There are two basic ways we get to know the word of God. The first way is to come to Scripture with open minds and hearts, and with an attitude of discovery. It is when we read Scripture, trying to minimize our preconceived notions, letting the words of the biblical authors have their impact. It is to let the word of God set the agenda, form the issues, shape the questions, determine the emphases. It is a spiritual attitude that says: God, my mind and heart are open. Say what you will, tear down what you will, build what you will.
The other main way we study the word of God is when we come to it with our questions. Your friend wants to divorce her husband and you go Scripture to see what it says about grounds for divorce. You are thinking about being baptized and wonder what scripture actually says about baptism.
Both approaches are valid, and both build us up in different ways. If we only use the first method, we will miss opportunities to apply Scripture life’s daily issues. But if we only come to Scripture with our questions (the second approach) we will never let God have the first word and we will miss the big ideas of Scripture that our questions would never anticipate.
So how do we (in the second approach) properly approach Scripture with our questions? There are proper methods and deeply flawed approaches. For instance, it is a mistake to have a question and go to the Bible hunting and pecking for a verse that, perhaps, God will use to solve the dilemma. If you’re deciding whether to take that job at Amazon and you happen upon a passage where God tells someone to “go forth,” that is not a biblical answer to your question.
Oftentimes the questions we ask get reshaped as we go looking for the answers. We realize we have not been asking exactly the right thing. For instance, one of our most common questions is: How can I know the will of God for my life? Using a concordance or an online or computer search function we can go looking for the phrase “will of God.” What we find is that the idea of “the will of God” in the Bible virtually always relates to the moral quality of our lives. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 is typical: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (ESV).
This implies that we do not need to go through every decision of every day wondering what “the will of God” is. “God’s will,” as Scripture uses the phrase, has nothing to do with deciding between a two-door or four-door car, or getting a family pet, or what classes you sign up for in college. In such matters there are good choices and bad choices, and so we ask God for wisdom, but our study of the idea of “the will of God” in Scripture reframes what we assumed the ideal meant. We change the question itself.
The important thing is that we are spending time in the Word of God. Either to hear a message of truth or to get an answer for an important question, we have a regular time of study and inquiry, so that as time passes, we are growing in our faith. (Adapted from the article, How To Study the Bible by Mel Lawrenz)
Striving to Know the Intent of the Writers of the Bible
God’s Word holds great value to the person who spends time seeking out its depths. Words of truth, comfort and wisdom can be found. When you invest in a time of daily study, you will have a constant reminder of the lifestyle you have chosen to live. Any serious approach to Bible study must be founded on this value: a respect for the Bible and the intent of its authors. This value is critical, because it keeps you in the mode of drawing the intended message out of the Scripture instead of reading your own ideas into it.
Peter reminds us, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21
The truth of the word of God has been passed on to us through the story and the teachings of God’s chosen spokespeople. Whether we are looking at historical narratives, wisdom teaching, prophecy, gospels, or epistles, the words were written down by people inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. These people were not merely keyboards. The prophets and apostles did not sit around until words popped into their heads and then they wrote them down. They had a true intent which was to deliver the urgent messages of the truth of God to their audiences.
As you engage in a section of Scripture, you have to ask questions like, “Who wrote this?” “Why was it written?” “What circumstances do we have in common?” “What did the writer intend people to understand as they read the words?” Some of the answers come easily, right out of the text. Others require deeper study.
We should never begin with the question, “What does this mean to me?” It can lead to a self-centered inquiry instead of the author’s original intent. The Bible can never mean what it never meant. In other words, we have to focus on the original meaning first.
Then, and only then, can we ask, “how does it apply to our lives today”? If we respect the text by respecting both God and the authors of Scripture, we will find substance and power, which a superficial reading of Scripture will never yield.
ACTS Ministry Update for November
By Linda Kay Drake
On a very chilly November night, 25 members of the Lakeview Church turned out to serve at the Tacoma Rescue Mission. This is in keeping with our mission orders found in Matthew 25:35-ff, which includes this statement, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me.”
The energy was high as we loaded up the truck and realized we had more stuff to share than room to transport. An additional vehicle was added and we were able to travel to the Tacoma Rescue Mission. The spirit of service and cooperation among us is contagious. Once we arrive at the Mission, we unload and set things up. It is all hands on deck after that. Some get ready to serve in the kitchen, some set up sound equipment and some go into the courtyard, which, at this time of year, is cold and often rainy. Since we are serving, the effort is of no consequence. The people in the kitchen are constantly serving food and sharing love through smiles and words of encouragement. The singers are on their feet from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm or later.
That night we served and sang to 245 souls. Through the donations of yarn from the Lakeview family, Linda Kay was able to make 180 men’s hats, and numerous hats for women and children. This was a year of effort poured out on a cold night. We were also able to share wool socks and raffle off 40 tents.
The interaction and friendship between the homeless and Lakeview members is amazing, strong and touching to see. They look forward to seeing us each month as we look forward to serving them each month. Without the generous family here at Lakeview, we would not be able to do this work of service. From all of us on the A.C.T.S. Mission Team, “We love you and thank you for letting us share your gifts.”
Songs of Thanksgiving
As I listened to the beginning of the football game last week, the announcer called for a moment of silence to remember the people wounded and killed in the terrorist attack in Paris. In a past era, there would have been a call for prayer, but today, to respect those who have no God, we just call for silence. This week, people all over the country will sit down and share a meal that represents the land of plenty and opportunity. For some there will be an awkward pause before the meal, because they have nothing or nobody to thank; except themselves, and they realize that would be vain and empty.
People of faith have a unique perspective because they are inclined to be thankful in all circumstances (see 1 Thessalonians 5:18). People of faith are content and at peace because they know that they are a part of something greater than themselves. What they have is not dependent on their ability to hold on to it. It is not at the mercy of the stock market, or which political party is in power.
What we possess has endured since the beginning of time and will be ours until the end. It is what people were intended to experience. The Psalm written below is a song of Thanksgiving. It is a song that explains what we have. It is a song we could sing every day.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Last Sunday we had an extended discussion that focused around the question, “Does acceptance of the person mean acceptance of the behavior?” Many made good comments addressing both sides of the issue. It seems that our gut answer to that question is, yes. Therefore, I will not accept the person. I will pronounce judgment and withhold basic kindness, but many expressed the realization that my acceptance doesn’t really affect the behaviors of others. If we separate ourselves from the sin and the sinner, then we have no opportunity to influence. That is our mission; to be salt and light. Salt doesn’t mean rubbing it in a wound and light doesn’t mean we blind them. It takes more thought and innovation than we often are willing to give.
Our response to the sinner is caring; the operative word is love. Love consistently is the default virtue Jesus expressed towards sinners. In the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus lovingly confronts a materialistic, self-centered man (Mark 10:21). The passage reads, “Then, looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him…” His initial response to the man was not judgment, correcting or rebuking. It was love.
To be sure, Jesus did offer truth and a correcting action to take, but His first thought was to love the man and love directed His action. Love is not a feeling, but it is an act of the will. It is the ability to act in the best interest of another. This idea of love enables us to accept a person but not agree with them. It asks the question, how can I help them, and what course of action do I take to be a positive influence? The truth and the action that Jesus shared with this man were directly related to where the man was. It was defined by his best interest. It was creative and innovative in its potential to re-direct the person’s life.
Whose situation is more dire; the self-absorbed materialist or the person who acts on same sex attraction? Both are heading in the same direction. Both deserve respect and kindness. Both deserve my best effort to help them re-direct their lives. If they walk away, they walk away; It is their decision. Hopefully they walk away sad and not angry.
The Essential Church by Don Russell
The decline is obvious, whether it is our fellowship at Lakeview or any number of congregations one might choose to visit throughout this nation. Additionally, we have seen the demographics continue to migrate from a mixture of old and young believers to a gradual graying as estimates of 70 – 80% of all 16 to 27 year olds steadily walk away from the church. The exodus isn’t to other churches of Christ, nor is it to the denominations that surround us. No, those who are leaving no longer see the need to attend a formal gathering to worship God. Church is not essential to their lives.” What is the significance of the church being “essential”? Consider the instructions of Paul to the church at Corinth who was dealing with sexual immorality in their fellowship.
1 Corinthians 5:1-5…It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Paul’s instruction was to “hand this man over to Satan” in an effort to save him. The second letter Paul writes to the church of Corinth indicates the effectiveness of this action.
2 Corinthians 2:5-10 - If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us; for we are not unaware of his schemes.
Why was the action of the church effective in restoring this man? Their action had the desired effect because the church to him was essential. The church had become such a vital part of his life that neglecting the fellowship of believers (whether by his choice or that of the church) was not a painless option. When we help others to understand and discover church as essential their response will be the same as this man, a desire to fellowship.
More Than Meets The Eye
I was thinking about a Bible study I had with an individual, that took an interesting detour about halfway through the session. We were talking about the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. He paused and asked me, “Do you believe in ghosts?” He told me of a strange series of circumstances surrounding a house he bought. The story freaked me out and I really didn’t have a reply. It did make me think of Ephesians 6:12, where after Paul strongly exhorts Christians to fully prepare for spiritual battle, he says this; “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” I told him I do accept the existence of spiritual beings that somehow exercise an influence on the events and activities of humans.
Several times over the last few Wednesday nights, as we have discussed things related to surrendering our lives to God, someone has mentioned the activity of the enemy in our circumstances. If you are facing a challenge and resistance, you just might be experiencing “more than meets the eye.” That is why Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God. If we are going to stand, we have to fight a spiritual battle with spiritual weapons. We also have to realize we have back-up and we are not alone. The Hebrews writer states, “Are they (angels) not all ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14).”
Never lose sight of the enemy that is unseen. Satan, by his own choice, in his pride and arrogance became the enemy of God and His people. He is the originator of sin, and he led our first parents into sin and now rules as "the god of this world." Scripture states he was judged at the cross and that ultimately he will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 20:10). But for now he makes war. His hate and malice is great. He uses deception and lies as his primary weapons. He is committed to one goal (Revelation 12:17). But he is not greater than the One who is in us (1 John 4:4).
I still don’t know about ghosts, but I suppose it is in the realm of possibility. There is more to this world than meets the eye. We should not be ignorant of that truth. We should not think that we are immune to the enemy’s schemes. We should pay attention to all our actions and weigh them against the lifestyle of faith. Pray for one another as we desire boldness to be faithful in the place where God positions us.
Motivation for Baptism
When I served as Youth Minister, I was blessed to spend time with young people, sharing God’s Word and directing them to the Savior. Many times that included studies and discussions about baptism. Often they were trying to decide if they should take the plunge. Many times, the reasons given for being baptized included the avoidance of hell, the promise of heaven, or the hope of release from guilt. None of these are biblical motivations. The most common reason given in scripture is found in Acts 2:36-41. It is also weaved through all the stories of conversion. The motivation is to be right with God, or as it is worded in step one of AA, “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
This statement speaks to the need for redemption and salvation. It is hard to get to this point. The people Peter addressed in Acts 2 had a hands-on role when it came to the crucifixion of Jesus. Peter’s message helped them see how far they had strayed as humans.
In light of the fact that they were religious, and probably members in good standing in their religious communities, they were not at a place where they could see the God they claimed to honor at work among them. Paul said had they known the wisdom of God, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-8).
F. LaGard Smith states that this wrong motivation for being baptized has directly led to people leaving the church when they become adults (cf. p. 179, Baptism: The Believer’s Wedding Ceremony). His point is that young people made the decision (often under pressure) to be baptized, but because the motivation was wrong, the conversion was not genuine; they never really committed to the lifestyle of the cross.
If we are going to be a church that Speaks where the Bible speaks… we must start with baptism, which of course is the first step into the Christian life. From there, we are to “make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:10-11)
Lately, I have been thinking about the word, altruism. One friend defined it as, “doing things to benefit others.” This is a concise definition. While we acknowledge that acting with an unselfish regard for others doesn't always come easily, we have a feeling it is part of being human. It is, perhaps a part that has been minimized by corrupted society. One statement that interested me comes from the perspective of one who believes in the process of natural selection as an explanation for origins. The statement is that humans are “hard-wired for empathy.” This cooperative element allowed our ancestors to survive under harsh conditions. However, the belief is contradictory if your basic assumption is survival of the fittest. Survivor instincts and genuine altruism are opposites and they contend for the place of priority.
The fact is, when you believe that humans evolved through the process of natural selection, true caring about others is way down on your list of priorities. Isn’t that the core of the human dilemma? Selfish actions that benefit me, regardless of how they affect others? In natural selection, there is no “we” gene, but there is a WIIFM gene. Have you heard of this? WIIFM is an acronym that stands for, “What’s In It For Me?”
These two dynamics compete for the first place in our hearts…It’s either me or them. WIIFM is a motivation for a person to engage in social movements, but not for the sake of benefiting others. We may accomplish something, but the accomplishment is empty, and we become weary and unmotivated.
On the other hand, most of us realize that when we make the effort to give without expectations of reciprocity, we feel fulfilled and energized. We indeed are “hard-wired” for empathy, but it is not because of natural selection…that would have been bred out long ago, because it does not advance the cause of self. The “hard-wired” for empathy is by design. It is part of being created in the image of God.
Why are you a follower of Jesus? What motivates you? Is it WIIFM or altruism? Which character trait looks more like the actions of Jesus? WIIFM in the body of Christ leads to apathy and immobility. Altruism leads to satisfaction and life. It stems from trust and contentment. When you know who you are, altruism becomes your highest objective and your righteousness endures forever (Psalm 112:5-9).
A different approach to life.
In our class on Wednesday night, we discussed that the blenders (Those who typically represent a cultural faith), are often thought of as being progressive. The point was made that sometimes, a cultural Christian can represent a more conservative view. The problem with cultural Christians, whatever their orientation to the standard, is that they are reflective to the old forms of life.
There are two Greek words that are translated with the English word “necw” in the New Testament; Kainos and Neos. Kainos is new in kind, in contrast to what previously existed. It takes the place of what went before. Neos is new, with no relation to what came before.
It is Kainos that we find in Romans 6:4, which explains some of struggle with the new life. It is contrasted and influenced by the old life. The habits and influences do not end when we embark on the new light. This reality places on Paul the responsibility to remind us that we have a new life that is supposed to be drastically different from the old.
An interesting use of both words is found in Luke 5:36-39. In this passage, Jesus is discouraging the idea that the traditions from the Jewish religion are what moves forward as the new expression of faith. The phrase, “new wine” (Neos) highlights the fact that what is new is not like what has gone on in the past. It is drastically different and looks ahead. The “new wineskins” (Kainos) communicates the idea of the new life. The intent behind the new wineskins is to suggest that what moves forward is something that is entirely different and takes the place of what existed prior.
When a person is baptized, they are committed to a course that is new and different. It is not like the old, but the old can have an influence, if we let it. Paul tells us in Romans 6:4 that in regards to the old life, there needs to be a burial. But perhaps the challenge comes in when we forget the memorial service for the one who has passed. Sometimes at memorial services, the preacher struggles to make the deceased person look good. We should not think this is necessary for the memorial service for our old life. Recognize it for what it is, bury it and allow the new life to rise and assume its place.