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Biblical expansion is becoming an epidemic. There is an abundance of publications that take on the task of explaining and expanding Biblical truths. John tells us there were so many things Jesus did that, if recorded, the world could not contain the volumes. (John 21:25) In view of that, there has been an effort to elaborate on what has already been established. Practically every verse and Biblical experience has been analyzed and scrutinized. The concern I have is that the Bible has been overworked to such a degree it has given birth to revised truths that have shrouded the true intent of the Word. Instead of accepting what God has said, man has attempted to interpret what He said. One of the reasons there are so many Christian affiliations is man’s relentless effort to explain God’s Word. Trying to arrange Scripture to fit into our comfort zones has given rise to false doctrines. As these efforts are pursued, the Church becomes more and more divided.
How can we simplify the Biblical message? God said what He meant, and meant what He said. Why than do we tamper with His Word? The reason so many are failing to grasp God’s Word is because they are confused by the different interpretations. It does not matter what the subject is, there will always be a difference of opinion. When we open the Word, we must stop trying to shape the Word around us; rather, we should shape ourselves around the Scripture. Instead of looking for ways to achieve financial security, let us look for ways to give away what we have. Instead of pursuing things for our earthly kingdom, let us pursue His Kingdom. Instead of being temporarily satisfied by being spoon fed the Word by others, let our plates overflow as we sit at the banquet table of His Word.
For many years, I have witnessed the overabundance of Christian teaching. The problem has been that so much of what I have read has misrepresented the intent of the Word. I am persuaded that people do not understand what it is to be still and quiet before the Lord. We make so much noise that God has to interrupt us to get His message across. If we knew how to be quiet we would experience the revealing of God’s heart. We don’t need human editorials, but the revealing of Divine truth through the Holy Spirit.
I challenge Believers to simply open the Word of God with a sense of expectancy. Instead of looking for hidden treasure, we need to realize His riches are not hidden, but have been within easy reach all this time. The problem is that we have tried to go too deep. We have analyzed the Word so much that we have diluted It. Let us simply open our spiritual eyes and discover the obvious. It is time to get back to the simple and plain Truth.
The Word of God is unparalleled when it comes to the written word. There have been many gifted writers throughout the ages, but there has never been a writer who can compare with the inspired Biblical scribes. The Bible is not a collection of editorials but a recording of facts from the One who created all things. Writing under divine inspiration, men recorded the Words of life that would be read from generation to generation. The value of these collections of Divine writings is impossible to determine. First Edition secular writings can bring astronomical numbers from collectors who desire their ownership. The more popular the personality, the greater the price tags. The Word of God…. priceless!
I wonder if we really understand what we are holding when we pick up the Holy Book. To have the Word of God in our hands should bring us to our knees in humble adoration. To let our fingers thumb through the pages should release all our emotions in praise and worship. To read the words of the living God should bring rivers of water flowing from our eyes. To experience the Bible as the personal Word of God should cause us to fall prone before Him in eternal gratitude. To have the Word revealed to us through the Holy Spirit should lift us to heights unimaginable.
I am convinced that we know about the Bible, but many of us don’t know the Bible. We seem to treat the Word of God as any other book. Many Believers have several Bibles around the house, but very few open them on a daily basis. Bibles become dust catchers, or have been shelved along with other books. When the Bible is opened, it usually is a pew Bible during our Saturday/Sunday weekly obligation. If we truly understood what the Bible is, we would have a hard time closing it. As blood is important to our bodies, so is the Word of God to our spirits and minds. Many of the problems we face in life are a result of “Biblical Anemia.” Jesus came that we “might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) It would have been so exciting to have been alive during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but we have the next best thing – His autobiography! After reading about His ministry, we are captivated by seeing how the Church had its beginning. We open the letters from the Apostles which show us how to apply Jesus’ teachings. Twenty-seven “little books” captivate our interests. If we can tear ourselves away from the New Testament, there are thirty- nine more volumes that pertain to the history of God’s chosen people. The Old Testament takes us on journeys that can only be expressed with wonderment.
We cannot run our car without fuel. We cannot have lights without electricity. We cannot be the people God wants us to be without His Word. It is great to hear sermons and teachings by God’s messengers. It is wonderful to read books that attempt to explain the Bible. It is exciting to see spiritual filling stations scattered throughout the world. It is thrilling to have the Internet carry all aspects of the Christian message. But nothing can compare with opening the Word of God ourselves and letting the Holy Spirit lead us through the pages of God’s revealed Truth.
After the two men encountered the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus, they would say, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32) As we hold our Bibles in our hands, can we also say that our hearts are burning within us?
One of the joys in my life is seeing a Believer achieve spiritual victory. The exuberance and excitement of overcoming trials and temptations has no equal in the worldly arena. I have seen battle scarred Christians holding up their hands in adoration as they celebrate the results of their spiritual conquest. The tears of joy flow down their face, as a witness to others, that God will not allow you to be tempted over and above what you can bear. We have God’s Word that He will “make a way” for us to escape those temptations and enticements. (I Corinthians 10:13) So many Believers take it upon themselves to answer the challenge in their own way. That is not how the victory is achieved; in fact, the odds of overcoming the challenge are severely limited. When we go into battle, we must always remember that God is our Commander and Chief and it is His plan, not ours, that must be followed if we are going to overcome.
One of the sad times in my life is seeing Believers suffer spiritual defeat. The sadness and despair in their face is heart wrenching. To see Christians wring their hands and question God’s Word grieves my spirit. I have seen some Believers even fall away from the faith, due to their failure to understand and practice God’s Word. I have also witnessed those who have experienced a positive outcome from a battle only to see that victory forfeited by the resurgence of the same temptations. How can we guard against setbacks on the battlefields of life? God’s Word has the answer.
When David was King, he faced many challenges from foreign powers. But when David entered the battlefield, he knew God was overseeing the battle. The Bible says that David smote the Philistines and took Methegammah, as well as Moab and Zobah. He took Syria of Damascus and Edom. (II Samuel 8:6a,14a) With the victories secured, David made a brilliant move to set up “garrisons” throughout the conquered lands. The purpose for these military outposts was to make sure there were no opportunities for the conquered to rise up in rebellion against David’s Kingdom. If there was any hint of an uprising, the soldiers would quickly put out the spark before it could become a blaze of opposition. When David set up the garrisons, the Bible says that “the Lord preserved David whithersoever he went.” (II Samuel 8:6b,14b)
What a lesson for the Believer! Whenever a victory is achieved, we can celebrate, but we must also be cognizant that Satan may temp us in the same area in which we achieved the victory. Let us put up garrisons after each victory, so if there is a repeat temptation, we will be able to deal with it before it deals with us. Setting up a garrison is basically being aware of anything the enemy might do to disrupt our relationship with God. We must identify our weaknesses, knowing that Satan will use them to gain future victories. The weapons in our garrisons are the Word of God. Let’s say that lust has been a problem. Through the Living and Written Word victory was achieved. Thinking we have overcome the temptation, we are confronted by a very sensual situation. Tempting thoughts attempt to reestablish in our mind. Immediately, our garrison recognizes this uprising and counters with the Word of God. (Galatians 5:16) When you know that lust has been a problem in the past, you avoid anything that would be conducive to its rebirth. Guard your flood gates (eyes and ears). Be careful what you watch on TV or what you read. Know your weaknesses and be prepared for Satan to resurrect them. Know your strengths and be prepared with your garrisons to cast down the thoughts that are trying to get you to dwell on areas which you have already conquered. (II Corinthians 10:5)
As I read Scripture, I try to put myself in each situation; it is though I am there living that very moment. What this does is give me a greater appreciation of the written experience. For example, I try to imagine what Peter went through during that storm on the Sea of Galilee. I can see him moving from practical concern to fear and then to panic. I see the urgency in his face as he awoke Jesus, who was sleeping in the back of the boat, and proclaimed, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” I even try to guess what I would have done in that situation. I see Scripture, not as an historical conglomeration of words, but living, breathing, expressions of God’s message to me. I take it personal; it is like God dictated His Word through human instrumentality and had It printed up so I could have It at my disposal 24/7.
After Jesus rose from the dead, the Bible says He presented Himself alive for over forty days. He appeared a number of times to His Apostles and to over 500 men at one time. There were individual contacts with Peter and James. During these days of exposure, He continually spoke about the things of the Kingdom of God. (Acts 1: 2, 3; I Corinthians 15: 5-7) Now, if I had been Peter, I would never have let Jesus out of my sight! Those forty days would have been filled with emotions that would defy reasoning. Jesus whom I had followed for three years, who died on Calvary and then rose from the dead, is now alive and reinforcing what He had taught and illustrated. Peter and the others must have been beside themselves with excitement and anticipation of what Jesus had in store for them….
At the Sea of Galilee, seven of His men were fellowshipping and discussing, who knows what, when Peter spoke up and said that he was going fishing (John 21: 3) The others thought it was a good idea and into the boats they went for a night of fishing. I wondered where the other four Disciples were. Maybe they were accompanying Jesus as He presented Himself alive to select groups. What could have gotten into Peter that he would separate himself from the risen Savior and go fishing? After the night of fishing and having caught nothing, they start making their way back to the docks. About 200 cubits (350 feet) from land they hear someone shout out, “Children, have you caught anything?” When they yell back that they have caught nothing, Jesus tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat and they will have success. Throwing the net back into the water, they encompass such a school of fish that they can hardly pull in the net. It is then that John recognizes Jesus and tells the others. Peter jumps into the water and swims to shore to meet Him. (John 21: 1- 7) This must have been an embarrassing moment for Peter. Jesus had called him to be a fisher of men and here he was back to the old way of life and the smelly fish. Jesus had called them children, which was ironic for truly they were behaving as such. God’s calling is without repentance. Instead of drawing fish into their net, they should have been drawing people into the Kingdom of God.
It is so easy to fall back into old interests and desires. It is so easy to lose track of why we are here on this earth. It is so easy to neglect our Bible reading and prayer time. It is so easy to slow down our spiritual quests. After the encounter on the beach, Jesus had a one on one conversation with Peter. He simply asked Peter if he loved Him; in fact, He would ask him three times if he really loves Him. This was a legitimate question, for if Peter truly loved Him, he would follow what the Lord wanted him to do. The next time we slip back a little, let us hear Jesus asking if we truly love Him. Peter responded affirmatively each time and Jesus said to feed His lambs and sheep. He was not to catch fish, but catch and feed those whom God so loved. It is so easy to slip back, but always remember that if we do, Jesus is there at the shore waiting for you.
Why is it that there are more disagreements with Scriptural interpretations than harmonies of acceptance? The Bible seems to be a source of division, rather than a unifier of Believers. Those who experience a fulfillment of Biblical Truths are left to defend their actions against those who would challenge them due to conflicting understanding. If one has not experienced what someone else has, there is a hesitation to accept the validity of the other’s actions. Rejecting another’s interpretation of Scripture has the potential to strain relationships. Whenever divisions are promoted because of differences of understanding, Satan has gained a strategic foothold. It is important to point out that we are not talking about issues that would approach Biblical heresy. Whenever there is a direct attack upon the Truth of God’s Word, the proponents must be vigorously challenged. But, issues like dreams and visions, gifts of the Holy Spirit, tithing, healing, and foot washing should not be issues of division. Why did Jesus weep at Lazarus tomb? Did John the Baptizer really doubt his faith while in prison? What is the day Christians should set aside for communal worship? These types of issues should not be points of conflict. If someone believes John the Baptizer, of whom Jesus said, “…there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11), doubted his faith at the eleventh hour, it should not be made into a point of contention. If someone believes that Jesus wept tears of compassion at the funeral of Lazarus, instead of tears of disappointment with His followers, it should not be made a point of division. If a fellow Christian believes the Law of Tithing should be incorporated into Grace, it should not be an issue. If your brother desires to worship on Saturday instead of Sunday, it should not be a point of argument. To draw lines between followers over similar issues is to display the characteristic of a Pharisee rather than a Disciple.
When it comes to relationships between fellow Believers, the goal should be to promote and sustain unity. One of the reasons the Church is not more effective is because of the division that exists between individuals. Just hours before His Crucifixion, Jesus prayed that His disciples would become one so that the world would know the purpose of His coming. (John 17:21) Believers must stop haggling amongst ourselves. We must stop making mountains out of mole hills. Paul says that the only thing he wanted was to preach Christ and Him crucified. (I Corinthians 2:2) The Church is so much like the children in the market place that complained that others were not responding to their expectations. (Luke 7:32) If some do not like the way others are “playing church,” they take their flute and find a place where they can feel important. Jesus stressed unity, and we stress over things that produce disharmony. Instead of promoting our oneness in Christ, we display our differences. When are we going to realize that the world is watching us? If we are acting like children, the world will laugh at our adolescent behavior. The unsaved will never take us seriously when we try to promote the message we have been asked to give.
During that last evening of fellowship with His disciples, Jesus took a basin of water and washed their feet. (John 13:1-17) He was showing them that their life was to be a life of servitude and humility. We must stop looking at lines of division, and see the circle of unity.
In the last few years I have seen a resurgence of the title of the Apostle. Dispensationalist would argue that when the last Biblical Apostle died, so ended the ministry of the Apostle. Answering those skeptics are those who believe that the Biblical blueprint of the Church is as valid today as yesteryear. Whatever position one takes has little bearing on the promoting of the Apostolic position that is displayed today. One of the questions I have is how does one becomes an Apostle? Is this office conferred upon someone through appointed authority or can one simply claim that God anointed him to that position. Does one simply promote himself from a Pastor to an Apostle? Does one become an Apostle by election? What qualifies a person to be an Apostle?
The five fold ministry that is expressed in Ephesians 4 is to serve a specific purpose. As I study the objectives of these ministries I do not see the completion of their purpose. I do not believe God would terminate a directive until the objective has been accomplished. The purpose of these ministry gifts was to bring the Believers into the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God which, in turn, would bring about spiritual perfection through Christ. (Ephesians 4:13). Maybe one of the reasons there is such a fragmentation of the Church today is because we have taken our spiritual erasers and removed Apostles and Prophets from our Bibles. These ministries were to help the Believer grow up. Instead of being children and susceptible to deception, they would be able to discern wrong teaching. (Eph. 4:14) Today, there are so many incorrect doctrines being expressed that Believers are having a hard time discerning what is Truth.
Let us look at what an Apostle is and how he is called and placed into the Body of Christ. On the road to Damascus, Saul met Jesus and his life was dramatically changed. Jesus commissioned him to go and minister to the Gentiles. (Acts 22:21) This was the preauthorization of Saul’s calling as an Apostle. For the next three years, Saul attending the University of the Holy Spirit with classes both in Arabia, Damascus, and Jerusalem. Due to threats on his life in the cities, Saul returned to Tarsus, the place of his birth, and for the next few years continued his preparation. When a spiritual awakening happened in Antioch, a man named Barnabas went to Tarsus and persuaded Saul to join him in teaching the new converts at Antioch. It was there at Antioch, during a time of fasting and worship, that the Holy Spirit confirmed the Apostleship upon Saul. The four Prophets/Teachers that were present laid hands on Saul and Barnabas and the commission of an Apostle was bestowed upon them. (Acts 13:1-3) I believe it was here that Saul’s name was changed to Paul. (v.9) The word Apostle means “a delegate, an ambassador of the Gospel, he that is sent.” (Strong’s Concordance) Jesus called Paul, and taught him through the Holy Spirit, and after years of preparation he was finally commissioned as an Apostle by the laying on of hands. Timothy was commissioned as a Pastor in the same way. (I Timothy 4:14) Notice that it was the “presbytery” that confirmed the calling.
Today it seems that anyone who wants to be an Apostle can self appoint himself. If that is too bold, he might solicit a vote from his local congregation. If that is not feasible, there is always a mail order organization that would gladly send a Certificate of Apostleship to the requester. As one studies the Scripture, there will be an obvious realization that an Apostle does not permanently reside in a locality, but is continually reaching out to communities that need the Gospel. He then establishes local bodies of believers and appoints leadership to guide and instruct them.
I believe we need the five fold ministry, but not the way it is presented today. Instead of dismissing what we don’t understand, let us through the Holy Spirit seek to understand what God intended.
In the recesses of our mind is that ever present desire to have an understanding of things that puzzle and bewilder us. The phrase, “Inquiring minds want to know,” has always played a prominent place in the Christians search for understanding. Questions range from, “Where did Cain get his wife?” to “What is Heaven like?” To find the answers to these and other questions we begin a journey of hopeful expectations. To achieve an explanation to our questions, we pursue those who have been in the faith for a long time or those whose exposure has gained the biggest following. If a popular writer or visual personality presents his understanding on a certain subject, we are quick to adopt his explanation and move on to the next question. This type of approach introduces a second tier question: “How do we know he is right?” The answer to that inquiry should be obvious: “Does it bear witness in our spirit?” “Does it line up with the intended meaning of the Word of God?” “Does it bring peace and satisfaction?” If the answers are negative it merits yet a third tier of questions, namely, “What was my motive for asking the question?” and, “Could it be that the answer was wrong?” There is no substitute for self- examination of God’s Word. Instead of looking for a quick answer to an involved question, we need to spend time studying our Bible under the leading of the Holy Spirit. We will be surprised how quickly our questions will evolve into praise and worship!
There is nothing wrong with seeking answers to things we are confused about, as long as our goal is to grow spiritually. If we pursue questions that have no Biblical resolve, then we are doing nothing but playing a game. Some of the questions we ask originate from a mind that wants a logical explanation, rather than from our spirit that wants to grow in faith. Many of the questions we ask expose our spiritual status. Whenever we pursue questions that would call God’s sovereignty into accountability we display our pride and ego. We need to realize that we don’t have to know everything. Instead of asking so many questions, let us learn to answer the questions God may have for us: “How is the study of My Word going?” “How come we don’t talk more?” “When are you going to forgive that person?” “What is wrong with your attitude today?” God’s questions are offered to help us on our spiritual journey. If we must ask our questions, let it be so we can assist God on our walk of faith.
The things we do not understand should not be a priority, for God has given us enough understanding to last a life time. If God wants us to know something, He will reveal it in His timing. It is not what we want, but what God wants for our life. Instead of looking to satisfy our curiosity, let us spend time establishing and securing what we already know.
Announcing a new blog site of a verse by verse study of the Epistles @openyourmail.wordpress.com
I am sure we have all heard the verbiage that if we claim to forgive someone for some egregious offense and fail to cylinder it into our basket of forgetfulness, we have not truly forgiven them. I can even remember standing in the pulpit and emphasizing the “forgive and forget” concept. In fact, there were times that I would expound teachings that passed the favorable sound test: namely, the shouts of “Amen,” “Right on Pastor,” “Praise the Lord.” The problem was some of these teachings were for the horizontal benefits of the people without the vertical direction of God. Being a young and energetic pastor, I wanted so much to win the respect and admiration of the people. I never knowingly preached anything that conflicted with the Scripture, but some of the emphasis was misdirected. There were a number of times that people came to my office in a state of inner turmoil. Tears flowed down their cheeks as they shared how they had failed to forget the hurts they had experienced from friends and loved ones. They would express how hard it was to forgive, but finally as they entered the Holy of Holies and grasped the Horns of the Altar, they felt the hand of God, and forgiveness flowed from their inner being. But the forgetting was another thing completely.
The Bible states that God forgives and forgets. (Isaiah 43:25) All our transgressions and sins are cast into the sea of forgetfulness, never to be remembered again. The question presents itself that if God forgets our confessed sins, and since we are made in His image, why should we not be able to forget our hurts? So why is it so hard and seemingly impossible to forget?
Life is full of lessons. To forget is to fail to remember God’s delivering power. To forget is to be unable to share your victory with others. To forget is failing to realize that God was there with you through it all. To forget is not preparing for the next personal offense. To forget makes the next challenge even harder to deal with. We need to ask ourselves what we learned from those hurtful experiences. What responsibility did I play in that conflict? Did I do everything possible to avoid its conception? If we fail to grow spiritually and mentally, we have failed to mature.
If we remember how we were wronged, and spend our waking hours thinking of how we didn’t deserve what happened to us, we have failed to understand the Grace of God. Throughout my life, I have been hurt by the acts of others. What I learned was that it was not always someone else’s fault. I had contributed to the situation by not understanding the needs of others. I also learned that when I did not practice what God’s Word said, there were personal consequences. Let us learn by our experiences. Instead of keeping the wound open, see it closed and healed. Remember, there is someone who is facing the same situation you faced, and they are looking for someone that understands what they are going through.
So, if you are having a hard time forgetting, maybe you need to remember a little more, and see how God was there with you, even though you didn’t recognize Him. Instead of remembering the wound, remember it was His Grace that sustained you.
We all have a tendency to judge other people. I know the super spiritual will deny that aspect of their personal makeup. But if their defense reaction mechanism will cease to operate for a brief time, there will be a confirmation that they too have mounted the judge’s bench to render an opinion about other people. Many of the reactions we have toward one another are based upon our adopted values and beliefs. We respond to issues by the way we have been taught or by our experiences in life.
I have found that some of the most strained relationships are between brothers and sisters in the Lord. The Bible has become the weapon of choice when it comes to defending and promoting our beliefs. The use of the Word of God as a weapon of self promotion and justification is to set a dangerous precedence. To take the Bible and use it as a justification for judging another is to exhibit the dominance of our human nature over our spiritual nature. Whenever we judge someone, we have a tendency to alienate them from our circle of friends. We still have communication with them, but our true feelings are hidden by our hypocrisy. Could it be that the reason we don’t have more friends is because we can’t find enough people that live up to our standards?
One day, Jesus confronted a group of religious leaders that wanted to see an adulteress put to death in accordance with the Law. He simply told them that if anyone there was without sin, they should cast the first stone. Predictably, the self righteous dropped their stones and walked away. (John 8: 3-9) Jesus also addressed a group of disciples that were finding fault in others, and told them to remove any obstacles within themselves that obstructed them from seeing others clearly. In doing so they would see that the faults in others were minimal. (Luke 6: 41, 42) We have no right to judge another by our biased opinions when we are in need of judgment ourselves. The reason people judge is to get their minds off their own shortcomings. Whenever we are betrayed by our lack of spiritual growth, we look for opportunities to exaggerate the faults of others. By magnifying their flaws, we tend to ignore our faults.
Paul suggested that if we are so concerned with other people’s behavior, we need to put it in the right perspective. If we are prone to judge, we should begin with ourselves. Instead of looking for the flaws in others, let us make sure we are not causing others to stumble by our actions. (Romans 14:13) Instead of pointing our finger at others, let us see our other three fingers pointing back at us. Instead of looking for the speck in others, let us get rid of the beam that is obstructing our view. Instead of thinning out our friends by judging, let us expand our circle of friends by showing our love. The attitude and behavior of every Believer should be to put others before our self. (Romans 12: 10) If we are truly followers of Christ, we need to display His likeness in everything we do and say. When Jesus encountered the adulteress women, He did not condemn her, even though she was guilty of misconduct. It is not our position to judge, but to love and forgive one another no matter what the situation.
Instead of limiting our circle of friends by judging each other, let us look for the good in one another. Let us not miss another opportunity to grow our family of friends.