 2:2).

Impacting lives also includes ministering to those who are weak, encouraging them to continue and grow in their faith. "Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed" (Hebrews 12:12-13).

Impacting lives is required of spiritual leaders. "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Ordinary Christians are also expected  to minister in this way. "Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing" (I Thessalonians 5:11).

What characteristics enable believers to edify each other effectively?

People who impact others have compassion. The greatest potential for impact often comes at a time of struggle, hurt, or need. Not only is this a critical time for intervention to take place, but it is also a time when people are likely to be looking for answers and help. People who are struggling welcome the help of a caring and concerned friend or leader. Without compassion for the individual who is hurting, the opportunity to impact will often be lost.

People who impact others build bridges and invite interaction. When someone finds himself needing help, he often goes to someone who has previously shown interest, given encouragement, or offered help. People who impact have often taken the first step, either deliberately in initiating a platform for impact, or indirectly by establishing a rapport that will be remembered later.

People who impact others are concerned especially for spiritual needs. Sometimes people need practical help with the events or circumstances of life. While ministering in practical ways is important and demonstrates love, it is ministry to spiritual needs that has lasting impact on the life. Beyond merely assisting with outward needs, spiritual impact brings about real change with inward needs. A person who impacts will regularly share Biblical truth and will consistently challenge others toward a fuller understanding of the Bible and a deeper relationship with God.

People who impact others pray for those to whom they are ministering. Prayer is powerful, opening the door for success that can come only through God's intervention. Prayer takes commitment, and knowing that another person is committed to praying for him is significant to the one needing help. Praying with someone helps to build a bond that facilitates greater impact.

People who impact others are selfless. No one is without problems, so the decision to focus on another's problems displays selflessness. Often people who impact give things of monetary value: a card, a meal, or a small gift. The greatest gift, however, is that of time. People who impact are willing to give their time and listening ear, often in regular or significant portions, in order to minister to others.

People who impact others remain committed for the long term. Too often those who are seeking help find someone who is willing to talk with them a single time. Spiritual problems and spiritual growth are complex; they require extended time in order to achieve real and lasting change. If the process of growth takes time, then the support and guidance must also cover a range of time. Without continued support, the danger for victories to be reversed increases.

People who impact others have patience. If the goal is to bring someone closer to God, then the reality is that there is currently some distance from God. Perhaps the person has never yet built a strong spiritual foundation, or perhaps he is drifting from the foundation to which he once clung. In either case, that instability is going to result in frustrating shallowness, obvious displays of the sin nature, and probably times of stumbling or even moving backwards. A person who really impacts will not give up due to these disappointments and setbacks.

People who impact others share from their own hearts and lives. One challenge for people who need to grow is that they recognize their own weaknesses, sometimes to an extreme, and they think they are the only ones to struggle so much. It seems to them that victory is not possible. It can be helpful to realize that the struggle for godly growth is not unique. The person who is ministering can share (with discretion, of course) times of struggle in his own life as well as the victories God has given. A certain amount of transparency serves to reveal the example of another imperfect heart that is genuinely seeking God, which is often the exact pattern and testimony that the struggling person needs.

People who impact others are not perfect. The realization of one's imperfections make him compassionate and understanding. When focused on or intimidated by his own limitations, a Christian can be reluctant to become involved with others. If everyone waited for perfection before reaching out to others, the church and world would be in a sad state.

In general, spiritual impact is most effective through personal interaction, though a pastor or teacher often influences on a broader scale. Peer impact may not seem as dramatic as that coming from a spiritual leader, but is also quite valuable. Whether deliberately guiding someone through a particular challenge, or simply edifying him in the course of normal life, everyone can impact someone. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

What's the Point?

At times life can be frustrating, discouraging, or even hopeless. When one sees no apparent reward for his effort, no apparent value in his existence, no apparent reason for his circumstances, no apparent connection with others, or no apparent stability in his situation, he can easily ask the question, "What's the point?" He loses determination, motivation, and interest.

A father tries to support his family but loses job after job through corporate changes. A single lady waits many years to be married, only to have her husband die after a short time. A couple's lengthy pursuit of children results only in miscarriages. Parents who have tried to carefully lead their children see one after another leave the church. A person in the prime of life faces persistent health problems that rob his best years. A widow lives on for decades with no one to support her. A single person endures a distasteful job so that he can come home every day to an empty house and a solitary life. Liberalism or false teaching creep into a ministry to which a faithful man had dedicated years of labor.

These problems are not exclusive to the modern day. After an unimaginable series of tragedies, Job faced a devastating health condition, while finding no comfort from his friends. Under these conditions, he did not want to keep living. "Why is light given to him who suffers, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death, but there is none?" (Job 3:20-21). Job agonized, "What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should endure?" (Job 6:11).

Moses faithfully served God, having chosen "rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:25). His reward was repeated challenges, provocations, and threatenings. On one such occasion, Moses cried to God, "Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? . . . If You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once" (Numbers 11:11&15).

After three years in hiding, Elijah acted boldly at God's command, but victory dissolved into discouragement when Elijah's life was immediately threatened. Elijah went "into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and requested for himself that he might die, and said, 'It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life'" (I Kings 19:4).

Asaph's psalms reveal a sincere and sensitive heart for God. Faithful Asaph became discouraged when he observed the comfortable life of the wicked. He admitted, "But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped" (Psalm 73:2). In frustration he bemoaned, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence" (Psalm 73:13).

If anyone could have succumbed to the frustration of a life beset by problems and trials, it would be Joseph. He was hated by his brothers because of his father's choices, sold as a slave while obeying his father's command, falsely accused when he fled evil, wrongfully imprisoned, and forgotten by someone he had helped. Joseph spent decades separated from his family, living in a strange land in the service of others. Joseph was consistently faithful and innocent, but every time he started to see the blessing of God, a new tragedy would strike.

The Bible does not record any desperation or frustration from Joseph. Joseph did not cry out, "What's the point?" Joseph was different in the midst of trials, because he focused on God's truth. Joseph told his brothers, "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life" (Genesis 45:5). He later stated, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20). Because Joseph focused on his role in God's service, he could continually face life with peace and assurance.

God also has truths for His children today. No matter how wrong or frustrating or worthless or pointless life may seem, there is always purpose in life. In the midst of setbacks, disappointments, reversals, and pain, God always has a plan for His children. Here are some applicable truths from God's Word that can provide purpose in any situation.

"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Romans 12:1).

"For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (I Corinthians 6:20).

"Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).

"According to my earnest expectation and hope, that . . . Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death" (Philippians 1:20).

"Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men" (Colossians 3:23).

"So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:7).

If one's goal in life is to experience health, comfort, stability, success, or respect, then life has great potential to seem pointless. If the most important thing is to enjoy life, spend time with family, be active socially, or prosper in ministry, there is ample opportunity for frustration to creep in. However, if one's goal is to please and honor God, based on a foundation of verses like those listed above, life cannot be pointless. There IS a point.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Hugs

Hugging has multiple identified benefits. Physically, hugging lowers blood pressure, lowers the heart rate, facilitates healing, reduces pain, balances the nervous system, relaxes the body, increases energy, improves concentration, and promotes better sleep. Socially, hugging decreases loneliness, aids in social bonding, promotes trust, and strengthens interpersonal connections. Emotionally, hugging makes people feel happy, wards off depression, soothes fears, promotes calmness, and reduces stress and anxiety. Hugged children benefit into their adult lives, and hugged seniors benefit through the end of their lives. Physical touch benefits people by adjusting levels of oxytocin, dopamine, seratonin, and cortisol. Virginia Satir, a family therapist states: "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth."

Two realizations can provide some parameters for considering hugs (and other physical contact). First, people without God perceive a greater need for hugs, as they try to replace with human interactions everything that God can supply. Even significant interaction with people cannot match or replace the interaction with God. Second, God made both the human body and the emotions. The benefits of hugging are not accidental, but are by God's plan. Guided by these two factors, a Christian should recognize the God-intended value of hugging, while not depending upon it as desperately as the world does.

The majority of hugging takes place within a family, between spouses or between parents and children. Where do people without a family (or without family nearby or with a dysfunctional family) get hugs? The simple answer is that God actually describes the church as a family. The bond between brothers and sisters in Christ can transcend that of biological family. "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another" (I Thessalonians 4:9).

God intends for members of a church to meet each other's needs. "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:1). Christ's new law to His followers was "that you love another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). Christians should desire and aid the well-being of others. "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (I John 3:17-18).

God makes powerful statements about love in the church. "Fervently love one another from the heart" (I Peter 1:22). "Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another" (I Peter 4:8). "This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more" (Philippians 1:9). "May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another" (I Thessalonians 3:12).

God wants believers to love one another fervently, increasingly, and demonstratively. One might argue (correctly) that he can do that without physical displays of affection, but even the Bible encourages physically-expressed love. "Greet one another with a kiss of love" (I Peter 5:14). Hugging is an appropriate and common cultural equivalent.

Hugs (and other touches) communicate, usually positively. Hugs can communicate each of the following Biblically-appropriate sentiments.
  • I greet you as my sister in Christ.
  • I'm glad to see you.
  • I love you.
  • I'm sorry.
  • I forgive you.
  • Thank you.
  • Congratulations.
  • I'm happy for your good news.
  • I sympathize with your loss.
  • I care that you are hurting.
  • I realize it's hard to be in a spiritual (or emotional) battle.
  • I'm here for you.
  • I'll miss you.
  • Goodbye.
Hugs can also communicate negatively. Some people's hugs are so stiff that it seems they are trying to hug from across the room. Other hugs are obviously obligatory. Hugs can be given from mindless routine, without even looking at the recipient, or while already moving toward another person or activity. These hugs can actually be hurtful. Beyond failing to communicate the positive sentiments in the list above, they actually assert, "I don't want to hug you. I felt trapped into this. I don't really care that much."

An absence of hugs also communicates. Even human psychology recognizes what God declared as true. "That their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love" (Colossians 2:2). "Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity" (Colossians 3:14). Hugging promotes unity and trust by allowing and even welcoming another person into one's personal space. Without that expression of acceptance, trust is curtailed, acceptance is questioned, and the ability of the relationship to grow is hampered.

People come from different backgrounds and therefore different comfort levels and different expectations regarding physical touch. While Christians should grow into this aspect, it is important to be sensitive to other people's preferences and to the growth process. "Huggers" should not inundate "non-huggers" with frequent and lengthy hugs, while "non-huggers" should be sensitive to the needs and feelings of "huggers." It is important to note that meaningful hugs are an outgrowth of a meaningful relationship. Hugs without a supporting relationship have little meaning, but as a relationship becomes more established, hugs should become more frequent and more meaningful.

Many fellow Christians especially need hugs from their church family. There are widows and singles. There are people with alienated or unsaved family. Older couples, empty-nesters, and "church widows," (those whose husbands don't support them spiritually), need hugs. Children and teens need hugs. People who work in a secular workplace need hugs. Those who are sickly or shut in need hugs. Most people particularly welcome hugs in times of trial, bereavement, or tears.

Sometimes a brief hug is sufficient, while at other times a sustained hug is needed to do the job. Considering the positive and healthful benefits listed in the opening paragraph, believers should recognize hugging as a legitimate and valued Christian expression.  

"Let love of the brethren continue" (Hebrews 13:1).

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Spicing Up Devotions

My most recent posts have examined various frustrations that can occur regarding daily devotions. It is hard to continue any activity that is viewed as difficult or profitless, so I have attempted to give guidance to make devotions more accessible and productive.

The final of the six considerations I presented was "I am discouraged from having devotions because I get bogged down or bored." I discussed the need for variety in devotions, essentially for balancing slower, more in-depth study with quicker and broader but more shallow reading.

In addition to varying the format of actual Bible reading/study, a Christian can add many other activities to complement his structured reading of the Word. Obviously, he cannot do all of these every day, but maybe he could do a few of them regularly and others sporadically. The beauty of the following activities is that they can help to extend a devotional attitude throughout the day. They can also provide something meaningful to do on a day when extra time is available.

1) Pray.
This should be a fairly obvious suggestion and a regular part of any Christian's life. The presentation can vary, however. Whether it is regularly structured or "extra" prayer time, different categories (self, family, church family, friends, leaders, missionaries, ministries, country, etc.) could be prayed for on different days. A day could be dedicated to a particularly pressing need. Special prayer could be focused on one's own growth and revival. Various Bible passages could be used to provide the content of the prayer.

2) Memorize Scripture.
This is a valuable practice for various reasons, including being able to properly focus one's own thoughts during challenges as well as being able to help others. In my experience and observation, memorization works best with some purpose and structure. There are programs available that compile lists of especially pertinent verses. Memorizing a passage (or even a book) can be more profitable than scattered verses. One can choose a favorite, familiar passage and memorize it.

3) Keep a journal.
There are multiple types of journals and journal content. Some people write down inspirational thoughts and quotations, perhaps from books or sermons. Others keep track of special blessings and answered prayers. Some include sermon notes or Bible study notes. Others focus on verbalizing their struggles, aspirations, or soul thoughts. There isn't really a right or wrong thing to record, and certainly a journal could include any combination of the above. A related activity is to go back and read past journals, perhaps even typing ones that were previously hand-written.

4) Listen to hymns.
It is helpful to listen to quality recordings or radio. Better yet, one can play hymns on a piano or other instrument or sing hymns mentally or out loud. He can make his own recordings of special hymns. He can memorize favorite hymns, which is great preparation for times of challenge or for the middle of the night. Another related activity is to read hymns, perhaps purposefully identifying Bible truths or underlying Scripture texts.

5) Read books.
No book is a substitute for the Bible, but many books can apply or enhance the truth of the Bible. There are many resources available, both in print form and electronically. One could read a theological book (gasp!), a Christian growth book, a devotional book, or a biography about a missionary, Christian leader, or ordinary Christian. (As a word of caution, Christian books come from many different backgrounds; not everything promoted as Christian is fundamental or Biblically sound.)

6) Listen to sermons.
While most effective when one can give his full attention to the message, recorded sermons can also accompany driving time or household tasks. Many churches offer recordings of their sermons; this is a good way to reinforce sermons, either on a regular basis or perhaps just for messages that had particular impact. Not all sermons come from a church setting; conferences and retreats are a source of much life-changing teaching that could be reinforced by listening to recordings. As with books, there is a lot of variety (and false teaching) on the online realm. Therefore, it is best to choose sermons from a pastor, church, or other resource that is known to be fundamental.

7) Type old sermon notes.
Many people who take sermon notes never refer to them again. This does not deny the inherent benefit in taking notes, but that benefit can be enhanced by reviewing the notes. One way of doing this is to type the notes, which not only reminds a believer of the content, but can also translate that content into a more accessible and neater format.

8) Write a Bible study.
It has often been stated (accurately) that the teacher learns more than the student. A Christian can learn much by pretending to be a teacher. He can write a Bible study as if he is the one who would be teaching it. For ideas, he could think of the topic for next week's sermon or Sunday school lesson, a Bible study or retreat that he was unable to attend, or a class that merely surveyed a topic.

9) Personalize a psalm.
Other passages of Scripture can be used also, but psalms are probably the easiest. Either verse by verse or concept by concept, one can write down a personal parallel to the passage. The believer can insert his own struggles and situation, thus leading to applying in his own life the lessons learned or the truth rehearsed by the original writer.

10) Be creative.
When a truth is especially meaningful to a Christian, he can sink more deeply into that truth or extend his time considering that truth by writing a poem or an essay or a song about that truth. He doesn't even have to be a professional, since he and God are the intended recipients.

Each of these methods can enhance or extend devotional time, while adding some variety or spice to a believer's spiritual life. Try something new!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Reasons for Not Understanding the Bible

Some Christians say they don't read the Bible (or read it only with frustration) because they don't understand it. This is sad, because God intends for the Bible to be of great benefit to the Christian, benefit which cannot be fully attained in one or two sermons a week. Self-study of the Bible is a necessity. Increased understanding of the Bible generally comes with increased study, but there are various reasons why some people really do struggle to understand the Bible.

1) A Christian could have a preconceived notion that ordinary Christians can't understand the Bible. A believer who is convinced that the Bible is only for church and only to be explained by the pastor has erected a barrier to understanding. God intends the Bible to be for all believers. God commends the believers in Berea, stating, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Far from relegating Scripture to the church setting alone, these believers went home and studied the Bible to make sure the preacher was instructing correctly.

2) A Christian could be limited due to his intellectual ability. God has not given every individual the same abilities or opportunities. Someone with more education and a higher reading level is better equipped to understand anything he reads, including the Bible. This does not mean, however, that a less educated person cannot understand the Bible. "The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:130). If the wording of the King James Version is restrictive, a believer might consider using a reliable modern translation, such as the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version.

3) A Christian might not be using profitable reading techniques. I have discussed this elsewhere, but a few general guidelines are that a reader should pause to absorb what he has read, should summarize content in his own words, should read passages within their context, and should approach the Bible systematically.

4) A Christian could struggle due to limited Biblical background. Understanding of the Bible builds over time. The truths found throughout the Bible interconnect with and support each other. As a reader gains understanding of one portion of the Bible, he will be better prepared to understand other portions. As his understanding of those other portions then increases, he will be better equipped to increasingly understand the initial portion. Understanding the Bible is an ongoing process that constantly contributes to increasing understanding. Even new Christians can have some understanding. "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (I Peter 2:2).

5) A Christian might be troubled by his inability to understand certain parts of the Bible. Some parts are harder to understand than others. Peter describes Paul's writings: "In which are some things hard to understand" (II Peter 3:16). The Bible deals with eternal and divine concepts; mere mortals won't be able to understand completely. Limitations in understanding some portions of Scripture should not prevent a believer's continued sincere attempts. In some cases, a Christian might simply need to set aside a certain passage and focus elsewhere. "But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).

6) A believer might struggle to understand because he has "become dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11). The author of Hebrews rebukes certain Christians: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (Hebrews 5:12). The problem is not with the Bible, but with the reader.

There are indeed people who can't understand the Bible. "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (I Corinthians 2:14). This ought not to be true of a Christian, who has the Spirit of God to enable him to understand spiritual truth (John 16:13). A failure to reasonably understand the Bible can be an indication of carnality. While Christians have a spiritual nature, they can allow their carnal natures to squelch their spiritual natures; when carnality rules, spiritual discernment wanes.

Carnality can be expressed through a love of the world. "Do not love the world nor the things in the world" (I John 2:15). "Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?" (James 4:4). An obsession with, desire for, and following of the world's lifestyle, philosophy, and pursuits creates a great barrier to spiritual discernment by putting a believer in opposition toward God.

Carnality can be expressed through distraction by earthly things. Life contains necessary "distractions," such as family and work; life can also be filled with unnecessary, chaotic, and detrimental distractions, like technology, entertainment, and activities, which quench spiritual appetites and sensitivity. II Timothy 3:4 refers to those who are "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." No man can effectively love both (Matthew 6:24).

Carnality can be expressed through resistance to God. A believer can "quench the Spirit" of God who wants to give him understanding (I Thessalonians 5:19). A believer can fight with God over some issue, thus introducing a barrier. "God is opposed to the proud. . . . Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God" (I Peter 5:5-6). Un-confessed sin also introduces an obstacle (I John 1:6-9).

The Bible is powerful and effective (Hebrews 4:12), and God intends for it to be a source of light and understanding (Psalm 119:105). A believer who struggles to understand the Bible should examine these potential areas of limitation and should earnestly ask the Spirit to aid his understanding.