Do Your Best: Bible Study


You have likely had someone tell you in the past to “do your best” in the realm of sports, chores, and your work. Maybe these words were spoken as advice to you even as a spouse or a parent. We all know the feeling of approaching a task or a relationship and feeling inadequate for the job. That sinking feeling that even if we did the very best we could do, we still might not do it “right”.

When you consider your Bible study ask yourself the question, “Am I really doing my best?” The question is not, “Do I think that Bible study is important?” The question is not, “Do I believe I should give my best effort in Bible study?” The question is… “Am I REALLY doing the best that I can?”

There are some warning signs that I think we should be aware of. Signs that might tell us that we are not really doing the best that we can. Signs that might tell us that we should start doing better.

Not opening your Bible every single day

If we are not spending time in the word every day, can we really say we are doing our best? Do we eat every day? do we sleep every night? Do we speak to our spouse every day? Do we watch TV each evening? Do we keep up with the news in the world of sports? If you are comfortable going a day without hearing from the Lord, there is a strong possibility that you are not doing your best.

Studying with the conclusions in mind

A book published in 2010 “The Invisible Gorilla” highlights a fascinating study. The short version is that people were told to count the number of times that students passed a basketball back and forth. While the students were passing the ball back and forth a Gorilla appeared beating it’s chest. The majority of the viewers did not even see the Gorilla. They didn’t see the Gorilla because that isn’t what they were looking for. When we study our Bibles looking to prove a point or “defend a position” we are likely to miss a Gorilla or two along the way. True study demands that we approach the text with an open mind, ready to be led wherever it goes, not where we want it to take us.

Placing heavy emphasis on what others believe

I don’t know why we are the way that we are but, we are. Perhaps it is our desire to have validation or maybe it is a shortcut to doing the study for ourselves. Far too often we (including me) are guilty of rushing to a commentary, or to our preacher for explanation. I have a library full of commentaries, they can be very helpful. I have tremendous respect for fellow ministers and I continually seek their counsel. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of that. Where we get into trouble is where we elevate the viewpoints of another for either positive or negative. Example: “Brother _________ believes this so it must be right.” or “_________ believes this so it must be wrong!”. Honest students of scripture will come to terms with the fact that those who they hold in high regard might be mistaken on some things and those whom they hold in low regard might be correct on some things. Who believes something, is not an indicator of truthfulness. Reading from others/seeking counsel is always encouraged. Just don’t allow that to become “the factor” in your study.

Over simplifying

I have encountered many who view every single topic as simple, easy to understand with a clear “right” and a clear “wrong”. There is real danger in this. There is danger in this kind of thinking because it goes against what scripture actually teaches.


2 Timothy 2:15- Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 


As Paul writes to Timothy concerning things that he must remind the church of and charge them with, he also instructs Timothy to use wisdom in avoiding silly controversies and quarrels. How is Timothy to be able to do all of that? By doing his best. If every topic/passage in scripture was simple then Timothy wouldn’t need to do his best. His best would be overkill.

You and I are not Timothy, but I believe the principle would still apply to God’s people, and certainly for ministers. Bible study that takes into account the immediate and remote context, cultural events that are being addressed, political tension that is present in the text, original meaning of the words that were used in the inspired text, and understanding which covenant is being dealt with within each passage of scripture is hard work. Then we must work to understand what the original audience would have understood that passage to teach before we ever attempt to apply it to our lives. Why should we place so much effort into it? Because true study, demands our best.

Over the coming weeks, we will talk more about the “How To” of Bible study. Until then, let’s keep our “thinking caps” on and work to remove the “warning signs” that may have found their way into our life. Let’s be people of the book.

in Him,

Troy

Why We Need to Stop “Using” The Bible


In my last post “Filled with Scripture and Ignorance” we discussed how it is not only possible to be filled with Bible verses and ignorance at the same time, but discussed the fact that it is quite common. If you have not read that post first, please go back to that one then come back here. We discussed in that post how Jesus spoke to the Jews in John 5 concerning the fact that they searched the scriptures… But they missed the fact that the scriptures were talking about Him.

This is a real and present danger that Christians face today, where we can search the scriptures, and still miss the point. What a terrifying thought! I know that I have been guilty of it in the past, and I would bet that many of you have been as well. Since we know that it is a problem… what do we do about it?


In future articles we will be discussing some principles for good Bible study to help keep us on the right track. But first, I wanted to spend a little more time dealing with why this topic matters so much.


What is meant by the title of this article? Stop using the Bible?!? Let me assure you that I am not, nor would I ever, encourage someone not to read, study, or apply the Bible. What I am suggesting is that we change our mindset, and we stop “using” the Bible. Stop the endless search for “proof texts” to prove that our “positions” are correct and others are wrong. (Side Note: Let’s stop “taking positions” in the first place. Let us strive to always be true to the text regardless of what that means for “our position”. We aren’t defenders of positions, we are proclaimers of the Gospel.)

Throughout my ministry I have been asked many questions concerning faith. Some of those questions can be quite revealing. Questions such as:

“What is a verse that proves Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins?”

“What scripture do I need to show my friend who believes that Hell isn’t real?”

How can I prove that God is real?”

“Which passage of scripture can I use to prove why the _________ church is wrong in their beliefs?”

These questions, and many like them have been asked repeatedly. I appreciate so much the love that many have for their friends and for God. Their desire to follow God, and teach others about His will is admirable, and we need more people like them in the church. However, there is a fundamental problem with all of these questions… They begin with the conclusion in mind.

When you begin “searching scripture” knowing exactly the answer that you are looking for, you are likely to find a verse that affirms your belief. Without fail, this leads to abuse of the text. I want to submit that we reframe the way we approach the Bible in study. We no longer “use” the Bible. Rather, we open our heart to it.

What does it mean to open your heart to the Bible? First and foremost, it means that you are willing to admit that you may be wrong in what you believe regarding a particular subject. Ask yourself honestly, “Might I be wrong about______?” If you conclude that there is no way you could be wrong, close your Bible. Individuals who “use” the Bible destroy their credibility in the eyes of all who hear them. Humble your mind, open your heart, and study.

There are many compelling reasons to reframe our approach and move far, FAR away from “using the Bible”, But for our purposes here, I want to deal with one reason.

“Using” the Bible, keeps us from seeing what God wants us to see

Often times in our effort to prove a point or to make a stand, we can strip passages from their true meaning, which is always far greater than the point we are attempting to make. More than 10 years ago, I attended a men’s conference that had a powerful theme, “Standing in the Gap”. The point of the conference was simple. There is a leadership void within the church today and God is looking for men to step up, to be leaders, to fill the gap. Don’t be like the people we read about in Ezekiel, because no one would step up and fill that gap!

It was a great weekend. There were some inspiring lessons that helped stir my heart and challenged me to be a better man. I have often wondered if the men who based their conference on Ezekiel 22:30 knew what the passage was and was NOT saying.


Ezekiel 22:30 ESV

30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.


This text was “used” to talk about God searching for someone to stand up and build, to stand in the gap (breach) of the wall, but no one would. No one would do what needed to be done. Today, we have many things that need to be done, God is looking for men to stand in that gap. It’s a good sentiment, certainly there are many things that need to be done, and few who are willing to do it. However, that isn’t what is taking place in Ezekiel. Let’s explore it briefly.

In J.R.R. Tolkein’s series, “The Lord of The Rings” he depicts a battle scene at a strong fortress known as “Helm’s deep”. The good guys knew that they were severely outnumbered. So they retreated to this strong hold. They set their archers up on the wall of Helm’s Deep and hoped for the best. Once the enemy was able to breach the wall, it seemed all hope was lost and the casualties began to pile up. Once they could no longer keep the evil outside, but it came inside the result was lot’s of pain and death. In the context of this passage in Ezekiel we know that the walls of Israel had been breached by sin.

Ezekiel was written a few years after Babylon began its seige on Israel. It’s around the time period of Daniel 1. Israel has already taken some major hits, and is about to fall completely. Ezekiel was in one of the first groups to be led away from Israel, and so the setting of Ezekiel is a dark one. We read earlier in chapter 22 of some of the many sins that Israel had allowed to go unchecked. Sins such as: The shedding of blood, disobedience to parents, extortion, various sexual sins etc. They were in a mess Then came the most grievous of all their sin, they had forgotten God (Ezekiel 22:12).

God was angry, He was brokenhearted. He couldn’t stand to see His children turn their back on Him and give their hearts to the world. He sought for one who could turn the tide.

Let’s examine the language of this text again.


Ezekiel 22:30 ESV

30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.


What was God searching for? Someone who would “build up the wall” someone who would “stand in the breach”… But notice what was significant about this posture the one who would stand in the breach would be standing Before God and for the land. Keep in mind that the destruction that was happening to Israel was happening because of their sin. God gave Israel over into the hands of their enemies. God sought for one who could stand “before Him” on behalf of, or “for” the land. In other words, who could stand between God (The oppressor) and Israel? The answer? No one.

This text is not an indictment against Israel saying that there were no good men left. In fact, at the time of this statement, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Jeremiah were all living. God was not saying that there were “no good men” God was saying, there was no one who could do what needed to be done in order to save them from destruction. What was it that needed to be done? Standing between God and the people. Someone that could take God’s wrath and spare the people. Someone who could be “in the middle”. Sound like anyone we know of? Jesus, the Christ. You see, what Israel lacked then, we do not lack now!

Now, If we strip this text down to teach that we need “real men who will stand in the gap” we are placing emphasis on ourselves, and our ability to stand in this gap. However, the text is clear… Even God’s chosen spokesmen could not do what needed to be done. For you and I, thousands of years removed from that story we can look back on that passage and rejoice in Jesus because we have someone who has stood in that gap for us, doing what we could not.

When we “use” the Bible, we often miss the true beauty of what God has revealed. Let us resolve to stop “using” the Bible, and approach this precious collection of books that God has given to us with an open heart and a humble mind.

in Him,

Troy

Filled With Scripture & Ignorance

 


Filled with scripture and ignorance? That seems oxymoronic, does it not? After all, we know that the sum of God’s word is truth. We know that the scriptures have been “breathed out” by God. We believe that the words of God are as a lamp unto our feet. How could someone be filled with scripture and ignorance? It is more common than we might think. 

Consider with me a couple of examples. One from the Bible, and one from my own life. 

When we turn our New Testaments to the Gospel of John, and we read the 5th chapter the world that we are stepping into is very different from our own. It is a world that would look quite strange to us. We see the pagan influence on the culture as we read about a pool, that supposedly had mystical/miraculous healing powers. So many of the sick, paralyzed, and afflicted people would gather around and wait for their chance to be healed. Then, Jesus entered the picture and for one man, everything changed. Jesus healed a man who hadn’t been able to walk for 38 years! Possibly, all of his life. What a sight that must have been! Can you picture the joy on this man’s face? Can you hear his shouts of triumph? Can you picture the nonstop tears of joy flowing from his face? 

However, this story wasn’t all “sunshine and rainbows”. Many Jews began causing some heartache for this man as well as for Jesus. Why? Because the healing took place on the Sabbath. Not only did Jesus heal on the Sabbath, but He even had the audacity to claim that God was His father! Jesus began a lengthy explanation to His accusers concerning His inability to do anything without the Father, He speaks about coming Judgement, He speaks about resurrection, He speaks precious words of life. Then, He makes a statement that should give all believers pause —


John 5:39 ESV

39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,


Notice what Jesus just said? He is addressing people who search the scriptures. He is addressing people who believe that in the scriptures, they will find life. These people, who searched the scriptures and had a high view of the scriptures… missed the whole point. They missed the Son! They missed the savior. They missed Jesus. 

These people were no doubt sincere in their searching of the scriptures, and they obviously had a high view of the text, but yet… They still “missed it”. 

Now it is my turn. 14 years ago I walked into my office for the very first time. I couldn’t believe it. I was now a “minister” I had the title and everything. I sat behind my desk and began to think about what I would preach this coming Sunday. I could think of no better topic with which to “kickoff my ministry” than to preach about the “Word of God”. I wanted to make sure that I held up the scriptures high. I wanted to make sure that I spoke about the inspiration of the scripture, so I went to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I wanted to make sure I let the people know that the Bible and only the Bible could serve as a lamp unto their feet. So, I went to Psalms 119:105 For the final point that I wanted to drive home, I went no other place than–


Hebrews 4:12 ESV

12 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.


Why? Because I wanted to assure the congregation that the Bible is living and active. It has an ability to cut to the heart. It has the ability to sort out our thoughts and intentions if we will allow it to. We need to cling to the Bible for these reasons. I was proud of that sermon. So proud in fact, that I believe I preached it a few more times in various locations. 

There is a tricky thing to keep in mind when studying the scriptures. Context. It changes everything, and yes… Context can sure ruin a good sermon. There was a problem with my preaching that sermon. I ignored context. As a result I made some applications that the original authors were not actually making. I’ll leave it to you to study those texts and arrive at how they should rightly be applied. The point is, I wanted to make some “points” and I went to certain verses to prove my points. The points I was trying to make weren’t bad, but they were not always the same points that the original author intended to make.

There are many more obvious passages that I have quoted in my preaching through the earlier years without realizing the context, or the proper meaning, for instance, did you know that Phil 4:13 is not a pep talk before a football game? Of course you know that, but sadly, there was a time that I didn’t think twice about quoting the passage in that context. 

Back to the point. When I was baptized into Christ I was given a “ready reference” that had lists of verses to go to to discuss any subject, generally aimed at “proving a point”. In some ways, this was helpful to me as I began to grow in Christ. It was helpful for me to see “why” we believed certain things that we believed. It wasn’t a bad tool to have. However, when we begin our study of a given topic with the conclusion in mind, we are often blind to what is in front of our eyes. 


It can be tempting for preachers to litter their sermons with 100 scripture references (I know, I’ve done it) in order to “prove” a point or worse, in order to “sound better”. It can be tempting as listeners ( I know, I’ve done it) to hear sermons like that and think, “Man! That guy knows his Bible!” and walk away more impressed with the messenger than we are the message. 


My challenge for myself and for you is a simple one. Do your best every time you approach the Bible, to take off your blinders. Empty your mind of “conclusions” until the study has been done. Do not ever, in preaching or personal study set out to “prove” a point. Set out to see, know, understand, and follow God. We all have biases. We all have a few scriptures that are ready to be quoted from memory that may not mean what we think they mean. Let’s learn from the Jews in John 5. Let’s not be content with searching the scriptures but missing the point. Even if that means that the context of a passage is going to ruin my next sermon… it probably wasn’t a good sermon in the first place. 🙂 Let’s press on to greater study, and love for the text. 

in Him,

Troy

Commitment- Marriage Edition

To see the first part of this segment see: “Commitment pt.1 ”

3. Commitment to marriage

When I first got engaged to my wife, little did I realize I was opening up the flood gates. Oh yes, I would say “I’m getting married!” to be slammed with comments such as “You won’t be that excited in a few years” or maybe “Here it comes!” I would ask “here what comes?” they would respond “The ball and chain! Kiss your freedom goodbye!” This saddest part, was the comments all came from… Married men!

Ecclesiastes 9:9- “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love…”

Disclaimer: I do not pretend to have the answers to all marriage problems. I do however, wish to share a few insights from God’s Word, that when applied will strengthen any marriage. Because I said so? No! Because, the Bible said so!

 

Making a commitment to something, means that you are all in. It does not mean, that you are all in for the smooth ride, but you jump ship when the waves start rocking the boat.

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Commit to: Placing your spouse ahead of yourself.

Philippians 2:3- “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

When Paul wrote these words, they were directed to the Church in Philippi. He told of how we are to view one another. (more important than me) I can think of no one better to hold this view towards than our spouses.

Are we truly committed to our marriage? Let us ask, do I view my spouse in a better light than I do myself? More importantly, does my spouse think that I view them as more important than I do myself? So many times, we intellectually think and say the right things, but it fails to translate into the way we live.

When you disagree on where to stop for lunch, does it have to always be your way? Or are you quick to allow their choice rise to the top? Do you invest more financially in your spouse than you do yourself(Matthew 6:21)?

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Commit to: Study together

In our short marriage, there is one thing that Meagan and I have discovered, we have a much stronger bond when we read from the Word together, and discuss spiritual things. When we first got married we decided that every single night of our married life we would spend time reading the Bible together before going to sleep… that worked great! (for about 2 weeks)

It isn’t about “daily reading” with your spouse, rather daily spiritual discussions, and encouraging one another to do better for Christ.

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Commit to: Pray Together

I have often heard it said (and often said myself) “You cannot claim to have a relationship with God without an active prayer life” I believe more and more, you cannot have the relationship that God desires you to have with your spouse if you do not pray together.

I am not speaking of the “supper table prayers” I am talking about random prayers. Prayers that are not planned or set in stone. Example? You have an argument with your spouse, whether you are right or wrong (after all, you are always right.. right?) You realize that your tempers are not what they should be. Pause, hold hands, pray. Pray for forgiveness, pray for calmness, pray for strength for your relationship.

You are driving down the road, you receive a phone call. The phone call brings some troubling news (a death, a injury, a sick report, I financial blow.) Pull the car over, pray about the situation.

The day has finally arrived! Your new baby (boy, or girl) has arrived! Before you let any of your family come in to the room, you and your spouse, hold your precious baby, and pray that God help you be the parents He wants you to be.

The more that you lean on God together in the good, and bad times, the easier it is to keep the big picture of God’s plan for your life at the forefront of your mind, rather than an afterthought on Sunday’s.

1 Thessalonians 5:17- “pray without ceasing,”

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Commit to: Never growing complacent

The church, is described as being the “bride of Christ.” Jesus took an intimate role in dealing with His persecuted bride in the book of Revelation. As Jesus was speaking words to His bride. He had a strong message for her.

Revelation 2:4-   But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

Jesus chastised His bride for losing her love for Him. Jesus had a faithful bride. She loved Him, she worked for Him, She lived for Him. Until, she didn’t. She lost her love for Him. She went back to living for herself. While the implications here about the church keeping their eyes focused and fixed on God are endless, I want to submit another perspective. If Jesus is not happy when His spouse is growing stagnant, or even sliding backwards in love for Him, Why should we be ok with that in our own marriage?

Too many times the story is, you love your spouse at the beginning, then on down the line, your love fades. What happened? The answer?- You stopped working!

Let’s take a look at what Jesus proposes the solution to be.

Revelation 2:5- “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first..”

What is Jesus’ solution? Remember what you used to do!

If you find your marriage growing stagnant, or sliding backwards, remember what you used to do together… And do it again!

Try to win their favor again. Be receptive to their acts of kindness. Forgive each other easily. Date again, laugh again, dream together again, set goals together again, watch movies together again. All of the things you used to do to work on your marriage… Do them AGAIN!

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Commit to: Acting Like Jesus!

 

In every aspect of our lives this should be our aim. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11;1- “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ” We should strive to be just like Jesus in everything that we say, and all that we do.

If Jesus died on the cross for only those men and women who were following Him at the time, where would that leave us? If Jesus only offered His forgiveness to those who “deserved it” you, and I would have no hope. What is the point? The point is this:

Too many husbands “love their wives as Christ loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25) ONLY when their wives “deserve it.”

Too many wives “submit to their husbands” (Colossians 3:18) ONLY when their husbands “deserve it.”

Too many times we honor, respect, show kindness, make an effort, pour out love, and make sacrifices for others… When they deserve it.

I am so thankful that God did not give me what I deserve, rather he gave me grace. It is my submission that many marriages would be strengthened by remembering that we don’t love, honor, and cherish our spouses just when they “deserve it” but all day, everyday, regardless! We love, like Jesus!   

O God, we thank you for marriage. We thank you for our spouses. We thank you for your Son. Father, help us today. Help us to be thankful for those that are dear in our lives. Help us to forever hold them close. Help us to forgive. Help us Lord, to be who you want us to be. In Jesus name..