Chosen To Be Holy

Ephesians #3

“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,”

Ephesians 1:4-5 (ESV)

A while ago I was forced to reassess something extremely important in the Christian faith. I had to face the challenge of the sovereignty of God. And these verses played no small part in that journey.

I once believed that although God was supreme, He did not control every single little action in the universe. I believed that our response to Him was somehow our choice – an act of our free will. The more I think about that, the more ludicrous it sounds.

The Bible teaches that God chose us, and not the other way around. As hard as that may be to get our heads around sometimes, it must be true. The alternative goes something like this, and I hope you agree it makes little sense. When I was a sinner, and had nothing to do with God whatsoever; while I was far off and living (and enjoying) my sin and sinfulness, somehow… some way… I decided to turn from that sin and come to God…

That cannot be correct.

Instead, while I was in that sin and quite happy there, God reached down and saved me from and in spite of myself. He essentially saved me against my will because no sinner willingly wants God in their lives. I had no will to escape the sin that I was in. Nor did I have the power to do so. The truth is that God chose me and He chose you as well.

These verses clearly tell us that God chose us and He did so before the foundation of the world. He chose us before creation. He chose us before we did or thought or said anything. That means that his choice had absolutely nothing to do with us. He chose us because it was His sovereign will to do so.

When we hear this truth, we often ask the question: “If He chose us, then why not choose someone else?” That is to say, if the choice is His, what about the ones who reject Him? This is a difficult question, and when we realise that God chooses some and not others, we feel it is somehow unfair. I’ve said it before, but fairness is not what we want from God, rather we want grace and mercy.

It is a miracle He chose any of us at all.

Why did He choose us? To be holy and blameless before Him.

I’ve always believed that God saved us for our own sake, and of course He does, but i’m no longer convinced it is His primary reason for doing so. Rather, I am starting to think God saved us not for us, but primarily so that He would have a spotless bride to present to His Son.

God predestined us for adoption, as the verses above say, and put simply, that means that God decided in advance to bring us into His family forever. Adoption is such a wonderful picture because legal adoptions cannot be undone, and also entitle the adoptee to everything that a natural child would have access to. Adopted children are as equal as natural ones, and the word “sons” here is important because the son (in that culture) had a greater claim than a daughter.

The point is that this adoption does not make us somehow second-class children. We are not somehow lesser children to God because we are adopted, rather instead the text makes clear that we are welcomed and celebrated in God’s family.

God specially selected you to be His very own, and He has brought you into His adopted family. I hope, like me, that makes you feel very special indeed. Even if the entire world rejects you, you can be assured that God will never reject or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

Rejoice in God’s love for you today, and know that this love will never change. You are His adopted child!

Capernaum

Pilgrimage to Israel #3

I continue my series on my pilgrimage to Israel with the next step on the journey at Capernaum. Just to let you know, I will intersperse this series on Israel with posts on other subjects to break things up a little! But do hope you’re enjoying this series about the Holy Land.

Capernaum is an ancient town on the north western shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. It is biblically significant and Jesus spent a lot of time there.

The town of Capernaum is mentioned a number of times in the Gospels.

You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until today.

Matthew 11:23 (WEB)


When he came into Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking him for help,

Matthew 8:5 (WEB)

For some background, you will no doubt be aware that Jesus was born in Bethlehem – something we celebrate in this advent season. After his birth, Mary and Joseph took him to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod (Matthew 2:13).

After being warned in a dream that it was safe to return, Mary and Joseph returned with Jesus to the town of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. We know very little about his time in Nazareth and His childhood in general, the Gospel narratives refer to only one instance found in the book of Luke (ch. 2, v41-52).

As Jesus began His ministry, he spent much time in and around the Sea of Galilee as I mentioned in a previous post. When he attempted to minister in His home town of Nazareth, the local people rejected Him refusing to accept that he could be anything more than a simple carpenter’s son. After that point Jesus moved his ministry to Capernaum.

He went out from there. He came into his own country, and his disciples followed him. 2 When the Sabbath had come, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many hearing him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things?” and, “What is the wisdom that is given to this man, that such mighty works come about by his hands? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judah, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” So they were offended at him.

Mark 6:1-3 (WEB)

Leaving Nazareth, he came and lived in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,

Matthew 4:13 (WEB)

Capernaum essentially becomes Jesus’ base of operations for His ministry in the northern part of Israel. It’s an important site and one well worth a visit.

Aside from more great views of the Sea of Galilee, there were two main things we stopped to see.

Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient house supposedly belonging to Peter and his family. Above its ruins is built a chapel with more wonderful acoustics. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to sing, we held a short service there and took advantage of the great sound of the place.

the-house-and-church

In the centre of the chapel is a viewing platform where you can look down over the ruins of the house. While some suggest this is really Peters house, I don’t suppose there is any real way to know for sure. Did Peter live here? Is this where Jesus healed Peters mother in law? Or did he live three doors down on the right? We can’t know.

The second point of interest is the uncovered ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum.

syna caper

Unlike Peters house, this really is the spot of the synagogue and we are confident that Jesus would have spent time there.  When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah announcing His ministry and who He was, He was at Nazereth – but He would have been in a synagogue much like this one at Capernaum.

You can see from the image what looks like large steps going around the outside. These are in fact seating benches, much like you would see in ancient stadia. The congregation would sit along here and the rabbi would speak and read from the scrolls. We sat in the seats, and we listened to the Scripture that Jesus would have read out loud 2,000 years ago.

We visited Capernaum at the end of our day, and after having looked around the ruins and conducted our service in the chapel, we headed down to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee once again. As the sun was setting over the hills, it shone brightly and was unusually striking. I’m not suggesting there was anything supernatural about it, but it was great to see such a powerful sunset in such an amazing place.

It was a peaceful place, like so many others we would visit that week, and I was extremely grateful for a few minutes that afternoon to reflect on what I’d seen that first day. I wondered if Jesus Himself would have sat somewhere near where we were sitting, praying or reflecting on His ministry.

This place, like many others we would soon visit, would force us to reflect on who Jesus was, and is. I invite you today to consider who Jesus is and the place He holds in your life.

 

 

 

Repetitious Reading

I am an advocate that all Christians should be reading the Bible regularly. I hope that does not surprise you! The Bible is God speaking to his people, and therefore it should be a priority in our Christian lives.

Yet it is surprising to me how few people actually read the Bible on a regular basis. Some have never read the entire Bible at all. One of the main reasons some Christians get drawn into false doctrine or deception is because they simply do not know what the Bible says.

It can be a daunting book for some people. So I would recommend a simple approach.

If you are just starting out, take one of the smaller letters from the New Testament – 3 John or Phillipians for instance . Read the whole book every single day for 30 days. The first day maybe tough, and you may not be entirely sure what to take from it. But keep going. As you approach the end of the 30 days, you’ll be much more familiar with the overall message of the book and also some of the key points.

Doing it in this repetitious manner will also help you to remember what the book says. You will be surprised that even many months later when you think about the book, you will still retain some of the important features.

I usually use a computer or phone app to read the Bible. The Bible Gateway or Blue Letter Bible are good options. For this purpose however, I would encourage you to use a hard copy Bible. The reason is because it will help your memory. If you have the book in front of you, and a particular verse stands out, you will remember where that verse is on the page. Your brain is very good at this. If that particular verse stands out to you, you will remember if it is on the left page, second column, halfway down. You lose some of this geographical memory when using a phone or computer.

I would also recommend that you don’t make this into a law! If you decide to do it for 30 days, and you happen to miss a day, don’t panic! No one will be knocking at your door to call you to account. Just make it a personal goal. God is always pleased when we make reading the Word a priority, even if we don’t do it perfectly.

If you find it helpful and want to move on, you can tackle some of the larger books too. Break them up into manageable chunks. Take the book of Matthew for example, and break it into four pieces of seven chapters each. Take the first seven chapters and read it for 30 days. Then take the next seven and so on. In this way you’ll be able to review the larger books as well.

Pray alongside your reading also. Reading the Bible is not an intellectual exercise, but a spiritual one. None of us can understand the Bible without God’s help. Invite the Holy Spirit to join you as you read and ask Him to help you to understand and retain what is before you.

Let me know if you find this helpful. If it’s not for you, then fine, move on to something that does help. I pray your Bible reading is fruitful and it draws you closer to the Father.

The Mount of Beatitudes

Pilgrimage to Israel #2

Having spent some time in and around the sea of Galilee, the next step of our pilgrimage took us to the Mount of Beatitudes. This is the mountain where Jesus taught his sermon, and included the eight the attitudes in the eight blessings that he spoke.

You can find these in Matthew five.

Seeing the multitudes, he went up onto the mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and taught them, saying,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.Isaiah 57:1566:2
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they shall be comforted.Isaiah 61:266:10,13
Blessed are the gentle,
    for they shall inherit the earth.[a] Psalm 37:11
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they shall be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-12 (WEB)

MtBe

The church of the Beatitudes sits atop a hill, sloping down to the shores of the sea of Galilee. As Jesus preached his sermon on the Mount, we were told He would likely have sat in a boat on the water, with the crowds gathered on the hillside. He would have projected His voice up the hill and it would have acted much like a stadium, allowing the vast numbers of people to hear His blessed words.

The text of the Bible (above) slightly contradicts this however. It states that Jesus would have been on the hillside, likely up high, and the crowds gathered beneath Him. In a similar way, He could have projected His voice downwards enabling all to hear.

Jesus opens his sermon with these eight blessings. I love the sermon on the Mount, but I must confess to struggling with some of these blessings. The meaning can be hard to grasp at times, and living them out can be even more difficult.

What does it mean, for instance, to be poor in spirit? Likewise, how can any of us hope to be pure?

Yet Jesus pronounces special blessings on those who attain these things. The purpose of my post today is not to teach on the Beatitudes, but I can’t help but pause here for a moment to think about the depth of their meaning.

Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness – moral uprightness and to be in right standing with God?

Are you a peacemaker? Are you there, in the midst of conflict, mediating and offering soothing words? How difficult it is to give a soft answer at times, and yet we know a soft answer turns away wrath – Proverbs 15.

Anyway, back to the blog already in progress… you remember, the one about the place – Mount of Beatitudes!

The chapel is beautiful. There is a real sense of peace here. The building is octagonal in shape; one side for each of the eight blessings.

One of the most notable things about this place are the acoustics of the church. As our group moved quietly around, a few of our number with wonderful voices began to sing. If just a few voices can make such a wonderfully uplifting noise, then what must a whole host of angels sound like? I don’t recall even which song was sung, but I just remember the atmosphere as the harmonies surrounded us.

The gardens surrounding the church are not large, but they are well kept and offer wonderful views of the Sea of Galilee. As you walk around the paths, there are signs displaying the text of each of the beatitudes. Time did not allow us to linger there for too long, but I can imagine it being a wonderful place to just walk around and slowly pray through each blessing in turn.

In that peaceful place, it is easy to forget the troubles that still face the land of Israel today. While the Bible teaches that there will be troubled times in Israel and across the world during the latter days, we know that the Prince of peace will one-day put everything right. We may be persecuted, as the blessing tells us, for His name’s sake, but our trouble on earth is but a wisp in comparison to eternity.

Blessed indeed are the peacemakers, and blessed may you be today and every day that you seek to follow Christ.

Sea of Galilee

Pilgrimage to Israel #1

We began our pilgrimage to Israel on a Sunday morning with a simple Eucharist service. Eucharist means “thanksgiving” I’m told, but in some churches is reference to a Communion service.

As I look around the church, I realised we were a mixed bunch. Some knew each other, while others were strangers. Some were Roman Catholic, and some Anglican, and still others claimed no faith at all. Yet we all jurneyed together, and would support one another throughout the week.

We travelled to London Heathrow, and were subject to understandably high levels of security on both sides of our flight. Touching down in Tel Aviv airport in the late evening, we then drove north to the city of Tiberius which was our base for the first part of the trip.

We awoke that first morning with a sense of excitement, and to views from our hotel of the Sea of Galilee.

During my first trip to Israel, the Sea of Galilee was a particular highlight and was again this time. We drove the short distance from our hotel and boarded a wooden boat – supposedly similar to that used by Jesus and His disciples 2,000 years ago. I suspect Peter’s fishing boat did not have a motor nor a sound system however!

Out in the middle of the lake… and it is a lake, not a sea as the name suggests, the engines were turned off and we had a few moments of quiet to take in the scene. While there has been some changes over the years, it is rather easy to imagine Jesus and His friends sat in a boat on these waters, looking out at the various shorelines.

Some places we would visit in the week to come would be memorials of things we read in the Bible. We cannot say with any certainty that things happened in some of the places where we remember them. However, this lake – this Sea of Galilee – was indeed the very waters where Christ was.

Jesus walked on this sea…

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat, and go ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he himself sent the multitude away. 46 After he had taken leave of them, he went up the mountain to pray.
47 When evening had come, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 Seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was contrary to them, about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea

Mark 6:45-48 (WEB)

There was once a violent storm which rose up on this very sea, and Jesus calmed it…

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let’s go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the multitude, they took him with them, even as he was, in the boat. Other small boats were also with him. 37 A big wind storm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so much that the boat was already filled. 38 He himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up, and told him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?”

39 He awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?”

41 They were greatly afraid, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Mark 4:35-41 (WEB)

The lake itself isn’t as large as you might imagine. In some respects, it’s difficult to think that such a huge storm could sweep down on to these tranquill waters. Yet to the noth, is a set of mountains and storms can swell and drop down on to the lake with little warning. I’m pleased to report it was calm and sunny while we were there!

What many fail to realise is that most of Jesus’ ministry actually took place in and around this area. When we think of Israel, we may think of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the sites of the Crucifixion or Resurrection. Most of Jesus’ ministry did not occur there, but rather further north in the vicinity of Galilee.

The feeding of the five thousand, the deliverance of Legion, the healing of the man lowered through the roof on a mat… all of these events took place in the north. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, He met them in Galilee. Peter and the disciples were fishing again, and Jesus met them on the shore.

Later that day, we drove around the lake to Merci Christi – meaning Table of Christ. This is the site, it is thought, where Jesus met His disciples after the Resurrection and had breakfast with Him.

That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked), and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits away), dragging the net full of fish. So when they got out on the land, they saw a fire of coals there, with fish and bread laid on it. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

John 21:7-10 (WEB)

Just uphill from the shoreline sits a small chapel called “Merci Christi” meaning Table of Christ.

MC

As you exit the chapel, you can turn left and go and sit on the beach. Is it the spot where Jesus and His disciples ate? Not sure, but could be. And for me, that’s the power of this place. We don’t know the exact spot of such things, but we know – for certain – that Jesus walked these shores.

Some sites we would later visit have almost been commercialised, and it can be hard to imagine Jesus in those places. Not here though, not in Galilee. This peaceful place, where you can sit on a beach and hear the lapping of the water, this place is one where Christ was.

Although the Sea of Galilee was a highlight for me, that in no way diminished the rest of the trip. Every place we visited was special in its own way, and should you ever find yourself in Israel, make a special effort to stop by tthe waters where Jesus walked.

Blessed 2x

Ephesians

Many months ago I began writing about the book of Ephiasians. You can find that post here – From an Apostle to the Saints.

For various reasons, I did not write more on the subject but I am very pleased to return to it today. I did promise you it might not be a series… and I make no further claims now!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”

Ephesians 1:3 (WEB)

After Paul’s introduction, he wastes no time and dives straight in! Blessed! Blessed be God! You can feel the power of his words leaping from the page as you read this. Before he says anything else on any other subject, he starts with praise.

It’s a great place to start a letter, and it’s a great place to start a prayer. In fact, it’s a great way to start anything really! Whatever you’re doing, be it work, washing up or watching TV, always start with a word of praise.

Praising God has many effects on us, which we can consider in a moment, but praise isn’t about us at all. It is about God Himself. We turn our attention off of ourselves and our own lives, and we focus as fully as possible on the One who made us. Worship is our reason for being, and on days when I feel I achieve little else, I want to be able to say I fulfilled my created purpose by praising the God of Heaven today.

Imagine the effect on us, if we uttered words of worship prior to any activity. Take the TV example above. How different might our TV viewing choices be if we were to spend a moment thanking and worshipping the Father before picking up the remote.

Paul identifies God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we rejoice in that. There’s also a nod towards the Trinity here, so see if you can spot the Holy Spirit’s presence also. If not, I’ll pick up on that in a moment.

The word “Blessed,” appears twice in this verse, although they are slightly different Greek words. The way we read it naturally in English is how it was intended. The first “blessed,” is referring to God being blessed, or praised, and the second, refers to the blessing of God or invocation of God’s blessings on people.

What Paul says next is astonishing to me. He says, “who has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Read that again before you continue.

God has blessed us, which is wonderful. To simply say we’ve been blessed though, is something of an understatement!

God has “blessed us,” and we must first notice the tense. This is not a blessing we will get in the future, but something we hold right now.

What have we been blessed with exactly? “Every spiritual blessing,” That word translated as “every,” is the Greek word – pas – and means “every,” “any,” and “all.” That’s every spiritual blessing! Not some of them, not half, not most, but all of them!

You might not be feeling all that blessed at the moment, in fact, you might be looking at a stack of bills or a doctor’s report feeling anything but blessed. This verse shouldn’t be interpreted as “God is going to give me whatever I want…” as I don’t think that’s true. We do the Word and God Himself a great disservice however, when we diminish a verse like this and explain it away not accepting what it says.

You are more than just your body, and your life is more than just your bank balance. We must not limit the blessings of God to the physical realm. The spiritual world is far more real than this physical one, and came first. There was “spirit” long before there was any earthly matter.

Paul calls it “spiritual blessing,” and some therefore limit this to refer to things of the spirit such as sanctification, justification, salvation etc. And of course, all these are included. But the blessings here are “spiritual”, I believe, not because they are spiritual in nature, but because they are given by the Spirit of God. Christmas gifts are given at Christmas, that’s what makes them Christmas gifts, not because the gift itself has anything to do with Christmas (although it certainly might do).

Thus in this one verse Paul has pointed us to God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

My point is that this blessing given by God is no small thing. It’s not limited to things of the spirit, although we would do well to focus on the eternal things more than the temporary.

So where is this blessing exactly? We find it in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. You might be thinking you’d rather have the blessing down here on Earth than locked away in heaven with Christ. Yet if the blessing is in Christ and Christ dwells in us then the blessing is not as far away as we might think.

We are too often guilty of thinking that blessing relates to money possessions or things this world holds so dear. Paul goes on to talk about many wonderful spiritual blessings in the next few verses and we will examine these another time.

The take home message today is really to think about what we mean by being blessed. If we ask God to bless us are we asking for something God has already done?

What we have as believers and adopted children of God is far greater than anything this world can offer. Our eternal hope is held securely in Christ and God can do no more than He already has to enable us to access heaven forever.

It is truly humbling to think about what God has done for us.

But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8 (WEB)

We in no way deserve “every spiritual blessing” but it is ours because of what Jesus did at the cross. That is grace. And I join with Paul in saying “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen!

TV Reality

Do you ever watch reality TV? It is really anything but reality, and if not entirely scripted, then it’s heavily edited to give a very narrow view of what actually happened.

Instead of reality TV though, today I want to discuss “TV Reality”.

I started thinking about this the other day at a party. A dad was playing with his children, and it was great to see them all having such fun. To be truthful though, I felt a little guilty and questioned my own meager attempts at parenting . They seemed to be having such a good time, and I couldn’t imagine them ever having a falling out or a cross word.

They didn’t seem to have a care in the world, and appeared the perfect family.

That’s not reality though.

It is so easy to look at others and not see the problems that they face. It is all too easy to think we are the only ones having problems, or the only one going through a difficult time.

We glimpse the “perfect” life of another, and think it’s their day-to-day reality. It’s no more real than reality TV – in fact, it’s TV reality. TV Reality (my own idea) is where we see the portrayed reality put out into the world and believe it, whereas behind the scenes real life is going on and isn’t as good as it seems.

Social media makes this all the more problematic. No one ever puts their real life on Facebook, but only selected highlights. if you are scrolling through your Twitter feed thinking, “They’re all having such a great time, and I’m struggling!” Then you are not seeing the truth.

It is important to remember this, because when things get tough, it can be all too easy to believe the grass is greener on the other side. How many marriages broke down when things got tough, because one or both partners believed life would be better on the other side?

The Bible tells us to consider ourselves with sober judgement.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Romans 12:3 (EVS)

To consider yourself with sober judgement means to be honest. It means we ought not to look on others, and believe all things are rosy for them, when it’s hard for us. Sober judgement means not being harder on ourselves than we should, or excusing our mistakes either. We beat ourselves up over our sin at times, and then at others gloss over it!

The big problem is comparison. We compare ourselves to each other (often on social media feeds) and no good can come of it. I’m not saying we can’t learn from each other, far from it. But comparing ourselves with each other only leads to disappointment.

The only true measure of our lives is against the Word of God. In His Word, God sets out the way He wants us to live. He tells us what to do and what not to do. More importantly, it points us to the only One whose opinion really matters – God Himself.

If we compare against another person, we either judge ourselves better or worse than them. Neither is a good place to be.

Don’t look to others’ TV realities and focus on everything that’s wrong in your life. Don’t waste your time and energy keeping up with the Jones’ or being jealous of others social media lives.

Look to God’s Word for reality, and when you do, you’ll realise you come up rather short. Don’t despair though, God knows we cannot meet His standards and that’s why He sent Jesus to meet them for us. Instead of pouring your precious energy into living up to false realities, pour it into your relationship with Jesus. It’s a whole lot more satisfying!

R. E. A. P.

I often read the Bible on the train, and so it is handy to have a number of tools to help study. A few days ago I encountered this little study technique and thought I would share it with you today.

It is called R. E. A. P. And stands for read, examine, apply and pray.

R is for Read – the first part of the technique is to read. You take a passage and read it. Simple right? Pay attention to the things that stand out to you . Always think about the context as this can affect the meaning. Ask yourself if the passage is poetic, historical, prophetic or another type of literature. Watch out for who is speaking, and to whom.

E is for Evaluate – Having read the passage thoroughly, we then move on to evaluate it. Here we go a little deeper and try to listen to the Holy Spirit and what He is saying to us through this part of the Bible. We consider the main themes of the passage and what it would have meant to those who first received it. Before we can apply it to our own lives, we need to understand how it would have applied to those originally hearing or reading it.

A is for Apply – At this stage, we start to think about how this passage applies to us. The Bible is timeless, but sometimes we need to think about the way that what we have read applies to our modern day lives. Does the passage require us to do anything? Is God asking us to give something up, or to start doing something positive? Do we learn something about God here, and if so, how does that affect the decisions we make today?

P is for Pray – Lastly, having read and applied the passage, we take it back to God. We pray about the passage at hand, and ask God to help us apply it and live for Him more. It may result in us praising God, and thanking Him for a particular blessing or worshipping an aspect of His character.  We may realise we need to pray for someone we know, or for ourselves, and it is great to be led by the Spirit in that respect.

 

So there you have it! It is not a perfect tool, nor should it replace dedicated study, but in certain situations, you may find it a helpful way of looking at a Bible passage.

Whatever you do, I pray that your Bible study time is fruitful this week.

Hears and Delivers

The righteous cry, and Yahweh hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.

Psalm 34:17 (WEB)

 

If you are like me, when you read this verse you ask yourself “Am I righteous?” Or rather, “Am I righteous enough?” You may even start to question whether God hears your prayers, thinking you don’t qualify for the help He promises in this verse.

Righteousness however, is not about our performance nor is it something we earn.

Righteousness simply means to be in “right standing with God.” That is, to be in a good place with Him or to have a good relationship with Him. This is not something we can earn, but something we are gifted through the work of Jesus at the cross.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:

For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (WEB)

We are righteous not because of anything we have or haven’t done, but because we’ve put our faith in Jesus. He exchanged His own righteousness for our sin, and now we can approach God in freedom through His blood.

So, in short, you do qualify!

If you are a follower of Christ and in relationship with Him, then you are righteous and can be assured that God does indeed hear you when you cry out. This isn’t the only verse to make such a claim, and so you can be sure that your prayers are heard.

This verse also says God delivers us from our troubles. This is a great promise, and I have no wish to limit it. I think we do need to carefully interpret it however.

If you turn on Christian TV, you might find a preacher claiming that Christians should never have another problem or that God will wave His hand over your life and all your troubles will disappear. The really unscrupulous ones may even suggest you exchange your money for such a result.

To put it plainly, that’s not biblical!

So am I saying this verse is a lie then? Not at all!

God does indeed deliver us from trouble. But that does not necessarily mean He takes it all away. Often, God will give us the strength we need to endure through a problem. We may pray that God will take it away, but He would rather we pray for the strength to endure it with a good attitude.

I am not aware of any New Testament prayer that asks God to remove all obstacles out of our way. Rather, saints like Paul prayed for inner strength, power, knowledge, peace, and more, and all to the glory of God.

Don’t misunderstand though, I am not saying God is limited or unwilling, and cannot help. The Creator of the universe is still in control, and very much looks out for the good of His children. We forget sometimes though that god’s primary concern is not our comfort, but His glory.

Whatever you are facing right now, you can trust that God not only hears your prayers, but is ready and willing to deliver you. If you’re stuck in the valley, you might want a helicopter ride out, but be prepared to push on one step at a time. God is with you!

Where To Draw the Line

Last time, I wrote about how to defend yourself against deception. This time, I want to think about where we draw the line when it comes to Bible teachers we disagree with.

What I mean is, no single teacher has everything 100% correct. And if you are looking for a theologically perfect teacher, then you will be searching for a very long time. All of us are on a journey, including those with a gift to teach, and so there may be elements of their teaching which is not quite correct.

Myt question, therefore, is where do we draw the line?

Clearly if someone is teaching blatant heracy, we should avoid them like the plague. You probably don’t need me to tell you that! If they teach that Christ is not the only way to God, or that we can earn our way into heaven (as examples) then have nothing to do with them.

But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any “good news” other than that which we preached to you, let him be cursed. 9 As we have said before, so I now say again: if any man preaches to you any “good news” other than that which you received, let him be cursed.

Galatians 1:8-9 (WEB)

Usually however, false teaching is rarely so obvious.

I was listening to a sermon the other day and was learning from what was being said. At one point however, the speaker made a comment about God’s Sovereignty. As you know, this is something I’ve been thinking about over the last year and so I was perhaps more attentive to such a statement than I might otherwise have been.

What they actually said is not relevant here, but it suggested they had a more liberal view of what God’s Sovereignty actually meant. It was a passing remark, and not a full statement of their beliefs. What if though, they had a mistaken or false view of God’s Sovereignty? Should I abandon the teaching altogether and forget all that they said?

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty, like some others, is a critical doctrine and so likely affects all other aspects of our faith. If we have a wrong belief about such a foundational truth, then that will likely have a knock effect on what else we believe.

There are some issues in the Bible which I think are fundamental. I mentioned some of these above, but would also include the inerrancy of Scripture and the deity of Christ. There are other matters however, which are perhaps less clear cut and there is space for believers to disagree (agreeably).

So how can we decide if we should listen to and accept one Bible teacher’s lessons over another?

There is no easy answer I’m afraid. I cannot give you a single formula where you can plug in certain factors and get out a Yes or No answer.

We must start with what I discussed last time. We must attempt to gain a systematic and complete view of Scripture. The better we understand the Bible as a complete message, the easier it will be to detect false teaching when we encounter it. And by “false teaching” it could be mistaken teaching rather than deliberately deceptive.

As I said last time, we must interpret Scripture in the light of other Scripture. We must not take individual verses and make a new doctrine out of them. Context helps us understand what the message is meant to be.

Secondly, i think we should take each case in its own right. There may be a difference between us listening to a single message from someone, and us choosing to regularly sit under their teaching. A single message may be fine, but when we sit under someone’s teaching for a length of time, we will inevitably be learning more about their perspective and theology.

While of course we need to be on guard, I also don’t think we should be closed minded. Within reason, I try to listen to a variety of teachers in order to try to gain a wider perspective. That’s not to say I swallow any and every teaching that comes along, but if you only listen to one teacher, you only get that one perspective.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must take everything back to God in prayer and His Word. If you encounter a teaching which you are not sure about, then take the time to see what the Bible says about it. Instead of just listening to a teacher, discuss it with the Teacher. Be a Berean!

Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Acts 17:11 (WEB)


But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.

John 14:26 (WEB)

Understanding the Bible is not an easy or simple task. It is a complex book, but it is meant for believers. If you know the Lord and are seeking to follow Him with your life, then the Bible is there for you. Speak to God about it and He will teach you from it. It may take a lifetime to learn, but it is worth every effort you put in.

I hope this has been helpful.

Do Not Be Deceived

But false prophets also arose among the people, as false teachers will also be among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction.

2 Peter 2:1 (WEB)


Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (WEB)


Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.

Ephesians 5:6 (WEB)

 

I’ve been thinking about deception lately. The Bible carries many warnings to the believer to not be deceived. But how do we do that?

The problem with deception is that when you are suffering from it, you don’t know. To be deceived means to be completely ignorant of a false belief. If we don’t know that our beliefs are false, then how we can we ever escape from deception’s grasp?

One of the most amazing benefits, and also biggest risks, of our modern world is our free access to information. Even within the church world, you can turn on a Christian TV channel or radio station 24 hours a day and access “bible teaching”. Likewise, you can dive into social media and follow all manner of Christian teachers.

I myself write a blog and have written and published a book. Anyone can. There is no body or organisation to check that the materials one can put out are correct and true.

With all of this access to information, and more specifically Bible-related teaching, how can you ever be sure that you are hearing the truth? One denomination teaches God sovereignly controls everything, and another that He does not. One teaches that the Gifts of the Spirit were for the early church only, and yet another that they are for the here and now. Some teach prosperity, while others poverty. Who is right?

Deception is like a mask we don’t know we are wearing. So how do we take it off?

A Firm Grasp of the Bible

The only way to avoid deception is to have a firm grasp of the Bible and its teachings. You will never be able to guard yourself against false teaching if you do not know what the Bible says. And you must know it for yourself – not merely based on what someone else has told you.

We are all sometimes guilty of not taking our faith seriously enough. Like anything, to become an expert, we must invest time and effort into it. We cannot hope to build a deep and strong knowledge of the Bible based on a short sermon once a week on a Sunday. Imagine a Cello player who only played for 25 minutes on a Sunday morning, and didn’t touch their instrument for the rest of the week. They would never be a master musician.

We must not only read the Bible, but study it on a regular basis.

The way we study is also very important. You may consider this blog, or a Christian book, or a sermon, as ways in which you can gain a better understanding of the Bible. That is true. And can certainly be a good thing, if the teaching is sound.

The issue comes when we look at passages of Scripture in isolation. The only way to properly interpret the Bible is in the light of other Scripture.

Too many of us, myself included at times, take a verse or passage, and don’t properly apply its context. What I mean is this – take Jesus’ encounter with the rich young rules. Jesus meets a man who claims to have followed all the commandments since his youth. Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. What lesson can we learn from this encounter?

Is Jesus teaching that all believers should sell all they have and give it to the poor? Is He saying that it is a sin to be rich and that we all ought to have nothing? If this was the only verse in the Bible which talked on the subject, then we might draw that conclusion. However, there are many verses in the Bible about material possessions and the dangers of wealth, but also many describing poverty as a curse.

We cannot take a single verse and make a doctrine out of it.

Continuing with the example of wealth and material possessions, you can likely turn on your TV today and find someone on a Christian TV channel preaching on prosperity and how it is God’s desire for His people. Is that right? They might quote Philippians 4:19 which says:

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (WEB)

This is a wonderful promise, but is it a promise to you? You won’t know unless you understand who wrote it and to whom and any prerequisites such a promise might have. Here, it is written by Paul to a set of believers who were partnering with him in proclaiming the Gospel.

My point is that we must take a wide-angle view when studying the Bible. Further than that, we must take a systematic view. We cannot just snatch small chunks of the Word, take it out of context and then proclaim it as the full truth.

To avoid deception, we must have a thorough and systematic understanding of what the Bible teaches – as a whole. When we have that, we are far less at risk of falling for a false teaching.

Not everyone can go to Theological or Bible college, but we can all be “theologians” in our own right. I think it was Graeme Goldsworthy who said, “Every Christian should be a theologian.”

Don’t be put off by the term, it just means that each of us must be responsible for understanding the Bible. There are many tools available to help us do that.

Remember no one individual or denomination has 100% perfect theology. We are all growing and learning, and I can certainly say for myself that as I learn more about the Bible, I adapt my views. This is growth.

Remember also that not all false teaching is deliberately designed to steer you away from the truth, and it may simply be a gap in the teacher’s knowledge. Irrespective of this though, deception is dangerous and can lead us away from God.

Prayer and the Holy Spirit

Alongside having a thorough and systematic view of Scripture, we must also seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance through prayer. God can and does give us wisdom, and the Holy Spirit wants to lead us into all truth.

It would be dangerous to do this without a strong knowledge of the Bible, because you would not know if you were hearing from God through the Spirit, or another source such as our own mind or the enemy. As long as we have the framework of the Bible, then we can and should seek God’s guidance. We know that God will never contradict His Word.

Removing the mask of deception

To be rid of deception, we must be open and honest with ourselves. As we study the Bible, we will no doubt encounter truths that don’t align to our beliefs. When that happens, we must be honest and ask ourselves what we really believe.

It can be hard to face the truth. You may have read my blog posts last year about the Sovereignty of God. I had been taught that God does not control every single aspect of life, and that humanity is free to do what it wants. As I studied the Scriptures, it became clear to me that what I had believed was not really in line with what the Bible said. I had to adapt my views, and accept, no matter how uncomfortable it was, that I was wrong.

I see this as a good thing. I would rather go through the pain of changing my beliefs to more closely align to the Bible, than to stay under the mask of deception.

I pray for myself and all of you, that God will reveal all areas of our lives where we are deceived. And that through proper study of the Bible, we will all be able to guard ourselves against false teaching and deception in all its forms.

Conquering Fear (Audio)

Here is the audio from a sermon I gave a few weeks ago at a local women’s retreat. It is about Conquering Fear and comes from the passage in Mark 4 where Jesus calms the storm.

I’m sorry about the quality of the audio, and hope it doesn’t distract too much. My microphone seemed to pick up the traffic noise more than me for some reason! I also have my youngest daughter around to “help” me at times!