Monthly Archives: January 2014

Dangerous Distractions

As Christians, we often speak of the necessity of being on guard against sin. The inherent dangers of unrepentant sin in the lives of people is so easily recognized in Scripture, yet so often overlooked in application to our own lives, that it is easy to keep our focus solely on that singular area. However, the Bible also speaks a great deal about the necessity of recognizing the dangers distractions bring into the life of the Christian.

As much as actions that violate the laws of God threaten our eternal destination, so also must it be noted that continued distraction from the life of a Christian and the service of God can tear down the walls of our faith and rot the foundations of our focus. Many people find it difficult to understand how it is possible to not be performing inherently wrong actions, yet have those things become dangerous to us because of the distractions they engender. Consider the ways things that are not inherently wrong can serve as dangerous distractions.

As our children grow, most of them want to be involved in various pursuits that are not in any way wrong by themselves. It may be athletics, after-school activities, scout groups, or any number of other things that can be healthy and character building. But what happens when those things become a part of our lives to the degree that they endanger our service to God? Do we begin to make decisions to skip activities of the church and needed evangelistic pursuits because of the secular distractions to which we have committed ourselves?

Inherent within the character-building attributes of the activities we pursue as a family is the character traits the children see exhibited by the parents. Do the children see mom and dad deciding that this ballgame or that recital is more important than the service of God? If so, the character that develops will be one that follows this same standard and will lead to more decisions in their hearts following this pattern in the future. Remember Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Social media can also fall into this arena. There is nothing inherently wrong with Facebook, Twitter, and the like; in fact, there are some very tangible benefits to being able to keep in touch with people on-line that would be much more difficult, if not impossible, otherwise. However, if we allow ourselves to become distracted by such things, putting social media above family time, or focusing more on virtual interaction than actual human contact: the ensuing distractions become dangerous on many levels.

I want to add an admonition to preachers beyond the things that have already been stated, because it is just as easy for preachers to be distracted as anyone else. Paul warned Timothy multiple times about the dangers of being distracted by empty babblings and the minutiae of opinions over insignificant details in the overall scheme of things (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:14-16). It is very easy for preachers to get into protracted, and sometimes heated, discussions over things that are of no eternal consequence. While periods of discussion are good, endless discussion over things of no intrinsic value is detrimental to our influence and distracting from our purpose. Paul wrote, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). How many times has the Gospel become lost in the conversation because the arguments are over nothing but opinions? We must be cautious.

A final area of caution for preachers is in the reading of secular materials. There is great value in reading and understanding the studies and works of others, whether it be in seeing their knowledgeable insight into biblical matters, or seeing where their reasoning has stumbled and caused them to blunder into the wrong conclusion. However, we are first and foremost to be servants of God and students of his Word. Therefore, the Scriptures themselves should be the primary focus of our studies. If the majority of what we are learning is from the words of someone other than God, then the majority of what we are preaching is likewise the thoughts, beliefs, and ideas of men. Do not become so distracted by secular resources that you lose your own studies and relationship with what God himself gave, for his Word is still its own best explanation.

Please understand, my purpose is not to say that any of the things mentioned are wrong in and of themselves. They can be good, valuable, and helpful in many different ways. However, we must constantly be analyzing whether we are keeping things in the realm of value or allowing them to decline into dangerous distractions.

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Three Misconceptions about Bible Study

Christians often talk about the necessity of studying the Bible and it is, without a doubt, among the most necessary pursuits of mankind. If someone does not understand the book by which judgment will come, it will be impossible to correlate one’s life to the dictates of that book. Nevertheless, I am convinced that sometimes we both allow and perpetuate misconceptions about Bible study by the way that we approach the subject with people, Christian and non-Christian alike. So take a moment and consider with me three misconceptions about Bible study.

Bible reading equals Bible study. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not discounting or discouraging the implementation of Bible reading programs and plans, for there can be no study where there has been no reading. However, it is just as dangerous to equate Bible study to Bible reading alone as it is to say Bible reading is not necessary. Why? Because in order for one to study the Bible, there has to be the intent to learn and understand. Many people read their Bible on a regular basis, but reading is all they do. When reading God’s Word is approached solely as an item to mark off a checklist it is carried out only as a chore; something that must be done, but for which there is no lasting benefit. I have often asked people what they learned when they have told me of reading the Bible, only to be met with blank stares and stumbling answers as those individuals try to come up with something. The problem is not in the passage that was read, it is in the intent behind the reading. The Bible student will regularly come out of a time of reading having seen something previously unobserved, finding a question that needs further investigation, or finding a nugget that stays in the mind the rest of the day. If those things are not the outcomes of our readings, we may need to reconsider our approach to the Bible.

Volume equals value. Just like at the grocery store when they try to tell you that just because the container is bigger you are saving money, sometimes we fall into the trap of believing that just because we read more of the Bible in a day, or a single sitting, that we are more studious. Again, this is not to say that reading the Bible in large chunks has no value: for it can be of great value; but the value is in the approach, not the volume itself. The individual who reads 17 chapters per day is not necessarily more studious than the person who only reads a single chapter or a few verses: it depends on how they’re being used. Volume reading is extremely valuable when trying to understand the full scope of a book, or trying to see it through the lens of someone living in the days in which it was written. However, if I am simply reading for the sake of seeing how many chapters I can cover, never thinking about what is actually being communicated or how it impacts my life and understanding of God’s Word and Will, the volume of my efforts is not translating into value for my service. There are times and places where volume is needed, but if it is not coupled with the right mindset it does not hold the value often ascribed to it.

Bible study does not require meditation. I have become convinced that this area is where we have provoked the most misconceptions about Bible study. We have so fully tied study to reading that we make people believe if they are not reading their Bibles they cannot be studying them. While it is true that there cannot be study of God’s Word without reading, it is also true that an individual can, by meditating upon what has been read, be giving diligence to the word of God without currently reading words on a page.

The Bible gives us a number of passages to confirm this necessity. The Psalmist wrote, “O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psa. 119:97). Again it is written, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psa. 1:2). The apostle Paul told Timothy to “give attendance to reading,” (1 Tim. 4:13), but two verses later he wrote: “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Tim. 4:15).

There are some days my studies include very little actual reading of God’s Word. Instead, my day is filled with consideration of what I have recently read and studied, what it means, how it applies to what I already know, the impacts it has on my life, and how best to implement what has been learned. If times of quiet meditation upon the things read is not encouraged as absolutely necessary to the Bible student as a part of their studies, many of the greatest applications and associations of God’s Word and its impacts on life will be overlooked. Therefore, it is essential that we reinforce the value of time taken to meditate on the things of God’s Word; not making all levels of study associated with reading.

Let us never downplay the importance of Bible study, for it has value beyond any physical measure. We must by equal measure, though, do everything we can to not give people misconceptions about what is involved in Bible study, imparting what it takes to be able to understand and apply God’s Word as he desires. It is not overly difficult, anyone can do it, but there has to be the will, focus, and devotion to it in order to succeed.

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Resolutions

We have reached the time of year again when people put forth their resolutions. Whether it be to take off those last 10 pounds, stop eating so many sweets, or getting the exercise they have never gotten before, people state that they are going to do things this year they either haven’t done before or have failed in their efforts to do previously. However, more times than not, those resolutions fall by the wayside after a few days, not to be heard from again until next year.

Many people are the same in their spiritual lives as well. They start with good intentions wanting to do what’s right, but then they begin to tire of the effort necessary to uphold their devotion and fall by the wayside until such a time as it is convenient to get up and try again.

The term “resolution” has as its base the word “resolute,” which is a form of “resolve.” Resolve means, “to settle or find a solution to; to decide firmly on a course of action” (Oxford). Therefore, true resolution or resolve carries as a fundamental principle a firm understanding and definition of the course of action one is about to undertake. True resolution is the roadmap to get us from point A to point B. Unfortunately, many people see resolution as much less than that. They consider it to be more along the lines of a good idea, with no real thought and preparation into how that idea will become a reality. We must not fall into that trap.

In our spiritual lives, we must be ones who have our faith and dedication built with resolve. In order to do this, we must be willing to put forth the effort to formulate a means by which that faith and dedication can be held strong. Jesus illustrated it by the parable of the wise man and foolish man in Matthew 7. The wise man was resolved to build a house and formulated a way to do it and keep it strong. The foolish man also resolved to the idea of building a house, but did not adequately prepare and the house did not stand.

Our resolve must be built on two key components: understanding God’s word, and desire to enact God’s word. When we understand God’s word, the blueprints are laid out for us. The preparation has already been completed. However, if we are to recognize those blueprints, we must study his word to gain a thorough understanding of what God would have us do, and how he would have it be done. It is for this reason that our personal studies at home and our Bible study gatherings are so important. When one does not participate, or only gets a portion of the studies, they also only get a portion of the understanding and the greatest element for the foundation of true resolve is weakened.

When we truly understand God’s word, it should engender the desire to enact that which has been understood. This requires one’s heart being right in their approach to God and his word. If we truly want to follow God, when we find what He would have us do we will take whatever steps necessary to follow through with those commands. It may not always be easy, but it will always be worth it.

There is a song which we often sing as an invitation song, yet it is just as much a song the Christian needs to hear as the unbeliever. The first verse of the song is as follows:

I am resolved no longer to linger, charmed by the world’s delight;
Things that are higher, things that are nobler, these have allured my sight.
I will hasten to him, hasten so glad and free,
Jesus, greatest, highest, I will come to thee.

 May our resolve truly be based in those things that are higher and nobler. If it is, it will be seen in every aspect of our spiritual lives. Through our consistent and ready attendance, our rapt attention, our ready participation, and our renewed zeal. May each of us have a new year filled with a fresh resolve to serve the Lord!

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A Lasting Conversation

Last night I was driving home and my four-year-old son was the only person in the car with me. As we chatted about various biblical things my son said, “Dad, when I get in trouble I pray to God for forgiveness, just like you say in your sermons.” Now I am smiling, because I know the heart of that young boy and have no doubt that what he is saying is the truth.

However, his next words brought tears to my eyes. He said: “But Dad, you always do good, so you don’t have to do that anymore, do you?” If only he knew. We spent the next few minutes talking about the fact that, even though Dad wants to do right and tries to do right, there are still times where he does things wrong and has to ask both God and others for forgiveness. We talked about the fact that nobody is perfect (except God, he reminded me) and we all have times where we need to ask for forgiveness.

My son’s words had a very deep impact with me last night, one that I am sure will last for a long time to come. For, you see, he will soon enough come to realize that Dad is not perfect; he makes mistakes, reacts incorrectly, has lapses in judgment, and at times falls flat on his face in failure. Nevertheless, I pray that he always sees me trying to do good.

One of the greatest things that should give us pause in our decision-making is asking ourselves the question, “What if my children saw/heard me doing this?” What would I be teaching them and what would they see in me? Part of my responsibility as a father is to bring my children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). However, that requires my willingness to do far more than just tell them what they should do; I must show them the right path by the life that I lead. They have to see their father striving to do good, as well as see him take responsibility for his mistakes and be willing to repent when he does wrong.

Parents, never forget to whom your young children look as a standard of righteousness. Realize that, even though the time will come where they will understand your flaws and shortcomings, in those early years, in their young minds, you are the greatest servant God has ever had. Use that time of influence to teach them, talk to them seriously about God, his Word, and the responsibilities that come with it. Most important of all: let them see you live it. You will never do so perfectly and that is okay. Let them see you try your best, take responsibility for your worst, and in your successes and failures let them see you give God the glory of your praise and service.

Finally, as a daily prayer, let us say: “Father, help me to be the parent my children think I am, the spouse my other half needs me to be, and the child that you want me to be.”

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