The Use of Scripture for Strengthening Weak Hands

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation— the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me, who rescued me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me; you delivered me from the man of violence. For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to your name.” (Psalm 18:46–49, ESV)

The other day I read a social media post from a Christian who attacked those that use the Bible to teach “piety” or “moralism” in sermons instead of simply pointing to Jesus’ saving work on the cross of Calvary as an act of worship. In other words, the Bible is all about what Christ has done and not about what Christians should do. Another way it is often stated is that we should teach the indicatives of the Bible (what God has done through Christ) and not so much the imperatives (what we should do as Christians). This has led some who teach this view into a dreadful form of antinomianism that gives way to a shipwrecked life.

I understand the failure of some preaching that twists the Bible into a life-manual for fixing our problems. These types of churches and the sermons they produce seem to be a religiously themed self-help motivational courses. Theology and doctrine are downplayed, and God is only taught in the sense that He is the power that you need to tap into to get the life you want. That is abuse of the Bible and the God of the Bible, and make no mistake, this is wrong.

But it is also wrong to say that the Bible is only about what God has done for us at the cross. I only need to point to the book of Ephesians to show that in a letter of six chapters, the first three chapters are dedicated to proclaiming the glorious theology of salvation through Jesus Christ, BUT the second three chapters deal with the implications of that change in the life of a person, including several imperatives. In other words, the Bible is not simply about the indicatives and what God has done for us, but flowing out of the indicatives are some very important imperatives that can only truly be accomplished in a God-pleasing way through the active role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a regenerate person. Christians are called to obey God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I say all of this because in my reading through Psalm 18 this morning I was once again enamored with the radical change that dwelling upon the Scriptures has in the heart and mind of the child of God. This psalm has a heading, also called a superscription that tells the reader the context in which it was written. In the case of Psalm 18, it was written when David was being hotly pursued by his enemies, including Saul. Knowing how close to being caught and murdered he was, David recalls the terrifying place he was in and how he called out to the Lord desperately, and the Lord heard his cries. It is a wonderful psalm that pictures God rising from His heavenly throne and ascending upon the back of an angel to save His child David with the vengeance of a warrior.

But is this passage simply for me to read and appreciate? Does it not instruct me, and those that I would teach it to that our God loves His own, and that He is moved by our cries to come to our aid and save us? You see, this passage is meant to do more than describe David’s personal experiences. It was put into a song so that the people of Israel would praise their God who saves–but who saves more than just the king. He is the God who saves His people, from the greatest to the least in the kingdom. I can apply this text to myself and others by calling Christians to cry out in prayer in their times of need. God answers prayer! We must be people of prayer!

This is the glory of the Bible. We do not need to choose between what God has done and what we should do in response. The two go together and shouldn’t be separated. And this psalm is a wonderful place to go to strengthen weakened hands when the battle has become too much and the broken and weary need to be reminded that God hears our cries. So, when you study the Bible, make sure you not only teach it accurately, but also make sure you apply the text to the lives of those who need to have their weak hands strengthened.

Boasting in the Lord Might Bite Back!

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:21–23, ESV)

Most of the time we find that our experiences of shame are due to our sin. Like Adam and Eve who recognized their nakedness after the Fall, shame is now an all too familiar part of the human experience. But in Ezra 8:21-23 we see a good outcome of shame–forced dependence upon God in a time of need.

Ezra was preparing to go back to Jerusalem to restore the temple after it had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Not only would the long trip be dangerous, but the danger would be amplified because their party would be large and they were to be laden with large amounts of gold and precious items of great value. Ezra would have preferred an armed escort by soldiers (the equivalent of our modern armored trucks) to make this journey, but he was ashamed because he had openly shared with the king the goodness and power of the Lord God. Since this was true, he shouldn’t need escorts, should he? How could he ask for protection by men when he has so openly confessed the power and might of God to protect His children?

What a predicament! The lesson here isn’t that God’s people should keep our testimony of the goodness and power of God under wraps–we actually need to become more vocal about it! Instead, we should do as Ezra did; he chose godly men to accompany him in fasting and prayer to implore the Lord to protect them as they knew He could do. The shame Ezra felt wasn’t in boasting, it was in his desire to live as if what he said about God wasn’t true and yet being forced to live by that truth or be ashamed at taking back what he said about his God.

Let us be abundant in our praise and glorying in the works of the Lord. And perhaps as a side effect we will find ourselves “forced” into living as if our great God is as great as we claim. Now wouldn’t that be something!

Is Your Sunday Worship Driven by the Holy Spirit or an Entrepreneurial Spirit? (weekend repost)

“The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”

Read the rest of the post here: Is Your Sunday Worship Driven by the Holy Spirit or an Entrepreneurial Spirit?

Don’t Just Tell Them What to Do (weekend repost)

It’s no accident that the New Testament uses the term “pastors” because of the similarities of the duties of Christian leaders and the herdsmen of the time. The pastor or sheep-herder/shepherd was to constantly be among his sheep, tending them, feeding them, watching over them, leading them, and caring for them personally.

Read the rest of the post here: Don’t Just Tell Them What to Do

Putting the Word into Practice

We are called by Scriptures to do and observe all that the Bible teaches. So, as a people who desire to be not merely hearers, but doers, I give these five applicational thoughts about how to “use” the Bible more effectively.

By saying this, I don’t mean that we should jump from reading to application. There is a very real danger in doing this improperly. There needs to be serious study and understanding of what the Bible meant to its original context and to its original audience. But in a sermon, your pastor/expositor has done this (or should have), and now, on Monday, we need to know how to put what we have learned into practice.

  1. Notate. Take note of application given in sermons you hear. Literally take notes! Look for what God would have you DO with his Word. Don’t just collect biblical information. Then, go back and review your notes, praying for help to obey what you have seen that he wants you to do.
  2. Saturate. On your own, re-read your Bible with an eye for application. This means that you need to know how to find universal principles in the Bible. These are truths that are good in every time and every culture. They are also consistent with the whole Bible.
  3. Categorize. Take those universal truths and begin categorizing them into useful headings as you see the need for them in your own life. Begin by setting up categories for your roles in life–Bible verses for you as a Father/Mother, as a husband/wife, as a son/daughter, as a Christian, as an employee, as a neighbor.
  4. Organize. Put Scriptures (and the principles that they speak of) in categories that will lend themselves to your use–such as pride, humility, gossiping, the tongue, hope, fear of man, decision making, forgiveness, etc. Some of these will be more useful to you than others, so be sure to put them on a list that you can tuck into your Bible, or even write into the end papers of your Bible so they are handy whenever you need them.
  5. Apply. Now, when you are having a bad day with your mouth, for example, or you keep hurting others, or maybe you’ve lost your temper–you can turn in your Bible and meditate on what God’s Word says about that issue and what you need to do. As you do this over and over, you will not only begin to remember where to go without having to look at the list, but you will slowly memorize those verses and have them available for those times of temptation when you don’t have your Bible handy.

It’s not brain surgery or rocket science, but it does take discipline and effort. Jesus said for you and I to “do and observe” His Word. If you claim that the Bible is truly your authority, then you need to know it so you can obey it. If not, then you are merely a hearer of the Word and not a doer–fooling yourself. May we never find ourselves there.