Just Chill

I was speaking with my wife the other day and I am afraid she is right but don’t tell her that.

If there is anything I am great at then relaxing is the exact opposite. I am terrible at relaxing, taking my time, or going slow. Lionel Richie said he was easy like a Sunday morning well I am difficult to a Monday morning. I don’t know why I am this way. Maybe it is conditioning, maybe I wired this way, or maybe it is a combination of these factors. All I know is when I have things to do I need to do them. The problem is there is always something to do.

There is always a list that needs to be worked on. Always a chore that needs completing. Always an email that needs answering. Always a paper that needs writing. Always a thought that needs sharing. There is always an always. A little secret I learned was that the better you are at getting things done the more things there are that need to get done. People (including yourself) start to expect that level of production out of you. It becomes the norm and it also becomes exhausting. The worst part is even though I know I am running myself ragged I can’t seem to stop. I just keep pushing. To be honest it stinks. There are so many negatives to being so busy. There are health issues, fatigue, frustration, poor decision making, and so on. I know if I am going to fix it I need to work on it but how?

Well, I was thinking about Jesus and something He said. In Matthew 11:28-29 He said “”Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” It would seem to me then that if Jesus says I need to come to Him and rest then maybe I need to come to Him and rest. I know that sounds like a copout “Just rest in Jesus,” but it is true. I am not saying I know how to do it but I am going to try. I am going to try and just rest. How does that actually play out?

I think it is going to start with prayer. I think it is going to start with asking God to help me not be so busy, asking Him to give me strength, to give me peace, and to give me His yoke. Jesus goes on to say in verse 30 of that same chapter that His yoke is easy and His burden light. Well, my yoke is hard and my burden heavy so if I can trade I will. I would rather do His bidding than my own. I am not saying that today, tomorrow, or even next week I will have this down, but I am saying it is worth pursuing. Because to be honest I am tired. I am tired of doing so much and feeling like I have done nothing. So maybe I’ll take a minute and just chill.

Just a thought,

Mike

Is the Bible Reliable

Is the Bible reliable? Should we trust what it says? Should we even trust  that the books that are in it should be? I have heard as I am sure you have different comments on the Bible such as it has been translated so many times we do not know it originally said, it has been edited so many times we cannot know what was originally said, or that the contents were cherry picked. Now, at first, these claims might seem to have some weight and make many people respond with “yeah that’s right”, but it is not right at least not in the way people mean it.

I want to start with by saying these are very good questions. I think they are important questions too. If we are going to base our lives off the teachings in this book called the Bible we should know it’s origins. We should know about the book and how it came to be. Who wrote it, and is it reliable are good and important questions. I know sometimes people ask these questions or make these statements as a way to be difficult but as Paul said in Philippians 1:18 “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.” So I am ok with questions as long as it gets the ball rolling.

So one claim laid against the Bible is that we don’t really know what was said right? Well, that is not exactly true. In fact, it is more like the opposite of that. We do not have the original writings (autographs) but we do have copies (manuscripts). Now I am sure at this point you might think great copies but let’s decide what the parameters for judgment are before we rush in. For Homer’s Iliad we do not have the originals but we do have 643 copies and they are about 95% in agreement with each other.That is a pretty good average. The writings of Aristotle, for example, only have about 49 copies, but most people though are ok that those are Aristotle’s words. Pliny and Plato only have 7 copies, so you can see copies are hard to come by. Where does the Bible come in then? Well, there are about 6,000 Greek copies of New Testament and 10,000 Latin copies. With that, they agree about 99% of the time on substantive issues. You might think I through that part to be tricky but we are all about transparency here at Freedom in Truth. There are actually some 200,000 – 300,000 variations and that sounds real bad, but in fairness the vast majority have no meaning. It is things like a scribe did not dot his I’s and so on. For real issues, there is only about a 1% variation. To be even more transparent most Bible translations will even tell you if there is an issue with a text. Look at John 8 for example. This just being a high-level overview we’ll stop there but we can see that what we have in our Bible today is about 99% accurate to what was written originally.

What about it being translated all the time? Good question and we need to address that in two parts. Part one Latin and Greek. The New Testament was written in Greek originally and then shortly later translated into Latin. If you are a Catholic then you more than likely have a Bible translated from Latin. Most Protestant Bibles are translated from Greek and are translated from either the Majority Text or the Textus Receptus (possibly a combo). These are two great bodies of text that make up what we have. So yes the Bible was translated but from that language into yours. Really the idea of “the Bible being translated all the time” is true but from the source language into another one not from one to another to another and so on.

Lastly and I know this a crowd favorite but no the Bible was not created by a church council in a dark room. Yes at one point the New Testament Canon was closed meaning that it was recognized that these are the books that belong; however, it was not a single meeting that made this happen but a long tradition of acceptance. It would help if we looked at a document called the Muratorian fragment (or Muratorian Canon) because this is a very old document and list at least 22 of the 27 New Testament books. How old is it you ask? Well accepted dating puts it at about 170 A.D. This means that before the church councils ever got together to “decide” what books belong in the Bible there was an accepted list that was a few hundred years older than them.

But didn’t they do some choosing? I think a better phrase would be did they have a test to know what belonged and that answer is yes. They looked at four things to see if the book was valid. 1) Apostolicity – Direct or indirect association of a given work with an apostle. Matthew, John, Peter, Paul, etc. direct. Mark, Luke indirect but worked with the apostles. 2) Orthodoxy – Did the book conform to apostolic teaching? 3) Antiquity – Was  the writing produced during the apostolic era? 4) Ecclesiastical Usage – Was it widely used in the early church? So it was not a willy-nilly I don’t like what that book says, instead, what has already been accepted.

I do not find any reason to doubt that the books in the Bible were written when they were written or that they belong. Now I concede that there could be edits to some books for clarification purposes (John 8 again as an example), or that or occasion the authorship maybe should be attributed to different writers, but these things do not change the story, message, or relevancy of the Bible. It is an issue that at least for me has been put to rest. Maybe now that you know a little more about it, you can put the issue to rest and feel good that the Bible is indeed God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).

Just a thought,

Mike

The Babel Problem

I want to take a minute today to talk about something called the Babel Problem. The Babel Problem is got its name from the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11. If you’re not familiar with the story it goes like this. Nimrod decides that even though the people were supposed to spread out and fill the land they would stay where they were. The people wanted to build a great city and tower to touch heaven. But what was the tower? The tower was more than likely a ziggurat and at the top of it was a temple. Basically, it is a tower made out of mud bricks and the temple is like an apartment. Their assumption was that God needed things, and if they provided what God needed then He would bless them. Instead of blessing them though God confused their language so they would spread out like He said to do. With a name like Nimrod, what should we expect?

Walton and Hill in their book Old Testament Today define the Babel Problem this way “The problem is that people have corrupted the concept of God.” I think that is a pretty good definition. If I could simplify it anymore it would be to say we have made God into something we like. I say it that way because when they decided to build the tower the people included this statement “Let us make a name for ourselves otherwise we will be scattered” They wanted to reach God on their terms and in their way. They wanted to be the ones who decided what God was like and how He should act. God was clear in what He wanted; He told them to spread out over all the earth (Gen 9:7) but this group decided that they knew best. The figured they could coax God into blessing the work of their hands because they either did not take the time to get to know Him, or care what He had said. Although, I suppose it could also be a combination of the two.

Sometimes we have this idea that we cannot know God so we write Him off. We decide that because the idea of eternity is too big to understand there cannot be anything more after this life. Maybe we have decided that because we cannot measure God in a laboratory then He does not exist. Maybe we decide that because bad things happen there cannot be an ultimate love in the universe. That because of the pain we see God cannot be real; after all, if God was real why would there be so much hurting. Because we have corrupted the concept of God and therefore, do not really know Him we find ways to discredit Him altogether. We can find a thousand ways to do it but, in the end, it the same message “I know best, so I will make my name great.”

The other part of the problem was they wanted God to bless them on their terms. We still do this. We come up with ways to make God pleased with us. Ways to earn His favor, or to convince Him into blessing us. Then when our ideas fail we blame God because He didn’t conform to our image. But, the problem was not and is not God, instead, it’s us. We cannot make Him love us, we cannot earn His blessings, and we cannot earn His favor. These are gifts that He gives to us because He is good. Because of the peace we have through Jesus we get to enjoy Him. It is not a matter of being good enough because you can’t be. You will never be good enough. We just need to enjoy Him. Martin Luther in the shorter Catechism answers the question what is the chief end of man, and that is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

When we create the rules for how God should operate the only one bound to those rules is us and that is a problem. God is not going to change His nature to fit in our box just because we want to play God and that is a big part of the Babel problem. When we decide who God is and how He should act we doing two things; we are playing God and we are creating a false god. It is false because it is not the real thing it is a construct of our own imagination, and it can be done in a variety of ways. However we do it the outcome is the same; we walk away disappointed. We might say things like “how could God xxx”, “but I did xxx”, “why would God xxx” or add your own statement. We have all at times done it.

We need to get back to what He said. We have to go back to what He has already told us about Himself. Read the Bible, and I mean the whole Bible. Don’t neglect the Old Testament because it was written before Christ. There is so much there that we need. Leviticus, for example, is a wonderful book when you look and see God is telling us about Himself. Over and over again God says something and then says “I am Holy” so we should read about why and how He is holy. That does not mean we need to follow the Mosaic Law but we should look at what God says about Himself. Read the whole Bible because God gave it to us so we could start to understand who He is. I guarantee you this one thing whatever you think you know about God is short of the full picture because God is so much bigger than you can ask, think, or imagine.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Prayer – Storm the gates or Walk on in

As a Christian I am familiar with verses like Hebrews 4:16 that says we should boldly approach the throne of God or Matthew 17:20 that says if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move mountains. I also know that Romans 4 tells me I have peace with God and access to Him. I know these things and believe them. I believe that I have been grafted in and that God is pleased with me through Christ. The problem I struggle with is not that I do not believe these things it is I get confused when I pray and seek Him only to find that something did not come about. That was until the other day.

Right now I am going for something and it is big maybe even huge. Probably one of the biggest things I have tried for and if I told you then your own comfort zone might get shaken and you would tell me to stop. It is something that would be an amazing opportunity and I quite possibly have no right (according to some) to try for it. Because it is so big, and because it is so beyond me I feel this constant pull to not go for it. I am reminded of all the other big things that I have tried for and some that have failed. Maybe I should just stop and realize that it is too big for me. I should look back at other similar things and simmer down. If I ask God for something big and it does not come about then either God failed (which cannot happen) or my faith was weak. Right?

Well, the other day I felt like God reminded me of something I knew but forgot. The results are not for me to determine. It is for God to decide and it is for me to petition. Philippians 4:6 says I am to bring all my needs and request to God and be thankful. So I do not rest in the results but in God. I am thankful that I have access to God Almighty. Maker of Heaven and Earth. The One who spoke the world into existence hears me and that is amazing. It is for God to determine what is best and for me to ask.

Two people in the Bible helped me with this. Hannah prayed for a child in 1 Sam 1:10. The Lord heard her prayer and gave her a child. Now I am sure she prayed many other times and it was not granted but in this instance, she prayed from her innermost parts a God-honoring prayer, and a prayer that was heartfelt. God answered. From that prayer we get the Samuel books, we get Samuel who heard God and anointed David to be king. We get so many things because God answered Hannah’s prayer. The other person I thought about was David. David prayed that his son would not die in 2 Sam 12:16 but in the end, the child died. After the child died David got up and moved on in His relationship with God. He knew it was his job to petition and God’s job to decide. Now I know you could say that is because God said the child would die but there instances in the Old Testament where God did not execute the punishment He said He would. So my point stands. I am also aware that most would say only use positive stories but the truth of the matter is sometimes God gives us our desires and sometimes He does not. Our job is to petition.

I have heard people say that they are storming the gates of Heaven with prayer. That they will go and pound on the walls until they are heard, but I think that is a bit absurd. I am a child of God. I have been adopted by the King and don’t need to storm any gates I have permission to come right inside. So I am going to do just that. I am going to go in and ask my Father for this thing that is big and beyond me because I know it is not beyond Him. What will you do with your problems?

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Books about a book?

So I wanted to do something a little different today. I was looking around my office and noticed I have a few books. To be honest, I have more than a few books and I keep adding more. This is partly because of classes and partly because of sales. To be honest though the start of my collection was given to me from my father in law Gil. He started the habit so I guess he’s to blame. The reason I bring this up is because when I am reading my Bible a lot of times I turn to these commentaries or studies if I am stuck or want to see what others think about the same passage. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I disagree, and sometimes I learn. I realized though that a good portion of people does not have the same type of library so I thought I would offer some ideas and thoughts. I’ll break down some basic categories below, but please keep in mind this is just a high-level overview not an in-depth look at all possible options. This is just meant to get you going.

Commentaries:

Commentaries are great but to be honest, most people are not ever going to pick one up or read one. I love them but even I don’t read them front to back. I skim through to find what I need. I might read chunks but not a front to back kind of book. There are two-three categories of commentaries but I doubt you care. The most popular in a non-academic setting is a devotional commentary. This is going to go through a book of the Bible and give you thoughts on it. Very good for going deep in a single book.

*It is important to note that there are commentaries that cover a single book like Luther’s Commentary on Romans, commentaries that cover a few books like Alter’s commentary on the Wisdom books, and whole Bible commentaries like MacDonald’s Believer’s Bible Commentary.

Bible Handbook:

Bible Handbooks are like commentaries but smaller and for the books of the Bible. They usually have a few pages dedicated to a book and offer background and highlights. Some are bigger than others but they are great to have because it can fill in some needed information about the book, author, and other relevant background info. Halley’s a good one because it does some chapter breakdown, but the Holman Illustrated is good as well because it is smaller.

Software:

Software is in its own category because there are so many options and ways to customize. If you watch the video then you can see the one I use. There are some free/cheap options like Word Search or E-Sword and I have used both. Word Search is nice and is free and then you buy books to add to it (some are free). I have used Logos in the past because a friend of mine has it and it is great but you need some money to invest in that one. Accordance is another but I have never used it. It is supposed to be as good as Logos. For websites, you can use them to get some help but be weary there are a lot of fruitcakes out there.

Study Bible:

I saved Study Bibles for last because this one of those things you should get. A study Bible is like having a commentary in the Bible. There are hundreds to choose from depending on what you are looking for. There are application study Bibles that tell you what to do with a Scripture, women’s Bibles, men’s Bibles, military Bible’s, children’s Bibles, apologetic Bibles, and just about anything else you can think of. They are great to have and I used one for years as my daily reader. They provide just a little info or help on almost every verse and are a great resource.

Why?

Why get any of these things, though? I mean can’t you just read the Bible and go from there? Sure you can. The Holy Spirit is more than capable of teaching you what the Word says if you are listening. But adding extra things into your Bible study is not about hearing or not hearing from the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is about going deeper. It is about digging deeper and adding to your faith knowledge. How do you know though if what you think the Holy Spirit is telling you is true? Maybe you are reading your own bias into the text. What if you pick up a study note that says there is no mention of three kings just three types of gifts would that change the way you read the section? What about reading and finding out that Isaac was not a little boy during the testing of Abraham. He was a young man somewhere between 18-30. That kind of changes things doesn’t it. We add in these things because we don’t know everything. We should never assume we do. That is arrogance. So grab your Bible, study notes, highlighter, or tablet and dig deep.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Have Faith Get Credit

I am reading through Romans and I started thinking about Romans 4:3 which is also Romans 4:22 and Galatians 3:6.

Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

As it should it got me asking the question “what did Abraham believe?” The simplest answer is  God; Abraham believed God. Martin Luther in his commentary on Romans says that “this… must be understood in an absolute and general sense…Abraham was a man who, at all times, was ready to believe God.” In Romans and Galatians Paul is quoting Genesis 15:16 where it says Abraham believed God when God told him he will have a child, but in a much larger sense, Abraham was believing in God to be God.

He was believing that God could be kept to His word and that the things that God said would come to pass would in fact come to pass. Abraham believed God when He told him to leave his land (Gen 12:4). Abraham believed God for a son even though he was old and as good as dead (Rom 4:19). Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead if he had to sacrifice him (Heb 11:19). Abraham even believed God when He told him to circumcise himself and his whole household (Gen 17:23). Abraham had faults and failures but his life overall is one that is marked by faith in God.

It is so simple, yet so difficult. Belief is all that is required and it has always been that way. Hebrews 11:6 says “without faith it is impossible to please God” and when we understand that God does not change (Mal 3:6) we can understand that it has always and will always be that way. You might think that Abraham was given righteousness because he followed the Law but no that is not the case as the Law did not come until 430 years later. Maybe it was because Abraham was circumcised but no that was about 10-13 years after Genesis 15. Maybe you might think the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt because they kept the Law and it was due to them to be freed but no the Law was given to them after they believed and crossed the Red Sea. Belief always comes first. At no point has it ever been different. When my wife and I prepared to move to Maine with no money or a place to live it was done because we believed God said go. He provided a place to live for us there but the belief that He was God and good was first.

In his commentary on Galatians for 3:6 Luther says, “To believe in God as Abraham did is to be right with God because faith honors God. Faith says to God: “I believe what you say.”” God wants you right with Him and He has done everything for you to be right with Him. He gave His Son as the penalty for sin so you could enjoy everlasting life, and He raised His Son so that you might live an abundant life. For me I sometimes think “yeah but what if it doesn’t work out?” and to be honest sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe not the way I think maybe not at all. Sometimes bad stuff still happens but you can either dwell in the possibility of the negative or have faith in God that He is God. When you decide to have faith in God it should not be for a thing but in that He is God and He is good. Your faith should be in God not in the benefits of His being God. My daughter does not trust me because I provide things for her although I do. Instead, she trusts me because she knows I have her best interest at heart and I am good (at least in her eyes). Her faith in me is not predicated on the possibility of things, and our faith in God should not be predicated on the possibility of material blessing. We believe because He is God.

When you read the Old Testament you can see that a lot of them did not have a firm grasp on the idea of an afterlife. For most it was not a common idea as it was still being revealed. However, in spite of not having an idea that they could live forever with God they worshiped, obeyed, and served Him because if this life was all they had then He should be trusted in it. How much more should we worship, obey, and serve knowing we will live with Him forever. The joy of receiving Him is the most blessed thing we could ever have, everything else is a bonus.

That is not to say however that we should not believe God for everything. As mentioned Abraham believed God for all those things but it started with faith in God. In believing God to be good and in believing Him to provide we honor Him. We honor God when we believe that He can make a way where this is no way to see. When we place our faith in God to do the impossible we exalt Him above the world, above logic, and above us. When we believe God He pleased.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

The Power of your Testimony

As these things happen I was thinking about Revelation 12:11 and I thought I would share.

They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

I understand the people being addressed in this verse are those in Heaven who have been martyred for their faith. I also understand that by and large most of us will not have to die for our faith but the question I was thinking about was “what is the power of our testimony?” According to Revelation 12:11 those who were martyred understood that the blood of the lamb and their testimony had the power to triumph over the devil. You could think that maybe they did not triumph because they died but those who die in Christ are not harmed by the second death so all that was accomplished by the devil was the children of God went home. So what is the power of your testimony?

Well, your testimony in and of Christ is extremely powerful. By confessing Jesus as Lord, you get the Holy Spirit. You also get Christ in you the hope of glory. You also get seated at the right hand of God in Christ. I could go on but those pretty much sum up what you get. To put it another way, you get everything (see Ephesians ch 1). When you accept the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus you become a new creation and old things are gone. There is nothing better than having Jesus. I should know.

The power of your testimony is inherently linked to the power of the Gospel because it is a testimony that the Gospel is true. The power in your testimony comes not from your ability to save yourself but confessing that God saved you. Some might argue that Jesus did not exist, that God is a myth or anything else they want but what is hard to argue is how your life has been changed by the message and power of the Gospel. That is something that cannot be taken away, and you are the only one who has your testimony. You should embrace your testimony and the Gospel because Paul says in Romans 1:16 that it is power.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.

Which brings me to my other point; don’t negate the power of your testimony. Your testimony whatever it might be is how God has worked in your life. If you were a crack addict, a murder, a cheat, a porn star, a self-hating self-abuser, or a faithful child of God who has not wandered far off the path that is your testimony of how God has called or kept you. Don’t think for a second that a testimony that is ripe with love towards God and how you have not ever had to deal with a lot of horrible things is a bad testimony. That is just as wonderful as the story of a drug addict who saw Jesus as they overdosed. It means you listened and obeyed which more people should. My prayer for our youngest child is that she will have that kind of testimony. That she would always walk with Him and not have to come running home to Him. I don’t want her to live the same life I lived before seeing Him as good, great, and loving. So share that testimony of faith.

We each have a story to tell about Jesus. Some are G, PG, R, and some X but that is your story. Share it proudly because it testifies of how good God is that He kept you or saved you from a life of misery. If people cannot accept your testimony about how God saved you after a failed marriage, drug use, self-injury, and attempted suicide then don’t worry about them. They might need to check their testimony.

When I first got saved I couldn’t stop myself from telling people about it. I wanted them to experience the same joy, life, and love I now had. My boss on the construction site used to call me a holy roller. I had no idea what that meant but he knew I loved Jesus, and that I wanted him to love Jesus. He could see the power of the Gospel in my life. I was a mess before Christ. I was on drugs, cutting, and tried to kill myself. My story is a little different than most but that is because it is my story. You have yours and sharing it should be done because you want others to feel the same awesome feeling you have. I’ll end with this thought. Jesus is worth it. Whatever it is…He is worth it.

Just a thought,

Mike