Bible Study

The Plain Truth

Five hundred years ago, a Catholic monk came across the book of Galatians and took the time to actually really read and study it.

It changed his life. And it changed your life, too. For Martin Luther changed the whole landscape of the Christian Faith.

I’ve been studying this book for the past few weeks and have been stunned at how much I had missed in my former read-throughs. It really isn’t until you study a book that you begin to understand it.

And as we do so, the things that are muddy often grow clear. And the things that didn’t make sense begin to make sense.

While we will never understand everything, of course, we can be sure that our study of the scriptures will lead us to have much greater understanding regarding the hard concepts and puzzles we’ve struggled through.

I’d like to take some time to give an example of this very thing from my study of Galatians. I finally understand why it was Galatians that opened Martin Luther’s eyes. The main theme of this book is: We are justified by faith in Christ alone.

Not by a little faith and a lot of works.

Not by a lot of faith and a few works.

Not by an equal share of faith and works.

NO, NO, NO.

We are saved by faith alone. Paul puts it like this in Galatians 2:16–

 yet we know that a person is not justified[b] by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

As Martin Luther read these words he was steeped in the false religion of Catholicism. A religion that required faith and works in order to be saved. He recognized his own depravity. He knew he was unable to do enough good works to be reconciled to God. He had felt an utter hopelessness about this. Until he read Galatians.

Galatians makes it clear that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. It is all of God’s grace and of no merit of our own.

This goes against the grain for most of us. We want to think there is something we can do to be right with God.

This truth from Galatians makes it clear that any religion (no matter its breakdown of faith and works, it use of biblical names, or its claim to the Bible) is a false religion, ensnaring people in a works-based, pointless religion.

What the culture has made muddy and confusing, the Bible clarifies.

Not only are we not saved by our works, we are not kept by our works. Galatians tells us it is all of grace. As we study the Bible in its entirety and compare passages, we begin to understand that works are evidence of faith. They are never, ever to gain or to keep our salvation. 

This is a great relief, is it not? Yes, we want to live lives that please God. But, wow, do we mess up. Well, I’ll speak for myself, anyway. I mess up! (A nice way to say I sin…) Just way too often. I am so grateful that my salvation doesn’t rely on me or I’d be in trouble!

Instead Galatians tells us it is fully based on Christ’s work on the cross. Stop and consider this glorious truth for just a moment. The God of the universe loves us and sent His Son to die for us so that we can be reconciled to Him and spend eternity with Him.

Isn’t that amazing?

So I’m going to get real for a moment. I’ve been struggling through some challenges recently. Nothing major but just feels like too many for one time. And yet, I have been amazed—truly amazed—at God’s loving kindness and faithfulness to me as He stretches and grows me.

You see, once we are God’s own child we are so well-cared for. This is not some “pie in the sky”, imagined notion but a truth that you can’t really understand until you are saved.

Salvation isn’t a prayer. True salvation changes our whole life. We relate to God in a whole new way and experience His personal care for us in ways hard to comprehend. Our purpose, goals, hopes, and even our dreams change to reflect God’s will instead of our own. Everything changes because the Holy Spirit changes us. We don’t mourn that change because our hearts are changed. We are the great winner in this trade-off!

And it’s a free gift!

Galatians can be confusing to study, with some of its strong language and references to the Old Testament. I have much more to study myself and it won’t be exhaustive, for certain. But there is one thing anyone reading it will take away: We are saved by Christ’s work on the cross alone. No works required.

If you don’t know Christ, I’d love to talk to you about this. If you think you know Christ, but aren’t sure, pick up your Bible and start studying it. If you’ve known Christ and His work in your life, I hope you are filled with a passion to spread the Good News of the marvelous Gospel to those who don’t. For this is truly the best news in the world!

 

 

Our Best and Highest Endeavor

There are lots and lots of people saying the wrong thing these days. They are promoting the unbiblical. They are promoting lies. And so many are swallowing them.

I’ve written often about how you can know if something is unbiblical. But I am not sure many people care about that all that much anymore. Yesterday, I ran into an old acquaintance. Her church is studying Revelation. As she expounded a bit, it soon became clear that it was a totally unbiblical rendering of what is actually taught in that book. By ripping a verse or two out of context, they are teaching that we are to bring God’s Kingdom to earth before the return of Christ. She trusts her church and when I gently and awkwardly mentioned that this might not be what the Bible teaches, the conversation ended. I knew that was a possibility, but I was willing to take that chance in the hopes that it would plant a seed of doubt in her mind regarding what she is being taught at church.

The thing is: Of course, I don’t know everything either. I am still learning. Don’t blindly follow me. Don’t blindly follow anyone. Don’t follow any human without checking their words by the Word. We often get ourselves in a lot of trouble when we follow a person or a group or a church without discernment.

This is why our highest and best endeavor is to study the Word of God in its literal, historical, grammatical framework in context.

If you have learned anything from reading this blog–anything at all– I hope that it will be this.

That’s all I have for today. It’s short but it’s profound. And it is what is missing from so many homes, churches, and “Christian” organizations. Instead of keeping the focus on the Word, it has moved to experiences and feelings. It has moved to keeping the peace or bending to society. It has moved to what is “truth for you” and “what works” so that what actually is true hardly matters anymore.

If we don’t have the Word, we have nothing. It is our anchor. It is where we learn about God and about Jesus and the cross. It is where we find out why we can have hope and peace and joy. It is where we learn how to live our lives in a way that pleases God. And it is where we can find out what is ahead for this world’s future and for our own eternal future.

When the Word is ignored in families, when it is disregarded and pushed to the side in churches, when it becomes twisted and warped and traditional interpretations are changed after 2000 years–well, this really does explain what is going on in our Christian culture, doesn’t it?

But, while we can’t change the world or even the church, we can change our own lives and our own homes. There, we can make a difference. If only a small one, we can be different and, in so doing, plant Gospel seeds of faith and encouragement.

So let’s be different today. Let’s live a Christ-centered life that is based on God’s Holy Word, no matter how unpopular it is.

 

The Power of Social Media

I was following a woman on Instagram who filled her stories with interesting information. Most of it I already knew. Some of it was new. And I was skeptical of quite a bit of it, as well. But she talked about Jesus and the Bible and the return of Christ and, so it seemed, even if a bit misguided, that she was fairly solid.

Until the day she had her followers ask her questions.

Oh, my, what a mess! She was encouraging mysticism while warning against mysticism. It would have been comical if it wasn’t so sad. She was speaking of Christ and His coming, while turning the attention of her followers to the books that “didn’t make it into the Bible” along with scripture. Oh, the danger of this! She is clearly so confused and I can’t help but think of the many women she is leading into confusion right along with her by answering those questions with authority and as if she knows.

For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

(I Corinthians 14:33)

And then, recently, we have been watching many in the reformed crowd, who have been historical amillennialists (believe we are in the millennium right now) turn post-millennial (believe we need to prepare the earth for Christ’s return before the millennium can start). What does this mean? Well, simply put, it means that these powerful presences on social media are encouraging their followers to change the culture and fix the world in preparation for Christ’s return.

For example, Dale Partridge, well-known and trusted by many believers, recently said this (emphasis mine):

“Sadly, the “Left Behind” series has shaped America’s eschatology more than scripture has. As a result, the church has become chronically pessimistic, disengaged, and now embraces a culture where we wait for decay rather than work toward dominion. Do not retreat, revive!”

Wait…what?? There are Christians who actually believe this? Yes, many. Maybe most of them now.

He is accusing the eschatology (the doctrine of last, or final, matters) of Left Behind as being unbiblical. While I don’t necessarily condone the movies; the ideas of the rapture, tribulation, and thousand-year reign are clearly in scripture.

If Partridge doesn’t believe this, then what does he believe IS scriptural? From that quote, we must assume it is the false doctrine of Dominionism. This is the false teaching that we must prepare the earth and build God’s Kingdom before Christ can return. (I probably should write about this false teaching of Post-Millennialism/Dominionism so you can see that this is clearly not in scripture, no matter how many people say it is.)

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:

(2 Timothy 3:1)

 

But here’s my point of this post: Christians are being swayed and confused by those they follow on social media. I gave two examples but there are thousands more like them. Christians have followed these people and have found them to be biblical. They have grown to trust them for truth. They view their opinions as authoritative without ever going to the Bible to check if what they say is true. And I understand. It is a lot easier to scroll through social media than it is to get out your Bible and study it. It just is.

But if we have little knowledge of the Bible, then we will be unable to judge if what we are hearing is actually true. Most of us have also never been taught church history so it is easy to imbibe the lies that we read on social media or hear from our favorite authors and speakers.

One such example is the lie that the pre-trib rapture/pre-millennial eschatology is a “new” theory. It’s actually not. There are examples of many from the early church who believed in both the rapture and a literal millennium (It was called Chiliasm back then). It wasn’t until Augustine spiritualized the Old Testament that the eschatology of the church went impossibly askew. But most people don’t know this. I didn’t know this myself until only recently when I finally took the time to delve into the subject because the confusion around it is growing exponentially.

So, my caution for today is that we take great care in who we follow. If someone is talking about fixing the culture or building God’s Kingdom, be wary. If someone is talking about kooky, extra-biblical stuff and taking the focus off of scripture, be wary. If someone says something “new” from scripture that you’ve never heard before, don’t only be wary but research it.

This phenomenon of social media is scary. People can become “famous” overnight. They can go viral just because they put up a cute or compelling video. Just because someone can make a reel or gives interesting information does not mean that they can be trusted. Just because someone has an immense following on social media does not mean they can be trusted.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that where there is popularity there is truth. But I have personally found the opposite to be true: Run the opposite direction of the crowd if you want to find the truth.

So be careful. Be oh, so careful, who you follow. And do your own Bible Study. Do your own study of Christian history. I know, for many of you, your immediate response is probably “but that’s not my ‘thing’ “. I know it is not everyone’s “thing”. But, quite honestly, I am not sure, in this current age, that we can afford to say that anymore. The deception is growing exponentially and the bottom line is this: LIES can only be overcome with TRUTH.

Many of us have viewed eschatology as a “secondary issue” and thought it didn’t matter all that much. But we are finding out that it matters a great deal. For Satan is using wrong eschatology to prepare the world for the antichrist system.

May we be diligent and persevere in our study of God’s Word. May we be dedicated to interpreting it literally, grammatically, historically. May we be willing to do the work to test EVERYTHING by the Bible. May we be willing to research historical statements when necessary. May we be willing to stand strong, no matter the ridicule we get.

And may we gladly join the unpopular remnant in believing what the Bible clearly teaches: The rapture is close and the Tribulation is just around the corner.

It may be a negative message for the world, but for those who are redeemed, it’s the most positive message we could ask for at this juncture!

 

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,  looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

(Titus 2:11-14)

 

What Do They See?

This past week, when I was at Target, I noticed a line of men about ten or fifteen deep snaking towards the back of the store. Without obviously staring, I assessed that they all seemed to be somewhere in their twenties and thirties.

I looked around to try to figure out what they were waiting for. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked a store clerk who stood nearby.

“Oh, some new Pokémon cards or something are coming out today.”

Wait. What? Grown men waiting for Pokémon cards? Are you kidding me?

The clerk at the check-out counter elaborated further. Pointing over to the lady who was restocking the shelves, she informed me that the men weren’t allowed to go to the shelves until they were fully restocked.

While I can’t know the story behind why any particular grown man was in that line (maybe it was for his kid?), the fact that there was a line of grown men waiting to purchase something that was designed for children was mind-boggling to me.

These full-grown men who are still interested in the toys of children stand in stark contrast to the three men of Daniel 3. Some commentators estimate that the incident in this chapter happened around 15 years after they were taken as exiles into Babylon. That would put Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego around thirty years of age.

They had left childish things behind many years before. While only teens, they had had to make the difficult decision not to eat the King’s food out of their loyalty to God. They were already thinking about what is most important and who gets their allegiance.

When, years later, they were faced with the choice to bow down to the golden image as Nebuchadnezzar demanded or to stay true to God, they were prepared.

You have to just absolutely stand in amazement of these men as they answered Nebuchadnezzar’s demand for worship and consequential threat of the fiery furnace—

 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up. Daniel 3:17-18

As I reflect on these three young men and the stand they took for the Lord, I can’t help but think of the men who stood in line for… cards.

The world is so obsessed with the things that do not matter.

And the world is teaching men specifically to never grow up. For a man captivated by a world of video games, sports, and children’s toys are men who are rendered ineffective in their families. If they are believers, they are rendered useless for Christ and stand unprepared to face the hard trials ahead.

Instead of digging deep roots of faith through prayer and Bible Study, they squander countless hours on their idols that matter not a bit in the scope of eternity.

Oh, what a sad, sad state this is. While we can expect this kind of thing from the young men of the world, how utterly devastating to see this in the life of Christian young men.

This leads us to consider our own role in creating godly character of the young men (and women, too) in our lives. Are we teaching them to love and serve the Lord above all else? As parents and grandparents, are we teaching them by our words and deeds to reflect and care about the eternal things of life?

Or are we ourselves obsessed with the stuff of life that just doesn’t matter? Education, entertainment, hobbies, popularity, careers, material possessions, recreation, health and fitness…all of these things (and so many more) can so easily become idols in our lives, replacing the eternal with the temporal; replacing what is everlasting with what is short-term; replacing our love for God with our love for ourselves.

Most of the things listed above are not wrong in and of themselves. It’s the obsession that brings the danger.

May we be like those three men in Daniel 3–turning away from those ungodly idols that would demand our time and attention and digging deep roots of faith so that we are fully prepared to take a stand for God and truth when necessary, no matter the cost.

Our kids are watching. Our grandchildren are watching. Your family and friends and co-workers–they are all watching. What will they see?

Will they see that you are sold out for Christ or will they see a person obsessed with something that just doesn’t matter?

What do they see?

 

 

Why Should You Study the Bible?

Sometimes I sit down to write a post and I just have…nothing. What can I write that hasn’t already been said? At that point, it might be best to just walk away. But I have found that disciplining myself to write something is a good exercise for me. And sometimes that something ends up being one of my best posts. In fact, it was one of those that went viral a few years back and grew the blog beyond anything I ever expected.

I can’t promise that same kind today, but I have decided to take a few moments this morning to share a few of the ways Bible Study has changed my life and why it is so beneficial and necessary for all believers.

For me it all started back in 2012. We had recently left our church and I felt bereft of ministry. I was talking with a friend and she said if you start a Bible Study I will come. This was my venture into actual Bible Study. Up until that point I was like the average Christian who read a few verses and then the devotional someone had written about it. I was faithful to church and I knew the basic gist of biblical Christianity.

However, I was not all that familiar with my Bible and I had never read it through. I had never just studied a book of the Bible (aside from my years in a Christian college for a grade).

One of the first books I remember studying was I Peter. I was flabbergasted at just how much there was in there to learn. So much I didn’t know!

In 2014, I finally read the Bible through from cover to cover. In 2015, I offered a chronological read-through of the Bible as a challenge to you, my readers. In 2017, I began to offer Bible Reading Challenges every year. While I can’t be sure how beneficial these challenges have been in the lives of my readers, I can definitely say that the impact they have had on me has been tremendous. Because I am organizing and administrating the challenges I can’t cop out when I get too busy. Somehow, I must continue to make time to study the Word. People are counting on me.

Eventually, I got to the point where I wouldn’t want to miss out for anything. I prayed that God would give me a love for His Word and I can see that He has answered that prayer over the course of the last ten years.

I am nothing special. I was reading my pleasant devotionals and desiring to do what’s right. Just like most genuine believers. I had never made time to study or memorize the Word and this was a huge hindrance in my growth as a believer.

I didn’t realize that carrying a Bible or reading a few out-of-context verses or listening to wonderful Bible sermons–while all good and even helpful– was not the same thing as actually studying the Bible.

So why should you study the Bible? What is the big deal?

Let me give you a few things that my Bible Study has taught me (in a general sense). This is not an exhaustive, specific list but rather a general overview of the things we learn when we study the Bible–

1.  We learn about God and His character. There are many, many opinions out there. In fact, some of those opinions hit the bestseller list (such as the heretical book The Shack) and can change how we view God. Our only protection is to actually know who God is from His Holy Word.

2. We learn of man’s depraved and hopeless state without Christ. While the world and apostate church lauds the goodness of man, I am learning through reading the Bible that all men are sinners, lost and without hope of reconciliation to God–except through Jesus Christ.

3. We learn about ourselves. As I read the accounts of the people in the pages in the Bible, I can see myself. I see my own sins and weaknesses. As I read the epistles that contain exhortations and encouragement for believers, I am confronted with my own need for change. The scripture functions as mirror that shows me my true self. But it doesn’t stop there. It also teaches us how to turn away from the sin that so easily besets us. And encourages us with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is with us for guidance and comfort in our efforts to eradicate sin and grow in Christ.

4. We learn to know the real Jesus. Since He is literally nothing like the apostate church (and all other false churches) present Him, this is almost necessary these days to even understand the Gospel. One cannot understand who Jesus truly is without studying the Bible. There is just so much false information out there.

5. We learn of the hope, the grace, the mercy, and the deep love that is ours upon salvation. The promises of God are rich and certain. Give by God to His own dear children, they serve as a source of comfort and strength.

6. We learn to discern between right and wrong. If scripture is where we find the truth, then this is what we must know in order to determine what is false. This becomes increasingly important as deception deepens and grows in this current age we are living in.

7. We learn to stand strong for truth–even if it means standing alone. Through the examples of so many in scripture–Noah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Stephen, and so many others–we learn not only the importance of but also the possibility of standing for and even dying for our faith. God will make a way for us to do what is right.

8. We learn how to face both trials and good times. In the Bible, we are given so many encouraging verses in how to handle all states of life we find ourselves in. God shows us how we can best grow and glorify Him in whatever we face.

9. We learn how all of scripture is connected. It has been an amazing thing to see themes repeated over and over. To read one thing in a book and see it repeated in a different book. It really wasn’t until I finally took the time to study the Word that I understood the significance of the consistency and cohesiveness of scripture. It’s truly amazing!

10. And, finally, we continue to learn (and be amazed at) how true and reliable God’s Word is. The fulfilled prophecies alone are simply awesome. One cannot walk away from a humble study of the Bible and not recognize the impossibilities of these very specifically fulfilled prophecies. Confirmation that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God become more and more evident as one gives time to study.

______________________________________

And, as we learn these things above, we become so much more confident in our walk with Christ. We feel comfortable sharing the Gospel. We lean alone on God’s Word when calling out false teachers. We recognize that our opinions mean literally nothing. All we stand on is the Word, which is easy to do because we are so aware that it is God’s very Word to us, giving us all truth we need for life and godliness.

And, so, I hope that this might reach some believer out there who has never really studied the Word for themselves. I hope that you will give it a try. If you are looking for a place to begin, I hope you will consider this year’s Bible Reading Challenge (find more information here). My goal for each challenge is for it to be helpful to both beginner Bible Students and Advanced and every student in between. I also try to make it so that one can join anytime throughout the year. Right now is the perfect time to commit to study the Bible!

But, no matter what way you choose or where you start your study of scripture, I hope that you will make it a priority. For the Bible truly is the only source of truth and guidance for the Christian Life.

 

The Power of Distractions

I spent this past weekend in Texas with my daughter and her family. I was joined by my other two daughters although, sadly, my daughter-in-law and mom were unable to join us and so our little circle wasn’t quite complete. But we did have such a wonderful time together.

On Sunday we had a rare treat. My son-in-law had so kindly offered to watch the kids and so we were having a rare girls’ afternoon at a nail salon. Nail Salons in Texas really know what they are doing. I have had many pedicures in my life but the best three, by far, are the ones I’ve gotten in Texas. This one was especially good. They not only honored the appointment time but they treated us especially well and the services were certainly thorough and done right. In fact, it was wonderful.

Except for one thing.

Shortly after we sat down to enjoy our pedicure, a pillow was placed on our lap. I looked at the pillow. What is this thing for?

Well, I soon found out. Soon a manicurist was bringing her supplies over to my massage chair and my hand was in a little bowl of water. She was working on the manicure at the same time as someone else was working on the pedicure.

NOW… that may seem fabulous to someone who values time above all else when going into a nail salon. However, we were not those people and each one of us left the salon a bit disappointed.

Why, you may ask?

Or do you already know?

Put simply, it is impossible to fully concentrate on enjoying something when so much is going on. It was hard to enjoy a foot massage when someone was grabbing your arm and telling you to do this or that. One of the manicurists even told one of my girls she wasn’t allowed to use her massage chair during her pedicure (which sort of defeats the purpose of having one…). There was just so much going on that you couldn’t really enjoy it.

So, I’m not complaining. We know for the next time to either go to a different nail salon or to specifically request separate treatments. And it was a tremendous blessing to be able to afford that little luxury on a warm Sunday afternoon in Dallas.

But it does provide a great analogy and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

You see, I think when some of us (like myself) approach our prayer and Bible reading time, we may be a little like I was sitting in that chair. There’s just too much going on. We generally have our phone sitting nearby and we are attuned to every little buzz and ding. We can hardly keep ourselves from picking it up. Even if we don’t have it set for notifications from social media (which I don’t), we somehow are afraid we may miss something in a texting conversation. Or we think of something in the middle of our quiet time and, instead of writing it down, we take the time to look that thing up online right away (am I the only one who does that??) Or some may have the TV or radio in the background, forcing their minds to take in so much at the same time. Because our minds are always listening and struggling to understand–even when we don’t consciously realize it.

But just like that experience at the salon was not fully enjoyed because of too much going on, the same thing is true of our time spent in God’s Word. We can’t get to the place of thorough study when we are constantly interrupted. In fact, I believe the short updates and videos we have grown accustomed to have done grave (and irreparable?) damage to our ability to focus.

Generally, I believe we 21st century Christians have a distraction problem. Which I believe is mostly related to technology. The constant interruptions. The constant distraction. It’s changing our capability for concentration. It’s changing our brains.

Is there a way to change it back?

I’m not sure. But I believe one way to start is to keep my phone and iPad in a different room when I am spending time in my Bible and prayer. To perhaps set a timer or give myself a specific time without looking at my phone.

Isn’t that just pathetic? Seriously. I am embarrassed to even write about this as an issue for me.

But it makes me wonder if it isn’t an issue for some of you, too. (Please don’t comment condescendingly that this isn’t or never has been an issue for you. If that is true, then I am so happy for you. You are very blessed that this is not an issue. Please DO comment if this was an issue for you but you have since gained victory over this in your life. We can all use that kind of encouragement!)

Technology has changed our lives forever and I believe it has much more power than we give it credit for through the avenue of distracting us and keeping us from ever really thinking.

Particularly our smart phones have become a challenge, as most of us hate to be without them. And it’s often not for a silly, time-wasting reason. These little devices give us opportunity to stay in close contact with people we love who live oh, so far away. They’ve offered some good along with the bad. Which makes managing these things much trickier.

But manage them we must. If we are to live a godly and productive life, we need to control our devices and not let them control us. Particularly when we are in prayer and Bible Study.

And, so, that is my challenge to you and to myself today–

Let’s turn off or remove our devices from the area where we are spending time in prayer and in studying God’s Word. Let’s grab a tablet and pen and keep it by our side so that we can write down anything we want to text or research or buy or whatever for later. Perhaps you are someone who needs to just turn off the TV or radio. Whatever is keeping us from fully and deeply studying the Word, let’s commit to making that change–at least a few times each week. Let’s ask the Lord to help us make this important change.

Anyone want to commit to making this change with me?

 

 

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