Posts tagged ‘word of God’

Stepping on T.O.E.S.

Sometimes, either intentionally or unintentionally, people can say or do things that “step on toes” with people. The phrase “stepping on toes” has been defined as “To insult, offend, or upset someone, especially by getting involved in something that is their responsibility.” Due to its divine nature, the Word of God sometimes steps on our toes as well.

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12 (NET Bible)

I want to look at the good ways that God’s Word steps on toes by using an acrostic:

T– Traditions

O – Opinions

E – Emotions

S – Sentimentality

Traditions – Many times during Christ’s earthly ministry, He rebuked the religious leaders for usint their traditions to nullify the commands of the Law.  He made it clear that their traditions were not equivalent to the Word of God, and that they had no authority to enforce them as such.

“Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.” – Mark 7:13 (NET)

This is a tendency all people can easily fall into. In an effort to prevent violating the law of God, we put up our own list of rules to keep us from crossing that line. While this may seem helpful at first, it slowly becomes an assumption that our rules = the Word of God.  We cannot allow this to happen!  Sticking with the Word of God alone can help to prevent this.  There will be times when we read the Word and it will contradict traditions handing down through church history. In such cases, the Word takes precedence, and our tradition must be tossed aside. This can be uncomfortable, especially if one has lived their life thinking that something is a command of God, only to find out it was unbiblical. But we must allow the Word to do its surgical work and cut the traditions out of our religious practices.

Opinions – This is common in our day, when a person or a religious body “updates” the commands of Scripture in order to be more relevant or to conform to modern thinking. This is spiritual pride at its worst, as men and women believe their own opinions to be superior to those of the Lord.  It is the exaltation of human opinion that has facilitated the introduction of unbiblical practices such as female pastors, acceptance of homosexuality, and using the world’s music, among other things. But if we are to be obedient to the Word of God, our personal opinions must take a back seat to the Word. In fact, it is a sign that we have not been “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Instead, we need to follow the admonition of 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,”

Emotions – There are times that the Word of God will provoke an emotional response in us. Sometimes this is a good thing, such as when “godly sorrow” leads us to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). At other times, it will lead us to a deeper love of God and of the other members of the Body of Christ. But what we need to guard against is an emotional response to the clear commands of Scripture that would cause us to be disobedient, or to misinterpret the Word. While we were created with emotions, they are not a safe method of biblical interpretation. If we follow the Word only when it fits our emotions, we are making our emotions superior in authority to the Scriptures. That is an unsafe and unreliable was to handle the Word.  It was an emotional response to the truth that caused the Jewish leaders to plot to kill Jesus!

Sentimentality – “Sentimentality” is defined as an emotional attachment to practices based on nostalgia.  In the Church, it manifests as an attachment to doing things “because that’s the way we used to do it” instead of by the Word. Many people have rejected the truth of the New Testament because of an attachment to the way they did worship as a child in a denomination that was using tradition as a source of truth. They miss the organ preludes, or the choir, or the christening of babies and are unwilling to give those up to embrace New Testament Christianity. While the message of the Gospel does not change, it can be communicated by different means in different cultures. Missionaries can fall prey to this by trying to create American Christians instead of simply Christians. Our nostalgia for the past should never hold us back from following the teaching of Scripture or of communicating the Gospel in meaningful, yet biblical, ways to other cultures!

So when we are reading the Word, take it into your heart and incorporate it into your life, even when it steps on your T.O.E.S.! For in the end, your TOES may need to be set aside if they prevent you from being a true disciple of Jesus!

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Eating Every Day

Much of our everyday existence is filled with routine. While some things are only done occasionally, there are a whole host of things that we do on a daily basis that are so routine that we may not even realize that we do them. And that’s not always a bad thing, for there are spiritual and temporal habits that are healthy and should be second nature to us. What I want to talk about are the things we ought to do on a daily basis so that they become part of who we are, but that get relegated to one day a week or times of deep distress and spiritual need. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians talked about some of those things.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16, 17 NKJV)

The foundation for all of this, is letting the word of Christ dwell in you. But not just a sparingly, but richly. We need to have an overflowing abundance of the Word of God inside of us, so that it is always coloring whatever we do on a daily basis. Now I don’t care how good your preacher or teachers are, they cannot get this level of the Word into you, any more than you could sit down one day and eat enough physical food to nourish your body for the rest of the week! We have to hunger and thirst after spiritual food, and that happens when we go to the Word and take it in on a daily basis.

In the physical realm, there comes a point when someone is starving that they lose their appetite. In time, they become so weak that they lack the energy and will to eat. The same thing can happen spiritually if we do not feast in the Word of God. What is amazing about the Word of God is that the more you read it, the hungrier you get for it. We need to feast on the Word in order to grow and thrive.

as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, (I Peter 2:2 NKJV)

What will the result of an overflowing abundance of the Word of God be in our lives? We will begin to have the Word come to mind just when we need it, or when someone else needs it. We can be a resource to help others along the way. We also begin to see things from a scriptural perspective, which is good, because in the end, it only really matters what God thinks about things, not what our own opinions are.

Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. (Psalms 119:11)

If we continually feast on the Word, there can press on towards the time when whatever we say and do will be affected by what we have taken in from our consumption of the truths of God’s Word. Does that mean that we cannot do anything at all without chapter and verse to authorize it? Of course not. Try finding a verse that says to floss your teeth! But the point is that when we start to see the pattern, albeit through a glass darkly, of how God thinks and the principles that we should live by, we can slowly move to conform our daily lives into ones that honor God and our Savior Jesus Christ. We can start doing things “in His name”, for we are His ambassadors here on the earth.

The natural and continual by product of this type of living is a spirit of thanksgiving. Our gratitude will be another thing that permeates out thinking and our actions. In turn, that gratitude will spur us on to greater love and good works. Which will make us grateful, etc. it’s a continual upward spiral! But again, the foundation is a continual taking in of the Word. If we stop and depend on what we read in the past alone, we will grow weak, lose our spiritual appetite, and starve. We will also be ungrateful.

So the next time you pick up the table, try doing this: open it up, pray, and then as you begin to read say, “lets eat!” and spiritually chow down. After all, you have to be full before you can overflow.

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Digging for Gold

When I was online (okay, Facebook) the other day, we were discussing methods of Bible study. The person said that they just pray, read the verse, and God tells them what it means. My response was tentative, because she was wrong on so many levels that I didn’t know where to start without offending her with my reaction. Is “read once and pray” your method of studying the Word? Let me encourage you to reconsider.
To be clear, I have no objection whatsoever to praying before Bible study. In fact, you can and should pray before just about everything! Where the problem arises is when we pray and expect to have the interpretation supernaturally handed to us on a silver platter. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I have been reading and a verse seems to jump off of the page, or suddenly becomes clear. But those times are more a product of study and the pieces finally coming together than an epiphany of some sort. The Word of God is not a pond where the truth rises to the top and is effortlessly scooped off the surface. It is a rich gold mine that has priceless riches that we are to dig deeply into to discover what God has placed there for us.
God has promised to “reward those who diligently seek Him”, and we aren’t doing that when we refuse to put in the work to dig in and discover the depths of the truth. Failure to do the necessary work involved in mining the Word will lead to a life of milk diets at best, and deception at worst. Not every voice you think you hear is from God, but you will never be able to recognize truth without doing the work to let the Word transform and renew your mind. Jesus said to “keep on seeking, keep on knocking, and keep on asking” and that is not a one time experience.
There is also a misperception that it is more spiritual to just pray and ask for illumination than it is to do the work of studying in-depth for yourself. In fact it is less spiritual, because the read and wait method means disobedience to the command of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking. It also means that we don’t believe that God rewards those who “diligently seek Him.” What are you expecting Him to reveal that is not already there? Have you exhausted the text and discovered everything it has to offer? Then why do we go to it and expect new revelation when we have not mastered the truth that He has already revealed?
So do the work and dig into the Word. There is only one way to God, but there are also no shortcuts to studying His revealed will in the Word. Don’t be lazy about your studies. The gold and gems are there, but we must dig them out if we are to appreciate the treasure for what it is. God has promised that you will not come up empty! Doing otherwise doesn’t mean you won’t have any opinions about what the Bible says; it just means you will have a lot of wrong ones.

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Condemned By Nineveh?

There is nothing like a good fish story, especially when you hear it the second time and remember how big the fish was the first time you heard it. There is a fish story in the Bible that happens to be true! And I believe it has some application to those of us today as well. You will see what I mean in a minute.

I am sure that most of us have had the misfortune of working with someone who had a bad attitude. They hate what they are doing and make sure everyone else regrets being there as well. It is a mystery of the universe how such folks ever accomplish anything at all in life. But, as with all things, what is impossible with man is possible with God.

The prophet Jonah was just such a man. He was a prophet of God, and he received a commission to go and preach. Seems like that would be a simple task. But Jonah was blinded by his racism, hatred and overall meanness to the point of direct disobedience to the command of God. Here was his simple job description:

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of A-mittaī, saying, “Arise, go to Nine-veh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” (Jonah 1:1, 2 NKJV)

Sounds pretty simple, right? But from the beginning, you can almost hear the wheels turning in Jonah’s mind. He hated the people of Nineveh with a passion. The last thing he wanted was for them to repent. “If I flee in the other direction, then the will not get the message, will not repent, and will be destroyed!”
So Jonah heads to the sea port of Joppa and gets passage clear to the other side of the Mediterranean at Tarshish, which was around Gibraltar.

Well, to make a long story short, the people of Nineveh end up being preached at by the worst possible candidate for a preacher. He is racist and hates them, he doesn’t want to be there, he doesn’t want them to accept his message, and he makes the message as short and blunt as he can. Sounds like a recipe for a failure. But God uses the message to turn the hearts if the people and they repent. The city is spared, and Jonah does not get to watch them being judged with fire from heaven.

Jesus, when talking to the Pharisees, alludes to the people of Nineveh.

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:41 NIV)

The hardness of their hearts caused them to reject the message from the perfect messenger, the One who is the very Word of God. They will stand condemned by those who repented at the preaching of the most flawed of prophets. But what does that have to do with us today?

There has never been more access to the Bible in our language as there is today. Free resources abound with access to multiple translations of the text. In addition, study helps are easier than ever to obtain that can aid us in understanding what we are reading. We have access to audio, video and printed teaching (paper and electronic) that our forefathers could not even dream about. But can we truly say we know our Bibles as well as those of a generation ago? Many of them grew up in homes with one family Bible and didn’t get their own copy until they were grown. But they studied it and committed it to memory. We, on the other hand, are so distracted by what the world flashes in front of us that we have little time for plumbing the depths of the Word of God.

Those who struggled to obtain the Scriptures in the past, along with those in countries where the Bible is forbidden and must be read in secret, will rise to condemn those of us in countries where most Christians have multiple Bibles and study helps galore, yet do not take full advantage of such. We would be foolish to assume that our access to the Word will always be unfettered.

When I was headed over for Desert Storm, we stopped in the Philippines. I spoke to some missionaries there who spoke of soldiers who would memorize sections of the Bible, just in case they were ever captured. What would happen to us if the Bible was suddenly classified as “hate speech” and banned? What if we were imprisoned for our faith? Would we know enough Bible to live on spiritually?

May the ease with which we can become familiar with the Bible never become a cause for contempt, or a reason to take His Word for granted.

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Walking In The Light

In reality, their is not something called “darkness” that can be measured. All that exists is light. What we perceive as light and darkness is actually the presence or absence of light. That is why darkness cannot push out light, and light is always superior.

Jesus had much to say about light. In the Gospel of Luke, he said it this way:

“Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (Luke 8:16-18 NASB)

The purpose of light is to give illumination to everything around. In Psalm 119, the word says “The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130 NKJV). And the apostle John wrote about light in the New Testament.

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7 NKJV).

So walking in the light is critical for our spiritual survival. But we have to be purposeful about it. Seeing the light is not enough. We must walk in it, for only then will we be able to see the way to go, and be able to recognize sin in our lives so that we can repent and be healed. That’s why Jesus said to be careful how you listen. We must listen in faith, and take action on what we hear. If we don’t, we we have what little spiritual knowledge we think we have taken from us.
We have free will, and can reject light because we find it uncomfortable. Jesus said that light rejection is the reason sinners reject His Gospel.

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. (John 3:19-21 NKJV).

This particularly ironic since in our text in Luke Jesus said that everything will be revealed and be exposed. So what are we trying to accomplish by hiding our sin and hoping to get away with something. At some point in time, our sin will be exposed. It is better to let the Word of God reveal it to us so we can confess it and repent, rather than to be publicly shamed when it is revealed.

So walk in the light of the Word and let it do its work in you.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12, 13 NKJV)

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The Power of the Word of God

Words are vehicles which carry thoughts. They are a way of informing, but also a window into the heart of the one who is speaking. Words also let someone else know how you operate so that they can know you more intimately. God has chosen to use words given through inspiration to convey to humanity His ways and His thoughts. God spoke about the power of His Words to Isaiah.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:8-11 ESV)

He starts off talking about His thoughts, and let’s everyone know right away that His thoughts are on a higher level than ours are. And we are not talking about them being just out of reach. They are exponentially higher than our thoughts. So when we critique what God has said, or second-guess His ways, we can rest assured that we are completely unqualified to do so.

Then there is a transition to the containers of the thoughts of God, His Word. It is impossible for God to speak an idle word. Think about that. Every single word that goes forth from God has His power and creative force behind it, and is unalterable. No word of God ever returns back empty, indeed it cannot do so! (Have you ever stopped to contemplate the chaos that would ensue if every one of rout words had that power? Yikes!)
The writer of Hebrews puts it this way:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

The created universe we see around us was created by that word.

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:3 NKJV)

And that same world is held together by the power that is still resident within the One who is the Word made flesh, Jesus. (John 1)

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3 NASB)

But how do we access that powerful word today? Where would we find it?
Here’s a hint:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17 NIV)

We can have complete confidence in the wisdom, veracity, and power of the Word of God. There is no need to subject it to the criticism of men, since it’s divine Author is so far above our thoughts and ways. Ours is simply to have faith in what He has revealed and walk in the ways He has prescribed for His children. When we do so, we have the most powerful force in or out of the universe behind us!

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An Incarnation Celebration

I realize it’s August, but there is something on my heart that I need to share. And it can be summarized in one word – Christmas.

Yes, Christmas. It’s going to happen again this year, and there are some predictable things that will come with it. People will stress out about gifts to buy, going into debt again this year. Children will spend days wondering about what they are going to get, although some will give presents, too. The suicide rate will spike, and some marriages will finally break from the strain. Children will be told that Santa will bring them presents, so as to avoid offending anyone with stories about the birth of Jesus. Businesses will make the biggest money of the year, and it will all be over. Trees and wrapping paper will be recycled, and some things will be re-gifted.

BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY!

Let’s wind the clock back. Not to our childhood, but further back. 2000 years back! While many will read the Christmas stories in Matthew 1 and Luke 2, John summed up the incarnation succinctly in just one verse.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NKJV)

The Word becoming flesh, known as the incarnation, is a pivotal moment in history. It is the intersection of humanity and eternity, where the very creator of the universe condescends to commune with His creation. Without the incarnation there would have been no salvation. That is worth celebrating!
But do we really celebrate this incarnation by commercialism and rituals borrowed from ancient pagan rites? No! Now some may say that it doesn’t matter what the symbols and practices meant to pagans long ago, it just matters what they symbolize to us today. I would submit that it only matters what those things mean to God, not to us.

So I ask, how do we rightly celebrate the supreme gift given to us at the Incarnation? By giving gifts. But not the kind I wrote about above. We should celebrate by giving ourselves, the same way He gave himself for us. This year can be different. What a perfect time to begin living out in our lives the compassion of Christ. So often Jesus was “moved with compassion” and met the needs of others. We, too, can give to the poor, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and teach our children that the real meaning of giving is not just to write a check and walk away, but to be the very hands and feet of Jesus as we minister to those who He came to save!

So why write something like this in August? Because we can start planning now! Find a need and plan to fill it. Make it intentional. Don’t just hope an opportunity presents itself, but actively seek out ways to be a blessing in Jesus’ name this year. Oh, and please don’t just give to some church fund and excuse yourself from active participation. Don’t fall into the trap of “I gave at the office so my obligation is covered” and miss out on a rich blessing!

We can do it if we plan to do it. Make this year different. Build memories of Christmas with something other than what I got this year. Be the manifestation of the love of Jesus to someone this year. Introduce them to this Jesus who is “the Word made flesh” and have a true Incarnation Celebration this year.

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