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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Greatest Lack

Forgive me if this is “cheesy,” but the well-known song written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach has a lot of truth to it. “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of….” I don’t think love’s the only thing there’s too little of, but it’s the most significant thing there’s too little of (1Corinthians 13:13).

We all want to be loved, and someone to love. In spite of what ole Abe Maslow said, we need to love and to be loved more than we even need to survive—at least that’s true for the best of us. If you’ll allow me to beg the question and assume it’s true, it leads us to wonder why there’s so little love, and why we’re so tempted to ruin it when we find it. Perhaps you can explain it other ways, but consider a few reasons why you might destroy the love in another, or become unloving. Avoid these, and you may well succeed in loving and being loved!

Lust. Lust is not the same thing as love! Western Civilization has become choked with it. Lust is desire out of order, gone too far; unhealthy. Become a glutton for anything—not just food—and it will fatten you up and continually diminish your sensitivity to pure pleasure. Diminish someone into an object of desire and you’ll lose your humanity. The next shiny thing will take you like a hooked fish, and you’ll destroy any chance for true love you ever had.

Pride. Oh how proud we can be! “Do something I don’t like and you just watch. You can’t treat me like that. I have too much respect for myself to allow anyone to walk on me!” If so, you respect yourself too much to love and be loved. We all make stupid mistakes and if there’s no forgiveness, no second chance, no hope of reconciliation, we might as all just go ahead and start picking out caves to become hermits… “Wait, you can’t have that cave, that’s my cave.” Man, get the chip off your shoulder!

Selfishness. Selfishness comes from pride. Unrestrained it will destroy the world! “Look out for number one” makes lone wolves out of us all and wolves kill their own without hesitation. No matter how smart you are someone’s always smarter; strong, someone’s always stronger. If we all just look out for ourselves, everybody else becomes, at best, the competition, at worst, a target, or worse still, supper. There’s no love in that, only stress, fear, and death. If we all look out for each other, we all get looked out for. That’s Christ’s way, and unless you mean to wind up loveless and miserable, I heartily suggest choosing it! Love’s the greatest virtue. Lacking it’s the greatest lack.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Family Devotional - Numbers

This week‘s family devotional continues a series in which we take a family friendly look at each book of the Bible. If you’re using these Saturday devotionals with your family, please comment with your feedback, or feel free to email me privately if you have that info. I want to mold these into a format that will be a blessing to Christian families. For the record, this series will use the books of the Bible as they are in order in the Christian Bible and will only look at the 66 canonical books.

“Note then the kindness and the severity of God…” (Romans 11:22 ESV). That’s what the book of Numbers is about. It summarizes the forty year period in which the Israelites wandered the wilderness until they were allowed to enter and take the Promised Land. You’ve heard of the twelve spies who were sent to scout out the land? They brought back a cluster of grapes so large they had to bear it on a pole carried on the shoulders of two men. It was a “land flowing with milk and honey” full of big people living in high-walled cities. When they saw the land with its great people and cities, ten of the twelve spies lost faith in God and spread fear among the people. Only Joshua and Caleb kept faith. In his wrath God swore, “Not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure” (Numbers 14:30-34 ESV). The forty year period was full of both discipline and blessings from God as he moved his people along not merely through the desert, but toward greater faith as a nation of his people. That “wilderness of sin” symbolizes the short period of struggle each Christian must make through this present age. As it did for Israel, so also for us a great Promised Land awaits us at the end of the journey (Hebrews 4).

Whenever you try to remember what Numbers is about, simply remember “numbering.” The book begins with Moses being commanded to take a census of the people. The census enabled Israel to both camp and march in good order, and allowed the Levites and Priests to perform their holy services to God for the people. It shows how concerned God is with Good order, and that everyone knows his place in the kingdom.

Nurture your habit of reading the Bible together as a family this week. You can easily read it through together every year, and it’s worth the effort. There are many Bible reading plans online. You can pick up a One-Year Bible at a Christian bookstore, or order one online. I suggest the ESV.

If I had to pick just one passage to memorize from Leviticus it would be the great blessing of Numbers 6:24-26, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: Deceiving Winds, Christians Navigating the Storm of Mysticism, Leadership Struggles & Sensational Worship, by Bruce Morton

These are tumultuous times in the world, perhaps not more so than in other times, but these are particularly challenging times for Christians. We are beset by foes around us and plagued sometimes by apathy, sometimes by moral compromise, and sometimes by traditionalism within. While Jesus clearly warned us we’d always have enemies outside the church (Matthew 10:16-18, 24-25), it was never his plan for us to be divided or confused (John 17:20-21; Ephesians 4:14). But, many of us are confused these days.

We hear winds of change everywhere. All around us sensational, showbiz-type worship is the fad. Literal interpretations of sex roles passages like 1Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 are challenged as misunderstandings of a limited, local, cultural standard that doesn’t apply in the same way to our enlightened post-modern cultures, and so on.

Into these wind-tossed, stormy waters brother Bruce Morton offers a calm, well-researched, well-reasoned examination of the Biblical literature written to the ancient city of Ephesus. He endeavors to show the reader that the winds blowing these days are not so new after all; that they are the recirculating winds that swept through the streets (and church) of First Century Ephesus. So far from being an old world to which we can no longer relate, the ancient city of Ephesus had the same problems with mysticism, sex-roles, and other leadership issues that Twenty-First Century Christians are facing today—merely repackaged.

Over the course of thirteen chapters, brother Morton explains several of the terms used in Ephesians and the letters to Timothy that we may not fully appreciate today without a bit of backstory. He doesn’t deal with the texts of these Pauline epistles verse by verse, but focuses on key questions raised and answered in the epistles and how they translate to the parallel questions being raised by Christians and our neighbors in the world today.

One of the great truths brother Morton draws from the letters to Ephesus is the importance of one’s way of looking at the world to the way he lives and worships. The world was under siege by dark forces in Paul’s time, and through Paul, the Holy Spirit wanted to shine the light of the gospel to transform sensual people (i.e. pagans) into sensible people (i.e. Christians) able to appreciate the goodness and beauty of creation rather than be enslaved and corrupted by unrestrained desire. The same dark forces seek to enshroud our minds in the darkness of self-expression and sensuality today, and the same Spirit would have us become lights. Drawing from this, the chapters on worship in song (with the exception of a bit of fuzziness regarding "special singers") offer interesting insight from an atypical point of view.

There is so much more to say, but I’ll let you pick up a copy and read it for yourself. This is one to take your time with. Read it, follow the references, consider the passages, and digest it slowly. I cannot say I agree with bro. Morton on every point, but the background information about ancient Ephesus, and its application to our time is excellent material. It would prove valuable as a two-quarter study in an adult Bible class with a generous sprinkling of mature, somewhat studious participants. We may well use it for that purpose at Highland.

Well, there's my first book review. I plan to do others from time to time. By the way, you can order a copy of bro. Morton's book here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I Love Criticism!

I love criticism, don’t you? Don’t you just love it when someone criticizes you? Be careful before you answer, because your answer reveals a lot about your wisdom or foolishness! The Bible’s inspired wisdom literature mentions criticism numerous times. Proverb after proverb clearly teaches the wise love criticism and those who offer it. Is that hard to accept?

Last weekend I attended the Equip Seminar, a conference designed to help church leaders learn how to better involve church members in ministry. One session I attended was led by bro. Jerrie Barber. The aim of his session was to teach us how to not be led by a negative vocal minority. The main way he taught to do that had little to do with rejecting negative criticism, or even defending ourselves. The way he taught us to handle it is to change our own views of criticism, and embrace it as wise men the way the Scriptures teach.

Consider these passages from Proverbs: “Those who love knowledge want to be told when they are wrong. It is stupid to hate being corrected” (12:1 GNT). “If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored” (13:18 NLT). “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise” (15:31 NLT). “My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (3:11-12 NLT). It’s often through the rebuke of a brother that the Lord offers correction. If you’ve been blessed with brothers who care enough to criticize, count yourself blessed. We don’t criticize those for whom we have no concern.

I’ll be honest. In my heart I don’t like to be criticized, because I don’t like to be wrong. But, I have been spurred into growth by criticism many times! Here’s some advice: Get the chip off your shoulder! None of us are always right, and all of us can receive instruction from each other on some point or another. Reject false accusations, and personal attacks, but be wise and try to discern if there’s any truth even in such negative criticism. The main difference between constructive and deconstructive criticism is that it’s always constructive when I criticize you, but when you criticize me, it just has to be deconstructive. Right? Well, no, that’s not right at all, but it’s often how we act. I need encouragement, and I’ve never been over-encouraged. Please keep that in mind. However, when I need criticism, I’ll count you beloved if you offer it to me. I love truth and wisdom. Since I’m neither all-knowing or all-wise, I love criticism.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Prayer for Your Salvation

It never ceases to amaze me how powerful the word of God is! Ever since Sunday morning I’ve been consumed with thinking about my priorities. I kicked off the new quarter at Highland with a lesson about evangelism, notably that God’s mission is to save lost souls, and since his mission is the church’s mission, my highest priority in life has to be saving souls (John 17:18, 20:21). I put the lesson together prior to Sunday with my head. I knew what I planned to say, but it hadn’t really hit home with me. During class, I taught it from my heart, and before I was halfway through the class I was convicted of my own failure to do what I was teaching the class to do. I just had to confess it. I’ve spent practically every waking moment since then thinking about it and trying to set things right in my life.

Nothing matters more than saving the lost! No matter how good or bad we have it this side of eternity; it’s the other side that will be unchangeable and unending. What difference does it make if you have a good life—family, career, lots of friends, good times, etc.—if you lose your soul? (That’s just what Jesus said about it –Luke 9:23-25.) “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1Timothy 6:7 NAS). You and I have to do the things required of us each day: work, eat, sleep, bathe (please), spend time with our families, and there is a variety of responsibilities we all have that requires some degree or another of grounding in this temporary life, but to please the Lord and have a clear conscience a Christian has to find a way of making this framework of daily life work for the sake of seeking to save souls (Ephesians 5:15-17; Colossians 4:5). Nothing matters close to as much as that!

This morning as I began my day with this on my heart I prayed. I prayed God would help me to live each day with seeking and saving the lost as my highest priority, and I asked him to help me to do something today that will influence the salvation of at least one soul. That’s what I want my commitment to be every day. I hope writing this will affect your (or someone’s) life in a way that will lead to your (or their) putting trusting, obedient faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If I can help you find your way, send me a note or give me a call.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Family Devotional - Leviticus

This week‘s family devotional continues a series in which we take a family friendly look at each book of the Bible. If you’re using these Saturday devotionals with your family, please comment with your feedback, or feel free to email me privately if you have that info. I want to mold these into a format that will be a blessing to Christian families. For the record, this series will use the books of the Bible as they are in order in the Christian Bible and will only look at the 66 canonical books.

Believe it or not, Leviticus is one of my favorite books in the Bible, and it is one of Jesus’ favorites too! The first seven chapters deal with how the ancient Israelites were required to make their various offerings. Chapters eight through ten begin with Aaron and his sons being anointed and consecrated (“made holy”) as priests. The chapters go through all the details of the rights and obligations of the “Aaronic Priesthood.” The next section, through the end of chapter 17, talks about purity laws, the great Day of Atonement, and some additional laws about sacrifices. Chapters 18 and forward are all about morality.

Whenever you try to remember what Leviticus is about, remember what one of my favorite teachers taught me: “Sacrifices and Feasts, Offerings and Priests.” That’s what the book’s about. A lot of people get hung up on the lists of laws and instructions in Leviticus, and since we no longer offer those sacrifices, it’s easy to understand why some people get bored and skip forward. But, if you skip Leviticus, you’ll miss some extremely important things about the nature of God’s holiness. Read it, and read it again and again with Psalm 1:2 in mind. Remember, Leviticus is part of the Law of Moses, which is pure and good (Romans 7:12), but which Jesus fulfilled in his death (Ephesians 2:15). We no longer live under the Law of Moses, but under the Gospel of Christ (1Corinthians 9:20-21).

I said Leviticus is one of Jesus’ favorite Bible books. I know it, because it’s where we find the commandment Jesus said was the second most important of all (Mark 12:31). The last part of Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” Read Leviticus 19:9-18 now.

Nurture your habit of reading the Bible together as a family this week. You can easily read it through together every year, and it’s worth the effort. There are many Bible reading plans online. You can pick up a One-Year Bible at a Christian bookstore, or order one online. I suggest the ESV.

If I had to pick just one passage to memorize from Leviticus, you can probably guess it’s the last part of 19:18.

(Image from skreened.com, this is not an endorsement.)