Promises, promises (Psalm 91 part 2)

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler,
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
and ten thousand at your right hand;
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes,
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made Yahweh your refuge,
and the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall happen to you,
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he will put his angels in charge of you,
to guard you in all your ways.
12 They will bear you up in their hands,
so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and cobra.
You will trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot.
14 “Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him.
I will set him on high, because he has known my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him in trouble.
I will deliver him, and honor him.
16 I will satisfy him with long life,
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91 (WEB)

This is a second post on Psalm 91, and you can read the first part here – Read the Bible… literally?

Last time, we started to think about whether the Bible should be read literally or not. And the answer was “It depends…”

Some passages are clearly poetic or allegorical and should not be taken literally. Likewise, other passages of Scripture are definite instructions that should be followed as such.

Psalm 91 has some amazing promises, and at this time in the world, there are many Christians quoting these promises of protection against the Corona virus. Is that appropriate however?

Can we interpret these verses as meaning God will protect us from harm, violence, pestilence and the like? Or is there more going on here?

We really want to be able to believe these promises and interpret them literally. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have total protection against these things at all times? But us wanting it to be true is not the same as it being true.

I recently heard someone preaching on these verses and essentially saying that if you have sufficient faith, then you can accept these verses at face value and it only fails to work for those who fail to trust God sufficiently.

That’s the risk. We read these verses and if they seem untrue in our lives, then we conclude we don’t have enough faith. When we water down God’s Word to the point where we say, “If we do this, then that will happen…” We make the Bible a scientific formula in a way it was never intended to be. 

Look at the evidence of your life. If you are reading this, then chances are you are probably a believing Christian. Can you say you are without trouble, violence or illness at all times? If not, then is that because you have failed to trust God? Again, I doubt it.

When Jesus was being tempted by the devil, the enemy quoted these exact verses to the Lord.

Then the devil took him into the holy city. He set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and,
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you don’t dash your foot against a stone.’”Psalm 91:11-12

7 Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not test the Lord, your God.’”Deuteronomy 6:16

Matthew 4:5-7 (WEB)

It seems to me that the devil was trying to tempt Jesus into believing that these verses were literally true. He was enticing Him to test God by forcing Him to uphold the promise. If Jesus leapt from the roof, then angels would have to be issued to stop Him dashing His foot or on a stone.

Jesus responds perfectly and says you should not put God to the test.

If the devil is trying to get Jesus to test this promise, and He refuses, why do we think we can get away with it?

Similarly, if it was a matter of how much we trust God, then Jesus has us beaten. None of us can claim to trust the Father to the same degree that Jesus did. Jesus trusted His Father perfectly. If that’s the case, and if these promises are literal, then Jesus should have been able to draw upon them.

The psalm itself gives us a hint that there is more to these words than just their face value. Verse 15 says, “He will call on me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble.” Be with us “in trouble”? But don’t the earlier promises suggest we won’t have any trouble?

So, where does this leave us? 

We must understand this passage in the light of other passages. Indeed, all Scripture must be understood in its proper place among the context of the Bible. 

Take Job. He lost everything; his health, his wealth and his family. As he sat down with his three friends, they essentially told him that all this happened because he did not trust in God. That is exactly what we are tempted to think when trouble comes to us. Yet, at the end, God appeared and pronounced that the friends had not represented Him well at all. 

Likewise, Jesus Himself said:

I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble; but cheer up! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (WEB)

Jesus says it plainly. While we live in this world, we will have trouble. He was neither ignorant of Psalm 91 nor contradictory of it. 

It is my belief therefore that this Psalm is about God’s faithfulness to His people. He does offer protection, refuge and defence, but often in the midst of the trouble befalling us. Our faith is not a weapon allowing us to remove every difficult and unpleasant thing in our path. Rather it connects us to the One who has overcome all of that, and walks through the trouble with us. 

I wish I could promise you that the Corona virus, or indeed any illness, will never affect you. Some teach that. Healing is very real, and I’ve have both heard and seen amazing miracles banishing sickness from someone. I do not believe God wants us to be sick, but neither do I think God’s primary concern is our comfort. 

God is more concerned about our eternal destiny, than our present and temporary trials. 

In our limited human minds, it is very difficult to try to grasp God’s wider purposes, especially when it comes to times of trouble. That’s where the trust comes in. God doesn’t reward our trust by removing all problems. Our trust in Him reminds us that He is in control, even when things go wrong. 

God is our refuge. He is most certainly our fortress. Life may get difficult, and it may even come to an end. God takes the long view however. This life is not all that there is, and eternity is a very long time in comparison. 

let this psalm inspire you. Let these wonderful words bring you into a place of praise and trust of our Heavenly Father. Ask Him to protect you from harm of course, but trust him if it does not happen as you had hoped. Don’t test God by putting yourself in harm’s way and demanding God rescue you. Instead, use your God-given brain and the leading of the Holy Spirit to avoid trouble where possible. If it comes, continue to rejoice in Him and your witness will speak volumes to a frightened world. 

Yesterday ended last night (PoW#25)

Pearl of Wisdom #25

Yesterday ended last night.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like much of nugget of wisdom. In fact, it’s rather obvious!

But look again…

Whatever successes you had yesterday, whatever you achieved, those things are done and there is a new day in front of you. We cannot live off of yesterday’s successes. We must make the most of everyday.

Similarly, whatever failures you had yesterday, they are in the past also. Don’t live with the regret of yesterday, but push on to what’s ahead.

Each of us has no more and no less than the day that is in front of us. We will only get one shot at it, so let’s make the most of it. We all have a limited number of them, and sadly none of us know what that number is. All we can do is our best each day.

What can you do to make today the very best you can?

What about the animals?

Jonah 4:11 (NLT) But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

As I write this, I’m overlooking a sort of forest woodland. In the last few minutes I have seen an abundance of nature! I’ve seen ducks, squirrels, deer, rabbits and even what I think was a stoat.

Due to the Coronavirus, the woodland has largely been abandoned at the moment. I suspect that the sudden drop in guests will quite badly affect the wildlife here. Over time I am sure they have become somewhat dependent on the food given to them by visitors. This area will be closed to the public for several weeks leaving the animals to fend for themselves for a while.

While the sudden drop in available food will be a bit of a shock to them, I am not overly worried about them. God cares for people, but He cares for His creation also.

There have been a number of posts on social media about panic buying and stockpiling. As a result, many food banks and charities have seen a dip in food donations. This is not limited to charities offering support for people either, and a number of animal rescue shelters are struggling too. The Coronavirus is affecting the whole world in myriad ways.

The verse above is quoted from the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. In fact, it is the closing verse of that book. Most people recall that Jonah was once swallowed by a big fish, but in case you don’t know the rest of the story, here is a brief summary.

God called Jonah to preach to the non-Jewish (Gentile) city of Nineveh. Instead, Jonah heads in the complete opposite direction and boards a ship to Tarshish. A great storm swamps the ship, and in the end Jonah confesses to the crew that he is the cause of their struggle. Ultimately they have to throw him overboard to still the storm.

It is at this point – more or less – that Jonah is swallowed by the fish. The fish later spews up the reluctant prophet on to the shoreline, and Jonah finally goes to Ninevah as he was instructed.

Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah and preach because he was afraid the people would listen to him… He knew that if they heard his message, they would repent and turn back to God – and God would forgive them. Imagine that?

After he gives his message, he goes and sits outside the city to see what would happen. The sun is burning hot, and he grows weary. God causes a vine to grow up beside him and offer him some shelter. Later however, a worm comes along and eats the root of the vine so it withers and Jonah loses his shade.

It’s something of an odd story right? Indeed it is, but it is really about who is in charge. God is running the show throughout, and He gives Jonah the vine and quickly takes it away to demonstrate to Jonah that he has no control in the situation. God wants Jonah to realise that He cares for the people of Ninevah.

The book of Jonah closes with the verse above. God tells Jonah He is right to care for the 120,000 people living there. We don’t know what happened to Jonah after this, but let’s hope he learned a lesson!

Perhaps 15 years ago, I had a dog who was very poorly. They had a particularly bad night, and we had to contact an emergency vet. The next day I happened to be reading this closing chapter of Jonah. I’ll always remember that because I recall very vividly this final verse. As well as the 120,000 people, God specifically mentions the animals also.

The word animals here is sometimes translated as cattle, so perhaps refers to farm animals or bovine species. Whatever it refers to though, it is clear that God cares for the animals also.

Animals are a part of God’s creation. While they are not as important as people, they are important. We have a responsibility to take care of them, and must certainly not mistreat them.

Spare a thought this week for all those affected by the Coronavirus. We must prioritise helping people with various needs at this time. We, the church, may not be able to gather together in large numbers, but we can and must continue to be Jesus’ hands and feet on the Earth. Call an isolated family member. Check on an elderly neighbour. Let’s do what we can to share God’s love in this difficult time.

As well as those things, and if you’re not overstretched, do consider whether there are ways to take care of God’s creation also. You might consider grabbing a can of dog food to pass on to a struggling pet owner. Perhaps you could walk a friend’s dog. Maybe, like me, there is a nearby animal shelter who could do with a helping hand at this difficult time.

Like many, I’m deeply disappointed to read stories of fighting in supermarkets and immoral seller hiking up prices. There are plenty of positives stories also, and we – the church – should be leading the way in that.

How can you be a blessing to those around you at this time? And remember, God cares about the animals also.

The Sinfulness of my Sin

I acknowledged my sin to thee, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5 (WEB)

The sinfulness of my sin… captivating title right? And I know what you are thinking – two blog posts in two days? What’s gotten into Andy?!

I’m pleased to report that all is well, and I’m not self-isolating with nothing to do. In fact, I am very conscious of how everyone is feeling right now, and hoping that a few extra blog posts will be well received.

A few weeks ago I spoke on Psalm 32. You can listen to that message here. It is a wonderful Psalm and I only had a short time to discuss it. This post covers one of the things I did not have time to explore.

The totality of the Psalm is about sin and repentance. It points out the depth of our wrongdoing, the wonder outs grace of God and our responsibility to confess and acknowledge our sin.

There is an interesting little phrase in verse 5 which says God forgives the “iniquity of our sin.” We might say the “sinfulness of our sin.”

Some translations of the Bible render this as the “guilt of our sin,” but this doesn’t quite cover it in my view.

If God forgives our sin, then what does it mean for Him to forgive the iniquity of our sin?

It is like saying the “saltiness of salt,” or the “chocolatey-ness of chocolate…” What is the psalmist getting at here?

Often when we say “Sorry,” we are not really sorry for what we did, but rather are sorry we got caught. When we see hardened criminals breaking down in tears in the dock of the courtroom, it is often about the loss of their freedom, money or reputation. Being sorry for the consequences of sin is of course very natural, and a great reason not to do it in the first place. But are we sorry for the sin itself? If we never got caught, are we truly repentant for the thing we did?

The sinfulness of our sin is the badness of our sin. It is to recognise that sin is wrong, not because it has terrible consequences, but because it is wrong in the sight of God.

When we are truly repentant, we are sorry to God for falling short of His perfection. We are saying that the thing we did – the things we all do – are very wrong irrespective of consequence and punishment.

God forgives us not just from the punishment of sin through Jesus’ death at the cross, but for sin’s sinfulness also. God forgives us for the wickedness of our sin, and all of its consequences. That is not to say that we are free from any consequence on Earth of course, just rob a bank to see what I mean. God can forgive a robber, but they’ll still go to jail for it.

The point is that we need to recognise that our sin is wrong. It is wrong in and of itself. The consequences are indeed terrible, if facing them without Christ, but the sinfulness alone is wicked before God.

As you reflect on and confess your own sins, ask yourself if you are sorry for what they are, or for their consequence.

Spend some time this week to reflect on where you have fallen short, and on the One who forgives all of your sins and covers all of your iniquity. Come to Jesus at the cross and surrender your whole life to Him. It will be the best decision you ever made!

Read the Bible… literally? (Psalm 91 part 1)

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler,
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
and ten thousand at your right hand;
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes,
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made Yahweh your refuge,
and the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall happen to you,
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he will put his angels in charge of you,
to guard you in all your ways.
12 They will bear you up in their hands,
so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and cobra.
You will trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot.
14 “Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him.
I will set him on high, because he has known my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him in trouble.
I will deliver him, and honor him.
16 I will satisfy him with long life,
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91 (WEB)

A cursory read of this Psalm and you might think all of your problems are over. The psalmist sings of God’s refuge, deliverance from deadly pestilence and being shielded in times of terror and violence. 

In the recent days where world governments have taken drastic measures to ward off the Corona-virus, I’ve seen many Christians quoting and meditating on the verses of this Psalm. But does this passage really suggest God will protect us from all illness, violence and trouble? If so, then why do we all face such troubled times in our lives? Let’s explore that in part two (to follow in the coming days).

For now, let’s think about taking the Bible literally. I recently heard a non-Christian source describing the “Pentacostals.” They were fairly general in their terms and what they said might have applied to any number of Christian denominations, whether they would consider themselves Pentacostal or not. One thin they said was that Pentacostals take the Bible literally – word-for-word. My ears pricked up at this. 

Is the Bible meant to be taken literally? It is not a Yes or No question i’m afraid. 

I hold Scripture in very high esteem. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God, and every Word can be trusted and relied upon. I base my entire life and eternity on the hope of the Bible. I know God and His Son Jesus Christ as revealed in the pages of Scripture. It is exactly as God intended it, and it without fault or mistake. 

Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,

2 Timothy 3:16 (WEB)

Does that mean I take the Bible literally? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. 

The Bible is not a simple book. It is made up of all kinds of different writing styles. Some of the Bible is poetic, some of it is historic, some is prophetic, and some of it is made up of letters written from Christians to churches or other ministers. 

Where the Bible is giving instruction, it is certainly meant to be taken literally. 

Passages containing poetry or allegory are more than likely not meant to be taken literally. 

Psalm 91 is one of those poetic passages, and we know that some parts at least, are not intended to be read literally. How can I say this for sure? Just read verse 4 with me:

He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.

Psalm 91:4 (WEB)

Does God have wings? How about feathers? I’ve studied the Bible for years, and read many books about it, and i’ve yet to hear anyone claim that God is a winged or feathered Being. This is a picture. It suggests a mother hen covering her vulnerable chicks under the protection of her wings. That’s the message the Psalmist is trying to create here. He is not trying to communicate that God literally has wings. 

It is therefore important when reading the Bible to try to discern whether a passage is meant to be read literally. Sometimes it is clear and sometimes not. Genesis 1 is a classic example of this. There are those who say it is a literal account of the creation, while others that it is just a poetic picture of how God did it. Whether you agree Genesis 1 is a scientific text or not, you catch my meaning (I hope!)

So, can we take the promises of Psalm 91 at face value? I hope that I have shown above that some parts of this psalm at least, are not intended to be taken literally. But can we claim the promises for our own? I will discuss this next time. Look out for part two!

Did you know you can subscribe to this blog? You can do so via WordPress or by entering your email address. Then you will be automatically notified of part two when it arrives! 

Quick to Listen (audio)

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

James 1:19 (NLT)

A short audio message from Andy about this particular verse considering respectful debate, the General Election and social media.

Never more have we needed this lesson from James!

https://andrewbrown100.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/quick-to-listen-1.m4a



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.

 

 

 

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!

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.

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.

Get into the Word (PoW#23)

Pearl of Wisdom #23

If you get into the Word of God, then the Word of God will get into you!

You will never be a strong or successful Christian unless you get into the Word of God in the Bible. Consider the Bible as your spiritual food!

As you begin to study the Word of God and absorb it’s truths, those truths will begin to shape your life. As you get into the Word, it will begin to get into you as well.

This means that when you need it, the Holy Spirit can bring the Word to your memory. He can bring that Word to life in any situation. The Bible describes the Word of God as a “sword of the Spirit,” and the Spirit can put that “sword” in your hand when you need it.

As you read and study the Bible, the truths you learn will change your mind – how you think. It will shine light on areas you need God’s help with, and it will encourage and strengthen you.

Get into the Word this week, and let that Word shape your life!