Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Soldier, an Athlete, and a Farmer

It sounds like the first line of another bad joke, but have you ever considered what a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer have in common? At a basic level of observation there does not seem to be anything of value that would coalesce these three with a sense of commonality. However, a deeper observation of Scripture finds there is one thing they all have in common: they are each used by the apostle Paul to describe aspects of Christianity.

Consider 2 Timothy 2:3-6:

Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.

In this passage the apostle considers attributes from each of these types of people to make application to the Christian. Each one relates something different, but each attribute is equally vital to the survival of the servant of God.

No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier (Vs. 4). Part of the soldier’s responsibility is to not worry about what is happening around him, but to ensure that he does his job performing the orders of his commander. His duties are vital to his survival and that of his fellow soldiers; therefore he must be wholly focused on the task at hand.

The same holds true with Christianity. Christians are to have one focus in life: the fulfillment of the orders of our Lord and Commander. Those orders will penetrate every aspect of our lives and relationships, but in order to be accomplished acceptably our focus must remain on the task at hand. It is easy for Christians to get caught up in the petty things of this world; to become distracted or disheartened by the wicked deeds of others around them. Nevertheless, the Christian must remained focused on what the Lord commands, for only by maintaining that focus on truth and godliness can a man ensure his eternal survival and aid his fellow man.

And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully(Vs. 5). The athlete who desires to win in an event can only do so by striving for his goal according to the rules. The athlete who refuses to compete according to the rules will be denied the goal of winning the endeavor before him.

In Christianity, there is only one way for us to win the race that is set before us (Heb. 12:1), that is by running it according to the rules. There are no shortcuts in Christianity, there is no changing of the rules in the middle of the game, the same rules apply to all and will be equally applied across the board. Therefore, the only way for the Christian to win the race and receive the prize is if the individual has played by the rules.

The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits (Vs. 6). The farmer who works in the fields or vineyards is the first partaker of the fruit of his labor. He has worked diligently to plant and cultivate seed and to protect his crops from harm, therefore he is the first to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

In the life of the Christian the principle of sowing and reaping is often taught (Gal. 6:7-9; Mat. 6:19-21). As Christians, when we sow our spiritual fields with the word of God, when we live our lives according to his commands and teach others to do the same, we reap the rewards of our labors. The Christian is not sowing to gain physical wealth and crops, but is working with the desire of reaping a spiritual harvest of eternal rest for the righteous (Heb. 4:11).

As Christians we need to live and work having learned from the examples of the soldier, athlete, and farmer. We must remain focused on the orders of God, live according to the rules he has put in place, and labor toward the reaping of the final harvest. If we are willing to apply these attributes to our lives we will realize in eternity the truth of Paul’s statement later in the context, when he writes, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Tim. 2:11).

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Moses: A True Leader

Outside of the Lord himself, there is no other individual within the pages of Scripture about whom we know more than Moses. There are four books of the Old Testament dedicated to his leadership (Exodus), his role as lawgiver (Leviticus), his “survival skills” (Numbers), and his speeches (Deuteronomy). Within the pages of these four books God reveals to man an individual who did not seek fame or personal glory. Nevertheless, Moses was exactly the type of leader the children of Israel needed.

It is interesting to note that one of the greatest leaders of Biblical record was not, at first, a willing participant; when God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage (Exo. 3:1-10), Moses responds by giving every possible excuse he can find as to why God has made a mistake. However, his caution and fear in taking the job showed that he was exactly the type of leader Israel needed.

God found in Moses an individual who understood that he could not lead these people by himself. Rather, he needed help, not just from God, but from those around him as well. Without the assistance of men such as Jethro, Aaron, and Joshua, Moses’ life as leader of God’s people would have been even more difficult. Moses was not self-centered, but instead was willing on a number of occasions to sacrifice himself for the people he led. Therefore, it is obvious that as Moses led the people of Israel he placed his trust, not in himself, but in God.

There is no greater time at which this is seen than the parting of the Red Sea as recorded in Exodus 14. It is here that Moses shows his true nature and leadership qualities. Most important of all is the emphatic way in which Moses maintains his trust in God.

In considering the context of Exodus 14 it is recorded that the armies of Pharaoh have been sent to stop the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. God, leading the children of Israel by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night, has brought them to the banks of the Red Sea. It is at this point which the armies of Pharaoh overtake the children of Israel, and the children of Israel show their lack of faith in God. They approach Moses and cry, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of the land of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exo. 14:11-12). However, Moses will show two vital attributes of his trust in God.

He trusts in God with confidence. He responds to the despondent Israelites by telling them, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord which he will shew to you this day” (Exo. 14:13a). Moses has full confidence in the Lord, even though God has not yet told Moses what he will do, or what he expects Moses to do. Moses’ confidence rests in the fact that God has not forsaken them, nor brought them out here to die. Instead, he exudes his confidence by telling them to “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” Moses proves himself to be a true leader through his confidence in God instead of himself.

He trusts in God completely. Notice the complete nature of Moses’ reply to the people. He says, “For the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Exo. 14:13b-14). Moses tells the children of Israel that God will not only save them, but defeat the Egyptians as well. There is no wavering or sign of fear in the statement of Moses, but an utter and complete acknowledgment of the power of God to take care of His people. God will prove that Moses’ faith was not in vain and will give Israel a way of escape from their Egyptian pursuers.

This instance is only the beginning of the exhibits which could be brought forth of the leadership qualities of this faithful servant of God. However, it sets before us the final understanding which Moses had in all things: God is in control, and our faith must be in him. With that understanding, men of today can also be the leaders God would have them be.

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Poem – The Preacher’s Greatest Fear

“I crossed the world to tell lost souls
About the greatest of all goals.
To preach the message of Christ the Lord,
To help their lives to his example mold.

I spent my days in diligent study,
To ensure God’s Word I did not muddy.
Because I wanted to say what was right
I studied intently both day and night.

When I was not studying and preaching God’s Word
I was spending time caring for the people of the Lord.
Doing my best to see to their needs,
Never wanting others to question my deeds.

Sadly, there was one thing I forgot,
Though at the time it did not seem a possible plot.
For in all of my efforts to lead others to life,
I failed to remember my kids and my wife.

And now as I look back over the years,
I have found the pain of the preacher’s greatest fear.
That in my zeal to proclaim God’s Word,
I failed to keep my family with the Lord.”

Preachers face many challeges in life,
For there is always another question or strife.
But we must not forget in the midst of the war
That saving our families is our primary chore.

Lord, help me always to make time for my wife,
To train my kids and prepare them for life,
To lead them down the narrow way,
And not give them excuse to depart from the way.

Preachers must be mindful of the struggles of time on a daily basis. Let us keep our priorities straight, for there is no excuse for one ignoring the souls of one’s family.

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The Book Nobody Wants to Read

If you ever want to strike fear into the mind of the average church member or Bible student, tell them you are about to study the book of Numbers with them. The very name sends shudders as people think of list after list, mathematical equations with endless sets of numbers and groups, and comparisons that cannot possibly be of any real value to people today.

Notice I said that’s what people think… the reality of this wonderful book is very different. Everyone is so concerned about the title that they are scared away from its actual contents. Of the 36 chapters in this book, only 3 deal with the numbering of the people. In fact, the book’s original name was not Numbers, but carried a much more insightful title: In the Wilderness. The titling of this book as Numbers, which was done by the translators of the Greek Septuagint, is one of the greatest misnomers in man’s dealings with God’s Word. Calling this book”Numbers”because the first chapter deals with the numbering of the people makes about as much sense as naming the book of Matthew, “The Genealogy of Jesus” because of its beginning chapter; but such is what we currently have with this book, and generations have been scared to study it because of that singular fact.

However, this book is far more than census data for the Israelite nation; it is THE account of the 40-year wanderings in the wilderness. Without a study of the book of Numbers there is a vast gap in the knowledge and understanding of how the children of Israel came to possess the land of Canaan. The book’s record of the things that happened to the Israelites during those 40 years are intriguing, enlightening, and provide great applications for God’s people today. Unfortunately, most people do not have a clue the treasures that are found in this book, because they have never truly taken the time to study it.

Have you ever wondered how God dealt with those who tried to usurp the authority of Moses and Aaron? Read chapter 16.

Have you ever wondered why the children of Israel had to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness? Read chapters 13-14.

Have you ever wondered why Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land? Read chapter 20.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus compared himself to a snake on a pole (John 3:14)? Read chapter 21:1-9

Have you ever wondered where you can find Balaam and that talking donkey? Read chapter 22.

Have you ever wondered why 2 and 1/2 tribes wound up on the other side of the Jordan River, when that land wasn’t actually part of Canaan? Read chapter 32.

Have you ever wondered who replaced Aaron as high priest? Read chapter 20:22-29

Have you ever heard God get so exasperated he said he would give Israel quail until it came out their noses? Read chapter 11.

Have you ever taken the time to really read the book of Numbers? It is not the type of book you think it will be. Yes, there are passages that deal with the numbering of the people and the travels of Israel, but there are also many timely and valuable lessons that the church needs to learn in today’s world. There are also the answers to many of the questions about the 40 years Israel spent in the wilderness. If only it wasn’t the book nobody wants to read…

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A Most Misapplied “Word”

All of my life I have heard preachers proclaim lessons about the value of the Scriptures and point to Hebrews 4:12 as a proof-text. Most people familiar with the New Testament are at least vaguely familiar with this verse as the writer proclaims, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” We have often heard lessons revealing what the writer meant when writing these things about the Scriptures and how they impact us. However, the more I have read and studied this passage, the more I am convinced we have been misapplying the emphasis of the passage and the one to whom it really relates. Let us make a deeper examination of the text and I believe you may come to a different conclusion than we have generally heard.

Consider the context. The context for the statement in Hebrews 4:12 goes all the way back to chapter 3:1-3. There the writer proclaims, “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.” The writer then proclaims the necessity of following after the head of the house: Jesus (Vs. 6). He then gives a comparative example of the Israelites of Moses’ day and how they were not willing to remain with God, but because of their unbelief they were rejected from entry into the promised land. He concludes the point in chapter 4:11 when he writes, “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”

The context very clearly states this is a discussion about Jesus and our relationship with him; nowhere in the context are the Scriptures as a whole the primary emphasis.

Consider the descriptions. Verse 12 is, in reality, the answer to the question of why we need to labor and not fall into unbelief. “For,” the verse begins, meaning “reason given;” “the word of God is:” the following will be descriptions of the word of God. We know that there are other passages of Scripture (cf. John 1:1-3) wherein Jesus is referenced as “the Word.” Consider these descriptions and whether they better apply, both contextually and descriptively, to the Scriptures or Jesus.

The word of God is quick. The word translated “quick” is the Greek word zao meaning “alive, living.” The meaning is not that the word of God is fast, but alive. Many have argued that this is a description of the living nature of the Scriptures and that it is not a dead letter that is useless. While such arguments are valid from other passages of Scripture, remember the context is about Jesus our high priest (3:1; 4:14ff), the word made flesh (John 1:14). This description is a pertinent reminder about the living Christ. He is not dead, but has been raised from the dead and lives and reigns over his church (Phi. 2:8-11; Eph. 1:20-23).

The word of God is powerful. The word “powerful” is translated from the Greek word energes, from which we get our English word “energy,” and it means “to be active.” This has been used to teach that the Bible has the ability to be active in man’s life if he will let it. Such is true, but again does not fit the context of the discussion. Instead, it is a far better fit if it is understood to be teaching that the resurrected Savior is active with his people today. He is the High Priest, he is not just living, but working and taking an active part in the body he died to create. He is concerned, caring, and acting on behalf of his people.

The word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword. This is often applied to the sharpness of the Scriptures to convict man, and such it does. However, the description here is not of a sword (i.e. Eph. 6:17; Rev. 1:16), but that the word of God is “sharper than” a two-edged sword. It is a statement of comparison. Our Lord has the ability to cut us off spiritually, not just physically (see Mat. 10:28, 32-33).

The word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. This aspect is probably the most problematic description of “the word” in trying to apply it to the Scriptures. The word “discerner” is from the Greek kritikos and means “capable of making a decision, discerning, able to judge” (Rogers and Rogers). This would then require that the Scriptures be actively able to judge our hearts. The text does not say that the word of God “reveals” our heart, but that it is capable of making a decision of judgment on the thoughts and intents of the heart. I know of no book that can make a judgment, but a living, decisive being can. Jesus is already shown to have such discerning power (John 2:24-25). It is he who will judge both our deeds and our hearts (Acts 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10). Our Lord knows not just what we do, but our thoughts and intentions as we do them.

Consider the personal pronouns. In verse 13, the writer continues by stating: “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Continuing his description of the “word” he says there is not any creature that can hide from his sight. The word for “creature” is from the Greek word meaning “creation.” There is nothing of his creation that is not seen by him. Notice, the word is not the neuter “its” as it would be if referencing a thing, but is the masculine “his” used in reference to masculinity. It is used, not once but twice in this verse, and the second time is even more enlightening. The ESV records the latter part of the verse this way, “but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This is a better rendering of the original Greek text and emphasizes that the “word” is referencing “him to whom we must give account.”

The evidence is overwhelming that the writer of Hebrews was not intending to emphasize the Scriptures in verses 12-13, but instead the one who gave them; the high priest and Savior of mankind: The Word. Someone may ask why it really matters; the answer is quite simple. We are to handle God’s Word correctly (2 Tim. 2:15), we are to use it as intended and treat it with the respect it deserves because it is his book. Therefore, we must make every endeavor to ensure that we apply each passage as it was intended, placing the emphasis of Scripture where God placed it, so that we never leave room for any man to question our motives or our desire to use God’s Word correctly.

The principles concerning Scripture that we hear from this passage are biblical, and can be proven from multiple other texts throughout Scripture. Let us use those passages for their proper points, and not take out of context a passage that is not intended to teach those things. 

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The Blessings of Fearing God

In Psalm 128, the psalmist examines, by inspiration, the blessings benefitting the individual that fears the Lord and walks in his ways. The consideration of walking in his ways is one of lifestyle. It is not sporadic or periodic, but constant and consistent. The psalmist writes:

Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.

Consider some things the psalmist says are blessings to the righteous man.

A happy and productive life. The individual who fears God and walks in his ways is hardworking and industrious. As such, he is blessed with the ability to partake of the labor of his hands. Though this certainly has reference to those who work with crops, fields, or vineyards, it is equally applicable to those whose work makes it possible to provide food for the table by purchase. The labor of the hands is not avoided by the righteous man, it is anticipated. This also leads to a happy life. The individual who works hard, enjoys his work, and understands the blessings and benefits it provides will not be grumpy, hateful, and harsh about life. Instead he will be happy, gracious, and thankful. This certainly epitomizes Paul’s statement that, “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).

A loving family. When one fears and follows God as he should, he treats others in a way that brings the best out of them. The man in this psalm is described as having a wife like a fruitful vine. Any vine that is fruitful has had care and love bestowed upon it. There has been time spent ensuring its welfare. Provision and protection have been assured with love and concern. The man who follows God will love his wife with the dedication and strength that both recognize her value and help her to be fruitful in her endeavors for the home and family.

The servant of God is also described as having children like olive plants around his table. The olive plant was considered to be a plant of luxury, it was something to be cherished and enjoyed. Such should be the consideration of children. In a society that increasingly sees children as a burden to one’s plans, hopes, and dreams, the righteous man will see his children as the greatest testament to the wealth and blessings bestowed by God. He will be pleased to have them at his table and thankful for the luxury and value they add to his life and happiness.

Goodness and peace. The man who is blessed of God will not be one striving for conflict and struggle. He will instead be one whose desire is the continued blessings of God and his family; to see his descendants grow and prosper in the blessings of God, and to see peace in his land among his people. These should be the thoughts, prayers, and endeavors of all men. If they were, the world would be a much better, safer, and godlier place.

May God continue to bless those who fear him and walk in his ways. Let us endeavor to live our lives and lead our families in such a way that the words of Psalm 128 are not just a dream of what could be, but a description of what is found in our lives and seen in our hearts.

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The Other Book You Need to Read

Certainly I would submit that the most important book an individual must read and study is the Bible, and it is not often that I read a book  I immediately want to pass on to everyone I know. However, every once in a while there is a book written that is so powerful, insightful, and valuable that it becomes the book you tell everyone they need to read. Michael Shank’s Muscle and a Shovel is just such a book.

Michael Shank is a gospel preacher in Metropolis, Illinois. The book is the true story of his conversion from a sinner’s prayer, once-saved-always-saved Baptist, to the Lord’s church by a co-worker named Randall. What makes this book so different is the way that the story is told. It is an easy read on a literature level, but shows the depths of emotion, investigation, and loving concern that brought about his conversion.

Mr. Shank brings you on the eight month journey with him. He pulls no punches about the life he led, the type of man he was, and the way he viewed life and salvation at that time. The descriptions of his reactions to the various studies and discussions suck you in and have you seeing things through his eyes. He shows how desperately he searched for anything that would prove what he was being taught was wrong; the numerous discussions with denominational preachers trying to get answers to the questions that tormented his current beliefs and practices, as he struggled between what he thought he knew and what he was learning through the teaching of Randall.

Additionally, the value of the book is enhanced by the immense volume of Scripture contained within its pages. It contains approximately 1,085 passages of Scripture, many of them fully quoted within the confines of the discussions and studies related in the book. Every passage is catalogued in the back of the book for quick reference, and their insertion within the text ensures that nobody reads the book without understanding exactly what is being discussed and why.

Mr. Shank has presented the church with, what this writer believes to be, the best evangelistic tool in the last number of years. It is a book that needs to be in every Christian’s home and digested into their hearts, for a heart-applied study of this book can do nothing but cause one to be better prepared, and have an increased desire, to proclaim the Gospel to others.

It is also a book that needs to find its way into the hands of every denominational friend with whom we can share it. It does not just deal with Baptist doctrine, but denominational doctrines across a wide spectrum to such a degree that a member of any denomination would benefit from it. He deals with the sinner’s prayer, baptism, the one true church, Calvinism, the “church of your choice” philosophy, and much more. There will be some who refuse to read it, some who will begin to read it and refuse to finish, but those who read it to the end cannot help but be affected by it. It will cause some to be angry, some to cry, some to shake their head in disbelief, and some to change their lives, but none will walk away from it unaffected.

Attached below are the links where the book can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and his website. Please buy a copy, read it, then pass it on to someone else; get copies for your elders, preachers, friends, and family. It is worth every penny.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Muscle-Shovel-Michael-J-Shank/dp/0615474616

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/muscle-and-a-shovel-michael-j-shank/1106625216

Michael Shank: http://michaelshankministries.com/

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5 Aids for Understanding Scripture

There are many people, both in and out of the church, who desire to know and understand God’s Word better, but they are uncertain how to approach it. Understanding Scripture can seem to be a daunting task, especially when one sees the confusion and contradictions of those who think they know what the Bible teaches. However, there are some things on which we can focus that will greatly aid our ability to understand the Scriptures and interpret them correctly. None of the following is original with me, nor should it be considered “new.” It is simply a regurgitation of the processes used by serious Bible students who love God and want to know what he says with accuracy and confidence.

Approach God’s Word with prayer. Someone’s immediate response often includes the wonderment of whether or not they will receive special instructions or revelations from God if they do. Rest assured, that is not the purpose of praying before study. However, when an individual spends a few moments praying for the right attitude with which to approach the Scriptures, for wisdom in contemplating them, and patience in the process of understanding, the focus and mind-set with which that person approaches the Scriptures will be greatly improved. It is amazing what one can learn when he takes a few moments to prepare himself for the task he is about to undertake, and does so by going to the Source of all wisdom with humility and meekness.

Understand the background of the passage you are studying. One of the greatest aids to understanding any passage of Scripture, from law to prophecy, is to understand the background of its writing or statement. To whom was it written or said, when, and why? A good Bible dictionary can help a great deal with such studies. When one understands whether a book or statement is given under the Old Law or the New Law, is given to Christians or non-Christians, is given at a time of peace or conflict, is given with the purpose of informing, correcting, or condemning; one can then approach the study of that book or passage from the proper perspective in which it was proffered. Understanding the background of the writing is often half the battle in coming to the proper conclusion.

Always keep the passage in its context. The failure to use this aid has been the fatal flaw of many Bible students throughout the centuries. It is recognizably convenient to throw together passages of Scripture from every corner of the Bible to make a point or present a doctrine; but often it is found that some, if not many, of the passages used were actually saying something quite different than what they are being made to say for the sake of someone’s argument. The value and strength of an argument from Scripture comes, not from the number of places you can go to make the argument, but from showing that the argument you are making is exactly the one being made by the original author. That can only be done by showing the argument in its context. If one does not understand why the statement of a passage of Scripture is being used in a particular location, he cannot with any validity proclaim that his use of that passage is rational or necessary. This does not mean it is wrong to ever cross-reference passages of Scripture in understanding God’s Word, but one must be able to prove from the context that they are referencing the same thing in the same way.

Take the time to look up words. Most Bible readers have become well versed in approaching the Bible as they would crossing a creek, jumping from one word they know to another while skipping those wet areas about which they are unsure. Unfortunately, such an approach is like looking at a picture with a bunch of holes in it and trying to decipher what it would look like whole. One of the greatest tools the Bible student has is the understanding of words. When studying a book that has been translated from other languages (the Bible was not originally written in English, you know) one must be willing to look at the words that were originally used to fully understand what was intended to be communicated. English is a very imprecise language: we will use 20 words for the same thing, and then use the same word in 5 different ways. However, the Scriptures were written in languages that were far more precise in nature. If we want to truly understand the Scriptures, we have to be willing to take the time to understand the wording that has been used and why. Lexicons, dictionaries, and concordances are great tools to help with this. Can it be time consuming? Yes, but what worthwhile endeavor isn’t?

Do NOT assume anything. The single greatest hindrance to most people’s understanding of the Bible is assumption. They read God’s Word assuming they already know what it says, therefore instead of studying to find out what it says (known as “exegesis”), they study trying to fit everything into the window of what they have already assumed to be the case (this is called “eisegesis”). People have assumed they already know the truth because that is what their preacher said; preachers have assumed they know the truth because that is what another preacher they love and respect said; but assumption does not equal truth. Do not enter your study of the Scriptures assuming you already know everything (or anything) about your proposed study; instead approach it from the perspective of one seeing it for the first time. Do not assume a passage to be literal or figurative until you can prove from the context it is such. Do not assume that what you have always heard about the meaning of a passage of Scripture is true until you have verified it from the words and context itself. Do not assume that God “meant to say” something other than what he said. God is very good at saying what he means and meaning what he says, do not assume that we need to make excuses for God. If our assumptions and God’s statements do not match, it is not God’s Word that needs to change; it instead requires the removal of our assumptions.

If we will take the time to implement these aids into our studies, the things that can be understood and transferred to others will be astounding. Anyone can understand the Bible, and understand it alike, but it must be approached correctly. A lackadaisical approach will reap a weak and useless understanding of Scripture, but a zealous endeavor to know truth, using correct methods and logical approaches, will reap great rewards.

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The Parable of the Cross-Country Cyclist

One of the most effective teaching tools the Lord used was the parable. His parables have lasted through the ages and have been just as valid and valuable to audiences today as they were in the first century. However, many people seem to believe that Jesus was the only one to ever use parables and that he had the market cornered on them. That is simply not true. Many of the prophets used parables at various times, and there is certainly no statement prohibiting their use by others. On the contrary, I believe that the Lord’s multiplied use of them shows us their value and the need to incorporate such avenues of communication even today.

That being true, I believe preachers need to consider means by which they can use such figures as parables to convey to listeners principles of an eternal nature. Most people define a parable as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” However, that is a rather simplistic explanation. Dungan more objectively defines it as, “a story by which something real in life is used as a means of presenting a moral thought.” I would like to offer the following parable for your consideration:

Living the Christian life is like a cyclist making a cross-country trip. He sets out on his journey with excitement and zeal, believing he has everything he will need for the excursion. However, he travels a distance and his bike develops a flat tire. The man realizes he has forgotten his air pump. He is about to give up on his journey when a young man in a work truck sees the rider’s predicament and stops to allow him to use his compressor. The man airs his tire and continues his journey.

As he goes a little further down the road a car side swipes him as it passes, sending the man careening into a ditch on the side of the road. The man’s ankle and wrist are injured in the accident, but the car continues travelling without slowing, leaving the man alone in the ditch. He is angry and bitter about his circumstances and does not know if he can continue; but as he is contemplating these things, an old man in a beat up pickup truck sees him and stops to help. He has a first-aid kit with him and cleans and bandages the man’s wounds.

Now able to continue his journey, the man goes further; eventually stopping at a roadside restaurant for a meal and a rest. While he is there someone steals his wallet, taking all his money and leaving him unsure of how he will settle his account and finish the remainder of his trip. Fortunately, a kind woman observes his obvious misfortune and gives him one hundred dollars to take care of his meal and get him to his destination. Once again, the man persists with his journey.

When he finally reaches his destination, the man thinks back on all of the things that occurred on his excursion. However, his thoughts are not focused upon the mishaps that overtook him; instead he remembers the kindness of those that helped him, and the way things always came out better in the end.

Passages to consider with this parable: 2 Timothy 4:7-8; Hebrews 12:1-2

The meaning of this parable is seen when comparing a Christian, seeking to live the servant’s life, to the cyclist. There will be many hardships that come to us along the way, but there is always provision (often from unlikely sources) to assist us on the journey. We are never alone when our desire is to serve God, there are always those (the greatest of which is God) waiting and willing to help in times of trouble. If we persist and finish the journey, we will look back on our lives and see, not all of the problems we had, but the people and means by which those problems were overcome and the blessings our lives received through them.

As with all parables, there will be the inclination of some to make everything represent something. Some would attribute each incident as a type of struggle in life, and each person as a type of rescuer. Though these are certainly possible applications, such details are not within the intended scope of the meaning of the parable. We must be careful to understand the difference between the intended meanings of parables and the applications that can be drawn, because not all “applications” will fully match up with the intended meaning; thus the utilizing of such can actually detract from the parable instead of accentuate it.

Parables are valuable teaching tools that we need to utilize with more frequency, whether they are ones that have already been presented in Scripture, or ones from our time that we create to emphasize the principles of the Bible. I hope this parable has been beneficial to you and that both the parable, and the thoughts concerning the use of parables, will give you something to think about as you go through your day.

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When God Loses a Child

I have six children; three that I am blessed to be able to hold today, two that were lost in the womb, and one I look forward to holding in November. I have experienced some of the joys and sorrows of being a parent, and I’m sure I will experience many more as the years pass.

This morning, it was through watery eyes that I read of a family who lost their infant child last night because of health complications with his heart. The sorrow and pain they are enduring cannot be described nor explained with mere words, but at the same time there is also hope in the opportunity in eternity to see that child again.

As I was contemplating these things this morning, another thought entered the mix: we are made in the image of God. Mankind was created with a soul, with cognitive abilities and emotional spectrums similar to our Creator. He has given us reason and logic, love, anger, compassion, desire, and many other processes that are similar in nature to his own. That being the case, I believe we often overlook the means by which we can see how God feels when he loses a child.

When we lose a child, someone we created, someone we loved and cherished, for whom we sought to provide and care, who we would give anything to protect, even if it meant our own lives, what does it do to us? It causes grief and agony, sorrow and tears. The same holds true for God. We often consider God to be all love or all anger, all fire and brimstone or all cuddles and warm fuzzy feelings.

The truth is that God is full of love for mankind. He is our Creator, he has sought to protect us, care for us, lead and direct us, save us from our own foolishness, and provide for our eternal wellbeing: even to the point of sacrificing his own life for our sins. However, it has often been the case that God has lost his children, not because of failure on his part, but because of failure on ours. When that happens, we see the anguish of God as he struggles to bring his people back, to convince them of the error of their ways, and to show them the truth. Often they will not listen. Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Mat. 23:37).

When we lose a child, we have hope to see that child again, but imagine the pain it causes God when he loses a child and will never be able to be reunited with that soul. That is why God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). He does not want anyone to be lost, but many will choose to be, and his righteousness and justice will not allow him to bend the rules for those who have refused him (Rom. 2:11; 11:22).

Alternately, we can also understand the anger of God with those unrighteous individuals who try to pull others away from him to destruction.  Jesus stated, “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mat. 18:6 ESV). Imagine for a moment that you see an individual who is trying to lure one of your children away from your side so that he can kill that child, forever removing him from your love and influence; what would you do? How would you react to such wicked and cruel intentions? This is exactly what the individual who seeks to cause another to sin is doing, and it brings God’s anger fully to bear on the individual responsible. There will be no mercy for such an individual without full repentance.

When we lose a child, the sorrow and pain can seem overwhelming, but it can be overcome by the love of God and the understanding of his word. Nevertheless, these tragedies also give us a glimpse into the feelings and emotions of God toward his creation, his children, and how our lives and actions affect him. Let us encourage others, both outside of Christ and separated from Christ, to understand God’s love and care for them; and let us never forget what happens to God when he loses a child.

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