Category Archives: Christian Basics

In The Beginning

The first two verses of Genesis contain a concise summary of the origin of the heavens and the earth. Fortunately for the livelihoods of theologians and theoretical scientists, there aren’t a lot of details given. Let’s take a look at what can be known from the Bible. Theories about cosmology and creation can be great fun – but we should never lose sight of the truth that intellectual brilliance doesn’t lead people to God.

To begin, let’s read what’s written in verse one.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

What was the origin of the cosmos? God created it. How exactly did he do this? The Bible doesn’t tell us. When did it happen? “In the beginning.” How long ago was the beginning? We don’t know.

We do know that the creation didn’t happen last Wednesday – God doesn’t lie and he places it before thousands of years of history in the Old Testament. From secular historical records we also know that it has been about 2400 years since the last prophet who wrote in the Old Testament – Malachi.

Now let’s take a look at the beginning of verse two.

Genesis 1:2a
And the earth was without form [Hebrew: tohu], and void [bohu]…

There has been a lot of debate – going back at least to some early church fathers and rabbinical scholars – as to whether verse two describes the results of verse one. Did God originally create the earth without form and void or did something bad happen between the two verses? From my own research I tend to lean toward the latter – but that doesn’t make me a proponent of “Gap Creationism.”

Before I continue with the study, here’s the link to the interlinear of Genesis 1:2. From this page you can find the definition and, where applicable, the parsing of every Hebrew word used in this verse. You can also find every single verse in the Bible where each word is used. It will even take you to the complete context of those verses.

Back in the old days (“hand me my cane, Sonny”) this sort of study took me many days to complete. It also required a number of expensive reference works (all of which I still own). And lots of pencils and paper. Now it can be done in a couple of hours without moving anything more than a mouse. Amazing! This raises a question in my mind. If studying the Bible is so easy today why do so few do it?

First of all let’s look at the word “was.” In Hebrew it’s in the perfect tense. It could be translated accurately as either “was” or “became.” This doesn’t tell us when it happened. It could have been simultaneous with verse one or sometime afterward.

Next let’s look at “without form and void.” From their root forms these words could best be translated as “a waste” and “empty [uninhabited].” The word bohu only occurs twice more in the Bible. In both cases it is paired with tohu. Both instances are speaking about a land made uninhabitable by warfare – a result of sin and rebellion against God.

Tohu occurs twenty times in the Old Testament and is translated into English in nine different ways. Only one more of these occurrences is relevant in this context. Here tohu is translated, “in vain.”

Isaiah 45:18
For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

In this verse God tells us that he did not create the earth in vain (without form). This is the primary reason I believe that verse two describes something that happened after verse one. “The earth became waste and empty…”

There are hints in God’s word that the calamity that caused this state was the rebellion of the head Angel, Lucifer, against God. After he set himself up as God’s adversary he picked up some delightful nicknames – Satan, the devil, the serpent, the father of lies, the god of this world. I’m certainly not scholar enough to prove this one way or the other—so I’ll leave it alone.

Putting together everything we’ve read, how much time passed between the first and second verses of Genesis? Could it have been 13 billion years as the scientists say? Sure! How about thirteen minutes? I suppose so. Sigh. After all that work we still don’t know the age of the universe. We don’t know if God created the heavens and the earth via the Big Bang (taking 13 million years) or if he did it in a moment of time.

Guess what? Knowing or not knowing won’t make any difference to living the more abundant life that Christ promised. What we don’t know isn’t going to hurt us. If it were, God would’ve told us.

Now, I do understand the appeal of all of these theories of creation and cosmology. We men, especially in our youths, are driven to explore. Those of us with an intellectual bent are driven to explore theories, explanations, and philosophies. I have no problem with that – I was the same way!

So go ahead and jump on Wikipedia – discover the dozens of theories that theologians and scientists have come up with to try to explain that which God describes in a handful of words. Just remember that you’re doing it as a fun way to stretch your mind. None of these theories are true – they are just theories. After you’ve done a little research you’ll notice that scientists actually disagree with each other more than theologians do!

Earlier I mentioned that I am not a proponent of “gap creationism.” I’m also not a proponent of the “young earth” theory, or any other. Each of these theories makes assumptions that cannot be proven from God’s word. The “gappers” claim that the plant and animal life that formed fossils – perhaps even an earlier race of man – lived between Genesis verses 1 and 2. But the Bible doesn’t say that. Many “youngers” claim that the fossils were laid down during an ice age following the flood. There’s no biblical proof for that, either.

Christians arguing about unprovable theories is a cause of division; it plays directly into the adversary’s hands. When we get invested in such theories we get distracted from that which is important. We lose sight of the truth of God’s word. If we worship our own thoughts we won’t be believing the Bible.

Let’s set aside our differences to concentrate on that which we do know. God created the heavens and the earth. God made the earth to be inhabited by man. God’s motivation was love – for God is love.

And if you want others to come to God you’re not going to convince them with your theories. “…the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.”

Lost Knowledge

I promised several of my readers that I would write a series on the early chapters of Genesis. It’s an important record—a full understanding of God’s saving grace is aided by knowing from whence we came. We’ll look at how God formed, made, and created mankind; Adam’s disobedience and expulsion from paradise; and the promise of the Redeemer. But, after much prayerful consideration, I believe I need to do an introduction regarding ignorance.

The Genesis record has been thoroughly muddied by well-meaning (or otherwise) scientists, philosophers, theologians, and preachers. Everybody, it seems, has a favorite theory that reconciles the Bible with modern scientific discoveries. This theoretical speculation, however, is rooted in hubris – a prideful belief that we are smarter and more knowledgeable than any others who came before. This belief is dead wrong.

Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Without proper meekness and humility, a respectful awe for our Creator and Lord, we fall into an insidious trap. We forget that his thoughts are far higher than our thoughts. We believe we can figure out all the answers – or at least most of them. But, if we fail to start from the true beginning, our endings will be far from the truth.

So let’s set aside our pride and admit our ignorance. We can start by acknowledging to God that He knows more than we. And always has!

God doesn’t love the people of today more than he loved the patriarchs and prophets of old. He didn’t leave them in ignorance of His Word and will. It’s incontrovertible that those men and women possessed knowledge that has now been lost – and I’m not referring to their copy of Pyramid Building for Dummies.

What we find in Genesis is a synopsis of the most critical information about the creation. Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham (to name a few) all had a subtler and more complete understanding of what occurred.

But, you might ask, how could they? They didn’t have a written Bible!

All throughout history God has had his men who believed to receive His Word. Though they had no Bibles they did have the spoken Word of the prophets and a memorized tradition of how to read God’s Word from the stars.

Genesis 1:14
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

Before God first formed Adam he set the stars and planets in motion in the skies—so that His Word could be read throughout the earth.

Psalm 19:1-6
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

The lights in the firmament of heaven utter speech and show knowledge to those trained to read them. This topic is neatly summed up by Dr. Bullinger in his introduction to The Witness of the Stars.

For more than two thousand five hundred years the world was without a written revelation from God. The question is, Did God leave Himself without a witness? The question is answered very positively by the written Word that He did not. In Romans 1:19 it is declared that, “that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” But how was God known? How were His “invisible things,” i.e., His plans, His purposes, and His counsels, known since the creation of the world? We are told by the Holy Spirit in Romans 10:18. Having stated in v. 17 that “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word (the thing spoken, sayings) of God,” He asks, “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes, verily.” And we may ask, How have they heard? The answer follows–“Their sound went into all the earth and their words (their teaching, message, instruction) unto the ends of the world.” What words? What instruction? Whose message? Whose teaching? There is only one answer, and that is, THE HEAVENS! This is settled by the fact that the passage is quoted from Psalm 19, [one] part of which is occupied with the Revelation of God written in the Heavens, and the [other] part with the Revelation of God written in the Word.

Please remember that Bullinger’s book is not the Word of God. It is, at best, a survey demonstrating how much knowledge we have lost over the millennia.

When Abraham stood upon the Palestinian Hills and looked up at the heavens he could read God’s Word in the names and arrangements of the stars. He was inspired by God’s goodness just as we are when we read the book of Psalms. He could read about the creation, the fall, and the promised saviour. He knew that Messiah would come to die for God’s people and be raised again.* He could read about the resurrections of the just and the unjust.

Even at the time of the birth of Jesus there were men who believed God – outside of Palestine – who understood this knowledge. The Magi came from the East, confident that the saviour had been born. How did they know? They read it from the stars. Today all we have left of this godly tradition is the degenerate art of astrology (Star – Knowledge or Star – Word). In place of Magi we have magicians.

When we read about the men of God in the Old Testament – the patriarchs before the time of Moses – we should remember that they probably knew far more about the creation than we do today. Lacking a written word these men were trained in memorization and logic from a very early age. Honestly, they would make most of us look stupid.

But we have no reason to despair – the salient points, those most critical for our understanding – have been preserved. If we approach God’s Word with an attitude of trembling respect for His awful majesty we can avoid the trap of hubris. We will stop trying to explain more than is written. We must not worship either science or our pet “biblical” theories.

Let’s simply read what is written and glean the clear truths.

*Extra credit: Can you find a record in Genesis that demonstrates Abraham’s knowledge about the coming Messiah?

Understanding Parables

In the Gospels we often see Jesus teaching by way of parables. A parable is a short story, told by a teacher, to illuminate an important idea. This idea is intended to be obvious to the listeners. The story is an aid to the student. It helps him understand, remember, and act.

Note carefully that a parable illustrates one point. Remember Aesop’s fables? Same idea. There’s a one-sentence moral to the story. (The sentence might include a semi-colon)

An allegory is different from a parable – an allegory contains multiple elements, each having its own (non-obvious) meaning. In spite of what some scholars have claimed, Christ also used allegories*. But, each time an allegory appears in the Gospels, Jesus later explains it. One such example is in Mark 4. Jesus explains the allegory here.

Roman Catholic scholars, during the Middle Ages, began treating all of the parables in the Gospels as if they were allegories. Modern biblical scholarship has reverted to the earlier view that Jesus’ parables were simply parables.

What possessed “biblical scholars” to think that parables could be treated as allegories? Hah! I can’t read minds, especially of people who’ve been dead for over 500 years. But I do know that most people, most of the time, do things from self-interest. When a large number of people, over many years, all do something similar you can be pretty sure that’s the reason.

By treating parables as allegories, allegories that Jesus “forgot” to explain, scholars could make the Bible say whatever they wanted. Any idea they wished to convey they could, somehow, squeeze into one of the parables. That is handling the word of God deceitfully, no matter the motive.

It’s a good thing that the Christian church has rejected this dishonest methodology. We’d never do this anymore, would we?

Unfortunately, it seems that non-medieval biblical scholarship hasn’t made it into many pulpits. The “Christian preachers” of today are still treating the parables as allegories. The method is quite valuable to them: they can imagine a “doctrine” and then “prove” it by quoting Jesus’ words. It’s not surprising, then, that sincere Christian laymen don’t understand the purpose of parables. Constant repetition has convinced us that the allegorical method is the right one. I thought so, myself, for many years.

Because of this there was a certain parable that bothered me. A lot. Let’s read it.

Luke 18:2-6
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
And the Lord [Jesus] said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.

When I tried to handle this parable as an allegory I became very confused. It seemed to say that God was very much like an unjust judge. He didn’t give a damn about anybody. God tried his best to ignore prayers. The only reason He finally does anything is because He gets tired of listening to us.

Can you see why I had problems with this little story? The allegorical interpretation contradicts many, many verses elsewhere in the Bible.

This story perfectly illustrates the proper way to handle a parable – Jesus’ words are nonsensical as an allegory. But I missed it. God even instructed Luke to write the “moral of the story” at both the beginning and the end. But I missed it. Maybe it’s just me – does anybody else occasionally feel stupid in God’s presence?

Here is the verse before the parable:

Luke 18:1
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;

And here’s the following verse:

Luke 18:7, 8a
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.

What’s the point of this parable? It’s simple. If you wouldn’t quit petitioning an unjust judge, why would you consider giving up on God?

Or, as the Bible puts it, “men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”

So, give your fainting couch to charity and keep praying.

*Why isn’t the word allegory (Greek allegoria) used in the Gospels? There’s a large body of evidence that these books were originally written in Aramaic and later translated to Greek. While I’m no expert on languages, I did check Aramaic and Syriac dictionaries. I found a word for parable but no separate word for allegory. Hmm…

Prayer: A Primer

Prayer is one of the most important parts of a Christian lifestyle. Very few Christians – and I include myself – pray as much as we could and should. Some believers fall short because they don’t know how to pray or what to pray for. God (who’s much sharper than us) anticipated this problem. Throughout His Word there are examples of prayer that we can study to our benefit.

All of the New Testament epistles written to the Christian churches contain prayers. Paul, the writer, spent much time in prayer for the believers. But it was God, by revelation, who told him to write about it. These prayers express God’s heart for us – today.

Let’s look at an example from the first chapter of the first epistle.

Romans 1:8, 9
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

Hold it! That can’t be true. In verse nine Paul says he prays “without ceasing.” I mean, the guy has to sleep sometime.

You’re right, it isn’t literally true (of the apostle Paul). But don’t worry, God had Paul write it that way on purpose. It isn’t an error, it’s a figure of speech. God wants us to stop and consider His words.

This figure emphasizes that Paul prayed during every available moment. God commands us to do the same.

1 Thessalonians 5:17
Pray without ceasing.

(By the way, if you want an easy verse to memorize, this would be a good one.)

Romans 1:9, however, speaks to more than Paul’s prayer life. The first half of the verse, “God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit,” reminds us that Paul’s prayers arose from God’s heart.

I’ve heard many Christians, when quoting the epistles, to put too much emphasis on the man, Paul, as if he were some theologian. We must remember that Paul was God’s man. And “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Paul wrote in the first person because God commanded it. These are words the Holy Spirit, God, taught to Paul – he received them by revelation. They are God’s Word.

With this in mind, read the verses from Romans again. This is God’s heart for you. Unlike Paul, God is able to remember you, think about you, and desire the best for you without ceasing. You’re in his heart 24/7. We’re God’s children, He is our father.

Picture a happy home presided over by an ideal father. As children of the Most High, that’s where we live.

Ephesians 2:19
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

Don’t act like a sullen teenager – talk to Him! That’s what prayer is. Prayer isn’t something we should reserve for once a week while kneeling in a church building. We should start our day by saying good morning to our Dad. Then, anytime we remember Him throughout our day, say a few words. It’s also a good idea to set aside some time every day to sit down and have a chat with Him. Our aim should be to pray “without ceasing.”

What are the different kinds of prayer? What do I talk about with my Father? Here are a few examples.

First we can simply acknowledge his presence – remember Him throughout the day.

Gal 4:6 [Lamsa Bible]
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts crying, Abba, Abon, O Father, our Father.

How about saying, “thank you,” for the many things He’s done for us?

Psalms 100:4
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

We may request specific things we need.

Philippians 4:6
Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

Ask Him to help out our family, friends, and coworkers.

1 Timothy 2:1
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

Pray for our enemies. You would be amazed how many times this can turn an enemy into a friend – though it’s not guaranteed!

Matthew 5:44
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Request wisdom and spiritual understanding. I always need more of that.

Colossians 1:9
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

Pray for those in authority. I may not wants to pray for politicians but God says to do it. Remember, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

1 Timothy 2:2
For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

Ask Him for the opportunity and ability to serve Him.

Acts 4:29
And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,

Thank Him for all the things that He’s promised He will do in the future.

Hebrews 10:35, 36
Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.
For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.

Before I wrap up I’d better handle a question that somebody always asks. “Why should we pray for things when God already knows that we need them?”

Naturally, somebody else always answers, “I heard this theory that…”

Everybody, it seems, has a theory about why God tells us to do certain things. Are you wondering if I have a theory? I certainly do! My theory is that we should stop making up theories. Simply read the words and believe what is written. We pray because the Bible says so.

So, talk to your Dad. He already wrote a big thick book to reveal how much He loves you. It would only be polite to say a few words in return!

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

You and I both have lots of “dead time” during the course of a day – driving, waiting for an appointment, cooking supper. God’s word encourages us to turn this into “live time” in prayer. We can give God thanks in every single situation because He is always able and willing to give us the victory.

1 Corinthians 15:57
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Make God’s Word Your Own – Part 3

Take Action

How did that go again? “Listen, remember, and obey.” I guess it’s time for the “obey” part.

So – a pilgrimage to the holy land? Fasting for forty days and forty nights? Healing a leper? What do we do now?

When we believe God’s Word – which is a result of reading and retaining it – we will naturally desire to act on it. “To believe” is a verb. Verbs are all about action. Of course, reading and retaining God’s Word are actions, done in obedience to God’s will.

But wait, there’s more! What we’ve done so far is all very private (at least it seems so to us). But, if we have been doing these things, the people around us have started to notice a change. They might not say anything but they’ve noticed. We owe it to God to tell them why. We should give credit (glory) where credit is due (to God).

The simplest, most accessible, and perhaps most difficult step we can now take is to act as a witness. To speak to people about God and His son.

Speak the Truth

We’ve already alluded to the benefits of speaking The Word to ourselves; it bears repeating.

Psalm 15:1,2
LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.

Do we do desire to dwell in God and receive the blessings he’s made available? We’ll need to speak the truth in our hearts. But we’ve also received a commission to speak the truth to others – both to our Christian brothers and to those who don’t yet believe.

Ephesians 4:15, 25
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.

Since we desire to make God’s word our own – to become grown-ups in Christ – we need to speak the truth (God’s Word) to one another. Concerning unbelievers, let’s look at one of the last things that Jesus Christ said while still on earth.

Acts 1:8
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

Christians are instructed to be witnesses, telling others about the marvelous accomplishments of Jesus Christ. Did the Christians in the first century carry out this commandment?

Acts 8:1-4
And Saul was consenting unto his [Stephen’s] death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.

Yes, they obeyed. The threat of imprisonment or death didn’t slow them down. They spoke God’s word wherever they went. 

“But, deLaune, I don’t know enough to speak The Word to anyone. I’m an introvert. And shy. And the dog ate my Bible…”

Hold it! If you have started reading your Bible; if you have memorized a couple of verses and thought about them; then you have something to share.

Have we read any verses that command us to preach a sermon in the company cafeteria? Which verse says that we must speak everything we know? (These are rhetorical questions). To start building the habit of speaking the truth, all we must do is to say one true thing. We’re laying the first brick on the foundation. Finishing the building lies far in the future.

Will it be uncomfortable at first? Of course. We’re used to talking about negative things like death, unemployment, sickness, politics. It’s going to feel very strange, at first, to speak the living Word of Truth. Let’s look at a hypothetical interaction with a coworker:

Fred: “You’ve been a lot more cheerful lately. Getting laid regular?”

You: “I’ve been reading the Bible and thinking about it. I’ve been feeling more peaceful.”

Fred: “The Bible! What are you talking about?”

You: “Well, one verse I’ve been thinking about says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.'”

Fred: “That seems too simple. How can that possibly work?”

You: “I don’t know. It just does. Do you have those quarterly reports that Jack needs?”

Congratulations! You’ve just spoken the truth. You could have kept your mouth shut and let Fred’s assumption stand. But that wouldn’t have been the truth. When Fred tried to get argumentative about it, you could have gotten pulled into a useless debate. But you didn’t. Don’t be afraid to stop talking. If people try to pressure you, you might say, “Ask me again next week. Maybe I’ll know more by then.”

It’s really that simple. Develop the habit of replying with the truth. You don’t have to explain the truth, you don’t have to defend the truth, you just speak it and move on. If Fred really is interested, you can tell him more as you learn more. But it’s a good idea to teach less than you know. That way you aren’t tempted to go beyond into philosophies and vain janglings.

Conclusion

To make God’s Word our own we begin by reading it. But we can’t simply study it as an intellectual exercise – we must hold onto it, retain it in our minds, believe it. We do this by remembering what we’ve read, thinking about it, and repeating it to ourselves as needed. Then, as we begin to see the benefits, we speak the truth to others. This is a lifelong process – we’ll never run out of things to learn. And the more we do this the more we will manifest the fearlessness, peacefulness, and confidence that God will always bring His Word to pass.

Unfortunately, many Christians never even begin. They try to live a Christian lifestyle based on the watered down platitudes and opinions of Churchian preachers. They get the opposite results – confusion, powerlessness, and defeat. Let us – you and me – not end up like that. By God’s mercy and grace we can determine to make His Word our own. We can work – fight if need be – to be able to say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

1 Peter 3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

Make God’s Word Your Own – Part 2

This is part of an ongoing series. Please see the introduction and definitions. Leave a note in the comments if you would like something else defined.

Retain God’s Word

In part one we discussed reading and studying the Bible, the Word of God. In this section we’ll add the next key to making God’s Word our own; which is to retain it in our minds. In the book of James there is a verse that tells us how to receive God’s Word and then segues into the next step.

James 1:21b
…receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

I hesitated to use this verse because of the phrase “receive with meekness.” Today, we equate the word “meek” with the idea of being a doormat. Note well: the Bible sometimes uses words differently than we do. The translators did their best, but occasionally there was no English word to match the original meaning.

In this verse, the quality of mind called “meek” can be simply defined as “free from haughty self-sufficiency.” It means to acknowledge that we aren’t as bright as God. It goes further and implies that God is more interested in our best interests than are we. So, when His Word disagrees with our opinions, we accept His Word. We do what He says rather than what we feel like doing.

If you wish to study this word for yourself, check out the very first time it’s used in the Bible. Then start in Exodus and read about the meekest man on the face of the earth. Are you going to call Moses a doormat?

James 1:21 contains an interesting phrase, “the engrafted word.” Some versions of the Bible have, “the implanted word.” As we receive God’s Word it is our responsibility (with God’s help) to graft it to our minds, to plant it in our hearts. Then this Word can start to become a living part of us. This is what it means to retain God’s Word.

Remember those Pharisees who didn’t allow the Word to abide in their hearts? The Bible speaks of people today who have the same failing:

Romans 1:28
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be inconvenienced! Remember, the Pharisees were “very religious;” they were the preachers and teachers of their day. But their fruits are described in verses twenty-nine and following.

The benefits of retaining God’s Word in our minds are as spectacular as the problems caused by failing to do so. Let’s take a look at the very first verse in the Bible that I ever consciously memorized:

Psalm 119:11
Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

To live in sin is to live in separation from God. As we hide God’s Word in our hearts we will be far less likely to stray from God’s side. We can walk in fellowship with God. This, I have found, is an excellent place to be. Remember, God is more concerned about our best interests than we are.

Isaiah 55:8, 9
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith 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.

Meekness is realizing the truth of this verse. But…as we train our minds to think God’s thoughts, our thinking will be higher – more perfect – than we can currently imagine. We’ll see, in later studies, that we can also bring our ways (actions) in alignment with His. We will manifest God’s power in our lives.

Have you ever listened to a Bible teaching by an accurate, dynamic teacher? Did you notice that the weight of the burdens on your shoulders grew less? There’s a reason for this.

Romans 10:17
So then faith [believing] cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Hearing God’s Word preached will actually increase your believing, your trust in God. But, when you have the Bible abiding in your mind you can preach the good news, the gospel, to yourself as many times a day as you want! The more of God’s Word that you retain in your mind the more you will be ready and able in every situation. You will be imitating Jesus Christ in Luke chapter 4. He faced every temptation with: “It is written.” Jesus had God’s Word abiding in his heart.

So, where do we start?

It’s like the old saying, “the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” In our case, the journey of a lifetime walking with God can begin with a single verse.

Back when I was a lad – before the invention of electricity – I wrote down Psalm 119:11 on a stone tablet 3 x 5 card. Each time I thought of it, I took it from my pocket to read and consider. By the end of the day I had it memorized. The next day I picked another verse. On the weekend I reviewed all of the verses I had looked at that week.

With every verse I also memorized the reference (“Psalm 119:11”). That way I could find it again! There are few things more annoying than a person who “quotes the Bible” but can’t find the verse to prove it.

I know what you’re thinking – isn’t there a pill I can take that will do this for me? How about a smart phone app?

It’s true that, for many tasks today, there is an electronic helper we can use. You might, however, want to try the old-fashioned method. Many have noted that there is something about actually writing the words that helps drive it into our mind. The important part, though, is that it gets into our minds. Electronic aids to memory are marvelous – I use them myself. But having the Word of God in your smart phone is not the same as having it in your heart.

There are number of ways to select verses when we’re starting out. You could pick one from your daily Bible reading. If there’s a problem in my life I wish to overcome I could search for an appropriate verse. We must always be sure, however, to pick verses that we clearly understand.

Here are some suggestions:

Is your life full of turmoil?

Isaiah 26:3
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

Are your circumstances making you afraid?

Psalm 34:4
I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.

Do you have money problems – too much or too little? Read the context below and memorize verse 13.

Philippians 4:11, 12
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Maybe you’re struggling with health issues. Here are two to consider.

1Peter 2:24
Who [Jesus] his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes [sufferings] ye were healed.

3John 2 [3rd John has only one chapter!]
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.

Whatever verses you might pick, never forget that God wants you to succeed. If you fall short – if you miss a couple of days (or years) – get back on your feet and keep plugging away. God is on your side.

Philippians 2:13
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Make God’s Word Your Own – Part 1

This is part of an ongoing series. Please see the introduction and definitions. Leave a note in the comments if you would like something else defined.

Introduction

To really understand the Bible – making it our own – takes work. This work consists of three different activities – tasks that must be kept in balance. We must read and study the Bible to find out who God is, who we are in Christ Jesus, and what God’s will is for our lives. We must retain God’s word in our minds. Finally, we must act on what we have learned so that we can see the power of God.

When I taught children’s fellowship, I summarized these steps as “Listen, Remember, and Obey.”

Studying the Bible intellectually, without ever putting it into practice, leads to a life of sterile intellectualism. Forgetting what you have studied leads to – nothing. Attempting to live a Christian life without knowing God’s will results in confusion and brings no glory to God.

Jesus speaks of these three steps as he accuses the religious leaders of failing to follow God.

John 5:38-40 [KJV]
And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.

Note the order Jesus uses when speaking to men who, theoretically, have spent their lives studying the Word of God: 1. You are not retaining God’s Word. 2. Study the scriptures, again! 3. But even if you do, you will not believe and act.

Study

I know, you don’t like that word. I didn’t either when I was in school. Fortunately for me I learned that studying the Word of God can be very satisfying – even fun.

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

For a man of God – a man or woman who speaks for God – to be approved he must study the Word of Truth. There’s no escape clause.

A person might, when he reads this verse, think that it’s a command to go to Bible college. Once he has finished (or so he reasons), studying will be over and he can get on with his life. Hold it! Does this verse say anything about college? This sort of reasoning is, to put it delicately, dead wrong.

In college—any college—you’re sitting in a classroom listening to men’s opinions. Your studying consists of reading textbooks full of men’s opinions. That isn’t studying God’s Word. To study God’s Word is to get your nose in the Bible and let it speak for itself. Search the scriptures!

How often should we study and search the Scriptures? Speaking of the people of the city of Berea, God says:

Acts 17:11 [KJV]
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Uh oh. Every day? Yes, if you want God to call you “noble.” Now, this doesn’t mean that, if you miss a day, the wrath of God will descend upon you. You just do your best. God knows that we’re frail and fall short. Also notice who the teacher was in Berea. It was the Apostle Paul! Yet God calls these people noble because they: 1. Received the Word preached by Paul and 2. Searched the scriptures to check out his words.

Now, to start studying the Bible you’ll need to know a couple of secrets (shh!).

Okay, I won’t keep you waiting. Here’s the first and most important secret. This is almost completely unknown among all the people of the world. Whatever you do, don’t tell anybody! Ready? The Bible, the Word of God, is true. It has integrity and you can trust it – because God doesn’t lie.

Numbers 23:19 [KJV]
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

There are many, many more verses in the Bible that speak to its truth – its integrity. If you’re interested then here’s your assignment: go to the Bible Gateway home page and do a search for “word truth” in any version of the Bible. I promise you, it will be fun! And if you’re not interested, why are you reading this blog?

Here’s secret number two. There is one fundamental, critical skill we must acquire in order to study the Bible. We have to know how to read and understand English. When we read Bible verses we must read exactly what is written. This is harder than it sounds.

Imagine you’ve just finished reading a well-written blog – and you agree with the author. Then you scroll down to the comments and you discover, to your horror, that some of those idiots didn’t understand the essay at all! They have no comprehension of what the author was actually saying!

Or, even worse, those idiots are right and you didn’t understand what you read. It might be a good idea to go back and read it again. Did you really read what you thought you read? Unfortunately, most commentators on the Internet merely skim an article and then say the first thing that pops into their heads. They are a lot like preachers studying the Bible.

Most schools in the United States today are worthless for teaching reading comprehension. It sometimes appears to me that the curriculum is deliberately aimed at making people worse readers. When my sons were in school…but I digress.

I’m not telling you this to frighten you – you can overcome the handicap of having a high school or even college “education.”

There are a whole bunch of tricks you can use to improve your reading comprehension. The best is simply to read a lot. Another good trick is to read aloud – it slows you down and makes sure you don’t miss any words. One more good possibility is to take notes. Read a couple of verses in the Bible and write down what you think you just read. Then go back and carefully check to see if you got it right.

One technique that I use to improve my comprehension is to ask, “what does this verse not say?”

Let’s look at Numbers 23:19, above. It obviously says that God doesn’t lie. Does it say that God reveals everything? No. Does it say that all men lie? It certainly implies it. Does it tell us that everything men say is a lie? No. Does it imply that women don’t lie? No, because in English the word “man,” unless otherwise qualified, includes both male and female.

I encourage you to practice your comprehension skills on everything you read. If it’s not worth comprehending then it’s not worth reading.

Who Wrote The Bible?

This is part of an ongoing series. Please see the introduction and definitions. Leave a note in the comments if you would like something else defined.

Christian theologians, over the centuries, have written millions (billions?) of words telling us what they think about the Bible. Here I would like to look at what the Bible says about itself.

Who wrote the Bible? It’s apparent from the evidence we have that men wrote down the words. There’s only one record in the Bible (that I know of) where God wrote down a portion of his word personally.

Exodus 31:18
And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.

Unfortunately, when Moses came down from the mountain he found the children of Israel (including his brother, Aaron) practicing blatant idolatry. Moses became so angry that he threw the stone tables to the ground, breaking them.

God kindly wrote a second copy. This time, however, he made Moses hew out the tablets himself. See what happens when you let your temper control you?

Exodus  34:1
And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.

Now let’s look at a couple of records where the Bible reveals to us the name of the man who did the actual writing of certain portions.

Jeremiah 36:4
Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book.

So we know that the person who actually wrote down the words that made up a part of the prophecy of Jeremiah was a man named Baruch. Why then is the book of Jeremiah not named the book of Baruch? Let’s look at another verse.

Romans 16:22
I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.

Why is the book of Romans known as a Pauline epistle, rather than a Tertian epistle?

In both cases the answer is obvious. Baruch and Tertius were scribes – secretaries. They did not originate the words they wrote but merely took dictation. Jeremiah and Paul are listed as the “authors” of their respective books. But were Jeremiah and Paul really the authors? The Bible records the testimony of each of these men. First, Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 36:1, 2
And it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, that this word came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.

Aha! Jeremiah was not the author of these words. He merely spoke to Baruch the words that he had heard from the Lord. God (Jehovah, Yahweh) was the actual author of the book of Jeremiah. Of course, this information was already given at the beginning of the book.

Jeremiah 1:1-4
The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin:
To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.
It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.
Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

How about Paul? Many men have accused him of being a theologian who, basically, invented Christianity. Many unbelievers claim that Paul destroyed or obscured the teachings of Jesus. What did God tell him to testify of himself?

Galatians 1:11, 12
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

So, we see here that the Bible came to Jeremiah when the Lord spoke to him. Paul received his portion by revelation. Are there other verses that corroborate this?

2Peter 1:21
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

So the prophecy – the Bible – did not come by the will of man. Moses didn’t write down his own words – and neither did Isaiah, the psalmists, or any of the other “authors” of the Bible. They were moved by the Holy Ghost – God.

2Timothy 3:16
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

In this verse we are informed that the Scripture was given by inspiration of God. It’s interesting to note that the phrase, “given by inspiration of God,” is one word in the Greek. That word is theopneustos, god-breathed. “All Scripture is God-breathed…”

So the Bible testifies that God himself is its one true author.

We’ve read the Bible’s description of how it came to be. The Lord “spoke words” to the prophet. It was “received by revelation.” Men of God were “moved by the Holy Ghost.” And the Scripture came by “God breathing.”  Question to ponder: Are all of these simply different descriptions of the same process?

For me the Bible is God’s word and his will for my life. God said it, that settles it.

Some Christian Basics: Definitions

It might be helpful if I let y’all know how I use certain words. I’ll be adding to this list as I see a need. Some of these definitions will come up in future posts.

Bible, The

The Scriptural Word of God currently available to us. This includes our native language versions as well as the available Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts.

We no longer have the original manuscripts – some copying and translational errors have crept in. But over the centuries God has inspired many talented men to work with the available texts; I believe that today there are only tiny sections that are incomprehensible to us.

Prophecy

The words spoken and/or written by a prophet.

Prophet

A man or woman who speaks for God. Very little of that which God reveals to a prophet will be foretelling of the future. Moses, for example, was a prophet – yet the five books attributed to him contain almost no foretelling.

In the Old Testament all those with special ministries were referred to as “seers” or “prophets.” In the New Testament these ministries have been split into categories by function.

Word of God, The

The Word of God contains no errors or contradictions. It includes:

  • Written Scripture as originally given to holy men of God
  • Words of God spoken by Prophets
  • Jesus Christ, the revealed Word

Some Christian Basics: Introduction

I’ve previously mentioned my teenage pilgrimage, going from church to church in search of the truth. Not too many months after I graduated from high school I decided that my search was over – I was going to look to the Bible, the Word of God, as my sole source. I believed that it contained all the knowledge necessary to know who God is, how to be saved, and how to live in a godly fashion.

Over forty years have passed since then and I still believe it. Of course I screwed up on many occasions – I could give lectures on “What Not to Do.” But God, by His mercy and grace, forgave me every time.

One amusing aspect of my walk with God is that I have never joined a church. I’ve attended many church services as a visitor. I earned a BTh (bachelor of theology – Scriptural) at a Bible college without ever becoming a member of a denomination. I even did three years of missionary work in three separate cities (within the USA) without becoming an employee of a church.

What, I figured, would be the point? My salvation rests solely upon believing in and accepting the accomplished works of Jesus Christ. I certainly won’t get “holier” by signing a registry.

One “shortcoming” of this approach to biblical understanding is a lack of knowledge of theology. I’ve studied the Bible on my own with concordances and lexicons. I’ve taken classes taught by men who are serious about the Bible in the way that I am serious. I’ve worked with men much, much smarter and better educated than myself regarding biblical languages and textual criticism. I read biographies of Luther and Calvin. What I never did was take a course in theology.

In sharing the good news with people I never felt the need to spout theological jargon.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I started looking at some websites written by Christians. Seriously! I’m a late adopter. I found that many such Christians used words that I had never seen (in the Bible) as shorthand for their doctrine. I found it quite confusing.

Honestly, I didn’t even know what the word “Evangelical” meant. Does it have something to do with evangelism? I had to spend a lot of time with Wikipedia to figure out what the heck folks were talking about.

I suppose, if you must pigeonhole me theologically, you’ll have to stick to the “Five Solae.” You won’t be too far off.

This, I hope, will be the first post in an ongoing series. Since I don’t seem to fit any of the standard categories of “Protestant” I thought it might be a good idea to give examples of how I work with the Bible. I pray that this series will be useful for others who want to get to know God and His Word better.

I certainly don’t have all the answers – and I’m willing to say, “I don’t know,” when I don’t. But I am certain about some things – and that’s what I’d like to share about here.

Please note that I normally use the King James Version of the Bible. It’s the version I’m most comfortable with. There are other excellent translations available.