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

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Can You Trust Your Heart?

Trust your feelings. Follow your heart. Listen to your instincts. Good advice, right? It’s popular advice, at least, and when your instincts are going off like a car alarm telling you to run, hide, get out, etc., well, by all means listen. That’s what God designed your instincts to do. But, when your heart tells you, “This feels right so it must be right,” seek a second opinion!

Maybe you’ll discover your feelings were right all along. On the other hand, the prisons (and graveyards) are full of folks who followed their hearts into what seemed right at the time, but wasn’t right. Can’t relate to the jail or cemetery thing? Well, a lot of us have followed our hearts into something that felt right, but ended up breaking them. God gave you emotions for a reason, and emotion is good, but it is not meant to be the reason why you do things. Reason is. Logic. Emotion is designed to follow reason and help you do the right thing with feeling. You have to put good, plain old sense first, let it tell you how you ought to feel, and then let your feelings catch up. Otherwise you’ll just end up hurt, or worse!

The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9). “Deceitful above all things.” “Desperately sick.” Please let those words sink in. Sin has broken all our hearts from our youth. Our feelings can come from so many places—some pure, of course—but some dark and desperate. You cannot trust them unless you first seek God’s counsel. The prophet also wrote, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). I don’t know the right way by myself, and neither do you. Trying to feel your way into happiness and blessing is like a blind man on the edge of a cliff trying to feel around for a safe path. Let God’s word guide you. Read it. Study it. Obey it. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Spiritual And True Worship

Does God accept all worship? Some people seem to think he does. “We’re all worshipping the same God, just in different ways,” right? Well, that’s what so many say, and often they’ll even extend that acceptance toward non-Christians. However, Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7-9 ESV). The Lord was speaking particularly against hypocrisy, so we can confidently say God doesn’t accept the worship of hypocrites. We can also now say God doesn’t accept all worship. It just remains to learn what worship he does accept and offer him that worship.

In John’s gospel, Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV). Note the word “must.” The only worship acceptable to God is “in spirit and truth.” Jesus said, “I am the truth,” (John 14:6), and praying to God the Father said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Therefore only “in Christ,” that is, “Christian” worship is acceptable to God, and it must be according to his word, the Bible. We should also say acceptable worship must “truly” be worship, that is, it must be genuinely intended. We gladly offer God worship as instructed in Scripture, and shun any thought of offering him any other kind.

What does worship “in spirit” mean? The most basic answer is it is the opposite of worship “in flesh.” True worship isn’t about your location or surroundings. It isn’t about suits and ties. It’s got nothing to do with looking worshipful or pious. It’s about submitting in my spirit to the worthiness of the Infinite Spirit, responding as directed in Scripture; glorifying him for his greatness. It includes offering worship with attitudes consistent with spirituality. These include thanksgiving and joy (Psalm 95:2), and fear and trembling (i.e. deep, genuine reverence) (Psalm 2:11; Hebrews 12:28). Finally, spiritual worship is rational and instructive (1Corinthians 14:15) and reflects the order of God’s own throne room, to which we are transported in the spirit when we enter into true worship (1 Corinthians 14:40). Worship is a great privilege. It’s also serious business. Take worship seriously and be sure to offer acceptable worship.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Bible Definition of Religion

I’ve written before about the supposed conflict between spirituality and religion. There are some well-meaning people today who talk as if the two are mutually exclusive, and always in a way to label “religion” as something bad or negative to be avoided. They say, “I’m spiritual, not religious,” as if that were a badge of honor. If you’ve been one of them, please consider what I have to say. By following the anti-religious establishment of our present day, a lot of people will think you’re wise, tolerant, and “with it” in general, but remember the words of Jesus, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).

I’m very glad to say I’m religious and very deeply so. I’m also a very spiritual person. The two are inseparable. I hold to God’s definition of religion in the Bible. Consider Acts 17:22-23, “Then Paul… said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you….” To Paul, being “very religious” was a compliment. He used it as an opportunity not to proclaim a non-religious spirituality, but to correct the mistaken religion of the Athenians. The Lord’s half-brother wrote, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26-27). The Bible clearly calls works “spiritual” people are interested in doing religion. Maybe religion isn’t so bad after all!

The problem isn’t religion; it’s bad religion. The opposite of good religion as Scripture defines it is impure and defiled. Any person who claims to be religious but shoots off at the mouth, doesn’t care for the needy, and lives an immoral life is a hypocrite! The truly religious don’t deserve to be maligned along with hypocrites, and the word “religion” doesn’t deserve the flack it’s gotten these last few years. Keep right on being both spiritual and religious. The two are one. But make sure your religion is what the Bible says it should be!

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Balanced Bible School

Attaining perfect balance in anything is improbable if not impossible this side of eternity, but people with sound minds should strive for it. A healthy church needs leaders who strive to keep things as balanced as possible. The doctrine needs balance—right down the middle of Scripture without leaning to the left or right. Activities need balance between those that facilitate relationship building and recreation, and those focused on the word and good works. The same is true with the Bible School or Education Program.

It takes a lot of prayer and planning to keep the local church Bible School balanced. I maintain a five to seven year core plan for adults’ classes to help me see how long ago, how soon again, and how often we’re studying a particular book of the Bible or topic. I have age-specific goals for each age and grade of children's classes and either carefully purchase or write curriculum to accomplish them. I keep files on who’s taught, is teaching, or will teach, and add to the folders every quarter. I spend hours every month at Christian bookstores and searching online for good materials. I subscribe to more than a dozen e-zines, journals, and email groups and attend one or two ministers’ luncheons every month to stay abreast of what’s going on in the brotherhood and the world, and with the latest wisdom on “best practice” in ministry. Every year I reevaluate the goals of the program and pray about the plans. I give massive credit to God for making it all work in spite of my shortcomings. When the plan is all in place it just remains to execute it.

Several factors can complicate execution. While it may be part of the plan to have a class on a certain subject, like “marriage and the home,” qualified, willing teachers may not be ready when I’d like them to be, and may need encouragement and development before they’re ready to tackle the subject. It can also be very difficult to maintain balance with the volunteer work force. It takes careful planning two or three quarters in advance to ensure the right teachers are ready to teach when they’re needed. Even with the planning, sometimes it doesn’t work out the way I planned.

Finally, when it comes down to it, the purpose of the Bible School is to train students in the word of God’s truth, the Bible. If that isn’t happening, it doesn’t matter what else is, the program’s a failure. If it is happening, the program may leave a lot to be desired, but I say it’s a success. In some way, within the scope of a decade at most, Bible School leaders must see that every book of the Bible is taught or surveyed. Selections from Scripture such as the Sermon on the Mount, select Psalms, the Christian Graces, etc., out to be emphasized. There must be teaching on marriage and raising children every year. There ought to be regular teacher training and enrichment opportunities. A New Converts’ Class is needed every year and then two quarters later have a New Members’ Orientation Class if the church is growing at all. If it’s not, maybe it’s because there haven’t been any good classes on evangelism. Church members need classes about all the subjects that affect their daily lives from dealing with addictions to viewing their work as a ministry and dealing with finances. Church doctrine ought to be emphasized in the Bible School. There must be classes about the gospel from a variety of angles, studies of the Godhead, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. There need to be classes about worship, church leadership, church organization, and, of course, the Plan of Salvation. This list is far from exhaustive.

It will be near impossible to keep all of the above truly balanced, but a program worthy of the Lord, and effective in equipping the saints to accomplish his mission, must be as balanced as possible. Please encourage those who work hard administrating the Bible School in your local church!