A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Beginning the New Year Peacefully

Are you happy with the way you lived out the year 2007? Did you practice self-control so as to think, act and feel the way you planned to do as the year began? Did you treat others in such a way as to have no guilt? Did you really glorify God with your life during the year? Did you study your Bible with devotion? Did you pray to God daily without ceasing, and with thought? Did you show God your appreciation for the blessings he has so abundantly bestowed upon you by giving generously? Did you give God and your brethren that fraction of one week’s time that is required to attend every worship service and Bible class possible? Did you try to influence others for Christ? Are you honestly happy with the way you lived out the year 2007? Do you have inner peace as you think of 2008?

While I rejoice with those of you who answered, “Yes,” I also want to lovingly help to bear the grief that some of you must feel over having to say, “No.” It is my hope that your disappointment over a bad year in the books will become the backdrop of personal spiritual revival, and not the stumbling block that sends you tumbling towards ruin (2 Cor 7:10).

Peace is a very important aspect of spirituality. True religion is about peace with God, man and self. The prospect of spiritual peace is ever-present because of the cross (Rom 5:1; Eph 2:14), but so many do not experience that peace from day to day. There are, perhaps, numberless specific reasons for unrest within one’s soul, but these usually fit into one of a few general categories of things that rob us of the peace we so dearly need and crave. Failure to deal with the past and fear of the future are eminent among these.

Un-assuaged guilt is a major cause of unrest within one’s soul. While there may be many facets of repentance toward God, sorrow over one’s unrighteousness and desire to imitate Christ is central to the repentance that is a prerequisite to becoming (and remaining) a Christian. So, everyone has something shameful in his or her past (Rom 6:21). What matters most is how we deal with our past failures. Accept the following advice.

(1) Gain wisdom by learning from what has passed—think about it, accept it, own it, get over it! Let the lessons change your practice. Put habits into place that leave no room in your life to make the same mistakes again. As the old proverb goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” so realize that living through battles with Satan—even one’s we feel we lost—makes us stronger to face the next one.

(2) Take responsibility for the future. While we all know the church belongs to the Lord, at the same time, the church in which you have membership is your church too, from a certain point of view. How you live out your life as a disciple, including the way you involve yourself in the local church, is what Jesus and you will be discussing on Judgment Day. Note Ephesians 4:15-16: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (ESV). Think about it: from Christ… the whole body… makes the body grow! The growth of the church depends on you! The financial security of the church depends on you. The success of church activities depends on you. The way the community views the church depends on you. Whether or not there is peace within the church depends on you. Make it your mission to “speak always with grace” and so shut down any gossiping and complaining before it has a chance to spread. All is well in the kingdom and there is a great reward waiting for those who voluntarily give and do for the Lord!

(3) Live in the now. Paul wrote some fine words in Phil 3:13-14, “Brothers… one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (ESV). Don’t mistake Paul to be urging us to forget the past altogether. Remembrance of the past enables us to make progress (progress happens while we build upon what has already been accomplished). However, we must let go of whatever things in the past threaten to hold us back or ruin our hopeful view of the future. Past failures cannot be undone, but they can be triumphed over through Christ! We all have a past, and must press on toward the future, but we do the pressing on in the present. Each of us must so seek and serve God as to be content in the now. Only then can we expect good things to come.

These three words of advice come from God’s word. They are true and contribute to individual spiritual growth as well as church growth. Consider this final note about church growth: every church member needs to be settled in his or her mind that if we all do everything we ought to do as disciples all year long and the church doesn’t add a single member that we will be happy and content. Before one can be the kind of church member that can really bless a church, he must be in love with the church as it is. A healthy church does not want to grow, because of a desperate need for something it lacks. We already have all that we need in Christ. Healthy churches grow because of a desire to share with others all of the goodness that we already have! That is my attitude from now on. I hope you will share it.

Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28 ESV). “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mat 6:33-34 ESV). Meditate on those verses and (the Lord willing) you will find the power to deal with the past and press on in the present toward a wonderful future in 2008 and eternity. We Christians have Jesus. We have each other. We have a place in a truly great church, a wonderful brotherhood; a healthy spiritual family. Let us enter the New Year with peace, and may it continue.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christianity with No Subtitles (Our Ideal as Members of Churches of Christ)

Tradition is the glue that holds large families together, and that is certainly a good thing. In general, traditions can either be good or bad, positive or negative, beneficial or hurtful; it all depends on the situation. What about faith traditions? Nowadays many people react negatively to the thought of religious traditions, especially in the context of what are now called the organized denominations. We in churches of Christ share your concerns. There is no “Church of Christ denomination,” and we who worship under the identity of churches of Christ would like to invite you to open your eyes to a tradition of seeking exactly what many spiritual people today have begun to want: Christianity without the subtitles, Christianity without the divisions, Christianity the way Christ wanted it to be—loving, holy, pure, and simply Biblical.

You need to know that you can be just a Christian with no subtitles. You can be an undenominational follower of Jesus, and you can be part of a great movement full of history and tradition at the same time. You can have both as a member of a local church of Christ. There is great diversity of opinion, worship and style among churches of Christ, because each congregation is as fully independent of any other church as any non-denominational church is. We’ve been practicing what twenty-first century people have begun to realize is the best way for hundreds of years. We’re very proud to be simply Christians, to be free from the dogmas of organized denominations, and blessed to have all of that within the context of a great worldwide brotherhood of believers striving to excel in the love, faith, and stand for the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ desires of his disciples. We know where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going, and we strongly believe that you and your family will be blessed by growing up in the tradition rich and spiritually free environment of the churches of Christ all the while having the security of a firm grounding in the unchanging word of God.

God’s word does not approve of all beliefs and practices; no honest Bible student will deny that. Real Christians must stand where the Lord stands, and as such, you can count on churches of Christ to stand for the truth without yielding to the trends of the day, or political correctness, yet in a loving spirit. We do not want to judge others, or even other churches except to the degree that the Lord has already judged. Thus, we are able to proclaim the gospel message of salvation through Christ, to give objective and solid guidance as to how one should live, while remaining positive and relevant. We desire to see the end of the traditional denominational organizations as an unbiblical trend of the past, and watch, concerned about the future of many of the newer community churches that seem to have reacted against “organized religion” in a way that has led to unhealthy extremes. We know that you can have both freedom and healthy history and tradition as a Christian. The churches of Christ are practicing Christianity without subtitles. We know where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. Do you?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Becoming a Bible Scholar, Part 3: Steps 3 & 4

In the previous installments in this little series, I’ve stressed the essentiality of a continuous habit of reading the Scriptures with an open mind, and the importance of having a good general knowledge of the Bible in all its parts. As I wrote before, these steps are not necessarily in any order, but each is essential to attaining any considerable degree of understanding the Bible. I want to write a few words about two more steps in the process of becoming a “Bible scholar,” and then make a few final observations before considering this series finished.

The third step is to broaden your mind through studying what I will call parallel subjects. These are intellectual disciplines that relate to the Bible or contribute greatly to one’s ability to properly understand it. History is one such discipline. The Bible was not written in a vacuum, and its events did not occur in a corner (Acts 26:26). Though the Bible is the word of God and the writing of every word was divinely overseen (1 Cor 2:12-13; 1 Thes 2:13; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21), it is also the product of man. The Bible is the testimony of the Savior who is both a man and God; it is only fitting that the testimony of him be a work of cooperation between God and man. It was written by supernaturally guided men who wrote to other men who lived in particular periods of history and faced challenges peculiar to those times. As such, many parts of the Bible contain references to historical events, and language particularly relevant to a time and place, so having a good understanding of history, and the cultures that shaped it can bring many passages into wondrous light. I find it continually fascinating to learn more about a period or people in history and then realize that my understanding of a passage that was written in or to that period or that people has deepened considerably. Other parallel subjects include archaeology, anthropology, Biblical languages such as ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Koine Greek, even Latin and it may prove useful to learn modern languages (for native English speakers like me) like French or German (in order to be able to read scholarly works written in those languages). One might also say that familiarity with the writings of Theologians in every age is essential, and to be a Bible scholar, studies in Philosophy are also important. Sound overwhelming? Perhaps it is. But, realize that few, if any, master every discipline that contributes to Bible scholarship. Do what you can and you will be rewarded for your efforts.

Another essential step, the last I will present, is faith—and faith includes prayer. While there are many so-called Bible scholars in the world who do not believe the testimony of the Bible (many are even hostile to it), it is impossible to appreciate the Bible for all its depth and wonder without believing what it says. Paul wrote these words: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1Co 2:14-16 ESV). That sums it up. Only the person who can study the Bible prayerfully will gain anything close to a full understanding of it. Certainly only the faithful find blessing in studying the Bible.

Now, I want to finish this series by stressing that becoming a Bible scholar is not the most important thing. One need only understand and obey a few passages to be born again. A minimal understanding of a few fundamentals of the faith enables one to live out the life of Christ in a fulfilling and fruitful way. However, let everyone agree that Christianity is the way of life of the enlightened. It is an education in itself. Christ is the “way, truth, and life.” To follow him is to seek renewal “according to knowledge” (Col 3:9-10). Healthy Christians are growing Christians. Mature Christians are the greatest scholars of the Bible. I hope these articles have been helpful.