Basic Training, Bible, Bible Study

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: The Bible is Necessary

Originally published March 17, 2017

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:1-4

I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily food.
Job 23:12

More to be desired are [the words of God] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Psalm 19:10

I have a question for you. Try to answer it within three seconds.

Where’s your Bible? (Not the one on your phone or computer- your real Bible.)

Were you able to answer in three seconds because you read it today and remember where you left it when you were finished? Because it stays on your night stand and rarely gets opened? Did it take longer than three seconds because you frequently carry it around with you and can’t remember where you most recently left it?

The point of the question isn’t really where your Bible is in geographical relationship to you, but where you are in relationship to your Bible.

David said God’s word was more valuable to him than gold, even much fine gold.

Job said he treasured God’s word more than his daily food.

Jesus hadn’t eaten a bite in over a month, and He still valued every word that comes from the mouth of God over bread.

If someone put a stack of fine gold in front of you and said you could have it as long as you hardly ever read your Bible, would you take it?

What if you had gone without food for forty days and someone offered you a loaf of bread in exchange for your agreement to put your Bible away and open it only rarely? Could you withstand the temptation?

I’d like to believe I would choose God’s word over a stack of gold or even life-sustaining food. But when I think about all the lesser things I sometimes choose to do instead of setting aside time to study God’s word…

…television
…social media
…reading
…sleeping
…hobbies

…well, I can’t help but wonder:

Do I really value God’s word as deeply as He wants me to?

We need God’s word. It is more necessary to us, spiritually, than food is to us, physically. Yet many Christians unintentionally starve themselves spiritually, thinking a “meal” or two of Scripture at church every week (if they actually attend every week, that is) is enough to sustain them. It’s not. We need to feast on God’s written Word every single day.

We need to know who God is

Saved people are in a one-on-one, personal relationship with God. But how can you have a relationship with someone you don’t really know? How can you love Him, please Him, or enjoy spending time with Him if you know nothing about Him? His character, His attributes, His likes and dislikes, the way He operates – these are all integral to knowing this God who created and saved us. And in His infinite love, God has chosen to reveal all these things about Himself in a book we call the Bible.

We need to know who we are

Just as an employee can’t rightly relate to her employer if she doesn’t understand her role, her place, and her responsibilities, we can’t rightly relate to God unless we understand both who He is and who we are in relationship to Him. We need to understand that He is God and we are not. That He is perfect in holiness and righteousness and we are depraved from the womb. That we are sinners in need of a Savior, created for the purpose of bringing glory to God, servants of the most high King. The only place to learn all of this, and more, about who we are, and where we stand with God, is in the pages of His word.

We need to know what God wants from us

What does God want me to do with my money? How can I be a godly wife if my husband is unsaved? Does God think it’s important for me to go to church? Is it always a sin to lie? Is it wrong to watch pornography? In addition to being a revelation of the nature and character of God, the Bible is also an intensely practical book, instructing Christians on issues of every day life and helping us to understand how God wants us to think, act, and speak. God knows we have questions and in His kindness and mercy has provided all the answers we need in Scripture.

We need to hear from God

While the idea and practice of “hearing God’s voice” is unbiblical, the desire to commune with God- to visit with Him as a loved one – is not. We only have to look back to the Garden of Eden to see that God’s perfect design was for people to fellowship with Him. Because of the Fall, we can’t do that face to face this side of Heaven. For now, we talk to God through prayer and worship. He talks to us through His written Word. Constant communion with God deepens our love for Him and increases our Christlikeness.

More than daily food. More than gold. More than any earthly pleasure, wisdom, or experience, we need God’s word. And we need it every day, all the days of our lives.

Apologetics, Bible

Without Apology: 7 Reasons Not to Be Ashamed of the Hard Parts of the Gospel

Originally published November 4, 2016

7-not-ashamed

I am not ashamed of the gospel…

Romans 1:16 is such a great verse, isn’t it? And one of the things that’s great about it is that we can all agree on it. I mean, no self-respecting Christian would dream of saying she’s ashamed of the gospel, would she? It’s a rallying cry for evangelism and for standing against persecution. Of course we’re not ashamed.

In theory. But in practice?

You see, the gospel is the good news of salvation. And, while we don’t tend to share the entire Bible when we share the gospel with someone, the good news starts in Genesis with a holy God who created a perfect world, and moves on to the first people who messed everything up with their sin, a whole bunch of subsequent people who couldn’t be faithful to God and keep His Law, Christ and His redemption of sinners, and the Revelation of the hope of His return at the end of time. So, “the gospel” really stretches from the front cover of your Bible to the back cover.

Are there any parts of it you shy away from in evangelism, discipleship, or teaching?

What about the atheist you’re witnessing to who denigrates your God for committing genocide in the Old Testament?

Were you afraid to speak up the last time you were the only Creationist in a room full of evolutionists?

Have you ever seen some poor pastor or male teacher tiptoe his way through the minefield of a passage on marital submission or the biblical role of women in ministry lest the wrath of church ladies befall him?

Are you reluctant to be known as someone who believes and will unequivocally say that homosexuality and other deviant sexual behavior is a sin?

Hey, we’ve all been there and failed. These are tough passages for sinners to hear, after all! When they come up, we should certainly approach them wisely and lovingly with people, but we should take care never to wish these things (and others) weren’t in Scripture, feel embarrassed about them, apologize for them, or act as though we have to make excuses for God about them. We need to be just as willing, bold, kind, and comfortable saying, “The world did not evolve, God created it,” and “You must repent of homosexuality along with all your other sin,” as we are saying, “God is love.” Why?

1. The Bible is God’s word.

Scripture is the very words of the God of the universe. It’s not a storybook or a policy and procedure manual dreamed up by men. Scripture is God speaking to us. To be ashamed of any part of His word is to be ashamed of Him, what He has done, and who He is. We dare not.

2. The Bible glorifies God.

The mere existence of Scripture brings honor and glory to God. No other god has spoken personally, so magnificently, and in a living and active book, to his people. The Bible brings glory to God when His people believe and obey it. We exemplify His goodness and holiness to a watching world. And even when the Bible isn’t believed and obeyed, God is glorified by showing us in His word that His way is right and perfect and man’s way is not.

3. The Bible is perfect.

God didn’t leave anything out of the Bible or put anything extra in that shouldn’t be there. The Bible is perfect just the way it is. God doesn’t need us to help Him out by editing it. If He wanted it to say something different, it already would.

4. The Bible is right.

When God’s word says something is a sin, it is right. When God’s word tells us He, in His holiness, did something we think is unfair or distasteful, it is right. When God’s word requires us to do something, it is right. When someone balks at what the Bible says, it’s not the Bible that’s wrong. It’s that person’s sinful flesh that thinks it knows better than God what is good, appropriate, loving and fair. If a person comes up against the Bible, the Bible does not bend. That person bends. The knee. To God. If you are standing on the rightly divided word of God, you can be confident that you are in the right because the Bible is right. There’s no need for reticence.

5. The Bible is a blessing.

If you’ve ever studied the history of how you got the Bible sitting on your coffee table, you know just how amazing it is that you own one. Thousands of years, scores of writers, so many people who were martyred for penning it, protecting it, and translating it. How could we be ashamed of such a precious gift from God Himself?

6. The Bible is good for us.

God put those tough passages in the Bible because they’re good for you. And they’re good for the person who’s foaming at the mouth over the one you’re trying to explain to her, right now, too, she just doesn’t know it yet. God is a kind and loving Father who always does what is best for us. Those difficult passages would not be in the Bible if God didn’t want them there to benefit us in some way.

7. The Bible is useful.

 I can’t say it better than Scripture itself does:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

God uses every verse of Scripture – even the hard ones – to save us, grow us, conform us to His will, equip us, and reveal Himself to us. Why would we deny those saving, growing words to people who desperately need to hear them by shying away from them just because they’re difficult to say or unpleasant to hear?

Steve Lawson once said, “The Bible is not hard to understand. It is just hard to swallow.” And he’s so right. It’s not difficult to understand the concept that wives should submit to their husbands or that the God who sovereignly gave people life has every right to take it away. What’s difficult for us is to humble ourselves and cede control to Someone else. We think we know best. We want to run things and make the rules. We don’t want to submit to God’s authority.

In the end, there really aren’t any tough passages. There are only passages that come up against tough hearts. Tough hearts that need to be broken by the gospel, that they might repent of their sin and be forgiven by a great and merciful God.

And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

ps-19-7-9

Bible, Bible Study

A Weeping Profit

For years now, I have urged women to read through the Bible using the chronological plan. It’s especially helpful for getting all the historical events of Old Testament history in order so you can understand what precipitated what’s happening in whichever book you’re currently reading.

But there’s another reason it’s helpful. A reason that’s difficult to put into the right words, but one I think is equally important as understanding the historical order of events.

I’ve read through the Bible a few times using the chronological plan, and I started it again this past January. It started out OK, like it always does. You’ve got Creation. You’ve got a bunch of godly patriarchs: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses. You’ve got God rescuing His people from Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land. And, of course, along the way, you’ve got instances of some pretty heinous sins committed by individuals. But the overall, visceral sense you get is that God is advancing His plan through godly people. He’s working to establish His people in their land and prosper them.

Then, along about the time Solomon’s wives turn his heart away from God and entice him into idolatry, you start getting this sense of foreboding. Things are changing. Something is about to happen and it isn’t going to be good. And that’s exactly what comes to pass. You get slammed with a bunch of evil kings. Oh sure, there’s the occasional bright spot of an Asa, a Hezekiah, a Josiah. But the bad kings keep coming more and more frequently, each one more and more depraved. And God’s people, led by these evil kings, plunge headlong into sin and idolatry that’s worse than that of the pagan nations God had them drive out when they entered the Promised Land.

You sit in the midst of the filth and rebellion of God’s people for months – knowing that, for them, it was actually centuries – feeling your skin crawl at the evil you’re reading about. You hear God cry out to Israel through the prophets, to turn around and come back to Him. You see Him pour out a little bit of His wrath on His people here and there. Just a taste of what’s to come if they don’t repent and return. You sit there, helpless and frustrated, knowing what’s going to happen to these people, aching for them to just stop it! Stop sinning. Humble yourselves. Rend your hearts and not your garments

But they don’t. No matter how many times you read the Old Testament hoping and pleading with Israel to change her ways so that there will be a happy ending, it never works out that way. God’s people continue to forge ahead, inventing new ways of doing evil. Whoring after idols of stick and stone. Abandoning the God who saved them and carried them.

By August (in the chronological reading plan) I’d been watching these people sink lower and lower into degradation and debauchery for the better part of a year. But then I started reading Jeremiah, and I realized another reason he’s often called “the weeping prophet”. Yes, he was probably lonely since God didn’t allow him to marry and have a family for support. Yes, he was grieved that his people wouldn’t turn back from their sin. But after reading the first three chapters of his book, I had to think Jeremiah had yet another reason for weeping. 

The words God put in Jeremiah’s mouth are the words of the broken heart of God:

I remember when you loved Me and were loyal to Me; how we enjoyed sweet fellowship. You trusted Me and I protected you. You followed me and I provided for you. You lifted up my Name, and I lifted up yours in the eyes of the nations.

You’ve never been able to say that I wronged you. I have never let you down. I have never failed you.

And despite all of My love and care for you, you have cast Me aside. You have chosen the sewer over your Savior. Evil over the Eternal One. Hell over Heaven.

I have called you back to Myself time and time again, but you keep running away from Me. Even now, if you will repent and come back to Me, despite everything you have done, I will forgive you. You can enjoy that sweet fellowship with Me once again. I want to tenderly care for you and give you every good thing.

I love you. Come home.

How could Jeremiah – how could we – not weep over the things that break the heart of our good and loving God? How can we not grieve over the things that grieve Him?

And that brings me back to why the chronological reading plan is so helpful. 

You need to not only understand the cold, hard historical facts that led up to this moment, you need to feel in your spirit, know in your heart the weight of sin, the blackness of evil, the depth of God’s love, compassion, patience, and righteousness. And you don’t get that by randomly parachuting into OT books. You have to walk with these people – live with them – and watch what they do over time. You have to sit next to God through His words and see with His eyes, understand how He feels about His people, and stand with Him as He acts in holiness and justice.

“Just the facts, ma’am,” is not enough when it comes to Scripture. We must live it, put it on and wear it, immerse ourselves in it, if we truly want to feast on God’s Word and know God’s heart.


I used the word “profit” intentionally in the title of this article as a play on words. Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet” and I believe it will “profit” us to study our Old Testament as I’ve outlined in the article.
Bible, Old Testament

Throwback Thursday ~ 6 Reasons You Need to Stay Hitched to the Old Testament

Originally published May 18, 2018

Oops, he did it again. Only it wasn’t an “oops”, it was quite intentional.

In a recent sermon, Andy Stanley declared that the modern church needs to “unhitch” the gospel from the Old Testament. He attempted to draw a parallel between James’ pronouncement in Acts 15 that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism prior to becoming Christians with the difficulty some non-Christians today have with some of the gory, hard to understand, or otherwise distasteful (to them) passages of the Old Testament (for example: God’s various commands to Israel to utterly destroy all people in certain nations). The apostles cut out the requirement for circumcision to make things easier for Gentiles who wanted to come to Christ, he reasons, so the 21st century church should basically divorce itself from the Old Testament to make it easier for lost people who have a problem with certain Old Testament passages to come to Christ.

There’s only about a million problems with this line of thinking, and, honestly, the more I investigate what Stanley said and his subsequent explanations of why he said it and what he meant, the angrier it makes me. That a man with a master’s degree from a decent seminary, who’s a pastor of several churches, a best-selling “Christian” author, and a leadership and church growth guru to thousands of pastors across the globe should say, or even believe, such things is reprehensible. If he were generally doctrinally sound and this was the first “iffy” thing he had ever said, I’d be inclined to extend grace and give him the benefit of the doubt. But this is somebody with every theological advantage who should know better, yet still has been on a trajectory of attempting to deconstruct the New Testament church for quite some time now. (For more on Andy Stanley’s aberrant theology, click the “Popular False Teachers” tab at the top of this page.)

So, for the sake of my own blood pressure, I’m just going to throw out a few of the most embarrassingly obvious errors here, and let better people than I handle the blow-by-blow.

1. Andy Stanley is not an apostle personally commissioned by Christ to set up the New Testament church. James and those other guys mentioned in Acts? They were. Andy doesn’t have the authority to change New Testament ecclesiology, which is permanently and inextricably hitched to the Old Testament.

2. Acts is generally a descriptive book, not a prescriptive one. While there are certain principles we can learn from Acts and follow, it’s a history of the establishment of the first century church, not a step by step list of instructions to implement in today’s church. If there were a church today that was insisting Gentiles become Jews before they could become Christians, Acts 15 would be applicable. But I don’t know of any churches like that, do you?

3. The two church scenarios Andy is trying to make analogous aren’t. No church I know of requires unbelievers to understand, agree with, or even have read whatever Old Testament passages Andy thinks are problematic prior to becoming a Christian.

Furthermore, how many lost people are actually out there saying, “I recognize I’m a sinner in need of a Savior. I want to repent of my sin and place my faith in Christ for salvation, but I just can’t, because of 1 Samuel 15:2-3.”? People who bring up Old Testament passages like that when confronted with the gospel are presenting excuses for rejecting the gospel, not looking for ways to embrace it.

4. Shoving difficult passages of Scripture into the broom closet is not how God has instructed the church to handle His holy Word. We’re to be “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15b) We don’t get rid of challenging passages, we dive into them, study them, and explain them to others.

The Old Testament is absolutely essential to New Testament Christianity, and a rich blessing to the church, individual Christians, and lost people, besides. Here are six reasons you and your church should stay hitched to the Old Testament.

1.
God says so

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

That should be the end of any discussion of ditching any part of Scripture for any reason. God could not have been clearer. “All Scripture” means all Scripture, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. And every single verse of Scripture is profitable. Even the genealogies. Even the inventories. Even the Levitical law. There is stuff in every single verse of the Bible that is useful and beneficial to us. God says so (and He says so in the New Testament, by the way).

2.
You need the Old Testament
to understand the New Testament

Can you come to a saving knowledge of Christ by reading only the New Testament? Yes. But it’s kind of like saying, “I know American history,” when you’ve only studied the years 1900 to the present. The New Testament was birthed out of the Old Testament. The gospel is the culmination of Old Testament doctrine. Jesus Himself is the ultimate fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy and covenant.

And then there are all the New Testament details that need explaining. Who are these Jews and how did they come to be God’s people? Why do they have such a problem with Gentiles? What are these laws the Pharisees keep talking about? If Jesus is the “second Adam”, who was the first Adam? What on earth is circumcision anyway? And…Hebrews? What’s that all about?

3.
The Old Testament teaches how we CAN’T be saved

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. Galatians 3:24 (NASB)

and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation
through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:15

How was the Old Testament Law our tutor to lead us to Christ? How was it able to make Timothy wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus? It shows us the futility of thinking we can keep the law to earn righteousness. It shows us that right standing with God always comes by repentance and faith, not works. How many times have you shared the gospel with someone only to hear her say some variation of, “I’m OK with God and I’m going to Heaven because I’m a good person.”? Really? Take a stroll through the Old Testament, and watch how “good” God’s chosen people were. He spelled everything out for them, sent them prophets to tell them exactly what He wanted them to do, performed amazing miracles right before their eyes, and they still couldn’t be “good people.” And you, a pagan, think you can do better?

Remember the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”? Some smarty pants came up with the rejoinder, “Yes, but you can feed him salt.” The Old Testament is our salt. Its lessons in the futility of trying to be good makes us thirsty for the Living Water we find in the New Testament.

4.
The Old Testament vividly shows us
God’s wrath against our sin

I’m not saying the Old Testament only shows us God’s wrath against sin, because it also shows us His compassion, mercy, and love. I’m also not saying the New Testament doesn’t show us God’s wrath. It does, but in a different way than the Old Testament does. In the New Testament, the main ways we see God’s wrath against sin is when it’s poured out on Christ at the cross, and the wrath of God that’s yet to come as it’s described in Revelation.

When it comes to God’s wrath against me, personally, for my individual sin, those demonstrations of God’s wrath can feel a little detached sometimes. But in the Old Testament, I see, in vivid detail, the horrific plagues God rained down on Pharaoh for his sin. I see the ground open up and swallow Korah for his rebellion. I see God immolating Nadab and Abihu for offering illegal worship. I see the once mighty and majestic Nebuchadnezzar forced out into the wilderness to live like an animal because he took God’s glory for himself. And when I know that God doesn’t change – that His wrath towards my sin as a lost person burns just as hot as it did toward those Old Testament rebels – well, it can hit a lot closer to home and convince me of my need to run to the cross and throw myself on the mercy of Christ.

5.
The Old Testament teaches by example

The largest portion of the Old Testament is history and biography. Most of the New Testament is didactic. The New Testament gives us the subject matter we need to learn. The Old Testament puts flesh and blood on it and shows us what it’s like for real, flawed people just like you and me to walk it out. In the New Testament, we learn “by grace are you saved through faith.” In the Old Testament, we see just how God accomplished that in the life of Noah, who found grace in the eyes of the Lord. In the New Testament we learn what it means to repent. In the Old Testament, we walk with David through the loss of his child and his grief over his sin with Bathsheba. In the New Testament, we learn that the godly will face persecution. In the Old Testament, we stand next to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to bow to an idol, even if it means being burned alive. The New Testament gives the facts of the matter. The Old Testament says, “For example…”.

6.
The Old Testament is a warning to the church

People are people. God’s people of the Old Testament are not significantly different from God’s people today. We’re all made in the image of God. We’re all tempted by similar things.

If you begin studying the Old Testament, you can’t help but notice some of the same themes running through the story of God’s people back then that run through our story today. Idolatry. Ecumenism. Doing what’s right in our own eyes. Going through the motions of religious activity without true repentance and faith. Depending on our own power and resources rather than depending on God. False prophets. Persecution and derision of those who stand firmly on God’s Word by those who claim to be His people. Fickle hearts and tickled ears. Oh sure, we might be a little more sophisticated and subtle about it, but, as Solomon put it:

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

And because the Old Testament shows us more direct interpersonal interaction between God and His people, we get to see exactly how God feels about all of those things. We hear what He has to say about it. We see how He responds to it. And, if we’re wise, we take heed to those warnings, humble ourselves, and grow in our fear of the Lord and our desire to please Him with holy living and clean worship.

 

I could give far more than a mere six reasons why the Old Testament is so vital, a precious blessing, and such a spiritual treasure trove. It tells us where we, and the world around us, came from. It shows us the beauty and precision of worship. It extols the charm of Creation. It displays God’s power, grace, trustworthiness, mercy, justice, His plan for mankind, and all of His other attributes. And so much more.

Are there some passages in the Old Testament that are hard to understand or accept at first blush? Sure. But they’re not keeping anybody from coming to Christ. People reject Christianity, not because of difficult Old (or New) Testament Scriptures, but because they love their sin more than Jesus. And that’s no reason to unhitch anything or anyone from the beauty, the joy, and the benefits of the Old Testament.

How has the Old Testament been profitable in your walk with the Lord?

Bible, Pop Theology

My “Life Verse”

Have you ever heard someone say, “Such and such a verse is my ‘life verse'”? It’s a trend that has become popular over the last several years.

I think people’s hearts are usually in the right place when they embrace the idea of a life verse. They want to cling to God’s word and have it govern their lives, and that desire is good, godly, and biblical.

The concept of a life verse isn’t biblical, though. The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that we’re to choose a particular verse as our life’s slogan or mantra. There might be times in our lives when a particular verse is especially meaningful, but Christians are people of the Book, not people of the verse. Paul speaks about proclaiming “the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27) Psalm 119:160 says, “the sum of Your word is truth.” Psalm 139:17 declares: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”

The Bible can’t be boiled down to one verse. We need all of the Bible for all of life, not one life verse. So let’s make sure we’re doing the hard work of studying the entire Bible and applying it correctly to the various situations that arise in our lives.