Enjoy these entries - we hope they make you think.


Taking Romans Personally

Monday, October 02, 2023

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12.1-2)

Paul connects Romans 12 ("therefore") to the mountain of previous teaching from Romans 1-11. Before he presents what we should do, Paul deals with great theological truths about what God has already done and how we stand in relation to Him because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Beyond being merely an intellectual exercise, the renewing of our minds includes actually obeying God--doing that which is good and right--which Paul immediately outlines for us in Romans 12.3-15.7. Here's a quick breakdown of what is covered:

  1. Don't think of yourself more highly than you ought; evaluate yourself properly (12.3-8)
  2. Love genuinely (12.9-13)
  3. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep (12.14-21)
  4. Subject yourself to the government (13.1-7)
  5. Love your neighbor as yourself (13.8-10)
  6. Walk properly, as in the daytime (13.11-14)
  7. Welcome the weak in faith (14.1-15.7)

Just about all of this has to do with submitting ourselves to others. How do we actually present our lives as living sacrifices to God and renew our minds? We follow Christ's footsteps (see 13.14; 15.1-13) by assuming the lowest place, subjecting ourselves to every ordinance of God, submitting to one another in love, yielding to our enemies, and welcoming brethren with whom we don't see eye to eye.

Once, a friend asked (in light of the "bearing with the weak in faith" from Romans 14), "How can you know who is the weak brother?"

"Whoever the other guy is, that's the weak one," I jokingly replied.

But silliness aside, I'm pretty sure that is not the question God would have us ask, because if we use Romans 14 to start a big row over who is weak and who is strong, does that not divide rather than unify, as Paul insisted upon?

As I read Romans 12-15, God speaks to me, personally. I know He didn't write Romans directly to me, but I should read it as a message from God to me. In other words, I don't read it to figure out how you ought to change in your actions towards me; rather I read to discover how I might repent and change in my actions towards you. I can only worry about and change myself, and God has given me control over only one person on this planet.

If every Christian read the Bible this way, wouldn't God produce unity through our obedience? If every husband obeyed God’s commands about being the right kind of husband and didn't try to force his wife to be the right kind of wife...if every wife obeyed God by respecting her husband properly...if every brother treated his fellow siblings with love and did not worry about what they did or didn't do for him...what power and change might we see?!

Do you take God's word personally?

"If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." (Rom. 12.18)

How to Start a Bible Reading Habit

Monday, September 25, 2023

Someone asked me recently, “How many people at your church do you think read their Bibles every day?” I don’t know the answer to that. I hope it’s a pretty high number, but I know it’s not everyone. I also wonder how many of our church family have read the entire Bible all the way through at least once.

One of the best habits I have ever created in my life has been a time of daily Bible reading. I started this habit quite a few years ago using a free iPhone app called YouVersion. The app includes hundreds of guided and tracked Bible reading schedules. The tracking feature helped me lock in my new habit because it knew if I ever skipped a day of reading. As I saw the number of uninterrupted reading days constantly increase, it made me not want to start over. It’s kind of like the “You have been THIS many days without a security failure” sign. You have been THIS many days without missing your daily reading. Once I got up to over 800 days of reading. Pat myself on the back.

One of the keys to starting a new habit is to make it as easy on yourself as possible. If you read from your Bible every day, make sure you always know where it is. That may sound strange, but if it takes you five minutes to locate your Bible, you can start to feel defeated before you even start reading. Set it on your reading table or on its reserved spot on the shelf so you don’t have to think about it when it’s time to read.

Another key to starting a new habit is to anchor that habit to an existing part of your daily schedule. Do you want to read first thing after you get out of bed, after breakfast, at lunchtime, during your first 15-minute break at work, after you get home in the evening, just before bedtime? Pick something  you always do, and plan to read your Bible immediately before, during, or after that event. For instance, I always start my day out with one cup of water and then a cup of coffee. I read my Bible with my cup of coffee. That has become my morning ritual. You may want to read right after you brush your teeth or right after you eat lunch. Make sure you pick something you do every day because if you anchor your Bible reading to an event that you skip now and then, you’ll end up skipping your Bible reading, too.

A third key to starting a new habit is to construct a concrete plan. If you think, “I want to exercise more, and I’ll do it right after my morning coffee” but you don’t clearly plan how you will exercise, you’ll bumble around and waste time. Likewise, without a set Bible reading schedule, you’ll flip around in your Bible, aimless and adrift. You’ll wonder if you’re going about it the best way, which will produce doubt and discouragement. So make a plan. If you choose not to use a digital guide, such as the YouVersion app mentioned above, you should print yourself a daily checklist. For instance, Crossway has a blog post which links to a number of printable plans you can download for free.

I encourage you to start a daily habit of reading holy Scripture. God wants you to hide His word in your heart that it would guide you all the days of your life. The word should be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. What good is a lamp left on a shelf in your attic? The tool must be used and used often. Paul called the word the sword of the Spirit, and you should never use a weapon you haven’t trained. So train with it! Let me know if I can help you find a plan which would be suitable for you—I’d love to help!

Psalm 119.9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
    all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

Characterized by a Love for the Word

Monday, August 28, 2023

While of the world, we thought and acted like the world, but now that we know Christ (and are known by Him) our habits are changing. You must be "transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12.2), an inward change which results in a new lifestyle.

Take the apostle Paul for example. After fighting tooth-and-nail against the Christian "sect" (as he saw them), Christ knocked him into the dirt and showed him how much he would have to suffer for Christ. Immediately he reversed course and began to publicly proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, reasoning with any who would listen. One day he killed Christians; the next day he joined them.

bible studySo it is with all Christians—there is a definite change in our habits. One day we are of the "sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2.2); the next we are falling on our knees praying to Jesus as Lord and King. One day we wonder what "Christianity" is about; the next we cling tightly to our Bible, knowing it is the inspired and holy word of God.

Not everyone's conversion feels quite so dramatic, but we must understand the change involved in stepping from the world into the family of God.

One of the first signs of a changed heart is a converted mind. The proof of a reborn soul is an intense love for God's word as absolute, bedrock, divine truth. Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians:

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1.15–19)

Paul wanted the Christians to know certain things about God and about their salvation. How would they come to know these things? revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3.3–10)

Through the Holy Spirit, God made known to Paul the mystery of the gospel. Paul wrote it down, and he preached and taught that gospel. That is how God chose to continue revealing the gospel of His Son—through the reading and teaching of Scripture.

God put the church together in great part to give us an environment which fosters growth in the word.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4.11–16)

All those gifts God gave the church in verse 11 have to do with teaching and preaching—the passing along of God's word. Notice the benefits of staying in the word and continuing in a steady teaching / learning environment:

  • You will be built up in Christ
  • You will attain the unity of the faith
  • You will come to know the Son of God
  • You will grow up in Christ
  • You will take part in the growth of the whole body of Christ, the church

Every Christian should habitually be in the word, whether it's listening to the Bible read or taught (by a competent teacher!) or reading and studying for himself. Is your life characterized by a love for the word and a continual hungering and thirsting for righteousness?


Reading the Bible Literally

Monday, May 01, 2023

Click here for Audio

In yesterday’s sermon (April 30, 2023), we reviewed Dispensationalism. The dispensationalist claims and tries with all his might to read the Bible literally. Notice what dispensationalist Ken Blue wrote:

B. Dispensationalists hold to the literal principles of interpretation of Scripture. Someone has said that men spiritualize because they have no 'spiritual eyes.' The most dangerous method of Bible interpretation is that of spiritualizing a text or making everything a type.

Illustration: God promised Adam and Eve that the Seed of the woman would come. He did. Noah was warned of a flood. It came. Abraham's seed were promised a land. They received it. Moses was promised victory in leading Israel from Egypt; he did it. Rebellious Israel was warned of their coming dispersion; it came. The prophets promised Israel that God would return them to their home-land. He is doing it as we write. The virgin birth was foretold. It came to pass. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ was prophesied. It took place. The destruction of the temple and of the nation was prophesied. It happened.

If these and hundreds of prophecies like them were literal and proved to be so, why should the Bible believer assume that remaining prophesies are to be spiritualized and applied to the church? One opens himself to serious error when the literal approach to the Bible is rejected. A study of dispensations demands a literal interpretation of Scripture.

Have you ever heard of the logical fallacy of equivocation? It’s when someone uses a definition for something one way (usually a way in which most everyone agrees), and then he subtly switches the definition a bit later in his argument. Equivocation is “calling two different things by the same name.”

For example, “Dairy is good for me, so I eat a gallon of ice cream a day.” The argument equates dairy and ice cream. Ice cream has milk in it, but it also has a bunch of other stuff that, unfortunately, makes it unhealthy in great quantities.

suspiciousOften, we omit important information to get our equivocation argument to go through. My child might say, “Can I go over to my friend’s house for a little while? He’s having a couple of friends over to play some games.” I might ask my child to further clarify because those statements are quite general. I’m picturing four or five guys sitting around a table playing Risk, when the real plan is for half the school to come over and have a pool party with illicit refreshments freely flowing. If I confronted him later about his deception, he would say, “We didn’t say how long and who can say how many ‘a couple’ of friends is?”

Dispensationalists often (though not necessarily on purpose) equivocate with this idea of reading the Bible literally. You see what Ken Blue wrote above. Read through all his illustrations of how the Bible literally says something and that thing literally happened. There is practically nothing you would argue with, right? He seals his argument up at the end with a question: “Why should the Bible believer assume that remaining prophesies are to be spiritualized and applied to the church?”

Well, he didn’t give us any examples of some of the other prophecies he takes literally. Neither does he explain what “spiritualizing” means to him. If we take the land promise and nation promise of Genesis 12.1–3 and apply those now to the church age, is that spiritualizing, or is that seeing how God is literally carrying out His promise in the way He had determined before time began? The dispensationalist waits today for God to fulfill the land promise to the nation of Israel. We read Jesus in Matthew 5.5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and we realize this is connected directly back to Old Covenant language such as Psalm 25.13; 37.9, 11, 22, 29, 34. Jesus applies that language to citizens of His Kingdom under the New Covenant, so why should we not connect the land promise to ourselves who are citizens of Christ’s Kingdom?

There’s a reason why we interpret all those things Ken Blue listed as literally true. Almost all of them come from historical narratives in the Old Testament. When we read history, of course we interpret it literally. We believe it happened just as it is written.

However, other genres exist among the books of the Bible. Not everything is historical narrative. Prophecy in scripture is often proclaimed through poetry, and sometimes a certain type of prophetic language which we call “apocalyptic” is used.

For example, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in Daniel 2 about a statue which had different body parts composed of different metals: a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, middle and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. A huge rock was cut out without man’s hands and was hurled at the feet of the statue, breaking it to pieces. Daniel interpreted the dream, and we understand each part of the statue stood for a kingdom in present or future history (future to Daniel). Was the statue literal? It was a literal dream of a statue, but Nebuchadnezzar would not be looking for a literal statue like that because he discovered that it was merely symbolic of historical realities to come.

We could also look at Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great tree in Daniel 4. Again, the tree symbolized Nebuchadnezzar himself and what God had planned for him in his near future.

The last six chapters of Daniel are full of prophetic imagery. Daniel 7 reveals a dream Daniel had of four great beasts: one like a lion and had eagles’ wings which had the voice of a man given to it; one like a bear raised up on one side with three ribs in his mouth; one like a leopard with four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and one with ten horns and great iron teeth which it used to devour and break in pieces. Are we to take Daniel’s dream literally? In what sense do we take it literally? We believe he literally had a dream, but we also understand that those four beasts were not literal freaks of nature that God brought or will bring to earth. They stood, again, for four kingdoms which would come. We know that because Daniel received an interpretation at the end of the chapter (“As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth…” Dan. 7.23).

When Jesus spoke in parables, He interpreted a few of them (Matthew 13) but not all of them. His interpretations of the few instructs us on how to interpret the rest of them. He teaches us how to listen to parables, to find a deeper meaning behind the simple stories. Likewise, God gives us interpretations for some apocalyptic language (such as in Daniel 7), which helps us understand how to read other apocalyptic literature, even when God does not supply the interpretation. We understand how to read this kind of literature. We are not supposed to read it literally but as it is given in symbols and signs.

Take Revelation 14.1–5. The premillennial dispensationalist believes in a literal 144,000 who have the literal name of the Father written on their literal foreheads. I assume they also believe these 144,000 will be literal viren men who never lie.

In Revelation 20.1–6, John five times mentions a 1,000-year period. The dispensationalist believes in a literal 1,000 years, and they believe it has not yet begun. They believe Jesus will come to earth to reign for this 1,000 years. You will notice, as you read those verses, that they do not say that Christ will reign on earth during those 1,000 years. That is read into the passage by bringing in other passages and ideas.

Are we to understand those numbers as literal? If we take them as figurative or symbolic, are we guilty of “spiritualizing” the text? Or are we reading it the way God intended us to read that genre of literature?

Reading the Bible is not always cut-and-dry easy, and that’s one reason it is so thrilling! We have much to learn, many mysteries to investigate, and wonders to behold of which we probably have no clue. As the Jews under the Old Covenant completely failed to understand the exact nature of God’s plan, even though it was revealed throughout the prophecies, so I expect we completely fail to understand the exact nature of what God is planning for us. Two things should be true: (1) we should investigate what God has revealed, asking questions and digging deep; and (2) we should be comfortable with not knowing all the details and waiting for the reality to come upon us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3.5). Walk in humility. Love those who think they have it figured out, and encourage them to walk with God in faithfulness whether or not history works out exactly like they think it will.

God has the plan, and He’s working it!

How to Study God's Word

Monday, October 31, 2022

What methods should you follow when examining God’s word? How should you read it to get the most out of it, and how should you read it to truly understand what God’s actual intent is?

Much has been said and written on this subject, but I’d like to share some simple, practical pointers. Perhaps the following suggestions will ring true with you and help you in your discovery of the most blessed of all Books.

Read the Bible as You Would Other Books

The Bible is different from all other books because it comprises words not only written by men but also directed by the Holy Spirit. Thus, we understand it to be God-breathed: “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3.16). “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1.20-21).

However, God communicates to us through men and uses methods of communication which are common to man. There is nothing mystical about reading His word; anyone may understand it. As Jesus told the Father, “You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Luke 10.21).

God has always communicated to man in the common language of man, so we do not need special university training before we can understand it.

Seek to Understand What the Author Was Saying to His Audience

If you started to read something by Aristotle or Shakespeare, you would know the man had written in a completely different time and culture. He uses words in a different way than you are used to. How will you understand him? You will need to study the man’s writings and perhaps other literature from his era to get a good feel for how he thinks and communicates.

It’s also helpful to understand the author’s audience. Was he writing to a friend, a foe, the public? Was he attempting to persuade, reprimand, instruct? Who received his work, and how would they have read it? This takes work, but it helps greatly to understand the whole communication.

Every author writes to be understood. Despite current trends in how to read books, the message of the book is not up to the reader. If you misunderstand what an author has to say, you have not rightly interpreted the book. No, everyone cannot have his own valid interpretation. We do the author a disservice and treat his work with contempt and ingratitude if we do not really attempt to pick up what he’s put down. That’s how I hope you are reading my article right now.

Find Instruction for Your Present Walk with God

The last step of solid study is application. The author is teaching something or relaying some message to his original audience. How does it connect and apply to me? Is there anything useful? When dealing with the word of God, there is always something useful because God’s word is living and active and deep beyond measure. For instance, once we understand what Paul was saying to the Colossian brethren, we can then ask, “Does God intend for me to follow this rule or this principle today? If so, how should this be worked out in my day?” It was addressed to specific Christians, but God preserved it for the future church to own and in some way follow.


Follow these three main steps in your Bible study:

  1. Observe: Read the Bible as you would other books
  2. Interpret: Seek to understand what the author was saying to his audience
  3. Apply: Find instruction for your present walk with God

God bless you as you plumb the depths of His sweet and powerful Book.