When I first got into shooting, I relied pretty heavily on what others believed. There was (and is) a wide range of opinions on which platforms are the best, which calibers are the most effective, or which subcultural group is the worst (mall ninjas, fuds, tacticool operators, etc.). Most hold their opinions with great passion and will advocate for their position vehemently. I never really enjoyed shooting with the platforms and calibers I initially chose because I made all of my decisions based on the preferences of people I respected and admired. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I did not yet feel as if the sport was truly mine. Several years later, countless thousands of rounds, and hours of research, and I’ve found my place. I prefer 9mm, Glocks or Caniks, Combloc, AR platforms, 6.5 Grendel is the best intermediate round, etc. In other words, it’s not an “inherited” faith. I like what I like based on the energy I’ve dedicated to study and practice.
When it comes to elements of our faith, how often do we challenge our personal beliefs? Unlike firearms – which are subjective and spiritually irrelevant – our faith is based on an objective standard. It is difficult to have a strong, personal faith if most of what we believe is based on what others taught us or what others believe. We may even adopt their beliefs because we admire and respect them as people. That’s not a great foundation. Humans are fallible!
Approaching scripture as a blank slate, asking only, “What does God want me to believe about ______?” is the best way to grow. The only opinion that matters is God’s! When we hear something that elicits an emotional response and seems to conflict with our current beliefs, we shouldn’t panic. God’s word determines validity. If we can approach scripture without bias, we’ll grow exponentially. Challenging our beliefs does more than simply refine our understanding – it forces us to take ownership of our faith. Not only will this cause growth, it will also deepen our love for God and our confidence in eternal destination!
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:18
Peter writes this letter knowing that he’s going to die soon (2 Peter 1:14), and he wants the church to remember his teachings after he’s gone (1:15). This illustrates how deeply invested Peter was in the church’s success:
He had been on the ground floor of Jesus’s ministry, literally walking off the job site, leaving everything behind, to become a fisher of men
He had seen the crucifixion, the empty tomb, and the pierced side of his resurrected savior
He had helped the church grow from 120 to untold thousands covering the entire known world in one generation
And now Peter realizes that he’s soon going to be gone and the church will not have the direct guidance of the apostles but instead will need their indirect guidance through the New Testament writings. What are the last words of this apostle, his final thoughts for the church that he loved so dearly, which continue to echo down to us today as the spiritual successors of those first-century Christians?
Always keep growing!
First, he asks us to grow in the grace of Christ. When we obey the gospel, our sins are completely forgiven; God forgets them; we are “saved to the uttermost,” according to Hebrews 7:25, and when we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins (1 John 1:7). So how can we grow in something that is complete?
I think a key is found in 2 Cor. 12:7-9. Paul has been given this thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment him, and he prays three times that the Lord will take it away. But God tells Paul that His grace is sufficient. It was enough that Paul was a Christian; Paul did not need any particular problem taken away; God’s grace sufficed.
Likewise, no matter what we face in this life, it really doesn’t matter if we’re a Christian.God’s grace is enough. It takes effort and maturity, though, to gain this perspective. We need to keep growing in the grace of Christ!
Second, Peter asks us to grow in the knowledge of Christ. This is an easier interpretation: We must go to The Book! In my experience, and from what I’ve observed in others, those who grow as Christians are those who study the Bible on their own, digging in to see for themselves what God says. The preacher who baptized me told me one time that, in addition to his other study, he read a chapter a day from Proverbs and the gospels because he wanted to remain connected to the wisdom of God and the heart of Jesus; this is the attitude of someone who, know matter how much they know about the Bible, is still striving to grow in the knowledge of Christ.
May we all have this desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Winter 2020 edition of Biblical Archaeology Review has a fascinating article about a recently completed project involving date palm seeds from the Judean Wilderness. The Judean Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was widely grown and sold for at least 1600 years, from at least the fifth-century B.C. until the 11th-century A.D. Archaeological excavations at Masada, Qumran, and Wadi Makukh netted several ancient seeds which researchers then went to work to try and germinate. Of the 32 planted, six germinated. It takes 4-10 years for female palm trees to produce fruit, and in the fall of 2019 this extinct fruit tree was brought back (“New Fruit From Old Seeds,” BAR, Vol. 46, No. 5, Megan Sauter, p. 18-19).
To me, it’s particularly fitting that such a discovery and experiment transpired in the very area where the church was established. The fact that ancient seed was planted and successfully produced results today serves as an illustration of a Bible truth. Peter wrote, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:22-23). Peter draws on an imagery he heard his Lord use in His parables (Luke 8:11). Other New Testament writers draw the same analogy (1 Cor. 3:6-9). They planted the Word and it produced disciples of Jesus. How do we produce true followers of Him today? We plant the same, ancient seed. The researchers involved in the Judean date palm project had to soak and fertilize those seeds to coax their growth, but their perseverance paid off in reestablishing the original, fruit-bearing tree.
How often in history have people taken the ancient seed, planted it in hearts, watered it, tended it, and produced the exact same thing despite the passing of centuries? Restoring New Testament Christianity is possible. In fact, if we believe the Bible, it’s necessary. If we plant what they planted, the living and enduring word, we will have what they had–purified souls who obey the truth and are born again. We cannot give up on that principle. It’s essential, but also doable! Let’s be looking for new soil to plant that ancient seed in, then watch God work!
Angels are not the dainty, long-haired Western Europeans they’re often depicted as being. In Matthew 28, their appearance was like lightning and they had white clothes. Evidently their appearance was other-worldly enough to frighten these soldiers almost to death (28.4). Whether this was some cardiac event or simply shock we cannot know. But to frighten someone that tough to that extent would take something pretty crazy.
But some of these same guys still went straight to the chief priests and took a bribe to keep quiet and spread disinformation (28.11-15). After what they had just seen and experienced, you’d think they would run to a therapist and not the chief priests to help perpetuate something they knew to be false.
We can be tempted sometimes to think that evangelism requires more than just showing someone the word. We might think the miraculous or incredible could persuade even the most stubborn non-believer. The power of our job (making disciples) is in the Word and in faith. The Bible has many accounts of people seeing incredible feats of supernatural power with their own eyes and still rejecting God. Abraham informed the rich man in Luke 16.29-31 that God’s Word is what saves; if that is rejected, no miracle will change this.
If we place our faith in the power of the Word and work to deepen our understanding of the Word, we have all we need to show the power of Jesus.
All gas internal combustion engines require three things to operate: fuel, spark, and compression. If one of the three is working improperly, a number of symptoms can arise. This is an oversimplification, of course, but those three systems must be mostly operable in order to be usable.
Troubleshooting can be expensive if a person has little or no experience with this common engine type. Learning to maintain a vehicle and enact basic repairs saves an enormous amount of money! Relying on someone else to do it is often very costly.
We fully understand that not everyone is equipped to be a scholar-level theologian. However, many Christians take this idea and swing the opposite direction. How many have been Christians for decades and have just a basic understanding of scripture? How many multi-generational Christians snore at the thought of advanced biblical studies? How many have only the knowledge they retain from a sermon? How many base their understanding and beliefs on the values held by respected friends or family?
No one is perfect; the more a person learns through deep bible study, the more they are confronted with their own inadequacies. But a dedicated student of the scriptures also gains this:
A profound appreciation for grace and its role in our practical lives.
Mind-blowing discoveries and realizations about the nature of God and eternity that bullet-proof our faith.
The full emotional and intellectual impact of biblical principles.
A deeper understanding of the goals, message(s), meaning, and practical applications of a book.
A heartwarming and emotion-eliciting appreciation for the role of The Word, Jesus, and His hand in creation, sustaining the genetic line that brought about His physical death, the timeless sacrifice He made by subjecting Himself eternally to the Father, and the role He plays today on our behalf.
An ability to defend the faith, refute false doctrine, convert a lost soul, and build faith in others.
An ability to avoid sin more effectively.
A far lesser likelihood of accepting false doctrines or harmful practices.
Excitement, joy, and fulfillment about being a Christian!
A great disdain for arguments over petty issues that are weakening the church, and the ability to shut them down and refute them soundly.
As a bonus, learning to read and translate Greek or Hebrew (at least with the help of a lexicon, a decent understanding of rules of each language, and their proper application in each context) will give even more profound insight into words and concepts we read in our native translations.
Relying on what others tell us is not sufficient! We may find that the cost, eternally, is far steeper than what we would pay to the most expensive mechanic for repairs we could do at a fraction of the cost. Not only will we gain a great appreciation for what we know and live by becoming true Bible students, but it also greatly enhances our ability to live a faithful Christian life.
I’m a big fan of old fashioned lighting, especially old kerosene lanterns because they’re simple. I went to light one of my lanterns and the flame wouldn’t stay alive for more than a few seconds. I thought, “Maybe the vent is covered in carbon and there isn’t enough oxygen for the flame.” So, I took it apart, cleaned it out, and put it back together. I was sure it was the vent.
To my chagrin, the flame died within seconds even after the lantern was cleaned. Next I trimmed the wick because it seemed too dark; perhaps having a fresh wick would allow the flame to stay alive. It wasn’t a stopped vent, so it had to be the wick. Sure enough, the flame died even with a fresh wick. At this point I was stumped.
The next day it occurred to me whilst putting gas in my car: the lantern was just out of kerosene! It was obvious to the extreme. I knew Chelsea would never let that one go. When I got home I put the kerosene into the lantern which, of course, was the solution to a simple problem that I overcomplicated.
This is a mundane example of a profound truth: we make mistakes as humans. Worse yet, some people put words in God’s mouth that He never used. “My God is a God of love – He wouldn’t condemn me just for this one little sin.” “God doesn’t care if we live the way we want.” Some use phrases like this with great confidence while overlooking an obvious truth: God has told us what He does and does not care about in His word.
If we aren’t in the word listening to God and allowing Him to change us, our solutions will end in failure. There was only one solution to keep that flame going in my lantern. There is only one right way to follow God, and He’s told us how to do that! Life will be so much easier for those who look to God for answers before relying on their own wisdom.
There is one teaching of Buddhism that I have looked upon favorably, that our problems stem from earthly attachment and desire. I cannot argue with principles I also find recorded in the pages of the Bible, after all. Yet, despite the growing popularity of Buddhism in the West, I find Buddhism wholly deficient in addressing the spiritual needs I have. In a nutshell, Buddhism lacks two essential things I believe are needed to save.
First, it does not embrace the only name given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4.12). I recognize this is not an insurmountable obstacle for a nonbeliever. The nonbeliever secularizes the Christ and strips Him of His Divinity. Or he or she might declare Jesus of Nazareth to be a mere fabrication of men. Interestingly enough, though, since I am considering Buddhism, there are those co-opting Jesus as One influenced by the teachings of the Buddha. The theory is that Jesus was in India, learning Buddhism somewhere between the ages of 12 and 30. (That would be a fantastic departure for One Who proved His knowledge of Scripture on par with rabbis many years His senior at the age of 12, wouldn’t it? –Luke 2.46-47. This supposed abandonment of Moses’ Law also ignores His stated purpose of being the living embodiment of the same –Matthew 5.17.)
Second, it foolishly looks within oneself to find salvation. Buddha claimed to be an ordinary man. Thus, Buddha implied anyone could achieve “enlightenment” as he had done. Buddha said that you find salvation looking within yourself. Perhaps it sounds like an oversimplification of a system of faith, but that is a distinct difference. Within Buddhism, one does not need even the existence of gods, let alone the True and Living God, since he or she attains enlightenment all alone. Meanwhile, the great monotheistic religions acknowledge that man is incapable of saving himself. Those traditions maintain that despite being created innocent and pure, we utilized our free moral agency to serve the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life (1 John 2.15-17).
Which of these ideas are more consistent with observation? Outside of the innocence of youth, do people tend to be motivated by selfishness or altruism? There has been a long-standing debate as to whether humans are born inherently good or bad. Few are those attributing good as the default position of the mature heart. Indeed, a child left to his or her own devices, without proper guidance, will become subject to the corrupting influence of those three avenues to sin previously identified above. Thus, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all encourage parents to guide children properly regarding morality, to mold them into the servants of principle.
In contrast, the Holy Bible teaches that there are ways seeming right to us, leading to our destruction (Proverbs 16.25). Jeremiah, the prophet, confesses to God that man cannot even order his steps (Jeremiah 10.23). These two truths ensure as Jesus taught that the vast majority of people are traveling the broad, highway to hell (Matthew 7.13-14).
To allow for such blind groping in the dark, Buddhism has to allow for a continuous system of rebirth. In other words, few, if any, are they who manage to attain enlightenment on their first try through life. He or she will more likely fail only to be reborn and try again and again. And that is the greatest tragedy of the belief that you can look within yourself to find salvation. You get stuck on this Ferris wheel of rebirth. Paul tells the Athenians that even those who are groping can easily discover God since He is not far from us (Acts 17.22-30).
Though I do not wish to be unfair to those embracing the Buddhist belief system, I have to wonder if the attraction of the Western mind to Buddha’s religion has more to do with the mindset implanted by the liberty afforded to citizens of Western democracies. In other words, do Westerners instead prefer the idea of independence from God, telling him or her what to do to be righteous? I am inclined to believe the latter.
I can speak to my own heart. I know its evil. So, I find myself caught up in that same war with my members, as experienced by the apostle Paul (Romans 7.14ff). Like Paul, I ask who can save me from this body of death (Romans 7.24). And like Paul, I find my Savior to be Jesus Christ (Romans 7.25;8.1-2). For that reason, when presented with the choice, I believe in the Son of Man rather than Siddhartha Gautama. My righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64.6). A wretch like me can only be saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8-10).
I doubt that many of us would question the importance of knowing our Bibles. We talk about this a lot as a church family! While some Christians may approach Bible study with the mentality of loading their theological guns with argument-ending ammunition, others consider it a duty of their Christianity.
Few of us would argue that the Bible is always simple and easy to understand. This life, our faith, and many questions we have about our day-to-day lives require answers far too complicated to get from a cursory study of scripture.
So why is it important to study our Bibles, and how can we do it effectively (that is, to walk away from Bible study with more knowledge and faith than when we entered it)? It is important to study the Bible because ignorance of what it says is a major underlying cause for any problem a church might face. Do we want unity? Study the Bible. Do we want peace among ourselves? Study the Bible. Do we want strong, faithful Christians? Study the Bible. Do we want godly attitudes? Study the Bible. Do we want wisdom to know when to practice righteous judgment and when to keep silent? Study the Bible! Effective Bible study – when practiced by the majority of a congregation – will effectively strengthen and grow that church. So how do we effectively study our Bibles?
First, have a purpose to your study. Winning an argument with a friend, coworker, acquaintance, or contact on social media is rarely a good reason to approach the word of God in study. It is too easy to allow our pride or ego to get in the way of honest truth-seeking. Instead, approach your study with purpose. Are you seeking to grow your faith in God? Study accordingly. Are you seeking to understand how to respond to something in your Christian walk? Study accordingly. Are you trying to cope with grief, tragedy, or frustration? Study the Psalms and the end of Job. Whenever you sit down to read, have a purpose.
Secondly, study like a scholar. There is a time and place for covering as much text as you can (like reading the Bible through in a year). However, this should not be our primary method of study. Spend time in a small section of scripture. Look for key words (words that repeat themselves in your section of study), ask questions of the text when something does not make sense, look for words like “therefore,” “but,” and phrases like, “I urge.” See how they fit into the context of your passage. Use multiple versions in your study to gain a better understanding of the “feel” of the passage. As much as you can, look to the original language for definitions or insights. If you have a smartphone, download an app called Logos Bible Software. It will give you access to tools that will help you understand the meaning of words in their original language, even if you cannot read Hebrew or Greek. Avoid commentaries if you can at all help it. They are often (though not always) platforms for the writer to voice an opinion and rarely explain the meaning of the text with accuracy.
Thirdly, study frequently. I recommend printing out the passage you are interested in studying and complete one printed section per day. This is arbitrary, of course, but will still help to create some consistency. Use colored pencils/pens/highlighters to make the text come alive and to aid in recognizing patterns.
Finally, share what you have found with your friends in the church! If you have a group of friends studying the same passage, find ways to share what you observed in the text in your daily bible reading. This not only creates accountability for reading daily, but will also grow your faith and knowledge when you understand that passage so very well!
If you take up Bible study like this, you will be amazed at how much closer you will grow to God and to your church family. If all of us approach study this seriously and with this much commitment, we will grow as a church family in unity, faith, knowledge, love, patience, grace, and wisdom.
The concept of Biblical mediation is viewed as a mystery to many of us. The simple answer to “How do I do it?” can seem frustratingly vague. Common answers are—
“you read a passage that stands out over and over and then you think about it.”
“you find a verse and then pray about it.”
Here’s what you should know about true Biblical meditation.
Three Facts About Biblical Mediation
1. It does not involve emptying your mind, but rather filling your mind with God’s mind.
2. It’s not a complex ritual in which you must reach a higher “spiritual place” to accomplish. It’s a simple act that God intended for everyone to be able to do— in order to bring you to a better spiritual place.
3. It is an intentional act. You won’t find yourself meditating accidentally. We must make time for God.
Here’s why we should all be doing this.
Four Reasons To Meditate
1. For Improved Worship
2. For Perfect Instruction
3. For Needed Encouragement
4. For Spiritual Transformation
Here’s what you will need to accomplish it.
Three Tools For Great Meditation
OBSERVATION – What does the text say?
INTERPRETATION – What does it mean in context?
APPLICATION – What does it mean for me?
Note: Combine With Prayer before and after for best results.
Here’s what you will get out of it.
Ten Benefits Of Biblical Meditation
1. Proven to lower blood pressure
2. Decrease anxiety
3. Improve heart rate
4. It enables your to relax
5. It brings peace
6. It draws you closer to God
7. It gives us confidence
8. It offers an escape from temptation
9. It provides helpful correction
10. It makes us better Bible students (Psalm 119:11)
Finally, here’s an exercise to help us see the many categories on which we can mediate. Simply answer the questions in your mind, and try to develop a habit of asking yourself personal questions about what you’re reading.
A Meditation Exercise From The Psalms
You could meditate…
On His rules (Ps. 119; look up in the ESV)
• What rules do you tend to break?
• Why do you break them?
• What’s the point behind His “rules”?
On His Promises (Ps. 119:148)
• Which of His promises bring you the most comfort?
• Has God kept His promises to you? How?
On His mighty deeds (Ps. 77:12)
• Which specific mighty deeds has God performed in the history?
• What mighty deeds do you believe God has performed in your life?
• What could God do with you today if you allowed Him to?
On His unfailing love (Ps. 48:9)
• There has never been a moment in your life when God hadn’t loved you.
• What does that tell you? What does it expose about yourself?
I hope this helps clarify what real mediation is— and how it can change your life!