Monday, August 30, 2010

A Biblical Foundation Part 3: Scripture is Powerful

Hebrews 4:12

In this verse there are two action verbs, in the present tense, which means they are this continuously, as regarding the Word of God. The first verb talks of what the Word is and the second speaks of what the Word does.

The first verb is living – the Word has the life and power of God in it. The Word of God brings the convicting power of the Lord. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Two other words give us a description of this living.

Active – full of energy, powerful. It is effective (Isaiah 55:9-11). Its effectiveness may not be immediately evident to us, but as we mature we will understand it is always so, we will see it being effective in changing lives and also in hardening hearts. It will be a surgeon or an executioner, as we see while progressing through Hebrews 4:11-16. It will perform surgery and bring new life, or it will be the death sentence to the rebel. The Word of God either heals or it hardens, and it never fails to do its intended work.

Sharper – comparative, not just sharp but sharper. In other words, it is not only effective it is precise. It not only gets the job done, it gets it done exactly right. It goes as deep as it needs to, it hits the root. This is what the word of God is; it is living, and therefore effective and precise, and that is why it is able to discern all things.

The second verb is piercing – to penetrate – two applications are given to describe it.

• The first is division – to separate – soul and spirit (spiritual matters), joints and marrow (physical matters). In other words, as written at the time these things would be impossibly hard to divide but that is how penetrating God’s Word is, it can and will find out the problem right at the root, no matter how deep it is buried, no matter how many layers it has to separate. Like soul and spirit, the immaterial parts of man, things we cannot get a hold of, God’s Word can. Back when this was written, bone marrow transplants weren’t available back then. But God’s Word penetrated as deep as that. The point is that the Word of God lays bare our problem; it exposes it for what it is. It gets to the bottom of it.

• The second is discerning – judging – not condemning but ascertaining what is really going on. It is able to see what needs to be done. It gives a critique. The Word gets to the bottom of things and passes judgment on what it finds. A prosecutor presents the facts of the case, but the judge determines what is right and wrong; the Word of God does both. Thoughts and intents, both the feelings of desire and the imaginations of the mind. As we faithfully use the Scriptures we will be trained to discern the wrong ways of thinking that have become fortresses for sin in our lives so that our minds can be renewed and our lives transformed. This is the surgical power of God’s Word. This is what the Word of God does. We cannot take it for granted. The Word of God identifies the sickness and because it is alive it can give new life. It can change the heart.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Biblical Foundation Part 2: Scripture is Clear

2 Peter 3:15-18

Scripture is Clear – perspicuity of scripture – clear & understandable.

What it does NOT mean

1. All scripture is equally clear and easily understood as to its precise meaning
2. Interpretation, explanation, and exposition by a Bible teacher are never necessary
3. Believers will agree universally on every point

What it DOES mean

1. Scripture is clear enough for the simplest person to live by, yet deep enough for the most intellectual and diligent readers
2. Obscurity is the fault of our finite and sinful minds, not a problem with the Bible
3. Interpreters must use ordinary means

We cannot ask the Holy Spirit to replace our intellectual engagement with the text. We need to learn it and believe it (cf. Philippians 3:15-16 / John 7:17). Whenever we depart from the plain and simple meaning of Scripture, interpreted using normal means, we are headed for trouble.

When looking at texts, we can understand them to apply to Christians universally, such as Matthew 28:19-20 (go therefore and teach all nations), or to someone or something specifically, such as Matthew 10:5-6 (do not go to anyone but the Jews, a command for the disciples only and for that particular time period only, overruled by the Great Commission), or principally, such as Philippians 2:3-4 (Paul was speaking to a particular church but the principle of Christlike behavior applies to us) or not at all, as with 2 Timothy 4:13 (Paul tells Timothy to bring his papers, which we are obviously not to do). Texts meant specifically may also apply principally, so sometimes texts that aren’t teaching on a particular subject may still give us a principle to follow and apply to other matters.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Biblical Foundation Part 1: Scripture is Sufficient

2 Timothy 3:14-17

Paul told Timothy about the difficult days that he will face (3:1-9). Timothy will not have Paul personally present to lead and guide him (4:6-9). So what would Timothy have to guide him? Timothy would have the teaching Paul gave him, and the life which underscored that teaching (3:10-13). Timothy would have the grounding in Scripture that his believing grandmother and mother had given him from infancy (3:14-15). And that, Paul insists, would be sufficient to make him wise. He needed to lead the church and find others who would follow his lead and teach others (2 Timothy 1:13; 2:2. 7, 15; 4:1-2).

Then, in vs.16-17 Paul speaks of all Scripture. Now some might say that in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul was referring only to the OT, but that isn’t true, because most of the scriptures were already complete. Peter brings the OT and NT together by saying that words of the Apostles were also authoritative (2 Peter 3:2), specifically referring to Paul’s writings as scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul uses the term he used earlier in 1 Timothy 5:18, where he quotes Luke 10:7 (Deuteronomy 25:4), so the gospels are included. Timothy would have had access to these writings (2 Timothy 4:13). Paul is saying that the Word of God, including the Old Testament retrospectively and the New Testament prospectively, including his own writing (1 Thessalonians 2:13) represents the very words of God, and thus tells us everything we need to understand in order to know and serve God (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-4).

All scripture is God breathed so even the narrative portion are for our use (cf. Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:1-5), although the way we are to use them depends on certain factors. For example, what about those seemingly endless genealogies in the OT books, what are they there for? To the Hebrews, their history and the names of their ancestors represented the salvation of God in their midst. The remembrance and rehearsal of their collective story was a constant reminder of God's promise to Abraham. To remember their past, in an important sense, was to realize that God was in their present, and was part of their future.

Coming out of the Babylonian exile, the reading of these names and the rehearsal of the national history marked the truth that God was still faithful to the covenant made with Abraham. This same emphasis is clear in the NT usages of genealogies. To continue to rehearse the history, and to show Christ as the culmination of it, was to argue that not only was God continuing to fulfill the divine promise made to Abraham, but moreover that God's promise was completed in the person and work of Christ.

So we can see that those lists are very important, but we don’t need to try and derive some deeper meaning from them. What the Bible doesn’t teach, and teaches against, is looking for esoteric things and clues like Bible codes. These are not mysteries to unlock they are mysteries that are now revealed. We do not need some other book as the “key” to provide a spiritualized meaning to an already clear text. God gave us scripture to reveal Himself, His works, and His plan and we are not supposed to go wandering off into myths and looking for secret knowledge (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3-4, 4:7, 6:3-5, 11, 20 / 2 Timothy 2:16,23, 3:5, 7-8 / Titus 1:14, 3:9).

Here is the point: in essence, spiritually speaking, if the apostles didn’t teach it you don’t need it, and you definitely don’t want it (1 Corinthians 4:6 / Galatians 1:8-9 / 1 John 4:5-6). Since Paul says that Scripture thoroughly equips we can unequivocally conclude that another revelation can only be inferior.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Monday, August 09, 2010

Focus on Jesus, not on Peter

He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.
(Matthew 14:29 – ESV)

You will hear some say, “If your faith is focused on Jesus then you too can walk on water”. However, the focus of the passage from Matthew 14:22-33 is on the fact that Jesus can and did walk on water, showing that He is Lord over creation. By God’s power we can do great things, but to take this passage and make it about us is to miss the point. People say focus on Jesus not on the storm, but I also say focus on Jesus not on Peter. Do not focus on what Peter could have done, or what you think we can do, focus on Jesus and what He is doing and has done. That is the focus of this passage, not on our faith giving us water walking ability but our faith in a water walking God. It is not that Jesus gives us the power to save ourselves; it is that Jesus is the power to save us, and He does save us. That is the essence of the gospel message.

This was the second time Jesus calmed a storm before the disciples (Matthew 8:23-27). This event was immediately after feeding the 5000, but now it was the 4th watch, between 3-6 am: it was stormy, they were tired and they thought they saw a ghost!

He walked on water to show that He was Lord over creation and the Divine Messiah. Moses parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14) – Jesus can just walk across it. Joshua parted the Jordan (Joshua 3:14-17). Elijah parted the Jordan (2 Kings 2:8). Elisha also parted the Jordan (2 Kings 2:13-14). This miracle shows us that Jesus is greater than Moses, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha.

Jesus walking on the water was a testimony to His divinity (Job 9:8). The Egyptian hieroglyphic for impossibility is a man walking on waves. God alone can do this. Peter tried and could not (vs.28-30). This was a testimony to Jesus being Lord over creation, not a testimony to our water walking power of faith. The disciples worshiped Jesus in response (vs.32-33).

There was a further miracle. John 6:19-21 – although they had gone about 3½ miles, once Jesus came into the ship it immediately arrived at the land. Only God has this sort of power.

Jesus isn’t calling us to walk on the water; He is calling us to Himself. Our faith must be in Him. Sometimes we can seem to do the impossible, but even when we fail, He did not, has not, will not fail. Our faith, our trust must finally be in Him alone, for only He cannot fail. I’m not trying to be down on you or down on me, I’m trying to be up on Jesus!

I’m not saying don’t attempt great things, I’m saying DO attempt great things, but even if we fail to walk on water, Jesus won’t. Yes, use what God has given you, yes, develop whatever skills you can and use them for the glory of God. Enjoy the good graces that have been bestowed upon you, but the bottom line is you must trust Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, and trust your life and death and eternity to Him. Walking on water is not our role, it is not some matter of stirring up our faith so that we can, it is about calling on Jesus who did and who can.

Peter asked twice. We say, “God help me to rise above my stormy circumstances”, but then sometimes we need to cry out “Lord, save me from the storm, I can’t do it”. Peter cried out, and the Lord saved him. It is not the strength of our faith, but the power of God that saves us.

You don’t have to walk on water, you just walk by faith, and if you do, the waves may get high and the wind might get strong but you will never sink without being able to call on Christ, who will never leave us nor forsake us. We walk by faith, not by sight, and we walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh. This is a spiritual thing; even if physical things turn stormy Jesus is still with us and will deliver us, perhaps not out of the immediate storm, but out of the storms of doubt as to who He really is and what He can really do. Most importantly what He has already done and will do for us if we will believe Him and be saved. Don’t focus on Peter, and don’t focus on yourself, focus on Jesus. He can do the impossible.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Three Holy Habits

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – ESV)

God’s Word is His will and His will is the believer’s way. Sometimes as Christians we are guilty of using the Bible as a tool in order to make God a tool to do our will, but God wants the Bible to make us a tool to do His will. God’s will isn’t about getting there faster and avoiding all disaster. Think about John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and our Lord Jesus, and think about what it means to be in God’s will because they were definitely doing it. Sometimes we want some specific directional things when we aren’t even facing in the right direction in the first place.

This passage of scripture points us in the right direction. If we will do these three things that the text instructs us to do, and be concerned with developing them as holy habits in our lives, then we will be doing God’s will and be walking God’s way. Then as we move on, the path will become clearer, and we won’t have to be worried about asking for directions, we will be headed to the right place already.

Now Paul gives us instruction about God’s will also in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6, and so do the other books of the NT, and so on and so forth. Yet this text is especially important to the subject because it is the framework of how we should be focused when seeking, doing, and living in God’s will. This passage grounds and guides us to be doing His will on our way.

God cares about our future, He does help us make decisions, He does direct our lives, and He does give us wisdom. He does want us to pray about it. There is no doubt God sometimes guides us in such a strong way that we have no doubt about the direction we should go, but we shouldn’t always seek that, or wait for it, even with the biggest decisions we face. We can be frozen in fear, or superstition, and yet think we are being spiritual. God does not want us burdened about discovering some hidden pathway when He has already made the main path crystal clear. When we are looking for His will of direction it is found along the path of following His will of desire.

This text is one sentence; these three things are all bound together as the framework for doing God’s will. In other words, when we are in the process of seeking, doing, and living in God’s will, if we do these three things our ambition will be directed towards God. When we are living out the will of God wherever the path takes us, we will be on the right path.

Rejoice always – Philippians 4:4 (in the Lord, and our justification) / James 1:2-4 (in our fashioning, our sanctification) / 1 Peter 1:3-9 (in our future, our glorification)

Pray without ceasing – Luke 18:1 / 2 Corinthians 1:11 – a prayerful attitude, atmosphere, a willing sense of God’s presence, everywhere is a sanctuary

Give thanks in all circumstances – Ephesians 5:20 – “always” means timing – “everything” means events – in all circumstances not for all circumstances – in everything God is there.

When we are in the process of seeking, doing, and living in God’s will, we do it this way: we keep a joyful disposition, maintain a constant prayer life and cultivate a thankful attitude. When we will be developing these three holy habits, God will fashion us as a tool, as the instrument of His will. Be a tool in God’s hands and He will make sure you do His will.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©