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Do you have trouble reading the Bible?

17 Jul

Do you feQuestions signpost in the skyel lost in the Bible’s pages? Do you find it hard to understand the general flow and sequence of events? Do you often wonder what one story has to do with the big picture? Here are two common reasons for the trouble you are having and two simple solutions to help you grow in your understanding of God’s Word and, hopefully, in your relationship with Jesus Christ.

  1. LACK OF TIME SPENT IN THE WORD

Whether baseball or biology, math or mechanics, relationships or a RubixTM cube, the more time we spend engaging something, the better we understand and appreciate it. If you want to understand the Bible, then you must spend time in its pages. Read it. Think about it. Meditate on it. Talk about it. Ask about it. Learn about it. How much time are you spending with God in his Word? …with God’s gift that reveals his nature, heart, his Son Jesus, and his will for you?

Scripture unmasks the problems in the world and in our souls as well as the solutions to them. Scripture is a treasure to be mined (Psa. 119:72).  Do you treat God’s Holy Word as a treasured gift or as an inconvenient duty? Do you see it as drawing you nearer to Christ, revealing your sin, offering hope (Psa. 119:43, 49), peace (Psa. 119:165), comfort (Psa. 119:76, 81), and the power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), or do you see it as a few nice stories with a lot of stuff in between? Do you recognize that Scripture is God’s own Word of unerring truth (Psa. 119:142, 151) and purity (Psa. 119:140) sufficient for your life (2 Tim. 3:16–17), or do you treat it like any other book that can be set aside, neglected, and only casually considered?

We would better understand God’s Word if we treated it the way it is meant to be treated, as special, holy, divine, profitable, and sufficient—if we treated it as the treasure it is, praying and cultivating a hunger and love for it daily. Many know the large, complex worlds and details of Halo, Minecraft, and Call of Duty (popular video games), or the ins-and-outs of the characters in Downtown Abbey or our favorite novel but know little of the world and people of the Bible. This should concern us as Christians. We can all grow in our love and appreciation of God’s Word. Let’s be committed to doing so.

  1. THE WAY YOU ARE READING THE BIBLE

Part of the trouble might be the way you are reading the Bible. Perhaps you know the what (the Bible), the why (growing in relationship and obedience to Christ, for starters), but have not been taught how to read Scripture.

You would not pick up your favorite novel and start in the middle, skip 4/5 of the way through, go back to the first page, turn to the end, then read a paragraph from 1/3 of the way in. You would be confused. You would not know how all those pieces fit in with the big picture. That might work for a cook book, a comic book, or for a math textbook (maybe), but not for a story. Yet, that is the way many read the Bible, treating it as a list of platitudes or quotations randomly assembled.

The Bible is unique. It is the Word of the one, triune God breathed out (2 Tim 3:16) through roughly 40 different human authors as the Holy Spirit moved them (2 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 1:1–2).  It is composed of 66 different books made up of 1189 chapters. It has sections that can, on some levels, stand alone as general principles of wisdom, e.g. much of Proverbs, and others that unfold and depend more heavily on their narrative style, e.g. Genesis and Exodus. How are we then to read the Bible?

First, we need to recognize that like a novel, the Bible is ultimately one grand story being told by God from Genesis to Revelation. It speaks of who God is, how he created all things, how creation was corrupted by sin, how God redeems a people for himself, how he restores creation, and how he deals with evil and sin, all the while pointing to Jesus Christ. It is okay to skip around the Bible to focus more deeply on particular sections, events, or truths, but if you do not understand the overall story and flow of the Bible, skipping around will leave you in the mist. In other words, without understanding where and why a part fits into the whole, your understanding of that smaller section will be limited and perhaps even wrong.

If you want to better understand the Bible, read or listen through the Bible at a quicker pace to get the big picture. Sound too daunting? Do you know that there are 1,084,170 words in the Harry Potter series and only 788,258 in the Bible? It is doable. And I recommend an easier and clearer way for just getting the big picture. Read or listen to the books of the Bible that focus on the overall narrative: Genesis—Esther, Luke, Acts, and Revelation). If you are a visual person, follow up with some timelines that highlight the major events in the big redemptive story of the Bible (search the web for “Bible Timeline” and you’ll have plenty to choose from). Then go back and make sure you do not skip any portions of God’s Word; they all speak of Christ, and they are all precious. No part of God’s Word is to be ignored (including the genealogies). This will help you better understand the Mosaic Law. This will help you understand the Prophets writing before and after the people go into exile. This will help you understand what the wisdom and poetical books are referring to. This will help you understand how the New Testament Epistles fit in the big story.

Understanding the big picture of the Bible is key to being able to better understand and enjoy God’s Word. There are two main ways to read the Bible: quicker and in larger swaths to get the overall story, and slower and in smaller pieces to dig deep into the truths. I encourage you to be in the habit of both; the first is crucial for understanding the second, and the second is necessary for better understanding the first.

If you have a hard time understanding the Bible, committing to these two, simple solutions will go a long way: (1) spend more time in God’s Word recognizing it for the treasure it is, and (2) make sure you understand the grand narrative of the Bible without neglecting any portion of Scripture.

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​26 Common Ways We Hinder our Growth in Sanctification

1 Sep

(1) Thinking some (little) sins don’t matter or aren’t a big deal. 

(2) Not watching out for and actively avoiding the temptations that might lead us to sin. 

(3) Whether out of pride or desire for acceptance, allowing the presence of our peers to lessen our vigilance against sin. 

(4) Allowing ourselves to dip a toe in sin so long as we don’t pass a certain self-defined line. 

(5) Thinking we don’t need to fight against certain sins because culture has redefined them as acceptable or even admirable. 

(6) Thinking sin matters little because we’ve been forgiven by God’s grace. 

(7) Easing our guilt and shame by passing the blame for our sin on another (e.g. My accountability partner didn’t call me, my elder didn’t check on me, my wife didn’t give me the attention I need, my coworker pushed me over the edge, my children were just exhausting today, etc.) 

(8) Not approaching Scripture with an eye to revealing our sin. 

(9) Forgetting to consider the sins in the Bible as opportunities of warning and instruction.

(10) Failing to pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal and root out unknown sins in our lives. 

(11) Rejecting the exhortations and rebukes of the Church. 

(12) Brushing off all criticisms by those who are not currently Christians. Their eyes are often keenly trained on the Church and can reveal our sins as well. 

(13) Not actively praying and desiring for an abhorrence of our sin. 

(14) Trying to win over sin by our own efforts and forgetting that it is the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ that frees us from the power and bandage of sin. 

(15) Forgetting that Christ yet interceeds for his people. 

(16) Not caring that we are to be making ready for our Beloved’s return. 

(17) Only focusing on putting off our old sinful self without remembering to actively be putting on the new self. 

(18) Not enjoying, living, desiring, relishing in our union with Christ. 

(19) Not faithfully engaging in the means of grace given us (Sacraments, Prayer, and the reading, preaching, teaching, meditating, and praying of the Scriptures) and wondering why we show no progress. 

(20) Withdrawing from the fellowship and corporate worship of the Body of Christ. 

(21) Thinking some sins are more powerful to condemn than Christ’s blood sacrifice is to save. 

(22) Forgetting how loving our heavenly Father is and that his discipline is an outworking of love. 

(23) Failing to realize that the Father desires for us to depend upon his mercy. 

(24) Letting shame, self-pity, guilt, or anger keep us from praying and reading the Word. 

(25) Not seeking help and prayer from a trustworthy brother or sister in Christ.

(26) Thinking that you will deal with the sin later. 

Jehovah’s Faithful Presence 

13 Jul

​”For the cloud of Yahweh was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night before the eyes of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:38 LEB) 

This remarkable statement closes out the book of Exodus by comforting God’s people with the reassurance that God is always present with his people in a special way. It emphasizes the unbreakable faithfulness of God to his covenant people, for he had previously promised to guide them into the promised land, to protect and lead them on their journey (Exo. 3:8,17; 13:11, 21-22, et al). The same God who rescued them from Egypt would see them all their way. Even when the people rebelled and were ungrateful, Jehovah provided them with all their needs. Moses too had said to Jehovah that it would be pointless for them to continue on their journey if Jehovah’s presence did not go with them (Exo. 33:14-16), which illustrates mans need to perpetually rely on God. 

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever; he never changes (Num. 23:19; I Sam. 15:29; Psa. 55:19; Jam. 1:17). He reassures his people that those he rescues from sin, he also guides them with his continual special presence until they enter Glory (see also Rom. 8:28-30)…as he promised.

Thanks be to God. 

Don’t Skip the Genealogies

18 Apr

genealogy graphicScripture is replete with various genealogies but many approach them with either indifference or with a negative mindset or emotions. There are various ways in which this plays out, for instance, people often see the lists, the begets, and the names and (1) skip past them altogether in order to get to the good stuff, (2) skim them out of a recognition for their inclusion in the Bible but give little actual attention to them, or (3) to be able to say they’ve actually read every word of the Bible.  I have fallen into all three at one time or another. But I would like to advocate for a fourth option—(4) recognize that these genealogies are no less inspired than any other passage, quote, or story in the Bible, that they play a purposeful and significant role in Scripture, that God has sovereignly determined their place and providentially kept them in the corpus of his Holy Word.

How then is that to change our interactions with the Word? First, choose not to skip past them, but to give them the time they deserve. This will likely require more time spent on these sections than you are used to, but it is worth it. Secondly, deliberately tackle these sections when you get to them. If you have difficultly seeing a genealogies purpose, check out some commentaries, think about the importance of the family or person that is the focus of the genealogy, read the text surrounding the genealogy for information to why it exists and why it is placed at that point in Scripture, try mapping the genealogy out on paper as a visual aid, and don’t hesitate to ask a trusted Christian who spends a lot of time in the Word for help.

Let’s look briefly at one genealogy from Exodus 6:14-25:

  1. Israel
    1. Reuben
      1. Hanoch
      2. Pallu
      3. Hezron
      4. Carmi
    2. Simeon
      1. Jemuel
      2. Jamin
      3. Ohab
      4. Jachin
      5. Zohar
      6. Shaul
    3. Levi
      1. Gershom
        1. Libni
        2. Shimei
      2. Kohath
        1. Amram
          1. Aaron
            1. Nadab
            2. Abihu
            3. Eleazar
              1. Phinehas
            4. Ithama
          2. MOSES
        2. Izhar
          1. Korah
            1. Assir
            2. Elkanah
            3. Abiasaph
          2. Nepheg
          3. Zichri
        3. Hebron
        4. Uzziel
          1. Mishael
          2. Elzaphan
          3. Sithri
      3. Merari
        1. Mahli
        2. Mushi

Moses, the author according to orthodox teaching, recounts family lines of Israel. He begins with the sons of Reuben, then the Sons of Simeon, then of Levi, but then we see a change; he goes further into each of Levi’s sons. Why? The point is to show the historicity and family line of Moses and Aaron (v26–27), to give credit to the overall progression of God’s dealing with men (particularly his people), to show God’s faithfulness to his covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (and all those called by his name), to show Moses’ and Aaron’s familial tie to the people who are in bondage in Egypt, to show that they too are mere men being used by the almighty God, and to show us that the God we serve is the same faithful, saving, powerful, wrathful, gracious God. A few more interesting things can be noted:

Aaron’s family is taken the furthest in the genealogy. This may cause the reader to think he was given the prime focus, but this is not so—read on. He is second in focus (v26-27); his sons will carry out the priestly line; Nadab and Abihu will be judged for the liberties they take with worship; Phinehas will have great zeal for the Lord and by doing so, save lives (Num. 25).

No other sons of Israel/Jacob are included after Levi. Why? because it is focuses on Moses and Aaron who come from the 3rd eldest son of Israel.

Korah’s line is expanded one more generation unlike all but Aaron’s. Why? Was there a lot of barren women? No, more likely because Korah’s family played a prominent role to come; for instance, they rose up against Moses and Aaron in opposition to God’s design of the Aaronic priesthood (Numbers 16), and the sons of Korah wrote a good portion of the Psalms.

Moses’s line is not expanded even though we know he had sons (Exo. 4:20, 25); this is deliberate. Why? And here we see that the focus of this genealogy is Moses. We know based upon v26–27 that it is about Aaron and Moses; we know Moses’ family does extend; we know that Moses was the main mediator and servant God used at this time; we know that Moses is one of the major shadow’s of Christ Jesus who was to come (as a prophet, priest, king, servant, saviour, etc).

As you can see, there is much that can be learned from genealogies in Scripture. I hope you will have a desire to give them the time they deserve, since they are no less inspired or authoritative or sufficient for the Christians’s life.

What else do you see?

(graphic source: genealogylaois.com)

 

Christ Descended to Hell

18 Mar

Simply speaking, the grave is the abode of the dead; hell, the abode of the forsaken. Yet, in the Bible as well as in our own vernacular, the grave can be used not only to speak of the location of a dead body but the state or experience of death. The same can be said of hell, referring to the location and/or the state or experience. When the Apostle’s Creed states that Christ “descended to hell”, properly understood, it refers to the latter.

Christ’s descent to hell is not an entrance into the physical realm of hell, as some have misunderstood, for Christ said to the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke xxiii.43), and to the Father, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke xxiii.46). Some have taken 1 Peter iii out of context and used it to support the notion that Christ actually went to the abode of hell to preach the gospel, or to a third neutral place—a false, Jewish notion of Abraham’s Bosom (Luke xvi.22). These ideas misunderstand Peter’s reference to the world of Noah where Christ warned the people through his prophet.  It also creates inconsistency in the Bible’s witness concerning the finality of one’s post-mortem state, a separate dealing with Old Testament saints in the afterlife, and a weaker view of serendipity in glory for the faithful who sleep in Christ. Christ’s descent to hell, while not a physical journey, is no less literal, but we must understand it according to the truth of Scripture.

Christ did not merely experience the horrors of a torturous, corporeal death by crucifixion. No, he had to experience the hell of God’s terrible wrath against sin by taking upon himself the chastisement due us. What is the punishment for sin but the Divine forsaking of the sinner under the weight of God’s mighty, just arm. Christ experienced this very thing for his people.

Infinitely more terrible than his physical death was his spiritual suffering. Only the God-Man could bear such weight in a limited time that comparatively would mean everlasting punishment for man. We cannot fully grasp this notion, but rest assured, if everlasting hell is unbearable for man, how much more was it for the Son of Man who took it all at once for countless sinners. I issue a sincere challenge to each of us: to meditate upon the unimaginable sufferings Christ underwent for the salvation of everyone who places their hope in him. If hell is being forsaken by God, remember Christ’s words as he hung there on the cross, crying out in physical and spiritual anguish, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me!?”

14 Thoughts on Doctrine: It’s Important to Evaluate What We Believe

17 Mar

1) Any doctrine found not to have a biblical basis should be rejected.

2) Any doctrine that takes a hair’s breadth of glory away from God should be rejected (1 Pet. iv.11; Psa. lxxxvi.12; Rev. iv.11).

3) Any doctrine that places its trust in man instead of God should be rejected (Psa. xl.4, cxviii.8, cxlvi.3).

4) Any doctrine compromising the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be rejected (Gal. i.8-9; 1 Cor. xvi.22).

5) Any doctrine claiming to be newly discovered ought to be highly suspect.

6) Any doctrine derived from culture’s view of the Bible instead of the Bible’s view of culture is likely false (Jer. xvii.9; Isa. xxxv.5; 1 Cor. i.18; 2 Tim. iv.3; Gal. v.16-17).

7) Any doctrine derived by using the less clear passage to interpret the more clear should be suspect.

8) Any doctrine pitting the Old Testament against the New is false (Luke xxiv.44).

9) Any doctrine derived from Scripture used out of context should be judged.

10) Any doctrines that truly contradict one another is evidence of error (Heb. vi.18).

11) Any doctrine not held with conviction ought not to be preached (Acts xxviii.31).

12) Good doctrine ought not to be neglected but guarded (1 Tim. iv.13-16).

13) Doctrine should no less affect our hearts and hands as it does our minds.

14) Do not be surprised nor dismayed when the world rejects sound doctrine (2 Tim. iv.3).

A Beautiful, Honest Prayer

1 Feb
And Jacob said, “Oh God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, O Jehovah, who saidst unto me, ‘Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will do thee good:’ I am not worthy of the least of all the lovingkindnesses, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant; (Gen. xxxii.9-10a).
I love this honest, heartfelt prayer that Jacob prays in the presence of his fear.
(1) He cries out to God
(2) He recognizes that this is the same, one, true God of his father and grandfather. The same God who covenanted with them and with Jacob. He is a faithful God. It shows that it is the responsibility of the heads of the household to share about that faith with their families. He even uses the covenant name of God–Jehovah.
(3) He acknowledges God’s commands and promises. Praying Scripture back to God is not only pleasing to God, but comforting for the person of faith.
(4) He acknowledges his humble state before a mighty God: “I am not worthy…”
(5) He notes that God’s lovingkindnesses are unmerited and only given by his unfathomable grace and mercy.
(6) He acknowledges that God making himself and his plans known is also a gracious and merciful act. This one particularly made an impression on me as I read this prayer. We must not forget that God’s grace extends further than his forgiveness and his patient endurance with us. God did not have to make himself known to us. He would be no less real or powerful by keeping to himself, yet he has been intimate with us. He allows us to have a close, personal relationship with him. He does this most beautifully and wonderfully in his son Jesus (God with us) through the Holy Spirit. Jacob rightly acknowledges that we are not worthy of knowing God, not worthy of knowing his will…and yet, God lovingly reveal himself: “which THOU hast shown unto thy servant.” We have the most complete knowledge of him in his revealing of himself in his Word–the Scriptures of the Bible. Let us never take for granted that he has made himself known to us in his Word. Let us always be clinging, searching, submitting, and enjoying Scripture, for by it we know the heart and mind of the God of all things visible and invisible.