Monday, April 30, 2012

What Kind of God is God? Elohim

John 17:3“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

The beginning and goal of salvation - knowing God
What kind of God is God?  Who is God? What can God do?  These three questions are starting point when approach the God of the Bible.  According to Jesus Christ, this is the beginning and goal of salvation - to know (by experience, not just in theory) the true God, and Jesus Christ whom He sent. 

Ways that God reveals Himself in the Bible
In the Bible, we get to know God in a number of ways. 

1. Firstly through what theologians call His attributes or characteristics. 

2. Secondly, through His works (such as creation, providence, redemption and what will be the renewing of the Heavens and the Earth following Christ's Return). 

3. Thirdly, by seeing the covenants or agreements that He made with His people (the patriarchs and Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament). 

4. Fourthly, by His names. 

5. Then finally and most significantly, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who is the fulness and complete manifestation of the invisible God in History (The Gospels), in Missions (Acts), in the church's life (The Epistles) and at the end of all time (Revelation).

What kind of God is God?
In Creation I learn about God, which means I understand that ultimately One God created all that I see and know. (Romans 1:18-20).  By means of the conscience and creation I can answer from God's General revelation what God is.  Of course it is in the Bible too that God reveals much more detail about what kind of God He is in terms of His goodness, mercy and salvation.  The Bible is what we call "special revelation", since it deals specifically with issues pertaining to  God's identity, eternity, history, salvation, man and the coming Kingdom through Christ's return. 

The name Elohim tells us what kind of God God is
The chief Name that tells us what kind of God the Bible reveals is the name "Elohim".  Translated "God" in all English Bibles, "Elohim" (which is Hebrew by the way) or "God" occurs over 2700 times in the Old Testament alone.  The name "Elohim" refers to God as a covenant keeping God, the "strong one".  The root of the name is "Elah", which means "Strong or mighty one" or "One who Swears".  The "im" ending is a plural ending in the Hebrew, which tells us that God is One, and yet also relates in and of Himself.

Elohim (God) in Genesis 1
Genesis 1:1 is where we see the first mention of God or "Elohim" - "In the beginning, God (Elohim) created the Heavens and the Earth."  Undoubtedly the emphasis of the text is that One God, not many gods, created the universe.  Then when you go down to Genesis 1:26-27 you read - "Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. "

Elohim tells us that God is One God in existence and plural in His identity
Notice what we see in the underlined words?  We see plural words: "Let us" and "Our" - telling us that something about Elohim is in the Plural.  Yet in the next verse we see singular words: "God created" and "He created" - stating the truth of God being One God.  Although the Old Testament does not fully bear out the biblical doctrine of the Trinity like we find articulated in the New Testament, yet this "plurality and unity" of God points in that direction. (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 13:12 are just some of the New Testament passages of which we speak)

God is a God who relates.  He is Elohim.  He is One God who is Plural in His dealings within Himself and with His people.  Relationally then, God is plural.  Existence wise, God is One.  Elohim sets the stage for what would become the Biblical doctrine of God's true nature: The Triune God head.  This then is the One True God.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Biblical beginnings and endings

Revelation 22:21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen

We have been studying various principles or "laws of mention" that can be used in tracing themes through the scriptures.  So far we have looked at:

1. The Law of first mention
2. The law of illustrative mention
3. The law of progressive mention
4. The law of full mention

The fifth and final principle in our "5 laws of Bible study series" is the "Law of final mention".  As the name suggests, it is where the Bible makes "final mention" of an idea or concept.  Several days ago when we began this blog series, I talked about how a "first mention" is like the "seed-form" of that truth or concept.  With that being the case, the final mention functions like the full and mature stage of that idea.  Like an acorn to an oak tree, so it is with a "first" mention to that of a "final mention". 

Below is a list of some of the "first mentions" and "last mentions" in the scriptures. 

a. God's kind of Love first mentioned - Genesis 22:2 seen in the giving of a son
    God's kind of Love final mention - Revelation 20:9 seen in the coming of the Son

b. God's word or speaking first mention - Genesis 1:3 
    God's word or speaking final mention - Revelation 22:21

c. Mercy or Grace first mentioned - Genesis 6:9
    Mercy or Grace final mention - Revelation 22:21

d. Jesus Christ in the flesh first mentioned - Matthew 1:21
    Jesus Christ still in the flesh, now glorified, final mention - Revelation 22:21

If you notice, in all of those final mentions, Jesus Christ is connected to all of them.  If find it no coincidence, since the scriptures do point to Him!  If anything, the law of final mention should lead you to a fuller understanding of the written word - the Bible, and the Living Word - Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The meaning of fully walking with the Lord

Galatians 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Today we continue in our study of "5 laws of Bible Study" by considering what is termed: "The Law of Full mention".  So far we have considered the following principles or "laws" of Bible Study:
1. Law of first mention - Where we see a word or idea first mentioned in the Bible
2. Law of illustrative mention - Where we see that idea or word illustrated by a person or an event in the Bible
3. Law of of Progressive mention - How we see that word or idea develop through the progressive revelation of God's Word (through the Bible books)

In this fourth "law", we are interested in chapters or sections that give us a multitude of mentionings.  Often when this occurs, the author is giving us that idea in its full form.  Yesterday we looked at the concept of "walking with God", and noted its progressive unfolding through the th first five books of the Bible.  We can go into the New Testament and find this concept spoken of multiple times in Galatians 5 - i.e Fully mentioned.

Walking with God fully mentioned
Galatians 5 finds its main point at the very end of the chapter in 5:25, where Paul writes: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."  Thus we see a distinction made between living by the Spirit (that is, by the the Spirit's presence in our hearts and lives) and walking by the Spirit (that is, conducting ourselves by the Spirit's power over our hearts and lives).  All Christians have the Spirit living inside them. (John 14:23)  However not every Christian lets the Spirit lead them. 

To walk by the Spirit means to conduct our lives as followers and He as the Leader.  But now the whole of Galatians 5 gives us a full treatment of this concept of walking by the Spirit. Consider the passages:

a. Galatians 5:1 - "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery". Walking with the Lord includes standing firm for Him

b. Galatians 5:7 - "You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?" Walking with God also means running for Him.  Running can only be maintained when the truth of the Gospel is central in our hearts and our actions.

c. Galatians 5:16 - "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh."  Walking with the Lord means not just living by principles and morals, but having His power and majesty operating in our lives.   

d. Galatians 5:18 - "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality".  Walking with the Lord includes the idea of holiness.  Holiness is an attitude that desires to be like the Lord Jesus Christ in thought, word or deed.  When we walk with the Lord, our "walk" should matach with our "talk".

e. Galatians 5:25 -  "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit"  Thus Paul takes the conviction of 5:1, the consistency of 5:7, the change brought about in 5:16 and the character of 5:18 to bring the "fullness" of what it means to walk with God here in 5:25.

As you can see, this tool is valuable in that it helps you get the "full view" of a given teaching or truth in the Word of God.  May you this day walk in the Lord as you aim to live in Him, and He in you. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

God's Roses in the Bible

Genesis 5:24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

The above passage is the first mention we see in scripture of the phrase  "walking with God".  Enoch was a pre-flood patriarch who had a unique relationship or "walk with God" for 300 years.  His walk with God was so profound that he became one of only two people in history to go directly to Heaven without physically dying (the other being Elijah). 

Today we want to explore the third law of Bible study: The Law of Progressive mention.  In this series on "The Laws of Bible Study", we have looked at the Laws of first mention and illustrative mention.  Our aim is to learn how to trace topics or themes through the Bible.  Walking with God is a cornerstone truth that the Bible uses in describing the believer's relationship with God, and His relationship with the believer.  Lets see how progressive mention helps unfold for us the significance of this truth.

Walking with God - progressively unfolded through the Bible
From that first mention of "walked with God" in Genesis 5:24, we see this phrase mentioned in at least 50 other places in the Bible.  Some of the more significant ones are mentioned below, with their key thoughts pertaining to the idea of "walking with God":

1-Gen 6:9 Walk with God in His righteousness
2-Genesis 17:1 Walking with God means relying upon His righteousness
3-Gen 24:40 Walking with God means trusting in His promises
4-Gen 48:15 God feeds me and sustains me in my walk
5-Exodus 16:4 God tests the metal of my commitment in my walk
6-Leviticus 26:12-God walks with me, and I walk with Him
7-Deuteronomy 5:33 Walking with God includes abundant life
8-Deuteronomy 13:4 walking with God is centered around the awe of God
9-Deuteronomy 28:9 when we walk with God, He establishes our steps

And thats the first five books of the Bible, or the section called "The Pentateuch".  As you continue to study this concept throughout the Bible, you'll see it illustrated by the following images:

1- two friends walking side by side Amos 3:3
2-A Priest in the temple walking Malachi 2:6
3-Husband and wife committed to one another 1 Cor 7:17

Think of progressive mention like the unfolding of a rose
When my mother raised roses at home, I always marveled at how they would bloom in the spring.  Each day would lead to the blooms being more robust and the scent being more potent.  I can recall our yard being suffused with the pleasant aroma of my mother's roses.  Biblical truth functions in much the same manner.  God in His infinite wisdom has chosen to reveal Himself in a progressive fashion.  By the light of His grace, the Christian can explore the rose garden of His word.  The blooms of such roses like "walking with God" yields both pleasure to the eyes of faith and the senses of the heart.  May today's study drive you and I to desire the Rose of Sharon - the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How the Bible illustrates itself

1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.

We looked yesterday at the law of principle of first mention.  Today we consider a second law or principle of Bible study that can aid us in tracing key thoughts through the Bible: The law of illustrative mention.

The Bible prizes the power of its own recording of history to tie together the lives and expeirences of God's people throughout the ages.  One of the traits of scripture is that for every New Testament doctrine or truth, there is at least One Old Testament event or person that embodies or illustrates that truth.  Scripture abounds with such illustrational references.  Let me show you what I mean.

1. The concept of "name" illustrated.  What is the significance of the term "name" in the Bible?  God reveals many names about Himself.  When we study scriptures that use the term or phrase name in conjunction with other people, it can shed light on how we connnect God to His names.  For example in 1 Samuel 18:30 we read - "Then the commanders of the Philistines went out to battle, and it happened as often as they went out, that David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul. So his name was highly esteemed."

The "name" of David was tantamount to speaking about David Himself.  His reputation, his influence and authority as a leader are rooted in the "name" he made for himself.  God communicates His very being through His names.  His names are like stained glass windows through which we can admire and adore Him.  They too tell of us His reputation, influence and endless authority.

Over 300 Old Testament passages exist that speak of "the names of God".  Everything that is entailed in His name is trnasferred over to Jesus Christ in the New Testament.  Matthew 1:21 has the angel telling Joseph to "name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins".  Jesus in the Hebrew originally was "Yeshua", meaning "Jehovah saves".  Thus in the naming of Jesus in His humanity, we see reference to His Divine identity He has shared with the Father from all eternity.  Like the Father, He shares in the very nature that makes Him the "I am who I am" of Exodus 3.

2. The concept of Christ and His church illustrated by marriage.  Who knew that God would use the first institution he established - marriage, to illustrate the last institution he begun - the church.  Over 100 times do we find reference to marriage or issues related to it in the Bible.  It does not take long till one finds God Himself using marriage to illustrate His relationship with His people Israel. (Hosea 2; Ezekiel 16; Isaiah 50). 

However as the New Testament begins to unfold the revelation of the church, the Apostle Paul brings together the church and Christ with the husband and wife relationship in Ephesians 5.  A powerful image developed extensively throughout the Old Testament is carried over to include the new and distinct grouping of God's people - the church. 

Illustrative mention helps make the abstract concrete.  Jesus speaks over 60 parables centered around this particular principle.  Of the over 900 prophecies in the Bible, many use concrete illustration to drive home the urgency of the abstract truths they communicate.  When uses in conjunction with the first tool - "the law of first mention", one can begin to build the skills needed to explore the Word of God. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bible Study Law of first mention

Acts 11:25-26 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Yesterday we listed five laws or principles for tracing the Bible's main themes and ideas.  The aim was to give you a tool that would aid you in your study of the scripture.  Today we want to begin looking closer at this tool and using it to explore some of the Bible's major themes.  This first law or principle of Bible study is what we call: The law of First Mention.

Seeing the Bible's mention of first mention
As you can see in the above text, Luke makes the point that the Disciples of Jesus were "first called" Christians at Antioch. Whenever we see anything mentioned for the first time, that idea or topic is revealed in its "seed form", meaning most of the main traits of that teaching that will unfold thoughout scripture are latent in that first mention.  So when we see the term "Christian" first mentioned in Acts 11:26, the wider context of Acts 11 gives us the context out of which this term developed. 

We know that the early church was going from being primarily Jewish to Gentile.  We know that Peter's ministry was going into the background and the then new figure, Saul (who was converted and renamed Paul) was coming into the foreground.  So we see a huge missions emphasis - something of which is central to what it means to be a Christian.  We know these people were "called" Christians.  The idea of calling is so central to being a follower of Christ.  One must be "called" by Christ in order to come to Christ. (compare Luke 5:27; 9:23-24; John 1:12-13; 6:44)  Just noting traits like this enables you to mark down chief traits to look for as you trace the given theme throughout the scripture.

Seeing some significant first mentions in the Bible
Below are some significant first mentions that we find in the Bible. 

1. The word "love" is first mentioned in Genesis 22:2  Its not that we don't see God expressing His favor or love towards other people prior to Abraham.  Rather the actual word "love" first appears.  This tells us that what was implied by God in terms of His dealings with people is made more explicit, since He wants to reveal more of His Person, and not just His work.  Note the context of Genesis 22 - it is where Abraham is told to offer up his son Isaac.  This text gives a wonderful picture of what God would do in the giving of His Only Begotten Son, whom He loved, on the cross. (John 3:16)

2. God first speaks in Genesis 1:3    First words and last words of people make for an interesting study in the Bible.  God is introduced in the Bible as the God of Revelation.  He is speaking forth into being all things visible and invisible.  The Apostle John gives us the significance of Genesis 1:3 in John 1:1-18. 

3. The name "The Lord" is first mentioned in Genesis 4:26  Following the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, as well as the first murder by Cain of His brother, the dark clouds of man's fallen condition hang over the sky of redemptive history.  But then Divine Grace intervenes in Adam and Eve's bloodline and Seth is born. Seth then has a son, named Enosh, and according to Genesis 4:26 - "men began to call upon the name of the Lord". 

Now note the "seeds" of thought present at this first mention:
1. The repetition of the word "call".  This "calling" was done by men who were made aware of their own sinful condition.  Adam "called" his son "Seth" in Genesis 5:26, meaning in the original language "appointed one".  Seth in turn "called" the name of his son "Enosh", whose name can be translated "incurable wound". The "calling" upon the Lord tells us that these people did not find the remedy for their sin in themselves, but in the Lord.  Later on in the Bible, we understand that whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (Joel 2:32; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9).  Salvation truly is of the Lord alone. (Isaiah 43:10-11; Jonah 2:9-10; Acts 4:12) 

2. They called upon "the name". That term "name" refers to God's quality, character and authority.  Divine grace was initiating in the hearts of these early pre-flood patriarchs.  The name of God - the Lord (Yahweh) is His personal name.  Thus we see these men personally identifying by grace through faith with this God who alone can save.

3. The first move of God ever recorded.  In the history of God's people, whenever God has moved upon masses of people in a way to make plain His redemptive and Kingdom purposes, we have termed that "revival".  God moved in a mighty way here to set the stage for the next 1656 years of time in Genesis 5.  From Adam to Noah would be ten generations.  God was thus threading the scarlet thread of redemption through what took place in Genesis 4:25-26.  Through the bloodline running from Adam to Noah would be preserved the plan of salvation, the promise of salvation and ultimately the seed through which would come the Person of salvation - Jesus Christ. 

May you be blessed today as you dig deeper into His word. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

5 laws for Studying the Bible

1 Peter 2:1 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation

The Importance of the Bible in the Christian life
The reading and study of the scriptures is central to growth in the Christian's faith-life.  The Jews believed that when a baby was nursing, the love and content of God's law was transferred in some fashion through the mother's milk.  When Peter wrote what he wrote above, he wrote, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, about the nourishing, life-giving power of the scriptures. 

A tool you can use to study and trace the Bible's major themes
We know that the Bible is crucial to Christian life.  By it God the Holy Spirit works forth the convicting power of saving faith. (Romans 10:17; James 1:18)  By the scriptures you and I come to know not only truth about God through Jesus Christ, we also come to know God through Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1:23)  With that said, how can we go about studying it?  How can we learn to actually take a theme or a topic mentioned in the Bible and trace it through the scriptures?  Today I want to introduce you to a tool that has been around for years and that I have used in my own study of God's Word. A tool that we can call: The 5 laws or principles of studying the Bible.

1. The law of first mention.  This is where God first mentions a word or an idea.  So for instance, lets consider the emphasis the scripture places upon "God's name".  Genesis 4:26 first mentions people calling upon "the name of the Lord".  

2. The law of illustrative mention.  Whenever you are trying to understand a concept or idea in God's word, it is helpful to find a concrete person or event elsewhere in the Bible that visibly illustrates that idea.  So for instance, the word "name" in the Bible refers to a person's character, as seen Nabal's name in 1 Samuel 25:25, whose name means "fool".  As you read the account of his life, you can see his opposition of David as being fraught with foolish decisions and actions.  What he did and thought was in line with his nature, or the way he was "internally wound or wired". 

I learn from other passages that when a person was concerned about someone's name, they identified with the authority and reputation of that person.  When you read about David for instance in 1 Samuel 18, you discover that His "name" was connecting you to his "authority" or "reputation".  (Compare 1 Samuel 18:30)  We can use examples such as these to understand things like "God's name", since His name stands for His character, reputation and authority.  

3. The law of progressive mention.  God's revelation in His word is a progressive revelation.  God doesn't reveal all the details of a given topic all at once.  God knows that we need things delivered in bits and pieces over time.  Tracing ideas like "The Name of God" through the Bible can be a study of discovery.  According to one resource, the phrase "the name" occurs some 385 times in the Old Testament and almost 200 times in the New Testament in reference to God or Jesus Christ.  Seeing how God progressively reveals Himself is like watching the unfolding of Eternity's most beautiful rose.

4.  The law of full mention. Its always great to find a chapter or major section in the Bible that summarizes a given subject, with all of its facets, in one place.  Revelation 19-22 gives us one section where we see most of the major themes of "God's name" which are revealed throughout the Bible.  At least 6 times do we find reference to "The Name", giving us the full treatment of all that is meant by that phrase.  With this particular law you can "check your interpretation" of that phrase that you gained through the other "laws of mention".

5. The law of final mention. This law, as its name implies, deals with the final place a given idea or thought is mentioned in the Bible.  So for example, the final mention of "the name" or God's name is in Revelation 22:4.  Often a word or idea in its final mention gives you the fullest and most mature form of that idea.  It is like comparing an acorn to an oak tree.  The acorn being the "first mention of an idea", and the oak tree being its "final mention". 

Over the course of the next few days, by God's grace,  I want us to not only see how these laws of Bible study function, but also show you how you can begin to raise your study of God's Word to a whole new level.  Christ and His word is worth everything. 


Monday, April 23, 2012

Christian Meditation

Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.

What Christian meditation is not
In the 1960's a movement, rooted in Eastern thought, swept through our country and became popularized in what was called the TM movement or "transcendental mediation".  Movements such as TM spawned the wide sweeping popularity of other practices rooted in Eastern religion and mysticism such as Yoga and the like.  Unfortunately, when people hear the word "meditate", they conjure up images of a person sitting cross legged with hands outstreteched, finger-tips touching and the hum of the word "um". 

As popular as this conception is, the Christian mediation spoken of here in Psalm 19 is of a completely different sort all together. It alone constitutes genuine mediation - the only type that is acceptable and beneficial to the Christian life. 

What Christian Mediation is
In the original language of this Psalm, the word "meditation" has to do with a "deeper pondering" over the meaning and significance of the words of scripture.  Ancient Christian writers often spoke of a fourfold process one went through when interracting with the Bible:

a. Reading the text
b. Meditating on the text
c. Disciplining yourself to live out the text
d. Knowing that you got the meaning of the text by praise and worshipping God

How do you meditate on God's Word?
When you "meditate on scripture", you may do the following:

1. Read the text
2. Read it again (outloud or silently)
3. Read it a third time, marking down your initial thoughts
4. Walk away and think on what you read
5. Come back to the text again and repeat steps 1 through 4

Why meditate on God's Word?
Every blog I write, sermon I preach, lesson I teach, quiet time I do or sharing of God's word that I communicate is rooted in meditation of God's Word.  When you and I meditate on scripture, we are aiming to get it from our before our eyes or in our ears into our hearts.  Meditation is what you do "in between" your times in the scriptures.  You can mediate while waiting in line at the grocery store, on break at work or at lunch room at school.  What mediation does is break down the artificial wall between "Christian spirituality" and "the rest of life".

Notice the benefits that comes as a result of mediating on God's Word here in Psalm 19:14:

1. Right Attitudes - The Psalmist desires to please God.  Only scripture can stir up the Christian to want to live more for the Lord. (1 Peter 2:1-2)

2. Right Thoughts - How many of you want a better thoughtlife?  Cleanse your mind with the scriptures.  Meditating on the scripture cleanses your heart and mind.  Jesus even talks about this particular quality of the word of God. (John 17:17; Ephesians 5:26).

3. Right Words -  He wants the right words to flow from his mouth.  God's word makes your "have to's" into "want to's".  As Jesus teaches, out of the overflow of the hearts comes forth the words of the mouth. (Matthew 15:18)

4. Right Motivation - The Psalmist ends this Psalm by praising God, His "Rock" and His "Redeemer".  We know from the names of God in the Bible that the term "Rock" refers ulitmately to Jesus Christ.  Though the Psalmist lived 1,000 years before Jesus Christ came to this earth, He writing under Divine inspiration was referring to Him.  When you and I meditate on the scriptures, we will be motivated to live for Jesus Christ.   

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Mirror that keeps you from spiritual defeat

Psalm 19:12-13 Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. 13Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.

The Mirror of God's Word
In the midst of definite statements about the Bible, the Psalmist suddenly changes the tone of the text with a question: Who can discern his errors? 

Have you ever had someone say to you: what's that on your face?  What is your response?  Try as you may, you can't look at yourself apart from going into a bathroom to look in the mirror.  A mirror shows you what's really going on.  People are funny - either they will primp in front of a mirror for hours, seeing what they want to see, or people will be the exact opposite and avoid a mirror so as not to see what must be seen.

The point of today's text is that apart from the mirror of God's Word, you cannot accurately evaluate the true condition of your soul.  The scriptures function as a mirror.  James 1:23-25 states - "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does."

How the mirror of God's Word enables us to defeat the greatest hindrance to Christian growth
When the writer states: "Aquit me from my hidden faults", he is referring to those hidden areas, those "blind spots" that hinder us in our Christian growth. What is the greatest hinderance to Christian growth?  Pride. 

The idea of "presumptuous sins" refers to those sins that are done with an arrogant, prideful disregard for God and the things of God.  It is when you and I assume we have the "right" or "entitlement" to sin.  Only the mirror of God's Word can show us the true ugliness of the pride that can fuel ongoing or hidden sin patterns.  James 4:6-7 tells us - "But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you." 

How the mirror of God's Word enables you to really live for God
The most practical way to submit yourself to God is by consistent "mirror time" in the scriptures.  At first, you may feel uncomfortable by what you see.  Yet what God will do is show you that He sees you as He sees His Son - Jesus Christ.  The scriptures are what drive me to conclude that in Christ and Christ alone is my confidence.  By the power of God's word, you and I don't have to be ruled by the "baggage" of our hang-ups.  Through the power of God and His word, we can push past those and really live for Jesus Christ!

In Christianity, to humble yourself leads to the greatest of blessings.  It is where you experience the Grace of God needed to resist the enemy and live forth the Christian life. As the Psalmist concludes in this short prayer recorded in Psalm 19:13 - "Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression."   As the old saying goes about the Bible: "Either the Bible will keep you from your sins or your sins will keep you from the Bible." Don't neglect getting in front of God's mirror - the Bible. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

How valuable is the Bible to you?

Psalm 19:10-11 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. 11Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.

The Amplified Value of God's Word
The two verses in today's blog deal with the desireability of God's Word.  Let me ask you this question: How valuable is the Bible to you?  In the passage above we see the Psalmist using a feature in Jewish Hebrew Poetry where you take an idea, and continue to build and amplify that idea until you take that idea to its highest and greatest limit.

Like sticking a microphone up to a speaker, the value of God's word is amplified many times over.  If we were to take the above text and translate it from the original language in which it was written, this is what we would see with regards to the value of the scriptures:

"They are to be desire more than gold
even more than gold, how about the finest gold
even greater than that, the sweetest honey
even more than the sweetest honey, the fresh honey from the comb itself
indeed of even greater value to your servant (than anything else) is in how the (scriptures) give warning
with the greatest reward being achieved by obeying them."

O.k, maybe that translation may seem quite wordy to our English ears, but for the Psalmist who was writing under Divine inspiration, there was no question as to the value of the scriptures. 

Why the scriptures are of such great value
When you take the first phrase: "They are to be more desired than gold" and the last phrase "with the greatest reward being achieved by obeying them", you come to understand the point of the passage.  Nothing is greater in value than the scriptures and the Christ to whom they point.  As Jesus Himself demonstrated, the scriptures' chief focal point is Himself. (Luke 24:44)

You and I need the valuable scriptures to live a life that values Christ
2 Timothy 3:16-17 states: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."  Truly the scriptures that are more precious than gold and honey accomplish in you and me the thorough equipping needed to live the Godly life.  In this passage, like Psalm 19, we see the true value of the scriptures as stated by that word in 2 Timothy 3:16 - "profitable":

1. For teaching - which tells you what is right
2. For reproof - which tells you when your not right
3. For correction - which tells you how to get right
4. For training - which tells you how to stay right

It is by the golden Honey of God's Word (Psalm 19:10-11) I gain the amplified blessing of valuing and treasuring the scriptures.  According to 2 Timothy 3:17, when you apply yourself to the scriptures, you will be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  By valuing the scriptures, you end up valuing Jesus Christ.  When you value Jesus Christ, you value doing what He says - which is the chief mark of your love for Him. (John 14:15, 21-23)



Friday, April 20, 2012

The Lord's Flashlight

Psalm 19:8b-9 The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.

One of the most common descriptions given of scripture is that of "light", "shedding light" or "enlightenment".  In the verses above, we see three more descriptions of the Bible in Psalm 19.  All of them explain what scripture does in leading a person to the goal of Godly Living. 

1. The Lord's flashlight is pure commandments enlightening the eyes
What is the only way you can see the value of Godly living?  Through the scriptures.  Psalm 119:9 describes how can a young man keep his way pure, by paying cloose attention to the word of God.  Not only does the Bible give me "sight" to follow God, but "insight" to follow God all the more.  If I were to direct you to a dark cave with a sign marked: "cave of diamonds", you may venture in, but then have skepticism about whether or not its worth it.  However if I hand you a flashlight, as soon as you shine the light, the diamonds shimmer and shine.  It then won't take any amount of coercion to get you into the "cave of diamonds".  Thats what the Bible does for the Christian - both new convert and "saved for years" believer.  The Bible shows us that value and worth of living the Christian life. 

2. As the Lord's flashlight, The Scriptures bring to us the fear of the Lord, and will endure forever
The fear of the Lord describes what it means to hate sin, to reverence God and to make fellowship with Him your highest priority.  Only the scriptures can "shine light" on that truth and make it the desire of your heart.  Scripture's light exposes the flippancy that can attend our Christian walk in the areas of worship and daily life. 

As the Lord's flashlight, this quality of making me desire God more than sin & desire His Glory above anything else is an unending resource for the Christian.  Unlike a flashlight whose batteries wear out, I can always turn to the scriptures to cultivate a healthy "fear of God" - for they endure forever. (1 Peter 1:25)  The Scriptures accurately show me who God really is, and why it is I not only must reverence Him, but why loving Him is the greatest thing you can do.

3. The Lord's flashlight are judgements which are true and righteous altogether
Truth has to do with the reality of things, and righteousness has to do with right living for God.  Does truth and righteousness rank on your priority list?  If not, let the Lord's flashlight shine into your heart to show you how they are to be prized in your daily life.  A Christian life is marked by the desire for God's truth and holiness. (Romans 7:22; 2 Peter 1:3-4)  By turning to the Lord's flashlight, the scriptures, you can cultivate the desire for truth and righteousness - for the scriptures themselves are by their very nature those very things!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Making your have to's into want to's

Psalm 19:8a The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart

For the past couple of days we have been exploring the descriptions given of the Bible in Psalm 19.  Today we will be looking at a word that you may not see often - "precepts".  When the Bible is described as "precepts", the Lord is concerned in explaining the Bible's quality of telling us "how you ought to live in light of the Lord's will".  Precepts then spell out how you and I ought to live.  

Duty and Delight in the Christian life - not opponents, but friends
Do you ever find conflict between what you know you ought to do - duty, and what you really want to do - delight? For instance, Christians know they "ought" to go to church, they "ought" or "should" give 10% of their income, they "ought" or "should" be sharing their faith without shame rather than trying to "fit-in" with the crowd.  Why is it so hard to live the Christian life?

Because the things that we ought to do conflict with what this world, and at times even ourselves, desire to do.  Some Christians will try to resolve this conflict by being all about "duty".  They'll put a stiff upper lip on their face and "try harder" to love God.  Why?  It's your duty.

Others will say - no, Christianity should only be about what makes you happy.  Isn't God concerned about your joy as well as holiness?  In these types of situations, it appears that what we "ought to do" and "what I want to do" can never meet and be the same.  Which is why the Psalmist writes what he writes above.  It is only through the scriptures that my duty toward God and my delight in God can be one and the same.  You have the ability given to you at salvation to desire God.  Knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He sent is the purest definition of what it means to have Eternal Life. (John 17:3)

Only in the scriptures can my "have-to's" be made into "want to's"
This is why we have the precepts of God.  The Bible has this inherent quality of making your "have to's" into "want to's".  How many of you reading this blog have a hard time memorizing scriptures?  Many will say: "I can't do it" or "I just don't have the time".  Have you ever thought of first praying about it?  Take Psalm 19:7-14 and begin memorizing it one verse a week.  According to the verse above, as you expose yourself to the Lord's precepts, you'll being to "delight" in the word of God. 

What was formerly a "have to" now becomes "a want to".  Only by the scriptures can your spiritual life and hunger for God grow.  1 Peter 2:2 states - "like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation".  God never said you could live the Christian life.  All He said was that in you and through you He desires to live it through you so that you can live it for Him. (Galatians 2:20). 


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The life giving power of God's word

Psalm 19:7a The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;

Today's description in Psalm 19 describes the Bible as "The Law of the Lord".  That word for "law" in the text is the Hebrew word "Torah".  When the Psalmist describes the "Law of the Lord" as "Torah", He is referring to the ability the scripture has to guide and lead one to spiritual and moral change.  Scripture makes you less "self-centered" and more "God-centered".   

Now as God's law or Torah, scripture is revealed with other qualities that lend to its description here as "The guiding reference point" or "Torah" or "Law of the Lord":

1. The Law of the Lord is Perfect.  This means that there is not one area, word or syllable that contains nor can lead anyone to error.  The scriptures by their very character are without error.  This is one of the strongest statements in the Bible concerning its quality as being without error (what Bible teachers call "inerrancy"). 

2. The Law of the Lord restores.  As the perfect book, the scriptures function to "restore" or "convert" the soul.  The word here for "restore" means to literally "bring about a turn around".  Perhaps you reading this blog today are needing a "major turn around" in your life.  Scripture has that inherent quality.  Romans 10:17 tells us that by the hearing of scripture faith comes.  

3. The Law of the Lord works in the soul.  What is the soul?  You as a person are made up of three basic areas: body, soul and spirit.  Your human spirit is the innermost part of you, what we sometimes call the "heart" or the "inward man". (Matthew 22:37-39; Colossians 3:15-16)  The human spirit is where salvation and conversion takes place.  It is where the Holy Spirit comes and lives at salvation.  The spirit is your center of "God awareness". 

The Body is of course that physical part, composed of the five senses and is the center of "world awareness".  Your soul is the true you.  You don't merely have a soul, you are a soul, composed of mind, emotions and will.  The soul interracts between your spirit and the body.  Think of your "spirit" being clothed by you (your soul), with your soul (you) in turn being clothed by your body. 

The Scriptures function to bring your soul (mind, emotions, will) into allignment with what God the Holy Spirit is already doing in your spirit.  When you take in or memorize the scripture by the thinker of your soul - "the mind", the emotions follow along and before you know it, your decider of the soul - "the will", chooses to do what God says.  Without scripture, no spiritual life nor desire to live for God can begin nor be maintained. (1 Peter 1:23)  That is the life giving power of God's word. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

God's Golden Honey

Psalm 19:10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb

Yesterday we looked at this verse and discovered why the Bible is much more desireable than much fine gold and why it is much more desireable than an I-phone.  Today we are going to look at the second part of Psalm 19:10 and see why the Bible is more desireable than pure honey.  Psalm 19:10 is the heart of Psalm 19:7-14.  I pray that your desire for God's word is increasing as we look more into this precious set of verses in His Word.

The Bible is more desireable than the drippings of the honey comb

I'll never forget the first time I tasted fresh honey! It was way different than the honey you buy in the store. It had a sweetness and desireability to it that store bought honey does not possess. I could go into detail trying to describe the taste, smell and look of that honey - but in order for you to appreciate it - you would have to actually sample some!

David would had been familiar with honey. He had been a shepherd before he was chosen as Israel's King. It was common in Israel to run across honey bees in the course of shepherding flocks. Just like the gold illustration, honey is shown in its natural state and then in its final state. People will risk getting bee-stings for a few ounces of the "golden stuff". Once it is gathered, it can be used in baking and for the enjoyment of eating.

Have you desired the scriptures? Have you experienced them first hand in your life? Will you risk a few "bee-stings" of inconvenience to extract the honey of the Bible's words? Do you find their message, their power and their beauty as desireable as honey and butter put on a fresh piece of homemade bread?

Don't be a window shopper nor an admirer of scripture, wear it and partake of it

Don't let your experience of the Bible be second hand. Anyone can admire golden jewelery in a window, but to go into the store and purchase a precious ring for the sake of wearing it is quite another level. My wife to this day still looks at the ring I bought her years ago.

Likewise anyone can look at a cake in a bakery window. But why look at it, or just hear about it, when you can go a eat it! The Bible is God's Golden Honey. It is meant to be "worn", not just admired. Have it adorn your heart, and your life. Take in the Bible through memorizing it, don't just let it sit on a shelf like a jar of unopened honey. Desire and take in God's Golden Honey - His precious word.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Something more precious than gold & an I-Phone

Psalm 19:10a They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold...."

The scriptures should be of supreme value to the Christian life
Today's blog is about the value and importance of God's word.  Psalm 19:10a compares the Bible to a substance that is considered most desireable: Gold.  To capture the thrust of this verse, I want to illustrate using another desired object - the I-phone.  My prayer is that this blog will ignite in you a greater desire for the scriptures that are supremely valuable to the Christian life. 

The Bible is more desireable than much fine gold
In this Divinely inspired comparison, the Psalmist (King David) is having you view gold in its rough state, and then in its finished state.  Men will spend fortunes on equipment and expeditions to climb mountains or dig into the earth to mine a few ounces of gold from tons of rock.  I've been told that even the oceans have trace amounts of gold.  It would literally take tons of sea water to yield even a small portion of an ounce of this precious metal. 

Once the gold has been found, a goldsmith has to heat up the gold to melt it down and get rid of the unwanted "junk" or "impurities" to seek the desireable "pure and refined" gold necessary for making jewelry.  This is where the gold that was mined becomes the "much fine gold" spoken of here in Psalm 19.  I'm certain King David would had seen a lot of "fine gold" in his day!

How much effort do you and I take in "mining" God's word for the treasures He has waiting for you in His word.  Studying the Bible takes work!  But its rewards far exceed the work put into it.  1 Corinthians 2:12 states -  "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God".

The Bible is more desireable than a much fine "I-phone"
In our 21st century world, the object of desire is an "I-phone" or an "I-pad".  Perhaps you reading this blog are right now using such a device or some other type of electronic media.  Whatever the case may be -people treat these devices much like "the fine gold" we read of here in Psalm 19:10a.  Let me ask you this question: would you leave your I-phone or I-pad at church? How about in your hot car? Do you find excuses for not using your I-phone or other electronic device?

I believe if we treated our Bibles like these desireable devices - it would be an all out revival!  Your Bible should not be something you look at on Sunday for a couple of minutes while the preacher is preaching or when your Sunday School teacher is teaching - it should be in your hand, in your mind and in your heart. 

See how desireable your Bible is by the many "apps" it offers
Desire the One book through which God gives you many "apps" (applications for life and eternity): The Christian growth app is found in 1 Peter 2:1-2.  Are your fearful or worried - there's an app for that - 1 Peter 5:7.  Are you angry at the world or struggling with bitterness - check out the apps for that at Ephesians 4:31-32 and Philippians 4:6-7.  Perhaps you don't know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and would like to.  The app for that is in Romans 10:8-10.  Are you wanting to have a deeper love for Jesus Christ? Check out that app at 1 Peter 1:8.  There are over 31,000 apps (verses) in the Bible.   

Truly the Bible is more desireable than fine gold and is of greater value than any I-phone.  Start using it today! 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Two types of Revelation

Psalm 19:1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Psalm 19:10 (Concerning the Scriptures) They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.

Psalm 19 is one of the richest chapters in the Bible.  It is from Psalm 19 that we learn of the two ways in which God reveals His Person and Work: General Revelation and Special Revelation.

What is General Revelation?
Psalm 19:1-6 gives us the breakdown of what theologians commonly refer to as "General Revelation".  It is "general" due to the fact that everyone can access it by observation and human reason.  Also, this type of Revelation is "General" because it is more "broad" in its message about God the Creator and mankind's responsibility to Him.  Here in Psalm 19:1-6 we see the astronomical movements of the stars by night and the sun by day as "witnesses" to humanity of their origin coming from the One, Eternal, Creator God.  Romans 2:15 tells us that all human beings have an internal witness, the conscience, upon which the "law of God" is written, revealing mankind's moral obligation to the Creator. 

What General Revelation tells human beings
General Revelation does communicate certain truths about God Himself - hence it being a form of "revelation".  According to Romans 1:18-21 - "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." We learn from General Revelation:
1. God hates sin.  All men to one degree or another are aware that they are morally responsible to God.  Thus our universe is not just a physical universe, but also a moral one. 
2. God is the all powerful Creator.  He is One God who made all things visible and invisible.  All human beings have this testimony inside, with the heavens above and the earth all around confirming such truth.
3. God's nature is without end. God is Eternal, totally unique and different from His creation.

General revelation tells everyone that they are responsible to The Creator - however as you read on into passages such as Romans 1, you discover that sinful humanity has rejected this "lesser light" given by God and has exchanged its truth for a lie of their own making. (Romans 1:23)  General Revelation does not reveal God the Redeemer, only God the Creator - thus the reason for the second type of revelation spoken of in Psalm 19 - "Special Revelation."

What is Special Revelation?
Psalm 19:7-14 details what theologians refer to as "Special revelation".  Unlike "General Revelation" which is accessible to anyone through reason and observation, "Special Revelation's" meaning requires God's Saving Grace to show the value and personal applicability to the person. (2 Timothy 3:15; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23) Another difference between General and Special Revelation is that while General Revelation is found everywhere, Special Revelation is found in very "specific" (hence the term "special") place - the Bible.  A third major difference is that in General Revelation, I discover The Creator before Whom I guilty; whereas in Special Revelation I am shown the Savior and Lord that acquits me of such guilt by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8-9)  In short, Special Revelation through the scriptures by the Spirit's convicting work is what leads to salvation. 

What Special Revelation tells human beings
In Special Revelation, the Bible, I discover this Creator to be the Savior who went to great lengths to bring about salvation. It is by the Special Revelation of scripture that this same God calls and convicts me to come and believe on His Son, Jesus Christ, whom He sent to die and rise in my place. (John 3:16; 16:7-16; 17:3; 2 Timothy 3:15)

How General Revelation and Special Revelation relate to one another
Though both types of revelation are distinct in both their form and content, yet they both relate to one another.  The fact that Psalm 19 has both in one Psalm tells us that God ordained us to understand their purpose.  Special Revelation is necessary to specify the direction in which General Revelation is pointing.  General Revelation is a "lesser light", meaning that I understand just enough about God to be without excuse, yet it does not lead me to a saving knowledge of Him.  Special Revelation is the "greater light", meaning that by it God gives me the full understanding of salvation. (Hebrews 1:1-4) 

If a group of people who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ respond favorably to the "lesser light" of General Revelation, and turn away from idolatry, God pledges that He will send them a missionary or preacher who will communicate the "fuller light" of Special Revelation.  (Joshua 2; Acts 17:24-34)  The Holy Spirit will then work through the preaching of God's Word to convince those people to trust in Jesus Christ, since faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. (Romans 10:8-17) 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How Biblical Principles Answer the question: Is it o.k for Christians to engage in recreational drinking?

Ephesians 5:18 "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit."

An area of great debate in the Christian world is on the matter of whether or not it is o.k. for Christians to drink alcohol.  Some will say that it is flat out wrong in all situations, while others will advocate so-called "social drinking" or what I'm calling in this post - "recreational alcohol consumption". 

I'm convinced that if we consistently apply the principles of God's word from passages like Romans 14, only one clear answer will emerge on this issue of recreational alcohol consumption and the Christian.  The above text is a command to not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation (that is, it leads to excesses in one's behavior).  Rather we are to be filled, or "under the influence" of the Spirit. 

So our question is: Is it good for Christians to drink alcohol in any amount?

Principle #1 The Lordship Principle: Will recreational drinking enable me to follow the Lord consistently in obedience?  How much alcohol does it take to impair judgment, compromise moral integrity and cloud human thinking?  As soon as one takes that first drink, the effects begin immediately.  Following Jesus Christ with a sound or sober mind is emphasized repeatedly throughout scripture. (Matthew 22:37-39; 2 Cor 10:4-5; Hebrews 12:1-2) Even a little bit of "under the influence" makes me attempt to "serve two masters" - something which Jesus says can't be done. (Matthew 6:24)  Proverbs 20:1 warns - "Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise."  As Ephesians 5:18 reveals, a Christian should be "under the influence" or filled with the Holy Spirit.

Principle #2 Loving your brother principle: Will such a practice lead me to express selflessness in my dealings with others or love others above myself?  If I have alcohol, and offer it to a friend, am I really looking out for their best interest?  Habakkuk 2:15 denounces any effort in inviting my neighbor or someone that I'm supposed to care about to come and drink alcohol.  Or if I am drinking it in my own home, over time, will I be able to love others selflessly? Proverbs 23:32 warns - "At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper."  If there is even a small doubt, then that is a sign not to do it. 

Principle #3 Spirit-led Principle: Will drinking alcohol enable me to be Spirit-led or will it result in becoming self led?  This particular principle is the focus of Ephesians 5:18.  People typically drink for the purpose of achieving peace, escaping the stresses of life or "coping" with life.  But the problem is, once the alcohol has worn off, you're left with a hangover or at least a sense of feeling the pain of reality.  Paul then uses the "filling" or "under the influence of the Holy Spirit" to show how the Spirit of God can give you abiding peace, enable you to deal with stress and more than cope with life - and not have a hang-over!  Frankly, any amount of recreational use tells me that I am looking to a can, or a glass, or a bottle, rather than the Holy Spirit, to grant me peace and strength. 

Principle #4 Building up principle: Will drinking alcohol enable me to build up others and God's work, or will it lead to a tearing down?  At least six places in Proverbs, the book of Wisdom, warns about the dangers and long-term destructive effects of alcohol consumption. (Proverbs 20:1; 23:20, 29, 30, 32; 31:4)  When Noah had gotten off the Ark, his experimentation with alcohol led to disastrous results.  (Genesis 9:18-24) It shocks me how Christian leaders will actually promote "social drinking" and "recreational use of alcohol" in the name of Christian freedom. It seems no consideration is given to how it so-often "tears down" the lives of others and hinders the work of God's kingdom.  Statistics tell us for every dollar spent on alcohol in a given community, between seven to eight dollars is spent in law enforcement's efforts to control the consequences brought about by its use and abuse.  As Paul says in Ephesians 5:18 - "it leads to excess". 

Principle#5 The Faith Principle: Will drinking alcohol lead to a strengthening of faith or a harming of it?  Can it truly be said that drinking of alcohol in any amount is only for the advancement of God's kingdom and Christian faith?  Studying God's Word, regular attendance with God's people and prayer are the chief means of grace ordained by God to strengthen faith. (1 Peter 2:1-2; Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25; Luke 11)  I have yet to see one example of where the strengthening of one's faith can be directly linked to alcohol.  Overwhelmingly alcohol is shown to be more detrimental than helpful.  As the context of Ephesians 5:18 demonstrates, being led by the Spirit is under the assumption that one desires to be strengthened in their faith. (Jude 20-21) 

Closing thoughts:
By sifting this question of a Christian's consumption of alcohol through the five principles that we have studied in Romans 14, it is clear that one cannot truly justify the practice of recreational drinking while holding to even one of the above principles, let alone all five. Working through principles in tandem effectively helps people arrive at the conclusion on their own. Certainly God governs our moral decisions by clear commands. Yet, there is this second method of working through an issue by way of principles that proves equally effective.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

How faith factors into Godly decision making

Romans 14:22-23 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Over the past several days we have looked at Romans 14 in search of principles or absolutes that enables a Christian to make godly decisions about areas that are termed "gray" or debateable:

1. The Lordship principle - Will this decision enable me to live obediently for Jesus Christ?
2. Love your brother principle - Will this decision enable me to proceed unselfishly for the glory of God?
3. The Spirit-led principle - Will the given decision enable me to be Spirit-led rather than self-led?
4. The Building-up principle - Will whatever decision I make tear down others or God's work or build up others or God's work?

Today we will consider the fifth and final principle in this illuminating 14th chapter of the Book of Romans: Principle #5 - The Faith Principle - Will whatever decision I make encourage greater faith or hurt faith?

The Faith Principle - A closer Look
The clearest definition I know of faith in the Bible is Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  The King James Version renders those two underlined words as "the substance" of things yet hoped for and "the evidence" of things not yet seen.  When I look at the nature and character of faith in the scriptures, I see two emphases: Faith is all at once proof and persuasion.

God brings me the "substance", the "assurance" of things hoped for, the proof of what He says and who He states Himself to be in His Word.  Atoms compose our material world.  They are the "stuff" of this visible world.  Though unseen, yet they are "substance".  Faith is the "stuff", the "assurance" of the unseen realm.  Now Faith is also persuasion, meaning that God Himself personally persuades me.  It is described sometimes as "I know, that I know that I know". 

Without faith, we cannot please God. (Hebrews 11:6).  As much as we proceed along the lines of principles in Romans 14, without faith, we cannot see the value nor partake of God's grace to live them out.  As the end of Romans 14 states: anything done apart from faith is sin.

Why our decisions must factor in the health and well-being of faith
Christian faith brings it with it the ability to think clearly and act rightly for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 2:16)  Whenever I'm faced with a decision where I'm not sure on what to do, I need to ask myself whether or not that course of action will enable me to act in accordance to faith.  Jude 20-21 states: "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. "

So whatever job you're thinking of taking, relationship your want to pursue, hobby that your desiring to take up, past time that you love, friends that you have - ask yourself: "are any of these things contributing to my faith in the Lord or taking away?"  However you answer that question will tell you whether or not it is a decision you need to make or an activity you need to keep on pursuing.

How to tell when you have made a decision because of a conviction of faith, rather than just a preference
In both Romans 14:22 and Hebrews 11:1, faith is described as a God-given conviction.  When making a tough decision, a helpful distinction to keep in mind is the difference between "conviction" and "opinion".  Convictions are those things that you would die for, whereas a preference falls more into the realm of opinion.  Preferences are those motivations that I could go either way; whereas convictions are based upon "I know, that I know, that I know".  Preferences keep thinking more on "what if", whereas the conviction based upon faith deals in the realm of "what is". 

Is what you are wanting to do or decide just a preference, or a real conviction of faith?  Faith is vital in your decision making.  May the Lord guide you through these principles of Romans 14 as you work through the decisions of life. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Making decisions that build up, rather than tear down

Romans 14:19-20 19So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.

3 Principles for ensuring a good beginning for making Godly Decisions
For the past few days we have been exploring principles or absolutes in Romans 14 that will empower you to make Godly decisions in those areas that are either debateable or "gray-area" situations.  So far we have considered three principles or questions to ask yourself when faced with tough decisions:

1. The Lordship Principle - Will this decision enable me to live obediently for Jesus Christ? Romans 14:5-6

2. Love your brother (or neighbor) Principle - Will this decision enable me to place other's needs above my own or enable me to live unselfishly for God's glory? Romans 14:7

3. Spirit-led Principle - Will this decision encourage me to live by the Holy Spirit's power rather than by my own self-led motives? Romans 14:17-18

The first two principles are "cornerstone principles", since they cover the Great Commandment given by Jesus in Mark 13:34-35 and Matthew 22:37-39.  The third principle is the power source for carrying out the implications of the first two.  All three together provide what I need to ensure that my basis for decision making is starting off on the right foot.

Principle #4 The Building up Principle
Today's blog is going to cover a fourth key principle that is covered in Romans 14:19-20, what I call "The Building up principle".  The building up principle has me ask this question in my decision making efforts: "Will this decision build-up others or God's work, or will it lead more to a tearing down of others or God's work?"

With this principle, our decision making moves from the realm of the personal to the realm of how my decisions will affect other people and the work of God.  Admittedly it can be difficult to determine sometimes the outcome of our decisions.  What may very well be well-intentioned motives can sometimes lead to failure. 

Seeking godly counsel is part of the building up process in your decision making
This is why in making our decisions we need to seek Godly counsel.  Passages such as Proverbs 24:6 speak about the importance of many counselors.  I have found in my life when I have sought the counsel of wiser, older Pastors or other Christians, many of the blindspots in my decision making have been avoided.  In some cases, some decisions have been put on hold or even given a red-light as a result of Godly counsel.

In seeking the "building up" and not "tearing down" of others and God's work, I'm treating the decision making process as pertaining to the "Big-Picture", and not just my "Little Picture".  Matthew 6:33 is a good verse to summarize and close out today's blog - "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Power to make consistent Godly decisions

Romans 14:16-17 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Review: Two main principles for making Godly decisions
In the past couple of blogs we have been establishing sets of absolutes or principles for Godly deicsion making.  Both of them are summarized below:

#1 The Lordship Principle - Will this decision enable me to live in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Romans 14:7-8

#2 Loving your brother principle - Will this decision enable me to place others needs above my self for Jesus' sake. Romans 14:13

As we continue on in our study of Romans 14 in defining how we navigate through decisions that are termed "gray areas" or "debateable areas", we come to a third principle that is crucial for the Christian.  In the main text above, living for God's glory, or "Kingdom Living" is defined by righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  In other words - "will this decision or course of action lead to me being led by the Holy Spirit, or by self-interest"?  Thus the name of this third principle is: "The Spirit Led Principle"

The Holy Spirit leading you gives you the power to live the Christian life
The Christian life is based upon the biblical principles or "absolutes" such as the ones we have been outlining in these past couple of blogs.  However, in order to make daily decisions to the glory of God, you need Power to live out whatever decisions you make.  The Holy Spirit has been given to every Christian to both indwell and empower them for daily Christian living. (John 14:17, 23, 16:7-16; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; 6:19-20)

The Apostle Paul writes these words in Romans 8:5-8 "For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God."

Setting our minds on the Spirit or living by the Spirit means we are being led by Him.  This third principle - "The Spirit-led principle", is what gives you the power to consistently make decisions based upon biblical principles such as "The Lordship principle" and the "Loving Your Brother Principle" (see above).

The Holy Spirit's leading takes your Christian life from principles to live by to that of power to live for God
This third principle of making decisions that will encourage a "Spirit-led" life rather than a "self-led" life makes all the difference in whether or not you live by the power of God or your own strength.  As we saw in the Romans 8:5-8 passage above, who you are led by will determine how you live.  Self-led Christians will be inconsistent in their application of Biblical principles, since the nature of the principles themselves requires the power of God to carry them out. (James 1:8; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:18) 

Whenever you are making a hard decision, ask yourself: "Will this decision give me more opportunity to rely on my own strength or on God's strength"? (John 16:13-15; Romans 8:26-27) The Spirit-led principle will remind you of Who it is the enables you to live the Christian life in your daily decisions. (Galatians 2:20)  By starting with the "Lord-ship" and "loving your brother principles", you will be guaranteed of using this third "Spirit-led Principle".  When you do that dear friend, your daily decisions will not only be built upon sound principles, but your ability to see those decisions through will be guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.