Category Archives: Bible Study

God the only judge of character.

It is going to happen whether we like it or not. The presidential election. It has been touted as the most important in this or last century. It is discouraging to contemplate the two candidates running for the highest leadership position in our country. Both and neither seem to check all the boxes for me. Never-the-less, the election will be held, and someone will be in the white house for four years.

In the middle of the sometimes heated discussions of politics, we are distracted from the headlong ubiquitous degradation of America’s moral foundation and fundamental liberties. My inclination to discover what their vision is for the future and vote for that future. I want to do my civic duty. My vote is not about the personal values of the candidate but the change or lack of change for our country.

Yet there are many within the church who strongly disagree about one or both candidates. I have heard some will not vote, out of protest. Others condemning anyone one not seeing it the way they do. Others explicitly state their mandate is only to vote if it does not compromise their Christian witness whatever that means. And others say, “If you don’t vote you are not Christian.”

My thoughts here are from my study of the Bible. Both candidates profess the Christian faith. Where is my responsibility to include in my criteria for voting the genuineness of their Christianity? Where does it say a criterion of who is the best leader in this time of turmoil, pandemic, and social unrest, be based on my judgment of Christian their character? I can’t find it. Judge as you would be judged.

Our political decisions may well lead to discussions and even to outward persuasions, but I will not judge. That kind of Judgement is God’s and I am not looking for a job. I Cor 4:5 states that Jesus will judge. It is for him alone to bring to light what is now hidden and to commend or rebuke. So my friends, let us “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, [bear] with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). Let us not dismiss our own faith by doing anything else.

Sermon on the Mount

I am building a group of men to think for themselves.  To rightly divide the word of truth.  The vehicle for this building is a study on the Sermon on the mount.  It is in Matthews Gospel Chapter 5,6,7.

But as I read these words over and over again, I am amazed at the teachings of Jesus.  He was teaching the disciples on a grassy hill about the Kingdom of Heaven.  The hearers were amazed at the teachings of Jesus for it was from authority.  It meant something to them.  The sermon was one of those in which after the last AMEN, you simply said, “wow”. It pierced their hearts with truth. Not like another law book or set of rules.  Jesus taught them about the things which impacted their lives.  

The Scribes and Pharisees taught speaking and re-speaking the same words.  Words without life and conviction. Jesus said to those who listened, “your righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.  This new law of the Kingdom of Heaven, this new way of truth and life, this abundant life points to dire need for a new righteousness.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a righteousness of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit to enable  you  to  lovingly,  willingly  and  delightfully  yield  your  will  in  total  submission  to  His  examination  of  your  heart  so  that  you  may  be  completely  set  free.

As with any revolutionary idea these words of Jesus were and still are misconstrued. It would be easy for anyone reading the Sermon on the Mount to wince once and a while. We have to be different from everyone else.  We can’t even think about getting angry and wishing someone ill, just looking at a woman is the same as having relations with her, divorce is out of the question, can’t make a oath, turn the other cheek and pray for my enemies.

In a quick read the task of obedience is overwhelming. “Jesus have you just traded one set of laws for another?”  The demands of Jesus are simply too difficult. Who among us have never hid wrong attitudes in our heart?  Who is not guilty of disobeying the rule of the King? 

The inevitable result is to fall short of God’s glorious ideal. We try and try to uphold that ideal with every ounce of our strength, but we fail again and again.  We end up living a life full of disappointment, guilt and failure.  And that is just the point. 

your conscience burns within you knowing that Jesus does not rule simply until you’ve had enough.  But rather than leaving you naked in your rebellion and exposed to judgment, He forgives you. He heals you. He restores you. He lifts you up and strengthens you to carry on the journey of faith for yet another day.

In our men’s study we simply say, “there are only two things in the Bible, 1) Revelation and 2) reconciliation.”  God reveals Himself in his plans and ideals and we are to reconcile ourselves to that revelation. When we fail.  And fail we often do. Failure should lead ourselves back to God for His strength, His guidance, His forgiveness, His love, His reconciliation.

General Principles of Biblical Study

As we study the Bible, whether we are in our own or with a group, there are a number of specific principles that help us to understand the Words of God as we read and study.  These are the principles that I try to follow.  Through personal use of these principles, they have keep me from jumping into places where God would not have me be.  Perhaps they might help you.

Principle 1: Author’s intention.

It is not my meaning of the scripture but the intention of the writer.  This means we should know the who is writing, why he is writing, when he is writing, what is the cultural setting, differences in language historically, what is the style and literary forms being used.

Principle 2: Know the context

A single word, even with a good dictionary must be understood within the sentence and paragraph in which is placed.  What does the following mean? “I booked.”  Does it mean you left in a hurry?  Does it mean secured a ticket on an airline? Does it mean I reported an event? Interpretations must be done in the context of the passage. Therefore, context determines meaning! The nearest context must give the most weight in interpretation. First, there is the near context of the sentence, then the paragraph, then the section and then the book and even author.

Principle 3: Normalcy

If possible, the Bible must be taken at its face value. When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth”, the rule of normalcy says it is possible that Jesus meant they were Sodium Chloride?  When Isaiah 55:12 says “the trees of the field will clap their hands” the rule of normalcy would take this as impossible because trees have no hands.  When the literal does not make any normal sense, it is most likely there is some sort of figure of speech.  Conversely when Jesus said, “Blessed are the mercy for they shall mercy,”  Figurative language include: Parables, similes, metaphors, hyperbole, satire, analogy and illustration.

Principle 4: The Bible as the Key to the Bible

Use the Bible to help interpret itself. Interpret difficult passages with clear ones. This principal is sometimes called the law of non-contradiction. Because the Bible is God’s word, and God is true, the Bible will not contradict itself.  Do not try to change an Old Testament scripture because it seems to contradict a New Testament scripture.

Principle 5: Application is not interpretation

As we study the Bible there is only one interpretation.  This is God’s word and it does not change with time or human application. When Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive oil, this is the factual interpretation. The interpretation is only refers to the act of Mary. What about us today? An application might be that we are willing to give sacrificially for the Lord’s work and give Jesus acts of worship as Mary did. Another would be that everyone must carry expensive oil to church and anoint the pastor’s feet every Sunday.

Principle 6: Distinctions of audience

Be sensitive to distinctions between Israel and the church and, Old Covenant and New Covenant. Promises made to Israel in the Old Testament cannot automatically be transferred to the church in which we are a part. For example, the land promises were given to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 12:7) but that does not include me, a Gentile Christian. It is true that certain Old Testament commands repeated in the New Testament are still binding, but this is made clear by their repetition in the New Testament. The church was formed in Acts 2 with the descent of the Holy Spirit and most direct statements to and about the church occur after that.

Principle 7: Types of literature

There are many types of literature in the Bible. There is law, narrative, wisdom, poetry, gospel, parable, epistle, and apocalyptic. Each of these types of literature has specific features that must be considered when interpreting a text.

How do I find intimacy with God?

Sermons just don’t do it for me anymore. For that matter the music or should I say spiritual songs, don’t do it for me either.  I have served as a preacher in five churches of various lengths and sizes.  It was overwhelming experience to which I have always accounted as both a privilege and call. To translate the difficult and make it plain and relevant is a task not to be taken lightly.  I am fully aware of the time which must be expended to reach that perfect balance between deep theology and practical understanding. It is a gift from God to both the preacher and those who submit themselves each Sunday. They come to fill their spiritual bread baskets full for the week. They depend on the preacher to fill infuse them to carry on for a little while longer.

Years have come and gone.  Hundreds of messages, prayer meeting studies, Sunday School lessons and Bible studies have been completed. I continually study, build and prepare messages.  Weekly Bible study for the men in our church requires just as much time and preparation as preaching; or maybe even more.  And if the truth be known, these studies are more preaching than a shared study. A few faithful shows up each week and seem to be challenged.  Some are even studying ahead.  One even told me that the studies has caused him to dig deeper.  

As I recollect on the nearer present, I am not quite as enthused.  I don’t get much out of the messages as presented in church.  Sure, there is evidence of study and all the video clips are well placed, but they are not doing it for me. There is nothing new.  There is nothing challenging.  I am easily distracted and the slow pace of the sermon allows my mind to wander.  I guess I would rather read a well thought out argument, than to listen to one more three point, fill in the blank sermon.

I connect to God by working. My connection to God is more focused and more intimate when I am doing for Him. I find true joy in study and passing on that knowledge, that wisdom on to others.  It is not enough to just accumulate a vast amount of facts and illustrations.  There is a true joy in helping someone else to light the fire of their own intellectual pursuits.

So, I am at a quandary.  Do I just keep on going to church to be seen by my brothers and sisters?  Does the effort equal any reward?  I can well fill my own basket.  I share from my basket and it never seems to run out.  I feel an inner satisfaction with the supply by God.  I read voraciously the great preachers; I am challenged by the great hymns of the church.  I long for a church which challenges me more and coddles me less.

Where do I find intimacy with God? It is in my books, in my study, in the crafting of words to would challenge others.  I guess that is good enough.

Rules for Bible Study

Every community, every group, every organization must have rules to guide it.  I found the best rules for studying the Bible fall into three areas: Truth, Study, and process.

  1. Truth
    • God’s truth is the only truth.
    • No one on this side of heaven can know all of God’s truth.
    • God’s truth for us is revealed in the inspired Word of God.
    • God’s truth is illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
  2. Study
    • We study to know more of God’s truth.
    • We study to become disciples
    • We study to show ourselves approved.
    • We study to change our behavior.
  3. Process
    • Questions do not necessarily have a right or a wrong answer.
    • Feelings are valuable but are not truth.
    • Actions have moral consequences.

GREAT High Priest

I am not a catholic. Further, the hierarchy of my local church does not include anyone with the title of Priest. Sometimes I wonder about the necessity to have a priest at all.  Again, it is probably part of my Protestant background.  Never-the-less, as I am studying a portion of the New Testament entitled Hebrews, I find several passages depicting Jesus as the High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-5:10; 6:20; 7:11-8:2; 10:12). The office of priest was an important one in the Old Testament system and is fulfilled by Jesus.

In the Jewish system, a priest mediated between the people and God. They seemed to need a person to assume a job as middleman. Appointed to that job was Aaron and his descendants, with the tribe of Levi serving as assistants in the Tabernacle (Numbers 3:5-10). The Levites were viewed as belonging to God (Numbers 3:12); they were set apart and very special. I found specific regulations for the priests in Leviticus 21 – 22. The high priest was the chief religious leader and had certain duties. The most important, of these duties, was the high priest who entered the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Only the high priest could enter and, before doing so, he was required to make a sacrifice for himself. In this way the high priest was cleansed and could then go on to offer the cleansing sacrifices for the people (Leviticus 16).

This is where Hebrews comes in speaking to a group of Jewish Christians, and tells them that Jesus is the Great High Priest who mediates. His sacrifice is what provides cleansing for our sins. Rather than a yearly (or daily) atonement, Jesus’ sacrifice is once-for-all (Hebrews 10:1-18). Jesus, like the high priests of Old Testament times, stands in the gap between us (the people) and God. He made the necessary sacrifice for us (Jesus was without sin so did not need to offer a sacrifice for Himself as did the high priests of the Old Testament). Those who have put their faith in Jesus have been made righteous by Him (2 Corinthians 5:21) and are now able to enter God’s presence. This mediation of Jesus is permanent and continual. Hebrews 7:23-25 says, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” While Jesus’ sacrifice was once-for-all, His mediation for us continues. Jesus also communicates the will of God to us through His teachings and through the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

Jesus is not only our High Priest, but also a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7:11-22). Melchizedek is introduced in Genesis 14. He is said to be both a king and a priest (Genesis 14:18). He met Abram (later known as Abraham) after Abram’s battle victory. In their meeting, Melchizedek blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth of everything, thus confirming Melchizedek’s priesthood and authority. The writer of Hebrews explains that Jesus is of this order of priests – His priesthood is based on authority rather than on lineage (Hebrews 7:11-17), and it is also kingly. Therefore, Jesus’ priesthood institutes a new way of being: “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well” (Hebrews 7:12). With Jesus as High Priest, a new covenant is in effect.

So do we need someone to stand in the gap?  Yes.  Do we need someone to make a sacrifice? Yes.  Do we need someone to represent us?  Yes.  Do we need a new covenant? Yes.  Do we need a new relationship to God? Yes.  Yes to all these.  Perhaps the most crucial thing for believers to understand today is that it is because Jesus is our High Priest that we can approach God with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). We no longer need to go through earthly mediators. Jesus has broken the barrier, made the sacrifice, established a new covenant, and re-instituted our relationship with God. Because of our High Priest, we are free to come to God.

Did you learn anything?

It was an accomplishment.  Stepping off the school bus in rural Iowa.  It had been the first day of school.  Her clothes were a little more wrinkled that when he set off that morning to learn, to study, to be a grown up.  There was a little mud on the sweet pink and white checked dress from playing with the kids at recess.  And now she was boldly walking up the path to home where dad was waiting to see how it had went.

After a big hug, a peanut butter sandwich made with extra grape jelly, and a cold glass of milk, Dad asked the big question, “Well did you learn anything at your school?”

The daughter stopped and looked at her dad and with a look of disappointment she answered, “I guess I didn’t learn enough”

“Why do you say that my little sweet pea?”

“Well Dad it is like this, I have to go back tomorrow.”

Learning takes a lifetime.

A very small piece of the action?

I am studying the book of Hebrews and this morning I was struck by a single thought which disturbed me.  Hebrews is a singular general letter which God only knows who wrote it.  It has made it through 950 years of telling, retelling, study, exhortation, training, and even speculation.  My experience in the business world would classify Hebrews as written to a niche market; a very small group of people with very specific needs.

It was written for an audience that was a piece of a piece of a piece of a piece.  First, it was written to the Christians of the time during the Jewish revolt from Rome.  Perilous times.  Most Christians had left the bosom of Jerusalem 5 years earlier. So, compared to the entire population of Rome, Christians were a small piece of the grand whole.  It has been estimated the total Christian population 40 years later at the end of the First century the total count was 500,000.

Secondly it was written to a piece of those persecuted dispersed Christians that were ethnically Hebrew.  This piece was the major part of Christian world at the time.  Christianity came from and was seen at the time as primarily a Jewish thing.  Even though Peter and Paul had extended invitations to the Gentiles, these converts sometimes were required to worship as a Jew first.

Of these Ethnic Jews, who were Christians, who were persecuted, also most had never seen Jesus.  It was all second and third hand knowledge.  They had access to many of the letters from Paul and Peter and even James, but never-the-less their experiences, their understanding was from those who had seen and which they had not.  They had not seen the miracles.  They had not seen the fire in he eyes of John the Baptist.  They had not been there for the resurrection. They had not been there at the assention. The piece, the audience was becoming very small.

And the smallest piece of the piece of the piece of the piece, was being tempted by all the things going out to forsake the faith to go back to pure Judaism.  Back to their friends, and neighbors, and family.  To through off all the ideas of grace and go back to a life of keeping the law.

The only conclusion is that there must be a plausible connection between the very small group that was written to and today’s Christians.  Otherwise we might not need it in the bible unless we are preaching or teaching to saved persecuted ethnic Jewish Christians which are wanting to go back to their Jewish roots. In today’s world it may well be an even smaller piece than it was in 69 AD. Could it well be for any saved, having a hard time, gentiles, who are just wanting to go back to there old ways?  To chuck it all and live a life that world would have them live? 

That is my conclusion.  What do you think?

The Changing Church

Has the church changed so much that some really cannot relate with the Bible.  Have we trod the path from Acts when Peter preached and 3,000 repented?  The church has changed from a bible believing, monotheistic, well accustomed to digging deep into scripture and willing to talk about it. The group to which Peter in Acts 2 were like that, full of knowledge and willing to understand and accept the teachings of the new rabbi.  But the church has become like the audience in Acts 17:22, “I see that in every way you are religious.”  Paul walked around in their city and what he saw was great belief in the wrong things. They even had an altar with the title, “To an unknown God.”  He accused the believers in all the religions that abounded and simply told them, “you are ignorant of the very thing you worship.”

Have we come so far as to having a form of religion without the very reason for that effort? Isn’t Paul’s logic still hold true: 

24 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Echo of Joy

Zephaniah 3:14-17
Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away His judgments against you,
He has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
You will fear disaster no more.
In that day it will be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not be afraid, O Zion;
Do not let your hands fall limp.
“The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.

In our terrible times politically, and internationally we are given a sense of God is still in control. There is a gladness in these words. They are a part of a men’s study I am doing and sometimes it is difficult to find joy in the Minor Prophets. There is the overthrow of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, the spreading of the 10 tribes to take away their identity, the fall of Nineveh, a prophet being swallowed by a fish, and a whole lot of gloom, despair, and excessive misery. But here in the last phrases of Zephaniah is hope and joy.
Here we join in with God dancing and singing. The very words seem to dance with Joy. The phrases seem to be written in a staccato, rapid-fire manner; almost as if the prophet was laughing while he was writing.
It is singing which it truly catching. The God of the Universe is in our present. God has a voice and HE calls us to join in. SHOUT to the rooftops, God is here. For with every beat of your heart comes a sound of God’s love and joy for you. The notes of our praise fill HIS heart with Joy. The notes of HIS joy fills our hearts. We are glad because HE is glad. We sing for joy, and HE shouts the joy with us with singing because we do. JOY is an ongoing echo between man and God.
SHOUT, go ahead where ever you are, whatever you are doing, stop and shout for Joy and cause that joy to fill God. And then listen carefully and you will hear the echo from God.