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Reading into the Bible

I listened to a message at church the other day, and the preacher pointed out that when it comes to the Christmas story the Bible doesn’t actually tell us much. We tend to “read into” the story stuff that is not there. For example, when talking about Mary and Joseph returning to Bethlehem for the census, how many of us picture Mary riding on a donkey? That’s not actually in the Bible. We mentally picture Mary laying Jesus in the manger, surrounded by animals. Those animals are also not mentioned.

These are little things, but it got me wondering. Where else do we “read into” the text stuff that is not actually there? A good example is found from passages in Romans 8:29 and in Ephesians 1:5. People read these passages and then extrapolate that God “looked down the tunnel of time” and saw who would choose Him. Then, based on that information, God “chose us.” But the text doesn’t say any of that. Another example is from Isaiah 14:12. People who read the King James see the name “Lucifer” and immediately extrapolate from there that this passage is talking about Satan’s fall from heaven. But the Bible doesn’t actually say that. This passage is about the King of Babylon and has nothing to do with Satan. The more recent translations leave out the word “Lucifer” and translate the text more literally.

One more example is found in Hebrews 6:1-9. People read this and extrapolate that it is talking about Christians losing their salvation. However, when one carefully reads the verses, he or she will notice that verses 1-3 use the pronouns “us” and “we.” Verses 4-6 use the pronouns “they” and “them.” Verses 7-8 make an analogy. Then verse 9 shifts back to the pronoun “we” again. The text is telling us that if there is someone who claimed to be saved and came in and shared in the joy of the Lord and the peace and celebration, but then fell away, true Christians should not waste their time trying to bring them back into the Kingdom again. They were never truly saved to begin with. It should be pointed out that Judas Iscariot was one of the 12 that went out and performed healings when Jesus sent out the disciples. He clearly shared in the joy of the Lord and even performed miracles in Jesus’ name. But when he realized that Jesus was not going to overthrow the Roman Government he turned around and betrayed Jesus. No one bothered to try and bring him back into the fold again. He was clearly not saved.

The point here is that we are admonished to “rightly divide the word of truth” (see 2 Timothy 2:15). This means that we must always be careful to read exactly what the text says, and be careful not to insert into the text the things we assume it says, or things we have heard other people say it says, etc… We should all be like the Bereans from Acts 17:11, who listened to the preaching of the apostles and then went to examine the Scriptures to double check what they’d heard.  They did not just take someone’s word for it. They checked it out for themselves, and they were commended for it.

Reading the Bible daily is something that all Christians should do. And as they read their Bibles daily they must be careful not to add into the text things that aren’t there. Likewise they should not take out of the text things that are there.  The Bible is a unified whole, even though it was written by about 40 different people in different countries over a period of 1600 or more years. One Scripture should not be pulled out and used to make a point when there are other Scriptures that clarify the meaning of the one. The nature of the Bible is such that information is sprinkled everywhere. Good Bible interpretation rules say that one should use clear texts within the Bible to help clarify a less clear text within the Bible. To pull a couple of verses out to prove a point when other Scriptures clearly mitigate that meaning is not good Bible interpretation. This is why the only good practice is to read the entire Bible, and not just pieces and parts of it. It is impossible to rightly divide the Word when one knows only a portion of that word.

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Do You Feel a Sense of Cosmic Disinterest?

There is a story about Thomas Edison that is worth passing along. When he was 67 years old, two of his six factory buildings burned down. All his work, notes, experiments, etc… were inside. It is said that rather than freak out, Thomas called his son and told him to round up his mother and her friends because “they’d never get to see another fire like that one!”

Edison’s attitude was remarkable. He wasn’t concerned for even a moment about his own problems. In fact, he told his son that the fire was a blessing. His exact words were, “There’s value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God, we can start anew.” It was about three months after this event that he invented the phonograph.

The point I am trying to make is that Edison had the right outlook on life. Rather than sweat any details, he just went with the flow, not letting anything ruffle his feathers. That got me thinking about myself. I don’t have that kind of mindset. I am a pessimist by nature. But as a Christian I need to learn to be an optimist.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I know that God loves me. But let’s face it, God is a busy guy and He’s got other things going on. So though He loves me, I have never had a sense that God cares about the minutiae of my life. This belief seems to be reinforced regularly by the fact that God answers a lot of my prayers with “No.” My warped thinking is that if I am serving God and if He really loves me, He should be answering my prayers with “Yes” more often than “No.”

In other words, I know God is out there and I know that He loves me, but I live daily with a sense of cosmic disinterest. I know God has saved me, but I am pretty much on my own day by day.

I realized this today as I was driving home from church, and it startled and then dismayed me. If someone asked me outright whether I believed this I would say absolutely not. But I can’t deny that I do have a sense of this cosmic disinterest. And now that I have realized I am suffering from this perverted thinking, I have to ask myself why.

The answer also dismays me. It is because I am thinking only about me. When something happens I am automatically concerned with how it will affect me. When I want something it is all about whether God will give it to me or not. So everything is about me. Surprise, surprise.

The way to fix this is to rotate my thinking 180 degrees out and 90 degrees up. I will get my reward in heaven. And I firmly believe that it will be grand. While I am on earth my job is supposed to be to glorify God. I should stop focusing on what I want and wait expectantly for what God wants to do through me.

When things happen to me, rather than focus on how it affects me, I should take the optimist view and wait to see how God is going to work in that situation. Rather than wonder what will happen to me I should be asking what God wants me to do. This is Thomas Edison thinking.

Pillars of Heaven or the Valley Of Ono?

Do you find your spiritual life waxing and waning? Are you excited for the Lord for a week or two, only to wake up one morning and realize that all that desire is gone? After this, do months go by before you feel anything again? You’re not alone. It turns out that this is a common complaint among Christians. Most have a deep desire to serve the Lord, but they struggle to keep up the routine when life just keeps getting in the way.

I also struggled with this issue, and felt terrible guilt when my desire to serve the Lord wasn’t there. Then one day I was reading Romans chapter 12, and when I got to verse 2 it hit me. I am not sure what the reasons are that other people struggle to remain faithful day in and day out, but for me it was a commitment issue.  I think I was expecting God to fill me with great emotion all the time so that I would want to serve Him. But no one can live on emotional highs 24 hours a day. The crash will eventually come because our bodies aren’t designed for that. But on this day I realized that the work of sanctification has to start with me. I have to make a commitment to serve Him when I feel like it and when I don’t feel like it.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” This and other similar verses explain that it’s up to me to continue to feed my mind. As long as I am not feeding my mind with the things of God, it will naturally try to revert to its old way of thinking. Because of what happened in the Garden of Eden, all humankind is now fallen. If we don’t constantly work at remaining faithful, we will naturally go back to our fallen ways. Philippians 2:12 – 13 tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that is working in us both to will and to do. The Spirit of God is not going to commandeer our bodies and force us into holiness. We are saved completely by grace. But after that it is up to us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and work out our salvation daily by continually renewing our minds. This is why Jesus said that some would produce a harvest of a hundredfold, some sixty-fold, and some thirty-fold (see Mt. 13:8). Some renew their minds daily, some weekly, some monthly, and some less than that.

What I’m trying to say is this. We must continuously feed our minds with the Word of God. We should start our day with prayer and Bible study. We should memorize Bible verses and go over them throughout the day. We should listen to uplifting music and read or listen to uplifting books, avoiding or minimizing the less worthwhile stuff. We should fellowship with other like-minded Christians. We should practice a lifestyle of talking with God throughout the day, praising Him, relying on Him, offering up little prayers for others as things come up.

The worries of life will still creep in. There is no avoiding the blaring televisions and obnoxious billboards and annoying sales pitches and commercials. There is no getting away from the aggravations of life. We live in the world and nothing can make all that go away. But if we keep feeding our minds with God’s Word these things won’t have the effect on us that they previously did. We can keep ourselves from being of the world.

Is this easy? Absolutely not. It will take daily practice. This means getting up for morning prayer and Bible study even when you don’t feel like it. It means listening to uplifting music when you’d rather not. It means doing it day in and day out, even when you don’t want to until it becomes a habit. Eventually it will become the new normal. It may take months or years, but it will be worth it.

I have begun working at this on a regular basis, even when I don’t feel like it. I keep a notebook with me of Bible verses I am trying to memorize (I have always been terrible about this, but have committed to learning at least one new verse a day). I pull this notebook out every now and then and review verses, along with building a new habit of praying throughout the day. And surprise, surprise. Something interesting is happening. Whereas before I had mountain and valley experiences, now I see the spiritual landscape flattening out. I used to be on top of the mountain for a couple of weeks and then find myself in the valley for months. Then something would happen and I would be on the mountain again. But now my walk with God is more consistent. I am no longer living on borrowed emotion. I am serving the Lord with my heart and with my head. When the emotion and desire is not there, the steady relationship remains. And with this steady relationship with the Lord my joy grows.

Why Pray In the Morning?

I don’t know about you, but I wake up every morning with my head full of last night’s dreams, remnants of yesterday’s worries, pieces and parts of leftover frustrations, disappointments and mistakes. If I jump out of bed and launch right into my day, I drag all of that with me. Then I spend much of my time trying to work around it, forget about it, get over it, not be mad about it. I usually fail and end up having a lousy and disappointing day.

There was a good reason that Jesus said in Matthew 6:34: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” When I don’t take time at the beginning of the day to clear my head and get my mind on God, I end up three steps backwards; adding new frustrations and worries to the growing list of old ones. I’m not sure why sometimes I’m willing to keep all my problems with me when I could turn them over to God, but I do and I always regret it. If only I could remember Psalm 55:22 on those days, which tells me to cast my cares upon the Lord because He cares for me. It’s so easy to say and so difficult to do.

On the other hand, when I get up a little bit early and take the time to pray and worship and spend time in the Word, then I am ready to face the day as God intended. I am prepared for those fiery darts the Devil plans to launch against me. I am prepared for the verbal assaults from unthinking people, the mechanical and electronic snafus from cars, computers and phones; the unexpected delays, the heavy traffic, the extra work, the sick children, etc…

God has provided His children with the tools and the power to face anything and still be able to glorify Him each day. His Holy Spirit indwells us and never leaves us, comforting and protecting us through all of the junk we face throughout the day.

Getting up a little early is probably one of the hardest things to ask people to do. Some people are “leapers.” They jump right out of bed in the morning, no matter how little sleep they got. But most people are “creepers.” They creep out of bed after hitting the snooze 5 times, and they groan and grouch around, taking a long time to wake up. The truth is that creepers can become leapers. Trust me on this. It has happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to other people. And not only is it worth it, but if you can stick to it for a month of so you will find that getting up gets easier.

You can seek God at any time of the day or night, and you should! But don’t drag yesterday’s junk into today if you don’t have to. Take the time in the morning before you get started, and spend some time with your Lord and Savior. Worship Him and let Him equip you to face the day as His victorious soldier and servant!

How Should We Live?

America has been a divided nation for some time, but it always seemed that the conservative right managed to eke out enough victories to keep America on the right path. However, the balance of power has shifted firmly toward the liberal left and there is no sign that it will swing back the other way. They already control the schools and universities. They control the media, television and movies. The Internet is still a free zone but who knows how much longer that will last.

The point is not to depress anyone at how far America has fallen. America has simply repeated the cycle that all great nations seem to follow, never learning from past mistakes. They start small and grow, holding onto their morals and traditions. Once they become large they forget their roots and give themselves over to whatever feels good and benefits them personally. From there it’s just a matter of time before the end comes.

As Christians we don’t need to worry about any of that. Our focus should be somewhere else. As I examine the Bible I don’t find passages telling us to reform our government. I have to make an exception here for the time period when Israel and Judah were nations (from Moses through the end of the Old Testament). Before the exile their very government was part of their religion. And prophets went through the two nations and also to the surrounding nations, telling them about God and His mercy if they would just repent. That was a unique time in history that was lost when both nations went into exile. After the exiles returned to Jerusalem there were no more prophets and Israel was still under foreign rule.

But looking at the time before Moses and looking at the New Testament, I don’t see where a single person attempted to reform the pagan government they served under. Abraham left Ur and wandered. He did not stick around and try to reform it. Neither did Lot attempt to reform Sodom and Gomorrah. Jacob, Joseph and the patriarchs did not try to reform Egypt. Moses did not demand of Pharaoh that he straighten up and fly right. He just demanded that Pharaoh let the people go. Once they came into Canaan they simply conquered and pushed out the other nations to make room for themselves. During the exile Daniel did not try to reform Nebuchadnezzar’s government. Neither did Ezra nor Nehemiah. They served God from within those governments.

In the New Testament we don’t see Jesus discussing current events in the Roman Empire, though he had plenty to say about the Jewish people that lived under Roman rule. Jesus did not tell His followers to reform their government. Rather, He insisted they pay their taxes. Jesus would have been equally at home under communist rule, socialist rule, a monarchy, a dictatorship or a democracy. Because what the government looked like did not matter. Only spreading the message of the gospel mattered, and that could be done under any government, oppressive or not.

Peter, John, Paul and the others did not waste a single moment trying to effect change in the governments of the countries where they ministered. They stayed focused on people and churches. They admonished believers to be model citizens and pray for their leaders. Their focus was on the individual hearts of the Christians, not their political ideology.

Believers everywhere should act the same way no matter what their government looks like. Take Daniel for example. In Daniel 6, when he saw that a decree had come down forbidding him to worship God, he went home and opened his window and knelt to pray, just like he did every other day (See Dan. 6:10). What happened next did not matter. Daniel’s focus was on God. He didn’t start complaining about his government, or posting angry messages about the king on some ancient version of Facebook. He also did not start protesting and picketing for his rights. He just kept on doing what God wanted him to do, day in and day out.

These thoughts may be controversial to some. I don’t believe the Bible advocates that we should be picketing and protesting unjust laws or practices. America today is much closer than ever before to the Roman Empire of Paul’s day, and I am paying attention to what Paul did. One thing he did not do was waste a single moment on bashing his government or trying to reform it. Instead, he encouraged believers to be good citizens and to pray for their leaders. He wanted believers to be so different that people couldn’t help but notice. He took advantage of his rights when he could, but his rights were not his main concern. When he was whipped and tossed in jail he did not say a single word about his rights being violated. It was only at the end when he saw that he could make an impression for Christ that he brought up his Roman citizenship (see Acts 16:23-40). He did all things for Christ and for Him alone. As he said in 1 Cor. 2:2 that he resolved to know nothing while he was among other believers except Christ and Him crucified.

So the question becomes, should Christians be picketing abortion clinics or satanic movies? Should we be starting grass roots movements to gain or keep rights that are slowly eroding away? Should we be involved in lawsuits, even when we know we’re right? Should we be posting negative comments on Facebook about our government or its leaders? Or should we be praying for them, paying our taxes and going about the work of the kingdom? This is something we need to think hard about and decide. How exactly does Jesus want us to spend our time here on earth?

Do We Have the Right to Worship God?

Bible believing Christians have a duty to worship God. If we love God then we should also have a desire to worship Him. But does God care whether we have a right to worship Him?

American Christians have been blessed more than most people in any generation with the freedom to worship God. Before we go further we should note that we all have the ability to worship privately no matter what the government or anyone else says. We always retain control of our own thoughts, attitudes and internal decisions. A person can be locked up and prevented from speaking, but in the end they still control their own minds. So that is not what we are referring to here.

Instead, we are referring to public worship, including but not limited to church meetings, Bible studies and public prayer. We are talking about any type of public worship where we might bump up against the “authorities” who don’t want us to worship in some particular fashion or don’t want us to worship some particular deity – namely the triune God of Christianity.

In America right now we can go to church or not. We can change churches. We can split from churches and even start our own churches. We can attend Bible studies and rallies and prayer services nearly to our heart’s content. At this moment in American history this is our right according to the first amendment of the Constitution. We love our right and we exercise that right as we should. Christians of other countries and eras would envy our freedom to worship.

But what if we lose that freedom to worship publically? What does the Bible say about fighting for that right and freedom? What are we supposed to do in regards to our government? How are we supposed to behave in good times and bad? If the government takes away our right, what are we supposed to do or not do?

That is the question. What does the Bible say? I believe it says that we should not spend our time fighting for the right to worship from our government. We should be busy about the kingdom’s work, not about fighting for our rights from the government. I suppose many will disagree. I am interested to see how others feel.

The Implications of the Fatherhood of God

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time you’ll have undoubtedly seen the lists of all the names for God in the Bible. He is the Creator, Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai, El Shaddai, Jehovah Jireh, and on and on the list goes. People have put these names on posters and T-Shirts, and have memorized them and made songs out of them. All of this is good. God deserves to be worshipped in every way. But there is one name that is superior to them all. This final revelation of God came through Jesus Christ and it is unquestionably the best. That is, Jesus revealed to us that God is our Father.

Some have likely grasped all that this means. I know that the true implications of the Fatherhood of God are still opening up to me. I heard a preacher on the radio (was not sure who he was) mentioning that when Jesus was teaching us how to pray, He could have had us say “Our Creator, who art in heaven.” Or He could have directed us to say “Our Almighty, who art in heaven.” Similarly, He could have used other terms, such as Our Friend, Our Lord, Our I AM, Our Provider, Our Banner, etc…. All of them would have been correct and we could have prayed this way with no problem. God would be honored. But we ourselves would be missing something. Jesus, knowing that we needed this last aspect of God to complete our understanding of His love for us and our relationship with Him, chose to reveal God as “Our Father.”

Nowhere in the Old Testament is God ever referred to as Father, except obliquely in relation to the nation of Israel. So this revelation from Jesus must have really thrown the disciples for a loop. It’s likely they simply did not understand at the time just how significant this was. Once the Holy Spirit indwelt them and enlightened their minds they were able to grasp it. But when Jesus first said it they were probably very confused.

God being our Creator and Master and Lord is one thing, but God being our Father is mind blowing. It is so much more than we creatures could have ever dreamed of. This is yet another reason why I believe Christianity is true. No human could have come up with this stuff. It’s just too outrageous. How dare we call God “Father” unless God told us we could?

So, looking at this then, we can see how superior the title “Father” is to all other titles. For example, we are first introduced to God in the Old Testament as the Creator. If that is the only way we know God then we can only relate to him as creature to Creator. We can be grateful that He created us. But what kind of relationship can a creature have with the Creator? It is always going to be a relationship of two things apart. The creature is not the Creator, and never will be. The Creator is in no way a creature and never will be. We may be created in His image, but that is as far as we can really get. We can only worship afar off.

God also revealed Himself as the great “I AM.” From this we gather that God is all in all. He is completely all power and completely all self-sufficient. He is completely self-existent as well. He is completely complete in every way. There was never a time when He was becoming. He “IS” and He always “IS” at every moment of time, and even before moments of time existed. So how do we finite creatures relate to the infinite? We can’t fully relate. We learn to trust that He will provide for us out of His complete abundance, and that He’ll take care of us with His complete power, and that He’ll love us from His completely love, etc… But the finite can’t grasp the infinite. Again we worship afar off.

If God were also just our friend, we could relate as one friend to another, and maybe even develop some intimacy. But the friend is not of the same family. We have no share in anything the friend has unless he chooses to give it to us. We will always be separate from the friend. At the end of the day, we could maybe “crash” on the friend’s couch, but eventually we have to go home. In other words, we are always separated from Him. He lives at his place and we live at ours. We can but worship afar off.

But Father! This means family! We are no longer just creatures. We aren’t just some little peons down here that He will take care of. We aren’t just His friends. He has actually adopted us into His family. This means that we were brought into the family so that we would grow up to look like our “Father.” We sleep in a room in His house and we eat our meals at the same table. We are privy to what goes on in the family. We take vacations together. We share in the joys and sorrows of the family. We have all the privileges that children get. If we were just friends or servants in the household those privileges would not be for us. But as children of God those privileges are expressly for us.

We also become eligible for His inheritance. Friends and servants don’t inherit. But children do. We are now eligible to inherit all that God has for those in His family. God has promised that we can share in the joy of being part of His family now, and we have a promised inheritance later.

If you had a lousy father, then some of this is hard to grasp. But think of God as the father you always wished you had. The Andy Griffith father who took time off work to go fishing with his kid just because. God is that kind of father times a million.

As Christians, don’t hesitate to call God your Father. Begin right now to realize that you are a fully adopted member of the household of God; brother to Christ Himself. You are eligible right this minute to begin sharing in all the blessings of the family of God.