Handling Tough Texts

How do you handle a hard passage in the Bible? Peter wrote this about Paul, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand….” But if we don’t take the time to wrestle with that passage, Peter says this is what happens next: “…which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

So here’s a 5-step plan I use when I am working through a challenging passage of Scripture.

  1. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you

All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), and the same Holy Spirit lives in a Christian (1 John 2:20). Think about that: the same Holy Spirit that inspired an author to write the words of Scripture is the same Spirit that will illuminate them to you!

  1. Read the difficult passage in context

We will make our task much easier when we “zoom out” from the difficult text and read the whole passage surrounding the difficult verse/phrase. Perhaps we need to “zoom out” even farther to understand why the whole chapter or book was written.

  1. Identify the parts that are clear

Start off by identifying the parts that you do understand, and then see what light that shines on the tricky text.

  1. Cross reference with other Scriptures

Never, ever, ever draw a conclusion from just one passage of Scripture. Paul reminded his audience that he used the “whole counsel of God’s Word” (Acts 20:27) in forming his sermons. If the challenging passage contains an Old Testament passage, look it up; if it references an historical event, read that history. I also like to use biblegateway.com’s excellent search feature to find cross references.

  1. Draw conclusions on what appears to be the main point

Only after you have done step #1-4 should you attempt to draw some conclusions. You will set yourself up for error if you draw a conclusion first, and then try to find other texts in the Bible that agree with you.

The Apostle Peter writes something rather challenging in his first letter. In fact, Martin Luther said this about 1 Peter 3:18-22: “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” If you would like to see how I walk through the 5-step plan on this “obscure passage,” please check out the video below.

Can A Christian Lose Their Salvation?

As a part of our annual Q Series, this was a question that was turned in: Can a Christian lose his or her salvation?

Check out the video below…

Some of the Scriptures I reference in this answer:

For other Q&As from this series, check out discussions here and here.

One-And-Done? Ongoing? Later?

If I were to ask five different Christians to give me a definition of sanctification, I just might get five different definitions!

Part of this comes from incorrect either-or thinking. However, Jesus seems to tell us that sanctification requires a both-and thinking.

In Christ’s prayer for His followers in John 17, He uses the word sanctified three times (see verses 17-19). Although He is using the same Greek word each time, He uses a different “flavor” of the word to make it really clear what He means.

First of all, the Greek word for sanctified means the process of being made into a saint. So sometimes I like to say the word this way: SAINT-ified.

Check out Christ’s prayer. First He says, “I sanctify Myself,” and then He says, “that they too may be truly sanctified.” Same Greek word, but each time is slightly tweaked.

Jesus uses a “flavor” of Greek which means sanctification is something that He has done completely and totally on His own once and for all. In other words, Christians are completely and totally sanctified at the very moment they surrender their life to Him.

But when He talks about His followers, the “flavor” of Greek means sanctification is something that is an ongoing process. In other words, we are being SAINT-ified.

So which is it? Sanctified once, or sanctified through an ongoing process?

It’s not either-or. It’s both-and!

Think about a married couple. From the moment the pastor says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife” they are married. It is done; fully completed. There is nothing the bride or groom can do to become more married.

However, the groom can begin to look at the marriage through his bride’s eyes. Then he can serve her in a way that helps her feel more joy, more satisfaction, and more fulfillment within the marriage. Neither of them becomes more married, but they can get more enjoyment within the marriage.

The same thing for Christians. At the moment we ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior we are saved from the penalty of our sins. We can’t be more saved. But through the process of SANIT-ificiation we can experience more joy, more satisfaction, and more fulfillment within our relationship with Jesus.

My paraphrase of 1 Peter 1:15-16—But just as He who called you has paid for your once-for-all saint-ification, so keep on being saint-ified in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

What about you? Are you satisfied with just being saved, or are you striving for a joy-filled, more fulfilling, increasingly satisfied relationship with Jesus Christ? It can truly be a wonderful both-and relationship!

10 Great Reasons To Go To Church Regularly

Without exception, all human beings have exactly 168 hours in a week. No one gets any bonus time and no one has any hours taken away. We’re supposed to get 8 hours of sleep a night, and most of us work about 40 hours each week. So let’s do the math…

168 hours per week
– 56 hours for sleeping
– 40 hours for work
=72 discretionary hours

In those 72 hours there must be time for eating and taking care of chores. But what about going to church? The problem for many people is looking at church attendance as just another “chore” or item on their “To Do” list.

But instead of thinking of going to church as “I have to,” how about if you looked at all of the “I get to” benefits?

Here are 10 great reasons for going to church regularly. I get to…

  1. …draw closer to my Heavenly Father, just like Jesus did (Luke 2:49)
  2. …be an example to others (1 Timothy 4:12)
  3. …hang out with some really great people (Hebrews 10:24)
  4. …get to know Jesus and my brothers and sisters better (1 John 1:3)
  5. …reaffirm the priority that God is first in my life (Matthew 6:33)
  6. …learn to better understand Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15)
  7. …join with a choir of God worshipers (John 4:23-24)
  8. …grow spiritually (1 Peter 2:2-5)
  9. …complete the Body of Chris (1 Corinthians 12:12)
  10. …avoid becoming isolated and possibly lost (Proverbs 18:1)

“Sometimes we make it sound like we’re making a sacrifice to go to church, but think about the very real sacrifice Jesus made so that we could meet together as brothers and sisters!” —Scott Troost

How about it? Do you think you could invest an hour or two of your 72 discretionary hours in a local church this week?

My thanks to my brother, Scott Troost, for sharing such a timely message!

Jesus—100% God And 100% Human

gnosisOn paper it seems so simple: “We believe in the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. As God’s Son, Jesus was both human and divine.” But trying to wrap our finite human minds around the concept of the full humanity and the full deity of Jesus is challenging!

First off, Jesus was fully human. Both Matthew and Luke record details about Christ’s physical birth, and the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus was made every bit as human as us (Hebrews 2:17).

But Jesus was also fully God. John records how God became flesh in the Person of Jesus (John 1:1-2, 14), and Paul tells us how Jesus chose not to use His deity when He came to earth as a human (Philippians 2:6-8).

I know that anytime we say, “God is like…” we’ve already sold ourselves short, but I’d like to try one analogy that’s been helpful for me.

Imagine a coin that has two distinct sides. While we are looking at one side (heads), we cannot see the other side (tails) but that doesn’t mean the other side has ceased to exist. In fact, if we were able to split that coin in half, so that there was only a heads and a tails, we haven’t cut the value of the coin in half, but we’ve made the coin of no value at all! 

In the Greek language of the New Testament, there are a couple of words for “knowing”: one is gnosis and the other oido. Together these words combine head knowledge and heart knowledge, or knowledge by study and knowledge by experience.

C.S. Lewis captures the idea this way: “It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.”

Just as Jesus was both God and Man, we are to use both our mind and our heart to know Him.

To focus on the “heads” side—the deity of Jesus—is to pervert gnosis into gnosticism, and deny the humanity of Jesus. To focus on the “tails” side—the humanity of Jesus—is to pervert gnosis into agnosticism, and deny the deity of Jesus. True gnosis keeps both sides in mind: Deity and humanity.

To truly know THE Word of God (Jesus) in all His humanity and in all His deity, we need to study the Word of God. We also need the help of the Holy Spirit. I like the Old English wording of this verse—Ye have an unction [charisma] from the Holy One, and ye know [gnosis] all things (1 John 2:20).

So read your Bible, but not just to read your Bible. Ask the Holy Spirit to make THE Word known to you. Live in the balance of gnosis as you get to know Jesus more deeply and personally.

This post is a part of our series studying our foundational beliefs. If you would like to read more about the first foundational beliefs we have discussed, check out this post on the inspiration of Scripture, and this post on the Trinity.

Love Re-members

love-re-membersChristians often talk about God in terms of the “Trinity.” That is, the One True God revealed in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This is sometimes a difficult concept to grasp, especially since the word Trinity doesn’t specifically appear in the Bible. But make no mistake, just because the word isn’t there doesn’t mean it’s not true. Consider…

  • God’s Three-in-One nature is first exhibited when man is created (Genesis 1:26).
  • When the prophesy is given about Jesus being born in human flesh, He is given all the titles of the three Persons of the Godhead (Isaiah 9:6).
  • At Christ’s baptism we see Jesus in human form, we see the Holy Spirit descending as a dove, and we hear the Father’s voice announcing His approval of His Son (Matthew 3:16-17).
  • Jesus Himself said He would ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to the Christians (John 14:16).
  • And just as Jesus ascended into Heaven, He told His followers to baptize people into all three Persons of the Godhead (Matthew 28:19).

But I think the best expression of the Trinity is revealed in three simple words. John talks about how all three Persons of the Trinity are involved in the life of a Christian. And then he sums it all up in three words—

“GOD IS LOVE”

Each Person of the Godhead is encouraging and illuminating and pointing to the other Persons in the Trinity. Love is perpetually being received and given. We humans are created in God’s image … we are created to receive and to give God’s love. That’s why John tells us that we know and rely on the love God has for us (that’s the receiving part), and that whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him (that’s the giving part).

When Adam and Eve sinned, they were dis-membered from God. As a result, every human in their natural state longs for connection with God and others, but feels separated, isolated, unloved, and even unlovable.

Love re-members! 

Jesus came to be broken and crushed and to feel the pain of separation from God. It was out of this brokenness that He could do the work of re-membering us to the fullness of the Trinity.

When Jesus shared His last supper with His disciples, He took bread (which is made from broken wheat kernels) and wine (which is made from crushed grapes). He told us as often as we eat the bread and drink the wine we are to remember how He was broken and crushed for us.

Remembering Christ’s work on the Cross re-members us to the fullness of the Trinity. 

Sin and satan want to keep us feeling separated, unloved, and unloveable. But when we were the least worthy of His love, God—Who IS love—was broken and crushed to re-member us to Him.

If you feel lonely, separated, isolated, unloved or unloveable, I urge you to remember what Jesus did for you. He loved you enough to be broken and crushed for your re-membering to all of God’s love.

Check out this video where I explain this amazing thought in more detail…

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

john-14-1That first Christmas was supposedly a silent night and a holy night. Maybe there was some singing angels involved, but at least their message was about “peace on earth.”

Sometimes that idea of “peace” at Christmas time can make us feel like hypocrites. Sometimes it seems as if there is more turmoil than peace, and more ill-will than goodwill.

Even Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem called I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day starts out in celebration, but then shifts to the dark words, “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.’”

If you have had a hard time finding peace this Christmas, this short message will bring you hope and encouragement, so that you can truly say, “Merry Christmas!”

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