Many know that Psalm 119 is the greatest, inspired tribute to the Word of God known to man. 176 verses, eight verses under the heading of every Hebrew letter, grace these pages of our Bibles. All but a few verses mention some synonym for God’s Word. So many individual studies can be made of themes and thrusts in Psalm 119, but by reading it one discovers David giving many benefits or needs for studying the Bible. Consider what is no doubt an inexhaustible study.
To keep from sinning against God (11)
I am a stranger in the earth (19)
The influential can be against us at times (23)
Our soul often melts from heaviness (28)
To keep our eyes from worthless things (37)
To have an answer for him who reproaches us (42)
It causes hope (49)
For comfort in affliction (50, 76)
It causes righteous indignation (53)
It leads us to seek God’s favor with our whole heart (58)
It makes us choose better companions (63)
It brings good judgment and knowledge (66)
It prevents apostasy (67)
It makes us more attractive to the God-fearing (74)
That I may live (77, 93, etc.)
For revival (88)
For greater understanding (99)
To be upheld and safe (117)
To have a proper sense of self (125)
For a proper sense of values (128)
For proper emotional investment (136)
For righteous zeal (139)
For a proper sense of dependency (147)
It brings confidence (152)
It gives us the proper sentiment toward the world (158)
I found a treasure in a chest of drawers in my parents’ house this week. It was a Mother’s Day present I gave my mom when I was 8 years old. Actually, it was a project our third-grade teacher helped us put together. It was a recipe book concocted by us students without any adult assistance. The spelling and the recipes confirm this fact. My two recipes were “Peanut Butter ‘Crisbys’” and “Lemon Pie.” The first recipe was brief, but profound:
Put 3 C. rice crisbys in a bowl. Then put 2 tablespoons peanut butter in. 4 C. Sugar. Put in oven at 200 for 30 min.
The second recipe was more complex:
Put 4 eggs in the pan Put 3 cups of lemon mix in 1 1/2 c. sugar 2 C. “flower” Put in pan and cook for 1 hour at 200 degrees.
I assure you that nearly every recipe in this small book showed about as much culinary acuity. Why? We had been in the kitchen, but we had no concept about ratios, temperature, or baking times (or even if we used stovetop or oven). The result were “recipes” that would have been problematic to follow or eat.
What a challenge to me as I try to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18)! I want to move beyond a childlike knowledge of Scripture and move on toward maturity (Heb. 5:11-6:1)! May I never be so lacking in knowledge that I cannot tell someone what to do to be saved, help someone know Christ, or speak about any matter pertaining to life and godliness (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3). May I have the humility to never “think more highly of” myself than I ought to think (Rom. 12:3). Otherwise, I may look naive or ignorant when asserting my expertise in a matter where I need considerable growth. I must bring the same humility to such complex subjects as marriage and parenting, as well as Christian living. That is not to say that I should not grow to the point where I cannot be helpful, but instead temper my advice and assertion with deference and cover it with lovingkindness and patience. On multiple occasions, the younger me made this mistake. In fact, I am still prone to do so. It reminds me to grow what I know and be careful not to share what goes beyond that.
I was a child when I saw news coverage of the famine in Ethiopia, the mass starvation, the distended stomachs, and the deaths from malnourishment. I had never seen anything like this, and I was deeply saddened by the images on the screen. If you had asked me if I ever expected to see or know about anything more tragic than that, I would surely have said no. Now, decades later, I routinely see something much more tragic. I can observe it whenever I wish, though it’s not something that ever gets easier. Noah Icenhour, the fine, new associate minister at the Mabelvale church of Christ near Little Rock, Arkansas, shared a concept with me that he read from N.T. Wright about our culture. Describing why so many are swallowing foolish, harmful ideas, whether false religion, fleshly indulgence, materialism and greed, evolution, atheism, narcissism, or the like, he says that so many are consuming these things because they are so hungry and thirsty that to satisfy and slake these inner yearnings they are willing to consume even sources that are polluted.
We are surrounded by spiritually hungry and thirsty people. They long for purpose, meaning, and value, but so often they seek it subjectively. Or they go to an improper source to satisfy these. Consequently, they squander their precious lives pursuing the wrong things, a path that Jesus describes as one in which “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction” (Mat. 7:13). Spoken or unspoken, they are crying out for proper direction. They want their lives to matter. While the majority (Mat. 7:14) will refuse the biblical answer, I am convinced that our society is full of people who are honestly searching. They would be open to hearing the Bible’s answers to these preeminently important questions of origination, motivation, and destination.
Today, wherever you find yourself and whatever else you are doing, will you have the compassion and concern enough to look for and seek to help the kind of person I’m talking about? Let’s pray for courage and wisdom, and walk through the open doors we find. In so doing, we will be aiding hungry and thirsty souls who will ultimately go somewhere to satiate their cravings. With us in their lives, they can find true bread (Jn. 6:35) and living water (Jn. 4:14). Such will lift them now and save them eternally! May our hearts be touched enough by their dire condition that we cannot help but help.
—And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery (Mat. 19:9).
—Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
—For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Rom. 1:26-27).
—And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all…There is one body (Eph.1:22-23; 4:4).
—And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18-19).
—A woman is not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet (1 Tim. 2:11-14).
Passages like these are hotly debated, denied, and derided by those who either cast them against other Scripture or subjugate them to current cultural expectations. Those who desire to accept verses like those above as simple truth are often thought to be ignorant or, worse, dangerous.
The same book reveals the person and sacrifice of Jesus. It reveals the nature and attributes of God. It tells us where we came from and where we are going. It speaks of grace and faith. We accept these truths at face value. But when we come to passages that go against the grain of popular opinion (in or out of religion), cultural mores, or religious orthodoxy, we somehow attempt to say they do not say what they say they say. Jehoiakim’s scribe’s knife and his brazier fire did not eliminate truth (Jer. 36:23). It actually intensified the message against him (36:29ff). The number of academic degrees, religious followers, or oratorical skill will not change the truth of Scripture. It is what it is. Our role is to humbly submit to it or forever beat ourselves against it. May we love and revere God enough to always do the former.
This phrase is taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 to describe love. While it is an apt, poetic description of love, it also is the perfect modifier of God’s Word. If there is a word to describe the current culture, it is “change.” Our world is enamored with it, constantly changing its mind, its values, its standards of right and wrong, its worldview, and its priorities. Swept up in all of this are societal attitudes about so many things.
What was once right is now wrong. What was wrong is now right. And while not every instance of this is wrong, so many of them are the product of mankind pushing the envelope of previous norms and standards of decency. Let me cite some specific examples:
The definition of marriage
The definition of gender
The sanctity and humanity of the unborn
The view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture
Male and female leadership roles
The move from monotheism to polytheism (one God to many Gods)
The existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ
The ethics of honesty, hard work, and service
Our list could be much longer, but these representative items have all fallen victim to the world’s push for what it sees as greater freedom, satisfaction, and happiness. Those who rely on the Bible as their infallible guide already know how the story turns out for those who make themselves the standard. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). More solemnly, Solomon says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). In Paul’s day, suppressing, speculative, sensual, and subverting souls rejected God in deference to self-guidance with destructive results (Rom. 1:18ff). Thus it will always be when man builds upon the foundation of himself.
What happens with us, individually and collectively, when we build upon the rock of Scripture is survival in the severest tests (Mat. 7:24-25). When we see Scripture as something to change us rather than something subject to our changes, we have a sure standard by which to chart our lives. Antecedent societies have experienced the trauma of spiritual self-determination (cf. Prov. 14:34). In a world enamored with unrighteous change, may we determine to fix our gaze on the ever-fixed mark of Scripture!
Hans Kaltenborn was an ardent admirer and defender of Adolf Hitler and the “new Germany” ushered in with the Nazi regime. Despite diplomatic warnings of assaults upon Americans, Kaltenborn, an influential American commentator for CBS and NBC and of German descent, dismissed it as flawed and skewed information gathering by biased personnel. About to return home to the states to speak against such reports and warnings, his family went to downtown Berlin to do some last minute shopping. While out, the family found themselves in the middle of one of the endless S.A. parades. When his family refused to offer the Nazi salute, his son was physically assaulted and injured. Finally, someone intervened and the incident ended with no further harm. However, the transformed Kaltenborn was apoplectic. He made a report with the American Consulate in Berlin, but no charges were filed. As Eric Larsen writes, “the senior Kaltenborn ‘could remember neither the name nor the number of the Party identification card of the culprit, and as no other clues which might be useful in the investigation could be found’” (In The Garden of Beasts, 164). Despite this, Kaltenborn was now of a different mind!
There are many ways in which life can do the same thing to us. We may be dead certain about marriage when we are single, about childrearing “pre-kids,” about our career when still in the classroom, about home ownership when in our parents’ home, dorm room, or apartment, and so on. But, life so often has a way of rudely awakening us from some well-meaning beliefs.
Sometimes, this can happen to us in the all-important area of religion. As we stay in our Bibles and gain wisdom and experience life, we may reaffirm but also clarify and even change certain positions we have long held. This can certainly be a dangerous affair, and some have allowed life to change their positions from what is true to what is false (what Jesus says about marriage, divorce, and remarriage because of a family situation, unscriptural changes in worship because of children attending church who have adopted such, etc.). But few of us will go all the way through life without reconsidering especially some conscience or judgment matters.
There are also a great many of our friends who have been taught religious error on God’s plan of salvation, the singular, undenominational nature of the church, what God wants in worship, women’s role in church and worship leadership, and the list goes on. This can be such a difficult challenge for anyone, to revisit long-held and deeply-believed positions in light of what the Bible says.
For all of us, there must be an abiding humility that approaches scripture without the blinders of prejudices, preconceived notions, and influences like family, friends, church, and so on. That is uncomfortable, but essential—for all of us! We may come to find that something we’ve clung to so tenaciously must be rejected or that something we rejected must be embraced. If we ever get to that place, may we have the kind of heart that puts the will of God above our own will. Without such, we cannot hope to make heaven our home.
When it comes to caring for the physical body, I have a lot to learn. While I work out nearly day, my most developed muscle is the table one. I will be working to use that muscle far less this year. But judging from all the new faces in the gym this morning, there are a lot of people who are going to be exercising their bodies who haven’t been doing so—at least for the next few days or weeks.
When it comes to caring for the spiritual body of Christ, I have even more to learn. Helping the church grow, develop, and fulfill its purpose better is a challenge that grows more daunting with each new year as our culture changes, our own distractions mount, and our sight is so easily eclipsed by the influence of this world. With that in mind, there is something we can do for His body that will give it its best opportunity to please God. It centers around what we do with the Bible, as a church.
We must have confidence that God’s Word will give us what we need to have to be what we need to be. Through such, we will be “nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). It takes the Word to cause “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). Isn’t this what Paul is also saying to Colosse, when he urges them to hold fast to the head so that the body would grow “with a growth which is from God”? (Col. 2:19). We cannot hope to strengthen and protect Christ’s spiritual body locally without consulting the training manual of the Great Physician. Let’s make that specific and practical:
Preachers must lovingly preach even the difficult subjects (i.e., God’s law of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the distinct plan of salvation, the undenominational, singular nature of the New Testament church, God’s sexual ethics, the role of men and women, God’s pattern of worship, personal purity, etc.) and be a living example of the believer as their ethic is driven by that Word.
Elders must shepherd guided by the infallible Word and not with personal favoritism, deciding solely on popularity or what the majority favors, bending to political correctness, fear of offending influential members, and the like.
Deacons must function in a way that shows discipline, dedication, devotion, and discretion which is shaped and guided by the New Testament pattern for their works.
Members must follow with love, esteem, and cooperation when their leaders urge them to follow God’s truth, even if it’s distasteful to us or challenges our comfort and complacency.
Individual Christians must discipline their hearts and minds to be open and submissive to what they encounter in Scripture rather than be defensive and rebellious.
Families must dedicate themselves to studying and honoring the Word at home, in their daily lives, to grow and mature in the Words of truth.
Each of us must see the mandate to save souls, repeated throughout the New Testament, as a personal responsibility for which God holds us all accountable.
Isn’t it exciting to think about how much stronger the body of Christ where we are might be this time next year? If each of us will allow God’s inspired word to be the beacon and guide of our lives, His body is going to be powerful, noticeable, and desirable. We will draw men to Christ. We will be the picture of spiritual health. As you make your resolutions, won’t you determine to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you (Col. 3:16).
Maybe you have resolved repeatedly to become a better, more faithful Bible student, person of prayer, or simply one who truly desires to build a closer relationship with God. While a lot of that will be personal and peculiar to you as an individual, you may lack direction about how to get started or give yourself the best chance to succeed in that goal. Perhaps these few suggestions can prove helpful to strengthening your daily connection with your Creator.
Adjust your wake up time.15 to 30 minutes head start will prove the most vital moments of your day.
Find a quiet, solitary place. Distraction can equal detraction.
Study and pray with pen and paper or computer nearby. This will aid specificity and memory.
Do not rush.Better a paragraph or chapter pored over than ten chapters glossed over.
Take advantage of the commute. Pray through it or play the Bible on audio, if you can.
Pick a book or topic of interest and drill down. Pick it for its relevance to your weakness, need, ignorance, or curiosity. Drink it in deliberately and carefully.
Be specific and transparent in your prayers. In the solitude of prayer, drop all pretense, denial, and pride. He knows it all anyway.
Always seek application in the Bible text you are reading. This is not a history lesson or academic exercise. This is spiritual food, armor, and survival.
Create a list of ways you can enact the principles you read from Scripture. See yourself in the text of Scripture, and challenge yourself to think, say, do, and be what God desires of you.
Ask questions of the text. Don’t pass over what you don’t understand. Don’t skim the surface. Mine for meaning.
Build a prayer list. Challenge yourself and add people that many others may overlook in your local circle—widows, little children, new Christians, struggling folks, those facing an anniversary of loss, leadership, missionaries, non-Christians where you work and play, the poor, etc. This ever-expanding prayer list will bless lives in ways you won’t know here on earth.
Mean what you say. When you tell someone you’ll pray for them, have integrity. Make an honest effort (write it down, put it in your phone) and honor your word. Ask the people you encounter how you might pray for them, then do it.
Review. Revisit prayer lists or notes from Bible study periodically. Make it live on through reflection.
Pray for what to study and study prayer. You will find that these two spiritual strength-building exercises are interconnected. This is about relationship with God. Spare no exertion.
Consider these “jump starters.” You will come up with more and far better ways to help yourself to a closer walk with God. These days, we’re being pulled in every direction and most lead away from Him. You will have to be deliberate to swim against the tide. May God bless you as you let Him bless you through a vibrant devotional life!
It’s a clash of political correctness agendas, though the latter one is extremely legitimate. On one side, we have the recent, insane push for recognizing transgenderism—even that which is simply claimed and asserted at the apparent whim of the claimant. On the other side is an important, needed aspect of feminism—protecting women from the sexual aggression of men. Both are fiercely championed by those of a liberal mindset, and the two came face to face in the “gender neutral” bathrooms of Whitney Hall at the University of Toronto. Ironically, two incidents of voyeurism, where male students were “caught holding their cellphones over female students’ shower stalls and filming them as they showered” (dailywire.com), occurred in September, 2015, just as the push was heating up for men and women to choose the public bathroom of the gender they felt themselves to be. Our sitting president even defended a federal transgender directive for public school bathrooms, allowing “transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, saying that society must protect the dignity and safety of vulnerable children” (nytimes.com, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, 5/16/16). The outlandishness of such baseless thinking had already been demonstrated well before this “guidance” issued by the Education and Justice Departments was made public this Spring.
There is a biblical and biological answer to what has amazingly become an enigma and conundrum for everyone from politicians to corporations. Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female” (Mark 10:6). There are external ways to both test and validate these, and are as accessible as a basic medical examination. I trust a Creator whose ability is demonstrated everywhere from the order and continuous operation of the universe to the magnificence of the earth to the intricacies of the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems to somatic cells to our DNA.
In the world’s rabid desire to reject His authority, there’s no wonder that people concoct such far-fetched, senseless ideas as we are seeing put forward at the present time. Paul traces the genesis of such ludicrous ideas, saying, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…” (Rom. 1:28). Until that mindset changes, we are likely to see more issues like the push to accept transgenderism and welcome it into our public private places (like bathrooms in stores and dorms) even if they produce the kind of actions reported in Whitney Hall. May more people simply and humbly follow the perfect guidance of God’s Word.