Saturday, April 30, 2016

Are You in the Driver's Seat, or a Car Seat?

No, I haven't completely forgotten what it was like to be a kid. For example, I remember quite well I loved pretending in miniature. Just about any prop worked to enhance the experience: G.I. Joe, Lionel Trains, and Matchbox Cars, were my brand-name favorites.

Did you ever have one of those mini single seat cars, with the pedals that go back and forth for awesome power, and it actually steered? I might be showing my age, but mine was almost entirely metal. The only plastic was the little red hub cap covering the nut and bolt on the ends of each axle.

Pretend play was fun, even it mimicked real life scenarios. A journey to my neighbors, three houses down the block, in a suburb where the houses were about 50 feet from each other, was a trip worth repeating four to six times.

Gliding along the sidewalk was even better if someone pushed fast! I'm positive the pedals had a built-in speed control that would jam if you tried to pedal too quickly, like opposing keys on a manual typewriter from the 70's.

But, tell me to get in a real car because we're going on a real journey, and I'd run to hide in the closet quicker than a parent can ask, "Anybody have to 'go' before we go?"


Yes, I understand sometimes we have to get in the passenger seat of life, willingly or carried. But, if I have the option, I'll drive. I like to be in control of the vehicle, the chosen route, and my destiny, as much as I am motivated and able.

Today, (many) years later, I'm reminded of this childhood example, car rides, in regard to my spiritual walk. I have a heart to diligently seek God, know Christ, understand grace, truth, faith, and His eternal plan for His church, the body of Christ.

I don't wish to simply hand the reigns over to someone with worldly credentials who purports to be a spiritual authority, declaring, "I'm an excellent driver."

To me, it ultimately doesn't matter if they have a masters or doctorate degree in divinity, if they're in a denomination well established by solid church history, if they're intelligent scholars, best-selling Christian authors, charismatic crowd-pleasing orators, outspoken evangelists (dead or alive), if they have a heart-wrenching ministry, are well-dressed and highly moral, live in an exclusive secret society, or if they just love everybody all the time.

No, I'm convinced there is a higher purpose for God's word, the revelation of His eternal plan, and that we can and should know His will (Romans 12:2~). Only then will I know what "good works" are that He "prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10, following Ephesians 2:8-9~~).

No, I'm not going to simply hand over the reigns with something as precious as my soul. I believe God exists and rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6~~~). I believe this pleases Him as much as it delights me (Psalm 37:4*).

Definitely, there are eternal rewards. But, there are also rewards for here and now, such as rest for my soul, peace in my bones, contentment in my mind, joy in my heart, and (let the reader really get this point ...) growing into the fullness of Him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16**).

Those rewards, both eternal and present, are compromised, big time, when I let someone do the seeking for me. As a result, my "good works" may even be burned to a crisp (1 Corinthians 3:10b-15***).

Yes, I found an excellent pastor/teacher who teaches from Scripture. But I show up, listen carefully and thoughtfully, follow up with private study and prayer, and carefully test his teachings against the Scriptures (Acts 17:11****).

The idea is that learning from Scripture is so much better than learning from Religion. In the days Jesus walked the earth, religious leaders were constantly trying to trap Him in His words and even kill Him.

In fact, many religious leaders today, and throughout history, are trying to do the same thing by twisting Scripture and suppressing the truth. So, I assert Religion is the antithesis to understanding God's thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8-9*****).

But instead of running away from the Bible, I went deeper, essentially ignoring what religion had to say. Now, I'm getting, and have been getting for a few years, a lot of spiritual growth and enjoyment out of the study of Scripture.

And even that's saying it lightly; I frankly didn't know it was possible at first. I merely hung on to the hope the Scriptures were all true, and what religions were saying about it was false. That humble attitude was eventually rewarded.

How great are the rewards from God!

Previously, in attending a few mainstream religious churches, I was preoccupied with behavior modification, often having to wonder about and even maintain my salvation instead of using my freedom in Christ to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.

I got involved in humanitarian efforts in one place, which felt good to my soul, and religious tradition at another, which satisfied my self-righteous mind.

Neither shed much light, if any, on what God "decreed before the ages for our glory" (1 Corinthians 2:7+).

Now, although I'm in North Carolina and "attend" by conference call, I study with a small home-church based in New Jersey, where we are "serious students of God's word, the Bible."

Are we arrogant making a claim like that? Am I arrogant for bringing it up? You would think so, especially when I don't follow the norm of studying famous theologians, charismatic evangelists, seminary professors, best selling devotionals, common commentaries, larger and shorter catechisms, published confessions of faith, popular and wealthy congregations, or prioritizing involvement in just any local church family.

On the other hand, perhaps you see what I mean when you read that list and compare them to your own experiences. Rather, as I've studied His eternal word and His eternal plan, I've come to realize what He really means by "good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17++) and how to get there (2 Timothy 2:15+++).

Maybe you get my point, and maybe you don't.

This isn't private interpretation in isolation where we make the word mean whatever we want; we take His word for it. We clearly see in the world that our sort of study and reliance on God's word is very uncommon. We also see the common mistakes, hypocrisy, and arrogance that result from following the world's ways of religion. I wouldn't trade this intense focus on the word of God for anything in the world, especially man's religion.

Whose word are you following? Are you driving your own relationship with God? Or is someone else strapping you in the car seat of religion? (Galatians 5:1++++)

~  ~  ~
Scripture References:

~ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

~~ For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-9, 10)

~~~ And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who [diligently, KJV] seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

* Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

** And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

*** Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10b-15)

**** For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

***** Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

+ But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7)

++ All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

+++ Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 MKJV)

++++ For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Simple Bible Study Outline - Lesson 3

Opening Comment: 

I was more intentional about making this interactive and it went very well. Please take your time to consider these questions thoroughly and look beyond what you think you already know. Ask for the Holy Spirit to guide you through this spiritual information.

I pray also, that the eyes of your heart, dear reader, are enlightened that you may know the incredible riches of His grace in Christ Jesus. Again, my Bible Study Lessons are actually intended to be interactive; best when live in person. Nevertheless, please leave your comments, post your questions, and let's dialogue. (You're welcome to use your username or remain anonymous.)

Review verses:

(I downloaded and use e-sword.net almost all the time, and prefer the ESV, NIV, and KJV translations. However, you can also look up these verses in your favorite translation at www.BibleGateway.com.)

John 16: 4-15
John 3: 16-18
Romans 3: 10-31
2 Peter 1: 16-21
1 Peter 2: 2-3

Discussion Questions:

1. In verses John 16:12-15, what is the role-name of the Holy Spirit in John 16? Why is this role assigned to Him? What does this mean for those who are saved? When did get this role? How can we benefit?

2. What are His other roles and responsibilities (verses John 16:8-10)? [We will study those in more detail later.]

3. What does it take to be saved according to Ephesians 2:8-9 & John 3:16-18? Is that it? Are you sure? How can we know? What about lifestyles and heinous sins? Do these have to change first before one can be saved, or at the same time that salvation occurs? In fact, is salvation a process or a moment? Why?

It's likely we'll be out of time before we get to all the questions above. But that should not thwart us from diligently and humbly seeking Him on our own, between lessons.

We should consider going deep and exhausting these doctrines until we see God leaves no wiggle room. His way cannot be one way for some people and other ways for other people.

Questions for Later:

1. Who has or who can do right by God before salvation, to find favor with Him?

2. Where should we go and with what attitude(s) to discover His grace and truth?

3. Why can't we just settle into a nice church family and let that suffice? What if you're deployed or away on business and there is no local church family?

Simple Bible Study Outline - Lesson 2

Even though this lesson had less outline notes, I talked a lot to fill in the gaps. It was mostly a review of the Scripture verses from last week with additional depth, context, and background.

I ended with some basic questions, but realized I should've been including these throughout. My lessons are meant to be interactive, so please, leave a comment, post questions. Let's dialogue!

Open w/ prayer. Start w/ Q&A. Teach.

Lessons:

1. Pick up from last week. Some Scripture is so basic and foundational, it's worth committing to memory, so it sinks into your heart. God is motivated by pure love for you to know Him and His eternal plan. He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6). [If seems I'm repeating this point, it's true. It is important to understand that it is proper to have expectation with a humble attitude.]

2. The Only way to learn spiritual information is from the Holy Spirit, who is our guide into all truth. Read from John 16. [Simply stated, yet profound. God's truth does not come from any man. Yet, so many put their trust in man's religion and tradition, often muddied with Bible verses here and there so it sounds like it comes from God.]

3. You cannot put the cart before the horse; spiritual milk comes before spiritual meat. Milk is the basics: why we are lost, condemned in Adam, saved by grace through faith, word is truth, etc. * [The human analogy works well. Babies need milk, not solid food. It is right for them to crave it.] For example...

4. Romans 3:10-28... None is righteous. Righteousness manifested & revealed apart from the law. Putting "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" into context. What is the context?

5. Why is Bible study critical? It is literally a matter of life and death. Who or what are you trusting in? Self-righteousness? Moral behavior? Tradition? Religion? Denomination?

Scripture Verses:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15)

as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known." "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:10-28)

* Verses mentioned in context above...

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation-- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:15-19)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Simple Bible Study Outline - Lesson 1

Here are my notes from a discussion last night with a relatively new Christian. I elaborated in person, filling about 30 minutes. Below is just an outline.

My hope is that it may influence how someone thinks about their new born Christianity. It's not about suddenly getting involved in humanitarian efforts, or church outreach ministries. Nor is it about being moral. It's about growing in grace, then and only then will we be equipped for "every good work."

I hope you pay special attention to the verses I listed below as worth committing to heart.
~ ~ ~

Bible Study Notes

[Words in brackets are mine to add clarity.]

Lesson 1 Notes:

1. Read/study the Bible 1st, then other books. Like putting the genuine, unabridged classic before SparkNotes.

2. Hermeneutics- rules for interpretation, let clear direct Scripture help us understand ambiguous or seemingly contradicting Scripture (such as Php 2:14-16 helping us understand the time frame -in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation- of Col 1:21-23, which makes it sound like salvation is conditional w/ the words "if indeed," given Eph 2:8-9 which clearly says salvation is not conditional: we cannot earn it or maintain it), context is king, use original language to understand thought behind words, consider audience, etc.

3. Topics we mentioned: All Scripture is not only God-breathed, it's good for instruction in righteousness, etc. When saved, justification follows condemnation, sanctification follows salvation. Sanctification is made possible by truth, and God's word is truth (John 17:17).

4. Some Scripture is so basic to the foundation of faith, it's worth committing to memory, so it sinks into your heart. God is motivated by pure love for you to know Him and His eternal plan. He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6). [We didn't really get into this thought. We'll pick up from here next week.]

Scripture verses to take to heart:

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
John 17:17 ESV

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Hebrews 4:12 ESV

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

“Do your best to present [or, study to show] yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling [discerning] the word of truth.”
2 Timothy 2:15 ESV

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

“[God,] who desires all people to be saved and to come to the [full, accurate] knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 2:4 ESV

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who [diligently] seek him.”
Hebrews 11:6 ESV