Meanderings of a Minister


Ever Wish You Knew the Bible Better?

Have you ever wanted more out of your Bible reading, or have you ever wondered why it seems that others get so much when you get so little?  Perhaps you should do more than read.  Perhaps you should think deeply about scripture, spend time with it, replay it throughout the day, or meditate on Scripture.

I know that you might be thinking, “That is too hard or complicated!   I wouldn’t even know where to begin!”  Actually that is the very reason that Robert J. Morgan wrote the book, Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation:  Find True Peace in Jesus.  Morgan’s book is like having a master walk beside the reader to help with Biblical Meditation.  The book is a treasure trove of information, inspiration, illustration, and rumination, with absolutely no condemnation for any who have not tried to spend more or more serious time in God’s Word.

Each chapter is designed to give the reader a benefit of Biblical meditation.  In the chapter, Morgan tells the reader why they should meditate on scripture and gives examples that flesh out the ideas into actual life lessons.

In addition to the chapters, there is also scattered throughout the small volume, on the green pages, specific suggestions for how to get started.  This helps to make sure that the whole process does not seem to be just for the professionals, but puts the cookies on the bottom shelf for the rest of us.

Additionally, there is a 10-day meditation guide at the back where Morgan walks the reader through the method with helpful pointers and suggestions along the way.  Each day gives the reader a scripture, context, and some thoughts to help with the meditation process.

As bonus, at the end of the book, Morgan gives the reader an additional list of scriptures so that the process can become a habit for life.

I have been meditating on scripture for years, and I found this book to be simple, yet helpful.  I found it to be inspiring without being so far above everyone’s heads to make it unreachable.  I also found it so immediately applicable and practical that there really is no reason that a person could come away from the book questioning the importance, impact, or impassable process so crucial to Christian Growth.

This would be a great book to read on your own or with your children.  It would also be great to be used in church or in a small group setting.  It could also be incorporated into a discipleship strategy for new believers, but that is only the benefit to be had outside of the reader’s heart and mind.  Inside the heart and mind, there is no way to estimate its value or exhaust its uses.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



Count Your Many Blessings
March 31, 2017, 1:50 pm
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Have you ever stopped to think about all of the blessings you have been given just by virtue of the fact that you are a believer in and follower or Jesus Christ?  Ephesians 1 lists seven of these blessings.  Perhaps in reading through the following list, we can embody Proverbs 14:30, which says, “A tranquil heart is life to the body, but envy makes the bones rot.”  Here is that list from Ephesians 1.[1]

Blessing #1:  God has chosen us to be holy and blameless.  (Ephesians 1:4)

This means that, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has chosen you and drawn you into relationship with Him.  He has begun a good work in you and will complete it. (Philippians 1:6)  He is giving you the desire daily to live for Him.  (Ephesians 2:13)  God already sees you the way you are going to be when you become what He is leading you to want to become.

Blessing #2:  God has adopted us into His family.  (Ephesians 1:4-6)

This means that you are wanted by God.  He is not stuck with you.  He knew you before you were born (Psalm 139).  He wrote your name down in the book of life before you came to be.  (Revelation 13:8)(Ephesians 1:4)  He chose you.  He loves you.  You are part of His family with all of the privileges that come along with being a child of the King!

Blessing #3:  We are redeemed and forgiven.  (Ephesians 1:7-8)

This means that the ransom has been paid to deliver us when we were incapable of delivering ourselves.  He loosed us from the demands of sin.  (Romans 6:23)  He purchased us and set us free.  He cancelled our debt.  We owe nothing for our sin because He already paid for it.  When we sin, He advocates on our behalf.  (1 John 2:1)

Blessing #4:  God has shown us the mystery of His will.  (Ephesians 1:9-10)

This means that we no longer have to worry about living for or carrying out the will of God in our lives.  For most of us, we get to a fork in the road of our lives and wonder, “What is God’s will for me in this situation?”  We really don’t have to ask this because we already know the answer.  God’s will for me in every situation is to glorify Him.  To point people towards praising the grace of God.  For many of life’s situations, we needn’t stand paralyzed at the fork in the road because in Christ, we should be living out this will everyday.  Jesus showed us the example in that He lived for and glorified God in every circumstance.  (John 17:4)

Blessing #5:  We are chosen for an inheritance.  (Ephesians 1:11-12)

This means that we are chosen to receive not just heaven, although that would be enough.  We are also chosen for an inheritance of God’s love, nearness, and presence in our lives.  We are also to receive an inheritance such as is described in the promises to the overcomers in Revelation 2-3.

Blessing #6:  We are included in Christ.  (Ephesians 1:13)

This means that I am in Christ.  Inside, covered by His righteousness, identified by His Name and considered His brother and fellow heirs (Romans 8:17).  When God looks at us, He does not see the sin we so struggle with.  Instead, He sees the righteousness of His Son that is being accounted unto us by grace, through faith.

Blessing #7:  We have the guarantee of the Holy Spirit.  (Ephesians 1:13-14)

This means that I already have the down payment for what is to come.  I have the seal of God that is an indication of His promise that I am His and will be for eternity.  (1 Corinthians 12:3)

With all of these blessings, why do we chase after others that don’t even come close to measuring up?  We are encouraged by some to seek parking places close to the store, bigger cars, fancier clothes, etc.  All of these “blessings” will burn up and will be gone in an instant.  The blessings described in Ephesians 1 will never go away.

Count your blessings!

[1] Holladay, Tom.  Great Chapters of the Bible:  Ephesians Chapter One, Discover Your Spiritual Blessings.  Rancho Santa Margarita, CA: Saddleback Resources, 2010.



Why Are You Good?
March 22, 2017, 1:53 pm
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There is a bad joke that sometimes runs around churches.  It goes like this: “Pastors are paid to be good.  The rest of the church is good for nothing.”  While people sometimes laugh at the joke, the bigger question that this joke poses is, “Why are you good?”

There are many answers to this question, depending upon each person’s motivation.  Some people are good because they hope that they can somehow be good enough to earn God’s love.  They think that they have to stop doing bad stuff, start doing good stuff, or increase their output of good stuff so that God will love them.  The problem with this kind of thinking is myriad and manifold.  First, the Bible clearly tells us, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB95)  The best we can do, compared to God, is like filthy rags.  We could never do enough to earn God’s love.  Even trying to earn God’s love is such a cheapening of the value of God’s love that we are continuing in sin just for thinking so.

Others might think that they are good because it is what God demands.  With no real love in their hearts, they attempt to obey God out of a sense of religious duty.  Like the older son in the Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, they think, “’Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;” (Luke 15:29, NASB95) Or like the servant given one talent, ““And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’” (Matthew 25:24–25, NASB95) They think that obeying God is their duty.

Still yet others, wrongly think, like Paul anticipated some of the Romans would think, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1, NASB95) In other words, they think that sin is no big deal.  They will simply commit the sins they want to commit and then will turn to God for His forgiveness once they have gotten their way, achieved their goal, etc.  The problem with this sort of thinking is that they forget two things.

First, they forget, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NASB95) They forget that God takes sin so seriously that He sent His Son to die on the cross for the sins that kept people from a relationship with Him and that prevented them from recognizing that He is sovereign and on the throne.

They also forget that Paul’s reaction to the question posed in Romans 6:1 is Romans 6:2 and following: “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:2–4, NASB95)

So, what is the answer.  Why are we good?  Romans 6:2-4 above hints to the answer, but the answer is given so plainly within this and many other passages.  For instance, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1, NASB95)  We are good because we get to be. (1 Cor 2:14).  We are good because we have been so blessed by God and that goodness has so infected our lives that we want to be good because to be good is to be like God.  We want to become more like Him every day.  That is the mark of a true believer.

So…why are you good?



God Never Gives Up On His People
March 16, 2017, 1:53 pm
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I was recently reading in Exodus about Nadab and Abihu.  Now, I realize that most people must look up those names, but they are very important figures in the Old Testament.  Let me tell you about them and why they are so important.  First, they were important because they were the sons of Aaron whom God personally chose to become priests to serve before Him in the Tabernacle.  Imagine being the first priest called by God to serve.  But go further than that and imagine being called by God’s own voice! (Exodus 28:1)

Next, they were important because they were part of the seventy that had worshipped God on the mountain and had come down and had prophesied before the people and helped Moses shoulder the load of speaking to the people on God’s behalf. (Exodus 24:1)

Lastly, they were important because they decided, in spite of the instructions God had given, to offer strange fire on the altar and God killed them on the spot. (Number 3:4)

Okay, so you are thinking…” Thanks!  Now I’m depressed.  If God could do that to them, then what about me?”  I want us to learn from Nadab and Ahibu, but I want us to learn from their lives, not their deaths.  God personally called them.  Since I believe in the omniscience of God (omni=all, science=knowledge…God knows everything), then I have to believe that He knew they would fail, but HE CALLED THEM ANYWAY!  What does that mean?  What does that mean to me?

What this means to me is that, in spite of my worst failures, God will continue to give me chances.  In spite of my worst stumbling, He never gives up on reaching out to me.  No matter how little faith I have, God, the author of faith, is always there and always offering His Hands.  If I will spend more time looking up for His help and reaching out for His forgiveness, I can spend less time carrying a heavy guilt load and a bunch of shame I was not meant to carry.

Here’s the best part.  If you are a new creature in Christ, you can do the same.  If you have surrendered your life to Christ, He will never turn away.  (Romans 5:9-10) He will never put you to shame and He will in no wise cast you out.  (John 6:37) I don’t know about you, but that is great news to me.  I feel more like Paul all the time in Romans 7,

“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.  So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.  For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”  (NASB)

Isn’t it good to know God won’t give up on you?  Why not take the time today and thank Him for just that reason?  Having thanked Him, let’s hang on and get it right so that we don’t end up like Nadab and Abihu.



Character or Characters?
March 3, 2017, 1:46 pm
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You might have been intrigued by the title for this article.  You may have thought, “What would he mean by that?”  I am glad that you wondered this or I would not have a purpose for writing the rest of this article.  We could just stop with a title.

When reading Job recently for my quiet times, I came across a verse that really struck me.  Let’s see if it registers with you.

“Have I rejoiced at the extinction of my enemy, Or exulted when evil befell him?” (Job 31:29, NASB95)

In this verse, Job was defending himself.  He had gone from having lots of wealth, comfort and ease to having no of any of those things.  His friends had joined him and, after sitting with him for a week, they began to correct him.  Their assumption, because they did not know what happened in the throne room of heaven in chapter one, was that Job had sinned and therefore he was facing difficulty.  They accused him of many serious crimes and told him that the reason he was having difficulty was that God was judging his sin.  They were wrong, but they didn’t know it, yet.

By the time we get to this chapter, Job had heard from most of his friends and although they had different ways of arguing their cases, they had all accused him of wrong and felt the need to justify God’s actions by their accusations.  Job defended himself by stepping through each of the sins most prevalent in their day and denying involvement in any of them.

I read Job’s defense and I think that I do pretty good with most of what Job is using to defend himself.  He talks about not gazing at young women and lusting after them, check.  He talks about not running after deceit as a means of gaining greatly, check.  He talks about not having an affair, check.  He talks about not cheating those who work for him, check.  He talks about not withholding help from the poor who have asked, check.  He talks about not cheating orphans, check.  He talks about not trusting in gold, getting a little nervous.  Lastly, he talks about not being inwardly and secretly pleased when my enemy goes through a difficult time, ouch!

As I read his comment, I was challenged to search my heart and ask if I have ever felt smugly about the failure of someone who has been rude or mean to me.  I wonder if I have ever secretly smiled when someone passed me on the highway and then I see them pulled over, or when a criminal is caught or goes to jail.

What he is talking about is not about following just the characters or letters that make up the word of God, but about having the character of the Word of God.  Which do I spend more time pursuing?  The characters on the page or the character of the One about Whom the pages talk?  Do I measure my Christian life by the experiences of others I read or by what God is doing in my life right now?

As I read this passage, I was made immediately aware that I needed to repent.  I have certainly and often gloated over the difficulties that my enemies have gone through.  Jesus said,

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27–28, NASB95) Do I do that?  Or do I secretly think that they are getting what is coming to them?

This is a character issue.  This is what God is about changing in your life.  He wants your character to match yours.  He wants you to have a family resemblance to Him.  Do you?  Do I?  If not, will we tell Him, turn away from it, and follow Him?  Or will we attend the next study and think that is good enough?  Good question.  God question.



What English Bible Should I Read, Part 2
February 27, 2017, 1:33 pm
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bible

Last week, I started an article that ended up being long, but was also incomplete.  Already this week, I have been asked why I am so against the Authorized Version or the King James Version as it is more commonly known.  While I am not sure how people got that out of my previous article, in the article, we continue to look at the translations from 1881 forward in helping us to answer the title question, which English bible should we read today?

In 1870, Dr. Samuel Wilberforce, bishop of Winchester, made a motion to revise the Authorized Version yet again.  This time, the committee was formed of two teams in the United States and two in England with the hope of getting them to work together.  This did not happen as the Americans did not want to use the strict guidelines of the English.  The Americans wanted to update the language to be more in line with life in America.  The result was a version that was translated from the Masoretic text as was the Authorized Version with very little changes other than clarifying words based upon advances in studies in Greek and Hebrew.  The final version was released and titled the Revised Version in 1881.  Meanwhile, the American committees released their version in 1901 and it was titled the American Standard Version.

While the Revised Version had a somewhat cool reception in England, the American Standard Version had a much warmer reception in America.  While the ASV certainly had vociferous critics, it was almost immediately adopted by the Presbyterian Church and then others.

In 1928, the copyright of the American Standard Version was acquired by the International Council of Religious Education of which were some 45 major denominations.  Due to the Great Depression, the group was unable to fund its revision until 1937 and would produce the Revised Standard Version in stages.  First, the New Testament was published in 1946.  Next came the Old Testament in 1952 and then the Apocrypha was added in 1957.  This was a version that first began to address archaic language like “thee” and “thou” and replace it with you.  They adopted the use of you when referring to the words of Jesus prior to His resurrection and then “thee” after it when Jesus spoke.  This version became one of the most popular in Canada, America, and England and was continually revised until 1971.

The Lockman Foundation of LaHabra, California, a non-profit Christian incorporation formed to promote Christian education, proposed to take advantages of advancements in English development in America and Biblical Studies as well as textual criticism to produce a more readable, but word-for-word translation.  The translation committee was formed of 58 scholars from various denominations including:  Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, Church of Christ, Nazarene, American Baptist, Fundamentalist, Conservative Baptist, Free Methodist, Congregationalist, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Free, Independent Baptist, Independent Mennonite, Assembly of God, North American Baptist, and others.  The Bible was finished and published in 1971.  This version also used updated language.  Overall, this version follows most closely to the original languages when compared to previous translations.

Also in 1971, Jay Green, of the Associated Publishers and Authors, produced a new version of the Bible entitled King James II Version.  Green stated, “No one ways a new Bible!  They just want the old one in a form they can read and understand and trust.”  Unlike other translations to this point, this was a translation of a translation.  This was a translation of the Authorized Version and was one of the first translations to break the text into paragraphs.  Problems have been noted with this version as the translators also attempted to change the Old Testament to more closely match its New Testament quotations, which were not always verbatim.

In 1973, The New International Version was published as a thought for thought translation instead of the traditional word for word translation.  Originally theorized in 1955, Howard Long, a layman went about looking for a version of the Bible that would apply to the average, working man, woman and child.  After ten years of searching for something devoid of the archaic language of the 1700’s, but still wanting to be faithful to the text, the National Association of Evangelicals listened and translated the New International Version.  Each book was assigned to a team of 8 to 12 scholars that were experts in the field.  Those teams brought back their versions of the book assigned and their version was scrutinized by the other scholars before being accepted and included in the final product, which was published officially in 1978.

The New King James was the next major translation released with the New Testament coming out in 1979 and the completed Bible available in 1982.  Sam Moore, then president of Thomas Nelson Corporation, one of the leading publishers in Bible sales, decided that many people preferred the translation of the King James, but wanted it to be updated, so once again, the translation of a translation was underway and produced a more readable version that carried the same translation techniques as the King James as it was translated from the KJV.  The primary difference between the two, on a grand scale, is the deletion of the Apocrypha which was originally contained in the King James 1611 and its subsequent updates.

In 1989, the New Revised Standard Version was released.  Based on the work of 30 scholars from the National Council of Churches, the goal of this version was to be “as literal as possible while being as free as necessary”.  Based upon the Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia and the United Bible Societies’ Greek Text (3rd edition of 1966 corrected in 1983).  While the translation committee continued some of the more unfortunate renderings of the RSV, and took some of them further, this Bible is still popular today.

From this time forward, Bible translation has exploded from the advantages of modern scholarship, archaeological discoveries, further advances in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages of the periods, and continued evolution of the English language in America and elsewhere.  This does even include very popular paraphrases  Some the lesser known and lesser used versions include:

New English Bible (170, Revised 1989)

Holman Christian Standard Bible (2000, currently being revised as the Christian Standard Bible)

New English Translation (NET) Bible (1998, Revised 2001) – First Online Bible as the primary format

English Standard Version (ESV)(2001) – Rapidly becoming more and more popular with those of a Reformed Theological bent and with those more conservative scholars.

While I am sure that I have missed some translations, and have completely avoided listing paraphrases like the Living Bible, the Message, Phillips’ New Testament, the Cotton Patch Gospel, and others.  This has been a very brief overview of the development of the English Bible.  The question still may remain, “Which is the best?”  The answer may depend upon the preference of your church or denomination.  It may also depend upon how you want to use that particular Bible.  Some versions are more suited for in depth study, while others are better suited for devotional usage and still others are more helpful for simply reading the Bible through.   That being said, a study of the languages from which the English Bible has been translated (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) is still the best way to evaluate and understand the issues around Bible translation.  But the absolute best translation is to read it, believe it, and translate it into action in your life, heart, mind and body.



A Simple Way to Study Your Bible

foundations

How to Study Your Bible

Robby Gallaty, in his book, Foundations, has provided a very simple framework for teaching people how to study their Bibles devotionally.  If you have ever attempted to study your Bible daily, you probably ran into one obstacle or another.  Either you could not find the right devotion book that had stories and commentary that was to your liking, or you just did not know how to start out on your own.  I have found the following method to be helpful.  It is called the HEAR method of Bible Study.

“H” stands for highlight.  After reading a passage of scripture, hopefully a few paragraphs, find a verse that stands out to you either based upon the scene in which the verse is found, a situation you are going through in life, or some other way that God seems to be speaking at the moment.  For instance, I recently read the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew.  (Genesis 25) At the end of this story, Esau tells Jacob, “I am about to die, of what use is a birthright to me?”  This verse stood out to me as it illustrated Esau’s thought process.

“E” stands for explain.  Using as much information as you have and as much understanding of the passage as you possess, explain what you think the verse means in its context.  For instance, this verse, in context, is Esau’s expression that shows he is taking something of great value (his birthright) and exchanging it for something that seemed urgent, but was of little value (stew).  I might also list that the birthright is the double portion of the inheritance that is normally given to the older brother.  Additionally, God had already told Jacob that he was to receive the blessing, but Esau acts rashly to bring about God’s ultimate plan.  Esau, for his part, allowed his passions and desires to crowd out the truly valuable from his life.

“A” stands for apply.  This is where you take the concept you outlined in the explanation and apply it to your life.  For instance, my application was that in 2016, I set a goal of purchasing no new, unnecessary books until I have read all of the books on my shelves.  This was so that the money that would be spent on those books could go to paying off debt for my family.  As the year wore on, I became enamored with this new book or that new fad and by the end of the year, I had purchased a dozen new books.  I allowed the desire to have (not to read, but to have) the newest books override my desire for my family to get out of debt so we can give more to the Lord’s work.  There are many other applications I could have mentioned, like how watching TV can sometimes crowd out my quiet time.  Or how eating out can crowd out my desire for weight loss.  The list is endless.

“R” stands for respond.  This is where you write out a prayer that communicates with God based upon your understanding of the scripture you have read and the application that came to mind and was written above.  Here is my prayer: “Lord, I need Your courage, focus, vision, resolve, strength, and perseverance to even get something as simple as finances right for my family.  I don’t want this distraction of debt to take my eyes off of You.  How do I grow in contentment?  How do I shut off the urges and passions that work against me?  I can’t.  You can.  HELP!

Using this devotional study method, all you need to read your Bible and actually get something out of it to apply to your life right now is your Bible and a journal or piece of paper and a pen.  There is no need to purchase a devotion book or other study aid unless you want to study deeper for understanding.  I have used this method for all of 2016 and am using it again for 2017.  I have been amazed at how much more I have gotten from my devotional Bible reading.  Perhaps it could help you as well.