Sunday, January 27, 2013

Because I Said So, Part 2

     We have the same Spirit that the early church had, the very Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and yet our ability to transform our world pales in comparison to the first century believers.  How can this be so?  Now that's a good question that deserves a good answer!  Maybe I'll take a stab at that one in my next blog.  But for now let's dive into some biblical reasons why every believer should diligently read and study God's Word.
     We are all "kings and priests" (I Peter 2:5,9Revelation 1:5,6) and therefore have a responsibility to (1) maintain our own spiritual health (Matthew 4:4, I Timothy 3:11-16) and to (2) position ourselves to hear from God on behalf of others (Colossians 3:16, I Corinthians 14:31).  The Word of God assists us in both of these endeavors.
     God never intended for a special class of people to do all the studying and interpreting of the Word while the rest of us are spoon-fed whatever comes our way.  One of the aspects of the New Covenant that Jeremiah prophesied about was that we would all know Him, "from the least to the greatest." 
     The Word of God reveals God's nature and will, which enables us to (3) progress in our knowledge of Him, which ultimately enables us to live a productive life.  So if we want to know Him more and to make Him known through our lives, then a steady diet of the Word is vital.
     Pursuing a greater knowledge of God's Word is also pivotal to the (4) renewing of our minds, (Romans 12:1, Ephesians 4:23) which is presented as a continual process that requires continual pursuit.  God's thoughts have a way of transforming our thoughts when we allow the Spirit to illuminate His truth to us, even truth that He spoke to others generations ago.  This is possible because "the word of God is living and powerful." (Hebrews 4:12)
     Closely related to the renewal of the mind is the need to (5) counteract the influence of the world with the power of the Word.  The culture in which we live bombards us daily with beliefs, practices, priorities and values that are contrary to God's will for our lives.  In order to recognize these things before they conform us to the world's standards, we must become familiar with the culture of heaven, which is revealed through the Word of God.  We need to be mindful of our kingdom citizenship and to be reminded of the values of the kingdom that should determine how we live our lives.
     Another important reason that believers today should be consistent readers of the Word of God is to (6) familiarize themselves with Scripture so as to detect false teaching when they hear it.  The fact that the New Testament warns numerous times (Matthew 24:4-5, I Timothy 4:1 & II Peter 2:1-3) of false leaders bringing false teachings into the church in the last days should cause us to take measures to safeguard ourselves with truth against these lies.  Deception is much easier to accomplish in people who are not familiar with the truth of God's Word. 
      Notice that I have not listed the accumulation of biblical knowledge as a result or a motivation of reading the Word.  The Bible is a spiritual book and therefore should be treated differently from every other book on the shelf.  Reading the Bible without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can actually be counterproductive.  Paul said in I Corinthians 8:1 that "knowledge puffs up."  When spiritual life takes a back seat to biblical knowledge, you're on the road to spiritual stagnation and pride.   
     Many Christians make the mistake of judging their own spirituality based on their biblical knowledge or past spiritual experience.  And this is exactly the moment that pride forms in believers, thus creating a hindrance to them receiving and walking in newness of life that is available through the Word.  The Word is a powerful tool but please understand that it was written through inspiration and therefore must also be read and understood with the same inspiration of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is our Teacher.  Don't read the Bible without Him.
     In review, here's a list of a few "why's" of reading the Word.  Allow these reasons to motivate you to sit in the classroom of the Spirit, explore the holy textbook with fresh hunger and to walk revelation out in your everyday life.

     1.  Maintain your spiritual health
     2.  Position yourself to hear from God for others
     3.  Progress in your knowledge of God
     4.  Renew your mind
     5.  Counteract the world's influence
     6.  Protect yourself from false teaching 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Because I Said So

     Every child on the planet has probably heard this at one time or another growing up.  And every parent has probably said this in response to the proverbial question:  "why?"  This question is sometimes asked from a sincere heart that is seeking to make sense out of life and certain situations.  But at other times it is projected on authority figures as a challenge to convince them as to "why" they should do what they are told.
     When the question of "why" is followed up by the infamous answer of "because I told you so," this can mean a number of things.  It could mean that the parent doesn't exactly know the answer but wants to be believed nonetheless.  Or maybe it's a lazy excuse for not wanting to take the time to teach or explain something.  Or perhaps it could mean that they want to be obeyed without being questioned altogether.  And then there are those moments when there simply isn't enough time for an explanation just right then.  But sadly enough, the necessary explanation is all-too-often swept under the rug of the next "because I said so."  And the cycle continues...
     Unfortunately, this expression has taught myriads of children that authority figures have no accountability to their subordinates and that blind obedience is expected from those under their control.  My belief is that this mindset has crept into the church.  Many times we are told to do certain things without sound biblical understanding as to "why."  We are commonly told what to do and are often given a particular version of how to do things, but the why is often neglected when a clear explanation is in order.
     Of course the "why" of spiritual obedience should always be substantiated by the Word of God.  Church doctrines (what to believe) and religious traditions (how to do things) carved in the stones of church services and organizational structures are not reason enough to obey.  We need chapter and verse (why).  Anything other than the Word of God which serves as a foundation for what we believe and how we live is a shaky foundation, which is sure to fall under the pressures of life.
      Even Jesus didn't play the "because I said so" card.  He derived his authority from the word of God coming to him from the Father (Matthew 4:4).  In fact, he only spoke what he heard the Father speaking to him.  And he only did what he saw the Father doing.  So when Jesus issued orders to his disciples, he actually did this because he discerned what the Father was saying and doing in their lives, and he wanted them to experience the Father's love.  Jesus then took the time to help them understand some things along the way, but they had a difficult time grasping truth until they received the Holy Spirit later on.
     So the saga continues...  For example, we are told that in order to be good Christians we should read our Bibles every day.  But why?  "Because I said so."  OK, that's not going to cut it anymore.  "Well, because the Bible itself says to."  That's better but really, why should we read the word of God?  What specific purposes should motivate us to study the Scriptures?  And what tangible results should we expect as a result of becoming a diligent student of the Word? 
     Before we look in the Word to answer this question of "why," ponder this for a moment:  believers in the first century by and large DID NOT read their Bibles every day, and yet they experienced exponential spiritual and numerical growth as the gospel was proclaimed in their generation.  You might be scratching your head at this statement, wondering how it could be true.  Allow me to explain.
     For starters, the New Testament was still in the process of being written in the first century and wasn't compiled for quite some time after that.  Secondly, the printing press wasn't invented as of yet, so copies of the Old Testament weren't exactly accessible in their local Christian bookstores.    And thirdly, the vast majority of people in the Roman empire at that time were illiterate, and therefore couldn't read the Bible even if they had one!  For these very reasons, the reading of Scripture took precedence in their public meetings.
     I am not making the case that we don't need to read the Word.  My point is that the early church thrived under the leading of the Spirit despite the lack of the Word's availablilty to them.  With our ability to read and our easy access to the Old and New Testaments, how much more of an impact should we be making in the world in which we live?  
     We have the same Spirit that the early church had, the very Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and yet our ability to transform our world pales in comparison to the first century believers.  How can this be so?  Now that's a good question that deserves a good answer.  Maybe I'll take a stab at that one later, but for now let's dive into some biblical reasons why every believer should diligently read and study God's Word.

to be continued next week...