Friday, May 29, 2015

Why Scripture? (Part 6) A Good Interlude!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV)

Let's take a closer look at the verse I introduced in Part 5, John 1:1. After all, it's rich! It's one of those verses that at different stages of our Christian growth we say, "Oh, I've seen that verse before," and then later, "Oh wow, I didn't see that in the verse before." It's as if John took to heart the saying, "Life is short; eat dessert first." ;-)

I love a good classical concert, especially featuring a Mozart concerto. But take any concert as an example, preferably one you love. See yourself at the venue. Now picture the interlude, or intermission. A short span of time to take it all in. I've noticed most people at a concert will either calmly head straight to the restroom, stand on one of two long lines to buy a severely overpriced snack, or they will just move around a little near their seats, perhaps even stretch nonchalantly.

While the rest of the crowd is preoccupied, however, we're going to take a special detour. That's right, we're going backstage to meet the performers, producers, assistants, and stagehands. We'll have a chance to see what makes this production possible, its planning and execution, the entirety of which started with a wonderful thought, sprinkled generously with warm motivation.

That's what we have in John 1:1. The start of something glorious. Mention of its intention all along. A plan and its execution. The Person with an eternal plan, God, and the Person who would gladly execute it, the Word. Father and Son. Inseparable. Unconquerable. Let's look for the gem's sparkle in that verse. If you don't see it, I would encourage you to keep looking. It's there!

In Part 5, I said that God and the Word are the same thing. I need to make a theological distinction here. (Did I lose you at "theological distinction?" Then try "glorious insight!") The "thing" that is the same is their divine nature. As we venture through Scripture in these devotions, I will elaborate on that point. What's different is the Word is Jesus Christ Himself, and yes, He is with God and is God. But as a Person, He is the Son, not the Father. How can we be sure? Scripture! A few verses down we read this...

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 ESV)

Pretty clear, huh? So, where do we get that Jesus and the Father are of the same divine nature? A good sermon? Well, not always. In fact, not commonly. Scripture, of course, is where we'll find the definition of that unity. (Here's a few samples if you'd like to peek ahead: John 14:8-11, Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15,19, John 10:37-38, et al.)

What would make the sermon good is if it were based entirely on Scripture. Sermons should be Scripture explained. Otherwise, what sermon is right? The one from a dynamic and engaging speaker? A convincing televangelist? A street preacher? The church to which your family has always attended? Which sermon can you believe? What part(s) of the sermon are the truth God is speaking? Everything needs to come back to Scripture, the word of God, the Word and God.

This verse, John 1:1, explained with Scripture is a good example of how these "Why Scripture?" lessons can be put to use. The verse has something to teach us beyond the surface which is not always taught in church, because churches don't always teach Scripture, or from Scripture without diluting if or mixing it in with human wisdom.

Some denominations, for example, don't even tie verse 1 with verse 14 as shown above. Those sermons, therefore, get confusing as they try to make sense of these verses separately.

But Scripture is pretty clear when you just let it say what it says. When in doubt, trust Scripture. It is the word of God. Hey! Even when not in doubt, trust Scripture! The Father's eternal plan and the Persons of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will become clear. You, too, can rightly divide the word of truth, not being tossed to and fro by every wave of doctrine, and grow into the fullness of Him who is head, into Christ. :-)

Now, back to the main attraction! Stay tuned for Why Scripture? Part 7.

A final word... 

Make your life a mission - not an intermission.
~~Arnold H. Glasow

Make your mission to be transformed by His mission!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why Scripture? (Part 5) Consider the Source.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV)

Sometimes, when I tell a colleague at work what I heard, that is, what's the rumor being spread, who's getting what work, etc., the person will turn to me and confidently say, "Consider the source."

Instantly, I recognize that there may not be any truth at all to the rumor going around, and my mind no longer entertains the unfounded claim. Rather, I simply tell myself that if there's even a speck of truth worth pondering, I'll wait until it comes from an authority.

In the first verse of John of the first chapter of John, we have such an authority, and its truth is well worth pondering. Consider these three claims: 1) the Word existed from the beginning, 2) the Word and God were always together, and, in fact, 3) the Word of God and God are the same thing.

We could ask, "In the beginning of what?" What does it mean by "with"? Does it mean they were in accord with one another? Or did they actually exist together, like Father and Son? Good questions.

But, the thought I will highlight today is the third one, literally, "the Word was God." With this thought comes the notion that...

Your attitude toward the Word is the same as your attitude toward God. 

That claim ought to give us pause to examine motives deep in our hearts. Do I really treat Them the same, or do I claim to know God even while not comprehending His Word? Do I place emphasis on a personal relationship, yet dismiss what this Person is trying to tell me? Do I think it's just a set of rules with a reminder that He loves me? Have I become reliant on an interpreter, like someone called a priest or pastor, minister or reverend, to shield me from what is overwhelming, so I can focus on trying to be a good person and/or trying to obey the Ten Commandments?

Evaluating our attitudes and responding to the call of God is a grace-filled opportunity. Perhaps, we've never considered the equality of the Word and God quite like this. If so, let us change our attitudes and treat Scripture with a new found respect. In any case, let us pray that the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, will use our time in Scripture to guide us into all truth. It's all there. He's all there.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Why Scripture? (Part 4) Why Study It?

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (‭2 Timothy‬ ‭2‬:‭15‬ KJV)

Lots of people imagine lots of ways to please God, and many apply biblical principles thinking this is what they are accomplishing. Be good as possible. Obey laws. Act morally. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. God loves a cheerful giver. Faith without works is dead. Etc.

But I wonder how many of them would say the way to please God is through "study of the word of truth"? If I want to love others and not offend them, this sounds like a recipe for arrogance and hypocrisy, a matter of right and wrong by which to judge others. Yet, God wants us to study Scripture if we are to know His purposes. Let us carefully consider why we should study the word of truth.

I specifically chose the King James version for this devotion. If rightly dividing the word of truth is what keeps a workman unashamed and approved unto God, then the word "study" is probably more appropriate than the phrase "do your best" found in other popular translations of this verse. "Do your best" simply sounds like trying hard to be a good person.

Many people, whether they go to church or not, think pleasing God, or living the life we were meant to live, is all about being a good person who is kind, generous, and loving to others, and/or obeying civil and moral laws. They miss the point of what it means to be under grace and not under the law as part of the body of Christ.

Yes, Scripture does say, "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (‭Galatians‬ ‭5‬:‭14‬ ESV) But, context is critical here. Putting behavior before identity is putting the cart before the horse.

It is the word of truth, not behavior, that will transform us (John 17:17, Romans 12:2) into His image. It's about our identity in Christ from which pure and blameless behavior can flow.

Instructions and admonishment from Paul about behavior are directed toward believers, or "saints," as he addresses them, so that they may grow in grace after they are saved. Instructions about righteousness are directed toward unbelievers, intended to bring them to repentance, changing their minds about doing things on God's terms instead of their own.

(This thought helps to understand why Jesus was a friend of sinners, who were humble, yet He hated the religious leaders, who were arrogant and self-righteous. The former largely didn't hesitate to believe, and great crowds followed Him and were astonished. The latter, however, wanted to kill Jesus for claiming to be God, and only followed Him for the purpose of trapping Him in committing blasphemy, so they would be justified in accusing Him of being worthy of death before the crowds.)

Moral behavior is a good thing. Loving your neighbor is also good. Acts done in kindness are real good things. But, let our focus be on letting Him change us through His word, which is His chosen method, instead of trying to change ourselves for Him by ours.

Seeking Him is restful and joyful, although it does take focus. Seeking to please God on our terms can lead to burnout and frustration, or give a false sense of the complete joy intended for us. Many become more like Martha than Mary, and are anxious and busy (Luke 10:38-42), instead of listening to and assimilating in our hearts the words of life (John 6:68).

We are powerless to change for Him on our terms. However, His word is powerful and active to change us on His terms (Hebrews 4:12). If His words are so powerful and capable of transforming us, and giving us reason to not be ashamed, making us approved unto God, surely they are worthy of great study.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Other Scripture Referenced Above:
Biblical Principles throughout Scripture
Thoughts of being a friend of sinners / hating religious leaders throughout 4 Gospels

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

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)

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, (John 6:68) Read the context of at least John 6:63-69.

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) This verse is also the subject of a previous devotion, Why Scripture? (Part 3).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why Scripture? (Part 3) Isn't it good enough to live by the 'Golden Rule'?

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)

What is Scripture good for? Everything! Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4) His words are life!

The problem comes in when we translate His words to human understanding. Isn't it good enough to live by the 'Golden Rule'? No, that's not the point, not the main one anyway.

As humans, we want structure, organization, and rules for conduct, all given with authority. So, we naturally look for those things in the Bible. We are inclined to interpret the Bible on our terms.

I've heard some people use the word 'BIBLE' as a cute acronym intended to sum up its purpose: 'Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth'. Some others say it's all one long love letter, fitting with "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16) Still others interpret it as a very stern rule book with stiff penalties for the slightest infraction.

What's really going on Scripture for the church age is all about identification. The New Testament contains spiritual information, not human information, for those members in the body of Christ, the church. The key to understanding this age-defining spiritual information is in understanding what Paul called the mystery. The mystery is not salvation, which was known to previous generations. But understanding of the mystery comes through the gospel, the salvation of your soul. (Eph 3:1-5) We must come humbly before His word in prayer to comprehend it, any of it.

To disseminate this pertinent information, He has created a system of evangelists and pastor/teachers (2 roles, 1 person) for the growth of His church (Eph 4). God's word is intended to transform us by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). It's to help us understand how we are in Christ and Christ is in us (John 14-17). It is knowledge of His ways that makes us distinctly Christian, not good and moral behavior.

But, we must accept His word, His teaching, His reproof, His correction, and His training in righteousness on His terms. Can you imagine what it means to be a New Creation in Christ, where the old has gone and the new has come (Gal 5:17)? If not, turn to God's word with all humility and prepare to be delighted to find out just how much He has prepared for you.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Once you are born of the spirit you are saved. Your salvation is now 100% His responsibility, and nothing will snatch us out of His hands. Once saved, the issue is not the maintenance of your salvation, it's growth, from the milk of the word to the meat of the word, maturity in Christ. Don't confuse complex concepts as meat just because they're complex. You may not be ready for meat until you have fully assimilated the milk. That's okay! Let God's word, with the help of the Holy Spirit, gently guide you into all truth (John 16:13).

Will you submit to His word, rather than the common misconceptions rampant in the world?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why Scripture? Are they just words on a page?

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)

Have you ever read a book or engaged in a conversation that was flat? The cover or title of a book, or its recommendation, may have gotten us curious and started. But, a little way into it, we realize it isn't for us. It's superficial and not at all engaging. A conversation may begin with someone you thought would have something interesting to say. But, it was immediately bland and struggling to cover anything meaningful.

Sometimes, however, usually on rare occasions, we force our way through a book or conversation and it ends up touching us in a way we could not have imagined. The story may have started slow with seemingly needless details of the environment, that were not very exciting, only to blossom later into profound insight that gave us chills. The conversation partner, initially dancing on the edge of nervousness, suddenly becomes vulnerable and shares from the heart a deep and personal struggle that brings us to tears.

Other translations of Hebrews 4:12 use phrases like "quick and powerful (KJV)," or "alive and active (NIV)," and at the end, "it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV)." In all these translations, the idea is clear; we are talking "rare occasion" here. It's for anyone, whoever, but not everyone will stick with it. May I encourage you to do so?

If you push through this book, the Word of God, with a humble heart, it will blossom into such profound spiritual insights as you could not have imagined. It has the power to bring you to your knees in recognition of His splendor, majesty, and wisdom in one moment, to your feet in praise and thanksgiving the next, and ultimately to such an intimate relationship with the Father that you and He are thinking alike, motivated by a deep love, both of which are beyond anything the world has to offer.

If you listen to your conversation partner, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth (as He is called in John 16), you will hear Him speak gently and vulnerably from the heart of God, found in Scripture, of His intention all along, with your glory in mind, since before the ages began (1 Cor 2:6-7). But, this will take time, effort, and humility.

The key word is, "push." The "intentions of [your] heart" will determine if your conversation partner feels safe enough to be vulnerable. He will never force you to listen. Sometimes, it takes a while for Him to open up, depending on your capacity to assimilate new information, or for you to actively listen, due to countless distractions in the world. Keep showing up. Ask the Holy Spirit for clarity and guidance. That's His job and He loves when you let Him do it cheerfully!

It may seem like you're trekking through irrelevant and/or overly-complex details at times, but hang in there. Be consistent in showing up, focused as can be. Past experience, traditions, or what you were told to believe may cloud your path. But keep walking. Pace yourself. Let Him be the light unto your path.

There is profound wealth to revealed, which isn't shown to just anyone. God rewards those who diligently seek Him. It may seem like the story is utterly beautiful in some places, and then disjointed and/or self-conflicting in others, but hang in there. There is material to be shared from the heart of God that remains hidden until sought out, diligently. And all the riches of the world pale in comparison to the value of knowing Him.

So, if the Word of God does not seem "quick and powerful" to you yet, or it is not quite what you would call "living and active" at this time, be assured it is not an empty claim. Rather, it is more glorious treasure than you could ask, intended for you, that you haven't discovered yet. It has the power to transform your life. Keep digging! And keep a humble heart!

~ ~ ~

Resources:  For easy lookup of Scripture, verses, and translations, I sometimes use Since I mostly use the ESV and NIV (e-Sword and hard copy), this makes it easy for me to get the same verses I'm studying in the King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), New American Standard Bible, (NASB), and several others. 

I tend to stay away from, but will sometimes compare, more liberal translations (those further from the original languages used to write the Bible) that are intended to stir the heart, such as New Living Translation (NLT) or The Message (MSG). I find the deep things of God tend to be watered down in these versions.

On a regular basis for personal study, I use the free download from on my Windows 8.1 laptop. Some Bible translations, dictionaries, commentaries, etc. are free, but others require purchase. This application makes it very easy for me to keep notes on what I'm studying, look up Greek (NT) definitions in Strong and Thayer, and compare my studies to popular commentaries.

E-Sword is also available on mobile devices, but I was already using YouVersion by The search feature seems weak on my iPhone, but I love to listen to Max McLean read the ESV translation. YouVersion has an online version which looks good, but I haven't used it at all yet. 

For good old-fashioned hard copy print, I primarily use the English Standard Version (ESV) New Classic Reference Edition by Crossway publishing, and the Classics Devotional New International Version (NIV) by Zondervan publishing. Less frequently, 

I also use an ESV Study Bible, an NIV Study Bible, et al, but they tend to lean heavily toward certain theologies based on human denominations, experience, or emphasis. I'm careful to glean the thoughts of God into a comprehensive, cohesive and logical whole, and I not try to fit the Scripture into a predefined structure based on human study, no matter how many centuries old or wonderful sounding. Of Scripture, I will always ask how, when, what, and especially why until I get an understandable yet profound answer that fits neatly into the big puzzle of God's purposes for us here, and His ultimate and eternal plan for the church. 


Friday, May 15, 2015

Why Scripture? First in a series of devotions about the Word of God.

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

Many of us become Christians and wonder, "What next?" We, along with those who are contemplating Christianity, wonder, "How do I know which teaching to believe with all these church denominations, worship styles, preaching styles, and differing sermon contents?" Exasperated and wanting to avoid settling for 'good enough', we may find ourselves coming alongside Pilate and joining him in asking Jesus, "What is truth?"

John describes the dialogue at the Last Supper in his gospel in chapters 13 thru 17. In John 17 specifically, Jesus turns His focus toward praying to His Father for 1) Himself, 2) His disciples, and 3) those who would believe through their message. This particular verse, John 17:17, is applicable to the audience in items 2 and 3, that is, all believers in the church age.

With so many seemingly possible directions, and with so wide a path that leads to deception, where do we ultimately turn for absolute authority in determining truth? God's word. Everything we need to know about truth, God's reality, or reality for the Christian according to God, is already contained in the Scriptures. Everything! Not only is His word truth, it alone has the power to sanctify us.

As we'll see in coming devotions, the Scriptures are where we find the elaborate and wonderful definition that answers the question, "What is truth?" So, join me in discovering how we can depend on His word, and with the help of the Holy Spirit in prayer, we can for learn, understand, and assimilate in our hearts exactly what God wants us to know.