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.

 

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.

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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?

 

 

How Do I Know Who’s Telling Me the Truth?

There has been a lot of conversations about lies as compared to the truth over this past year. It is so difficult to work our way through all of the chaos and confusion. But do you know this has been going on for years? We just didn’t realize it.

It has been especially prevalent in the church over the past 50 or more years, where we have seen lies bound into the church (often splitting churches and causing genuine Christians to leave and start another church) or slither in so subtly they go completely unnoticed by almost all.

So two people asked me the same question last night: How do I know if the sermon or commentary or book I am reading is telling me the truth?

I answered off the top of my head then but have been giving it more thought since that time. It is a great question and some of you may have wondered this, as well. I thought maybe I’d try to tackle that question here this morning.

So you are reading a Study Bible or a commentary on a passage and you wonder: Is this guy interpreting this passage correctly? Or perhaps you are listening to a sermon and you think: Is this what the Bible is actually teaching here?

What are some steps you can take to make sure you aren’t deceived? There are a few important things you can do. Let’s take a look at them–

1. Pray for discernment. It is important that we are diligent in asking for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we study the Bible. Many have been the times I have heard something and it just didn’t “sit right” with me. This caused me to start digging deeper and finding out if that person was right or not. I’ve head many people share that they’ve had the same thing happen to them. One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs in our lives is to help us understand and interpret the Word rightly (John 14:26) and He does faithfully do this.

2. Recognize that we can understand a lot of the Bible without help. God has designed His Word to be understood by the average lay person. Think about how many things are clear in the Bible when you just sit down to study it without helps. Sure, there are some things that are a bit confusing or hard to understand, but the majority of the Bible is pretty understandable overall. As we become more familiar with its theme, its context, and its content, dedicating ourselves to reading and studying the actual Bible, we will be able to spot things that are off much more quickly.

3. Value the truth of God’s Word and be willing to pay whatever it costs to follow it. If I have seen one thing that has caused people to stumble or even turn away from genuine Christianity, it is this. The loyalty to men runs deep and when someone is confronted with a favorite teacher who is teaching a false doctrine, they will often choose the teacher over the Bible. Or perhaps they are confronted with the truth that genuine Christianity requires sacrifice and self-denial. They don’t like that truth and so they go towards the false Christianity that promises health and wealth. The bottom line is that if we are not willing to follow the truth of God’s Word–no matter the cost–we will open ourselves up to being deceived. We must value the truth of God’s Word above all else as we grow as believers.

4. As you start studying the Word, you will start to become familiar with those you can trust. Many men who have died aren’t changing their messages, so I often start there. While I may not agree with everything, I do know I can trust them regarding the main doctrines of the faith. Men like Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.C. Ryle, and many of the Puritans have so much to offer when it comes to the topics of salvation and sanctification. (I want to note here that many of these men followed the wrong eschatology of reformed theology. Augustine developed the idea of Replacement Theology out of his own hatred for the Jews and their doctrines and this wrong doctrine has been followed by so many since. But since many of these men have been alive, things have progressed and been made so much clearer in regards to a literal Revelation that I do wonder if some of them would be changing their minds about now…)

5. Ask someone you trust if you have a question about something you have read or heard. Now before you ask, do make sure this person is committed 100% to the truth of God’s Word over pleasing men. Make sure they will tell you the truth in answer to your question. There are many people out there who aren’t willing to do this because they don’t want to lose you as a friend or offend you. You want to find someone who is willing to tell you the truth, no matter the cost. If you have someone like this in your life, you are beyond blessed. Ask them your questions and be willing to hear their answers.

6. Research the person in question. Oftentimes when I have a question about something I have heard or read, it will be answered if I dig a little deeper into the person who said/wrote it. If people are seriously in error in one area, they are probably seriously wrong in others.

7. Look at the speaker/author’s friends. Psalm 1 says that a righteous man will not hang out with the ungodly. Romans 16:17 tells us we are to avoid those who teach things contrary to pure doctrine. If the person you are listening to or reading spends his time, unapologetically, with false teachers or proudly declares his connections with the unsaved (for instance, in his/her efforts to better this world), beware. This is a HUGE red flag. Mark and avoid any teacher that does this. The Bible makes it clear that this means the teacher is compromised.

8. Have much grace and a humble spirit when there are minor differences. We will never agree whole-heartedly with anyone on everything. This is just life. We can’t be so over-zealous that we turn away from someone simply because of a minor disagreement about a passage. And we must humbly recognize that we aren’t right about everything, either. No one is. So, in the little things, we have grace and humility, striving for unity among true believers. Oh, how many churches have been destroyed over minor disagreements.

9. Recognize that Satan wants to deceive you. We are told that he is like a roaring lion, who seeks to devour (I Peter 5:8) and that he often presents himself as an angel of light, as do his workers (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Unless we are aware of Satan’s dedication to putting us off-course, we will be vulnerable in our naivete and ignorance. We must be aware of the spiritual battle that is raging for our souls. Satan would like nothing more than for us to be rendered ineffective for Christ and His Kingdom through deception and distraction.

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I hope this has been helpful. It is certainly not exhaustive and I’m sure I will think of other things as soon as I post this (that is usually what happens!) If you have other suggestions that have helped you, I would love to read them in the comments section.

Life continues to get crazier and truth is costing more and more. Both biblically, as well as in the real, everyday world. Many are not willing to pay the price.

But if we are to keep ourselves walking in the truth, we must dedicate ourselves to it. No matter the cost. We must submit ourselves to God and His Word (even if we don’t like what it says), and, when we do, God will honor this desire. He will keep us and guard us from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3; James 4:7).

So stay strong and value truth, my friends. In this time of great deception, ask the Lord to protect you. He is so faithful and He will!

 

 

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