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Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Source of Chaos

This afternoon a man with whom I have both served overseas and worked through the various methods of Bible study covered in the seminars.  We talked for about an hour.  The subject was one about which I have some relatively deep convictions.
The Source of Chaos
My friend had spoken with a Christian leader about the type of study I have been sharing on 4 continents.  That is Inductive Bible study.  Essentially this type of study has four elements and essentially four questions.  They are Observation, What does the text say; Interpretation, What does the text mean; Correlation, What other parts of the text shed light on this portion; and Application, What does the text say that I need to do.

The leaders response to my friend, while not totally surprising, was extremely disappointing.  He told my friend that it was the wrong approach to scripture.  He said that my friend should be going to his pastor to listen to what the pastor says and then go to the Word.  There is so much wrong with that last sentence, I literally could write a book about it – oh, I did.

I am trying hard to resist listing all of the Bible passages in which that statement is in conflict.  If you were to scan this blog you will find most of them.

But I want to go in a different direction.  In Deuteronomy 28 (here @ Bible Gateway), Moses is nearing the end of his life.  He has led the nation to the edge of the Promised Land for a second time.  He cannot enter.  In the first 14 verses (here @ Bible Gateway) Moses tells the people the benefit of following the Lord.  In 15 – 68 (here @ Bible Gateway), he warns them of what will happen when they disobey.  Look at Deuteronomy 28:28 (here @ Bible Gateway).  Disobedience, not following the Lord, results in madness, blindness, and bewilderment of heart.

Something that is crystal clear in the Bible is the Lord’s command, expectation, that we each, individually, embrace, engage, and abide in His Word.  Unfortunately, the leader to which my friend spoke, is not unique.  His tribe is legion.  Rather than following the command of the great commission, these refuse to accept the clear assignment of Ephesians 4:11 – 16 (here @ Bible Gateway) with its implications.  Rather, they set themselves up as the expert, the professional, and place themselves between those they serve and the Word of God as the arbiter and dispenser of truth.

Is it any wonder then that in the Church today, there is madness, blindness, and bewilderment?  Chaos.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Arrogance or Passivity

In June of 2017 I was praying through what the Lord had been doing in my life over the past several years.  I was working on several fronts.  Meeting with men on a regular basis here in the US, and I still am, and also working with the pastor in Morocco, some men in Russia, some church planters in Nepal, a pastor in Pakistan, and a pastor in Uganda.
Arrogance or Passivity
At the same time I was working with some groups here in an attempt to engage the members of those groups in a more personal and abiding relationship with the Word of God.

Working through that it became obvious that those in Africa, Nepal, et al were responding differently to the Word than those here.  There was a hunger in the other countries that was not present here.  There are many exceptions to this, there are men here who are ravenous, but the numbers are skewed to the other countries.

I was talking to the leader of an international organization about this and he had made a similar observation.  I had recently met with a man who when seeing new things in the Word was not at all moved, excited, or either over or under whelmed.  It was just “meh.”  In contrast those with whom I had had the privilege to work overseas were excited about what they were seeing in the Word.

In talking through this with my friend he characterized it as arrogance.  “I know all that.  That came up years ago.  That is nothing new.”  I suggested that it was passivity.  As I consider the conversation, it occurs to me that passivity is a subset or an effect of arrogance.  I don’t need the Word or what it tells me about God so I am not moved by it.

It is difficult to comprehend that when faced with the revelation of the creator of the universe, the one who holds all things together, the one whom apart from Him nothing exists, that one would react passively to Him or His Word does seem to indicate extreme arrogance.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Trusting Love

Trusting LoveLast post I shared that there were two things to which we held fast during the past difficult season.  The first was the certain knowledge that God was sovereign.  That He was in control.  That what was coming into our lives was not coincidence or fiat, but was with purpose.  We may not yet understand that purpose, in fact, we don’t.  However, we are certain of purpose.

The second anchor was knowing that God is Love.  That all He does is consistent with His character and nature and as John declared in 1 John 4:8 (here @ Bible Gateway), “God is love”.

I do not understand yet, how the immediate past journey was a product of His love.  In fact there are many things in our lives which do not seem to align with my perception of what His love for me would produce.  Nevertheless, the Word is clear.  The demonstration of that Love is stark.  He died for me.  He died for those for whom we grieve.  We still may not understand, in fact we don’t.  But as one with whom I have recently become acquainted, Flannery O’Conner, said, “A God you understood would be less than yourself.”

He is not.  Isaiah 55:9 (here @ Bible Gateway) reminds me that His thoughts and ways are not mine.

There were many times that my prayer was reduced to, “I trust You, and I love You.”

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Trusting Sovereignty

Read through Psalm 105 (here @ Bible Gateway), Isaiah 45:7 (here @ Bible Gateway), and Isaiah 46:10 (here @ Bible Gateway).  What do you see?
Trusting Sovereignty
In Psalm 105 (here @ Bible Gateway), I see that the Lord did what He said He would do with Israel’s relationship to Egypt.  He controls, He is sovereign.

In Isaiah 45:7 (here @ Bible Gateway) I see – well a lot.  A lot with which many of us, me included, may struggle.  The Lord causes both well-being and calamity.  Whew.  But he is the one who also forms light and creates darkness.

Then in Isaiah 46:10 (here @ Bible Gateway), I see that His purpose and “good” pleasure is going to be accomplished.

When I consider the last couple of years, which included 5 deaths in our immediate family, it is hard to reconcile those passages with my experience.

That is the challenge is it not?  We tend to evaluate what the Lord does from our perspective.  We grade Him based on how what He does makes us feel.  We seem to think that the only reason that God exists is to make us happy, fulfill our needs, give us a great life.

We put ourselves in the center of the story.  All revolves around us.  That does not seem to be what the Bible says about God.  This is His creation.  We are His people.  Yes, He redeemed us from the devastating impact of sin in our lives.  But that was His choice, not ours.  He did it for His purpose.

There are two things that allowed us to navigate the last couple of years.  This is the first.  God is sovereign.  He is in control.  He has perfect reasons, good reasons for what He does.

The next thing we held onto will be in the next post.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Importance of the Word of God

If you have even skimmed through this Blog, or read a few of the posts, it is probably obvious to you that I have an agenda.  It is probably also obvious that I consider the Word of God important – no, check that – essential, critical for one who claims the label Christian, regardless of the community of faith in which they choose to worship to personally engage with the Word of God.
The Importance of the Word of God

By engage I do not mean only read.  While that is important and I read the Bible each year, we need more than that.

This is emphasized over and over in both Testaments.  Psalm 119 (here @ Bible Gateway) is 176 verses, the longest chapter in the Bible, and it is all about the Bible.  In Deuteronomy 17:14 – 20 (here @ Bible Gateway)(about which I have written here and also here) the Lord placed so much importance on the Word of God that he required every King to write out a copy for themselves by hand and to continually keep it with them.

Full disclosure, I have not hand written a personal copy of the Word of God.  However, if you pick up one of my journals, you will find that I have written out the verses which have struck me during my personal time with the Lord.

A side note on that – I find that when I do write out the passages, that the observations which initially got my attention are both reinforced and expanded.

There is a product available that encourages this discipline.  It is called Journables.  The idea is that you write out the passage you are reading on the left page and make any observations on the right hand page.  You don’ have to use those you could just do it in a Molskine or Leuchtturm1917, I suspect it would be cheaper to get the Journables.

It would certainly increase your engagement in the Word.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Mercy

If you have ever wondered about a good definition of mercy, may I suggest Psalm 103:10 (here @ Bible Gateway)?
Mercy
Personally, I rejoice in that verse.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Stamina

More frequently in the past couple of years I find myself tired during the day.  I am used to working 12+ hours a day.  Sometimes late into the evening.  I find that I cannot do that as much.  I can’t tell if this is normal for being old and decrepit or an oncoming symptom of the cancer.  They say getting tired faster is one of the things that will happen.
Stamina
It appears that the Lord is setting up three trips to serve men in three different African nations this year.  A couple of them are close to back to back and those two are close to a vacation trip with my wife that is also overseas.  When I look at the schedule I wonder if I am going to have the stamina to make that work.

In reality sometimes I am struggling to get through the schedule here.

Last week part of my reading was Matthew 11:28 – 30 (here @ Bible Gateway).  The Lord tells us there – you know the passage – that His yoke is easy.  He got tired though.  Look at John 4:6 (here @ Bible Gateway).  Processing this, I was drawn to Isaiah 40:28 – 31 (here @ Bible Gateway), Colossians 3:1 – 4 (here @ Bible Gateway), and Romans 6:8 (here @ Bible Gateway).

The thing I have known is that He is our life.  He is our strength.  John 15:5 (here @ Bible Gateway) tells us that we cannot do anything apart from Him – that theme shows up at least 12 times in John.  What I need to do is learn to live in His strength.  To function in Him.  I suspect that more often than not, I am possibly doing the right thing in my own strength.

As I write this 2 Corinthians 12:9 – 10 (here @ Bible Gateway) leaps to mind.  I have to function in Him, in that way it is only He who gets credit.  So in a real sense I am looking forward to learning how to serve – the Lord just brought 1 Peter 4:10 – 11 (here @ Bible Gateway) to mind – “by the strength which God supplies.”

This is going to be a great adventure.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Proclaim or Passive?

Look at Psalm 96:10 (here @ Bible Gateway).  Does that seem vaguely familiar?  Compare with Matthew 28:18 – 20 (here @ Bible Gateway).  The imperative in Psalm 96:10 (here @ Bible Gateway) is “Say”: in Matthew 28:18 – 20 (here @ Bible Gateway) it is “make disciples.  It would seem that one precedes the other.
Proclaim or Passive?
Now look at Isaiah 39:8 (here @ Bible Gateway) and Psalm 78:9 – 11 (here @ Bible Gateway).  How does the attitude expressed in these two passages align with Psalm 96:10 (here @ Bible Gateway) and Matthew 28:18 – 20 (here @ Bible Gateway)?  The obvious answer is, they don’t.

Hezekiah was informed that his sons would be taken into exile, signaling the end of the nation.  His response?  Well at least that won’t happen on my watch.  Ephraim is depicted in Psalm 78:9 – 11 (here @ Bible Gateway) as and archer, a warrior, an equipped archer.  But when they were needed for battle, they were nowhere to be found.

Are there many like this in the Body today?  Are there those who have been commanded to both “say” and “make disciples” who like Ephraim are nowhere to be found?  Not engaged?

Seems so.

One of the leaders in a church I know quips that many in the church cannot be bothered with engaging in what the Lord wants them to do, because they have a Netflix account.  I’m not sure that their reasons are that compelling.

How do you imagine the Lord will respond to this level of passivity in His people?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Equipping the Heart

Yesterday looking at Deuteronomy 4:39 (here @ Bible Gateway) and other passage we say that it is possible to engage in the Word and not take it to heart, that is not have it change or transform our thinking or behavior.
Equipping the Heart
In the past I have used a three step illustration on how to move people intentionally toward the Lord.  You can see it below.  The idea was you engage them in the process, establish them in the disciplines, and then equip them to engage others in the process.

I have learned in the past three or four years that I left out a couple of steps.  Before one can be engaged in something they have to know that something exists.  So I added Expose prior to Engage.  Further, one will not really work at engaging others in the process if they are not aware that is the intent of the Lord.  Paul speaks of the Gospel being entrusted to him which he in turn entrust to Timothy and Titus with the expectation that they would entrust it to others.  2 Timothy 2:2 (here @ Bible Gateway) is the clearest example of this.

So I added Entrust between Equip and Expose.
Equipping the Heart
But there are two other things that have to happen with an individual.  To be established they have to learn to consistently apply the Word of God to their lives.  In order to bear fruit, they not only need to be equipped, but they have to abide in the Word.  One might argue that learning to abide is part of being equipped, but I wanted to emphasize it.
Equipping the Heart
This is the model I am pursuing at the moment.  I will probably learn more as I go.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

To Heart

If you were to read Deuteronomy 4:39 (here @ Bible Gateway), it seems to indicate that it is possible to engage in the Word of God, to read or study it and not take it to heart.
To Heart
As cross references take a look at these passages as well:


The clear message is that hearing, knowing the Bible is not enough.  We have – further, exposure is not enough – one has to take it to heart.  To use the word that Jesus and Paul used, we have to abide, live in, continue in the Word.  So we have to essentially, live by or apply the word to our lives.  Romans 12:2 (here @ Bible Gateway) describes that as being transformed, having our minds renewed.

If I am reading my Bible correctly, our assignment, that for which we will be held accountable, does not stop there.  We are to not only take the Word to heart, abide, we are to equip others to do the same.

More on that next…

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Equipping to Abide

Last post considered 2 John 9 (here @ Bible Gateway) and some of its implications for us as believers.  At the end I suggested that there are those in churches who are not equipped to abide.  Some have been trained not to.  As an aside, Exodus 20:19, 21 (here @ Bible Gateway) was in my reading this morning.  You will note the newly freed Israelis refused to come near to God.  They asked Moses to speak to God and then tell them what to do or believe.  Seems in many cases we are still following that old covenant model.
Equipping to Abide
Back to equipping believers to abide.  My wife and I reared 4 children, so far they have produced 8 grandchildren.  Both our kids and theirs are following the identical pattern.  That pattern is found in 1 Peter 2:1 – 3 (here @ Bible Gateway), Hebrews 5:12 – 14 (here @ Bible Gateway), and 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:4 (here @ Bible Gateway).

Their intake of physical sustenance roughly followed the following steps:
  1. Predigested and processed liquid – milk
  2. Pablum
  3. Pureed and strained vegetables 
  4. Solid food cut up into small pieces – the child eats with their hands
  5. Learning to use a fork and spoon
  6. Learning to use a knife to cut one’s own food
  7. Learning to prepare one’s own food
  8. Leading another through this process
If you consider the sequence, one is completely dependent on others until the 5th step.  Then still dependent for the meal until the 7th step.  There are those who never reach the 7th step.  They continue to purchase prepared food at either a restaurant or grocery.  They never learn to cook for themselves.  That leads to a break down between 7 & 8.

It is not a big stretch to see the parallel for spiritual food, or in the case here, abiding.  Much of what we consume in the church is preprocessed.  Someone else has predigested the Word either topically or on a book of the Bible.  Then they have served it up to us in either a message, a Bible Study Guide, a commentary, or a book on a spiritual topic.  So we are abiding in their Word, their work, we are dependent on them for what we see in the Word.  Which has significant implications for step 8.

It is not until we learn to use the tools of personal study; learn to prepare our own meals that we can truly abide in His Word.  To effectively help others, we have to do so.

Those of us who know how to feed ourselves are tasked by the Lord to equip other believers to do so, Ephesians 4:11 – 16 (here @ Bible Gateway).  Those of us who do not know how, need to find someone to help us become equipped.  Based on  the passages above, it appears certain that the Lord will hold us to account regardless of which side of the equation we fall.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Abiding in Christ’s Teaching

2 John 9 (here @ Bible Gateway) raises some questions.  If someone who claims to be a believer does not abide in Christ’s teachings, this passage seems to indicate that one is not actually a believer.
Abiding in Christ’s Teaching
One of the first questions then should be what does it mean to abide in the teaching of Christ?  Maybe then, am I doing so?

John is fond of this word.  Here is a list of all the verses in which the word “μενω”; which is the Greek word that is translated abide, remain, or continue in our English versions; is used by John.  Scan through these passages, it will give you a sense of what John means when he uses the word μενω.

It seems like he means that we are to stay in the teachings.  That would seem to indicate that we are to stay in His Word, John 15:7 (here @ Bible Gateway).

Abiding in His Word is not engaging in secondary sources like messages, books about the Bible, commentaries, or even second hand studies.  Rather it seems that the expectation is that we are abiding, living in, continuing in, remaining in His Word, the Bible.

The word is used in 78 other places by other authors, for example Paul uses it 17 times.  One of those places is 2 Timothy 3:14 (here @ Bible Gateway), which is the first verse of the second charge Paul gives Timothy in light of his heritage, assignment, and environment.  I spoke on this at our church.

Each of us needs to be equipped to abide.  Most new believers are hungry to do so.  It is the case that many are not helped to follow through.

I want to explore that in the next post.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Dealing with the Hard Stuff – Conclusion

The point of all of these posts has been to bring to the fore observations from working with pastors, church planters, and laymen here in the US and in seven other countries.
Dealing with the Hard Stuff – Conclusion
We tend to think that the problems we face, regardless of our cultural context, are unique.  There is much literature about the need for us to be sensitive to culture in our ministries.  At some level that is true.  However, if Romans 12:1 – 2 (here @ Bible Gateway) and 1 John 2:15 – 16 (here @ Bible Gateway) are true; if how we see the ministry of Christ impacting the Jewish culture is any indication, then it seems that two things emerge as truth.

First, people are people.  By that I mean the struggles that they have, wanting their own way, fighting for what they think is right, whether it is or not, is universal or better, cross cultural.  The deeds of the flesh, Galatians 5:17 – 21 (here @ Bible Gateway) are omnipresent, permeating every culture.

Which truth, leads to the second.  The Bible is against all of man’s cultures, it is cross all cultures.

These have implications for those of us who are committed to put the Kingdom of God first.  We are all products of the environments in which we emerged, all of which are counter to the Kingdom.  We are wont to incorporate some of that from which we came into our understanding of the Word.

When we find Scripture that challenges those roots, we tend to either justify or morph the Word to fit.  That has to stop.  If we are going to have a significant impact; we need to be, as Romans 12:2 (here @ Bible Gateway) reminds us, transformed in our thinking.

We have to approach the Word allowing it to not only bring to light what we hold in error, but we have to be willing to release the error and allow Scripture to be true.  Further we have to equip all of those to whom we are privileged to invest to study the Word with the same skill and integrity.

If we do not, if we continue to hold the study of the Word in the domain of the “professional” Christians and dole out studies and tomes in prepackaged containers of homogenized milk.  We are crippling the Body and frankly committed to disobedience to the Lord’s clear commission.

Personally, I do not wish to be numbered with that lot.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Dealing with the Hard Stuff – Part 6 cont.

Last post, I shared a long quote from an article about the church in Ethiopia.  I suggested that the problems there were similar to what we face in the US.  I also suggested that the solution to their problem set was not translation of Bible study materials.
Last post, I shared a long quote from an article about the church in Ethiopia.  I suggested that the problems there were similar to what we face in the US...more at DTTB.
I am not against Bible study materials, per se.  I have used them.  I have written some.  What I am against is continual use of Bible study materials.  The problem with continued use of these is that they are secondary sources.  Like commentaries or books about the Bible or about a Bible topic, they are the result of one or more individual’s work on a topic or a passage.

When you are using a study guide you are being led through the author’s study.  By the questions you are answering and the passages you with which you are asked to interact, he or she is walking you through the work that they did moving you toward the conclusions, positions, and applications which they discovered during their time in the Word.

That can be and is helpful.  We can learn how to study using those types of studies.  We can begin to see the joy and benefit of studying our Bibles.  However, those types of studies limit us.  They make us dependent on another’s work.  As good as some of those are, unless we have develop the tools and confidence to question or expand what they have done, we are forever dependent on other’s work to engage with the Bible.

That does not seem to be the intent of the Lord when He gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18 – 20 (here @ Bible Gateway); or when Paul essentially repeated the Great Commission in 2 Timothy 2:1 – 3 (here @ Bible Gateway); or his exhortation, which again aligns with the Great Commission, in Ephesians 4:11 – 16 (here @ Bible Gateway).  As leaders we are to equip disciples, followers of Christ, with all that we have been taught.  That would include, at a fundamental level, the ability to independently study the Word of God.

So rather than coming up with questions for small groups to use in going deeper in the Sunday message; rather than translating Bible study materials from English into whatever; perhaps it would be better to equip believer to come up with their own questions, to study the Bible with nothing more than a blank sheet of paper and a pencil.

Otherwise we continue to make those disciples dependent on our study.  Further, we rob ourselves of the benefit of benefiting from their insight as they engage with the Lord in His Word.  It is sure based on Ephesians 4:16 (here @ Bible Gateway) that those whom we equip with see things that will build us up and encourage us in the Lord.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Dealing with the Hard Stuff – Part 6

I have an on again off again subscription to Bible Study magazine.  The latest issue (March/April 2019) has an article about the current state of the Church in Ethiopia.  I was intrigued by the article because I have a trip tentatively planned there in the fall.
Dealing with the Hard Stuff – Part 6
Some personal context.  The Lord has allowed me to be engaged with leaders in three countries in North Africa.  I meet most every week with a pastor of several underground churches in Morocco, I have met regularly with one of the recent graduates of the Bible College I visited last April in Togo, and I am still in contact with several of the men and women who were at the events in Cameroon.  That is in addition to meeting regularly with pastors and lay people at home.

The article, the conversations with the men overseas, and conversations with pastors and men here converged this week.

The article stated what was seen as a pressing need in the Ethiopian church:
Beyond Bible translation is the need to create and translate resource for Ethiopian Christians…to ensure the church is grounded in sound doctrine and teaching.  We have vibrant evangelical churches-very strong, committed, and large…However, misuse of Bible through questionable interpretation is a huge problem.  The prosperity-gospel movement has spread like wildfire across Africa.  Although many evangelical churches have the Bible available in their languages, they’re still relying on Sunday preachers for interpretation.  People are easily led astray.  So having Bible study materials available to people is essential for the church…Especially in semi-literate communities, you need the proper tools to read, understand, interpret, and apply the Bible. (emphasis added)
Later in the article…
…the uncertainties face by African Christians don’t have a clear parallel in the West… (how do they) make sense of the devastation of drought and famine, epidemics and civil unrest; how to deal with systemic corruption.  These things are not readily addressed by materials designed for the modern, middle-class Western church.
Both in the conversation with the leader and Cameroon and the pastor here, similar pressures to create material, guides for sermons or leadership development were discussed.

I do not agree that the development of materials is the primary need.  In fact the problem with that approach is evident in the article.

This is getting long.  What do you think I see as the problem?  I will finish this, maybe, in the next post.