We Start With the Bible

The last time I saw my grandfather, Stanford Linzey, he was ninety-six years old. I asked him, “Grandpa, what is the most important thing in life? I want to pass your thought on to my children as part of their family heritage.”

Grandpa looked out into the field for a few minutes as I silently waited. At last he looked toward me and pensively said, “I suppose the most important thing in life is this: everything you need to know is in The Book. You can know a lot of other things, but everything you NEED to know is in The Book. Study it.”

Grandpa Linzey went to heaven in 1987, about four months before his one-hundredth birthday anniversary. And I continue to study The Book.

Today let’s talk about a New Years’ Plan. You could call it a resolution, but I call it: developing a relationship with the Lord. Warning: this might change your life – for the better! And I know that the New Year celebration was a month ago, but that’s okay. What I’m about to say is still true.

Many folk have their own ideas about how to study the Bible, and I have developed my own. I have read many methods, but in order to make it easy to remember, I keep my method simple. It entails three steps, and it goes like this.

  1. What do the words on the page say?

When I was in high school, my father said, “If something in the Bible doesn’t seem to make sense, study it out. Don’t stop until you understand it.” He then referred me to 2 Timothy 2:15 which became my commission in life. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (KJV).

It simply means: Study the Bible. You start by reading it. Be sincere. Be diligent. Don’t quit. Don’t embarrass yourself or insult God by being sloppy or half-hearted. Ask for help when you need it.

So I have set aside a time during which I can study without too much interference, and during which time I can concentrate on the topic at hand. For me, this is usually between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. I read the section of Scripture under consideration, but I also read enough before and after to get a grasp of the context. Without evaluating the context, we can misunderstand the content which can cloud our comprehension of the intent. We could even miss the entire message!

2. What did the writers mean when they wrote it?

Since the original manuscripts that we have were written between 1500 BC and ad 95 AD, many figures of speech, idioms, idiomatic phrases, concepts, and historical knowledge have been forgotten or misunderstood. Also, some of the words and phrases the translators used may not always currently convey the proper meaning. Therefore, in order to understand or “rightly divide” Scripture, we must often study language, history, archeology, or ancient Middle-Eastern culture. This is sometimes difficult and time-consuming, but without this step we can miss what God wants us to know.

Don’t get scared, now. Since most people have neither the time nor the resources to conduct an in-depth study of this nature, the Lord has set in place pastors, teachers, and evangelists to help (Ephesians 4:11–14).

3. How do I apply the principles to my life today?

This is sometimes the hardest part because applying scriptural principles to our lives entails honesty and integrity. We might have to change our way of living. In order to develop a closer, more dynamic relationship with God, we must give up things, activities, or ideas that are offensive to Christ or consume too much of our time. In order to do that, we must reevaluate our priorities in life. Will we continue to live a hedonistic, self-centered life, or will we change our way of thinking (Romans 12:2)? Specifically, we need to become Christ-centered. We must understand that our ultimate purpose in life is to know our Father God, and to honor him.

Now, having said all the above, please remember this:

It is not necessary to be a Bible scholar in order to change your life and honor the Lord. Salvation is received through a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Messiah, by accepting him into your life. Learn to know him by reading the Bible, regularly attending church meetings, attending Bible study sessions, or all three.

My prayer is that you grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ: and we start with the Bible.

Christians, Pay Attention

This week, all non-Christians may disregard this blog because I’m not talking to you. I am speaking to the Church.

Well, okay. As long as you’re here, you may continue reading if you so desire.

It appears to me that many in the Christian Church have corrupted their understanding of their position in Christ, or with Christ. More and more people imagine that Christ exists for our sake; that He came to earth to bless us and give us a wonderful life; that the riches and authority of the world belong to us – or should belong to us. Many folks have been taught that we can even tell God what we want, and out of His love for us He will grant our desire.

When I worked for an automobile dealership in 1980, a well-known pastor came to me and told me he wanted a Cadillac. He specified all the details, how much he would pay for it, and wanted me to order it so I could “get in on the blessing.” When I said I could get it for him but that it would cost him approximately $8,000 more, he laughed and said, “I told Jesus what I want; and because of my faith, I’ll get it.” Walking away, he said he would offer the blessing (of getting it for him) to someone else.

About three weeks later he drove back to see me – in a new Cadillac. As he was bragging about it, I pointed out several major details that conflicted with the itemized list he handed to God. He said, “Well, I got most of it.” But when I asked him how much he paid for it, he looked down and muttered something like, “It was several thousand more than I wanted to pay” and quickly drove away.

This man had probably been listening to a song from a well-known writer that included the words: “Say it, believe it, receive it, tell Jesus.” But that theology is totally backwards, and is an affront to God. That is deciding what we want, convincing ourselves it is right to have, claiming it as ours, then – THEN – telling Jesus to get for them. This is wrong.

 The truth is: Christ does not exist for us; we exist for the sake of Christ. We have no business itemizing our demands, then handing the demand to God as though He was waiting on our table at the local restaurant.

Yes, Jesus came to earth as a baby, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified, died, and buried. He rose back to life on the third day, and spent the next forty days walking among people, ministering to them, proving he was alive – and proving His divinity. He came to earth in order to remove the breach between man and God that was placed there when Adam sinned. But although Jesus taught us to be servants to each other, Almighty God is not our servant.

In the late 1890s, the theologian/politician/scholar Abraham Kuyper (Abraham Kuijper) said, “We Christians regularly fail to acknowledge our true place in creation. We aren’t just God’s creation; we are God’s possession.” I agree. We need to understand that the book of Job clarifies that no one tells God what to do.

Yes, we need to remember James 4:2-3 which says, “And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure” (GNT). What it does not say is that sometimes we “ask God” for something, but then we bypass God and appropriate it with human efforts. That is not trusting God. Rather, that is works of the flesh, and Scripture has a strong admonition against that.

Reflecting on Kuyper’s thought, what IS our place in creation?

I think it is summed up quite succinctly in Jesus’ words in John 4:34. “My meat [sustenance] is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Since Jesus is our example of how we are to serve and honor Almighty God, we can truthfully say that OUR job is to do the will of Him that sent us, and to finish what He has asked us to do.

God didn’t ordain that we become crucified; but individually, our job is to discover what God wants of us, and do it. God’s will includes a vocation of some kind; but specifically, it is to honor Him in everything we do in life.

Our place in creation is not to tell God what we want. Rather, it is to discover what God wants of us, and obey.

What has God asked you to do?

A Resolution

Years ago, a man from Oklahoma called me. He was despondent and was looking for financial assistance – again. This man was in his thirties.

He was raised in a Christian home, affirms that he is a Christian, has spent time memorizing Scripture, sung in church choirs and gospel quartets, played his instrument in church orchestras, led in Bible studies, and discussed theology and history with others. He had a good-paying job. This man is loved by many people because he is fun to be with. We’ll call him Jake.

But Jake is in jail. Bond was $57,000, with a cash requirement of $5,700. The family could not pay it and he was in for awhile. What happened to Jake?

I located and talked with some of his family members. They told me about a statement Jake made while a teenager. The statement was: “I want to live a life of sin; that way, when I get older, I’ll have a good testimony of how God saved me from a bad life.” And he purposely turned to a life of alcohol, drugs, sex, and gambling, and has wrecked every car he had.

Jake doesn’t remember that resolution, but he told me, “A person will never change his way of life until he decides to change. Whether it’s through a Christian organization, secular counselling, Alcoholics Anonymous, or prison, a man changes only when he wants to change.”

I responded, “So THAT’s why you’re in jail: you’ve decided not to change. And because of that, I will not help you.” That caught him by surprise. I continued, “Jake, your continual return to your degraded lifestyle confirms that you don’t want to change. When you decide that you want to change, I’ll be available to help you.”

Jake has been in-and-out of jail five times on various charges. Apparently, he’s a “model” citizen as a prisoner – even leading in Bible studies. He has gone through detox several times in jail, and is clean when he gets out. But he goes right back to the stuff when he is free.

Free – that’s an interesting concept.

One of Jake’s acquaintances recently told him, “If you would turn to the Lord – truthfully, not merely with lip-service – the Lord and others would help you. If you would honor the Lord by the way you live, the Lord would help you get out of bondage.”

Jake erupted: “I’m not in bondage!”

His friend squelched the laughter until the phone call ended. He told me it was funny because Jake is in a 3-fold bondage: emotionally, spiritually, and physically (in jail). Make that 4-fold: he’s now in financial bondage.

And it’s all because of that resolution he made many years ago.

How about you, dear reader? Are you in any kind of bondage? Have you made decisions that have hurt you emotionally, spiritually, financially, or physically?

Here’s something to remember: a firm decision is a resolution. Also, a decision – firm or not – becomes a resolution if it isn’t modified. Ponder that one.

Many folks like to wait until January 1 to make a resolution. But why wait to make a good decision? Waiting to do the right thing is practicing procrastination. Waiting to make the right decision is a bad resolution. Waiting to make a good resolution verifies that you don’t want to make it.

What would you like to change this year? Let’s rephrase it: What have you resolved to change this year? While you’re thinking about it, let’s remember what Jake said: “A person will never change his way of life until he decides to change.”

You want to quit smoking? Quit indulging in alcohol? Quit wasting your family’s money, and God’s money, at the casinos? How about quit gossiping or slandering? Are you running from God in any way? Would you like to have a better understanding of who Jesus is? Would you like to have a better relationship with your family? Would you like to, overall, improve your life?

It takes a simple decision – then ask God to help. That’s a resolution.

Before my parents were married, my mother told dad, “I won’t marry you if you don’t stop smoking.” That was a resolution.

Dad said, “I tried to quit, but I can’t.”

“You need to pray about it – now.”

Dad did two things: He decided to quit smoking, and he asked God to help him. That was a resolution. He cooperated with God: that’s the key. He never smoked again and they got married.

If you have a decision – resolution – to make, ask God to help. If you’re sincere and honest with God, He’ll help you. That’s God’s resolution.

Old Things Pass Away …

What’s the rest of the axiom? You got it: Behold, All Things Become New.

That comes from 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

That verse is talking about turning away from sin and selfishness, and deciding to live to honor Jesus Christ. And we need to remember that. But this week I will use the verse in a different context.

Three days ago was New Year’s Day. And if you’re reading this, you survived. Wonderful! But what’s next? Did you make any resolutions?

Grandpa Linzey was born in February of 1888 and graduated to heaven in 1987, three months before his 100th birthday anniversary. He was a practical man, and didn’t have much use for celebrations. His days were wrapped around tending his animals, and Grandma’s job was to tend the garden. One day when I asked Grandpa if he ever made New Year’s resolutions, he said: “Son, resolutions are empty, and most people break ‘em on the day they make ‘em. It’s just another day. The sun will rise, and the troubles we have today will be with us tomorrow.”

That sounded rather bleak.

But it reminded me of a friend in New Mexico who made a resolution every year. Every December 31st he said he would stop smoking cigarettes starting January 1st. And he did stop—for four or five hours. I finally told him, “You have decided not to quit. Why make a pretend resolution?”

“Oh, it gives me something to look forward to. It makes me feel good to say it. And I can teach the kids that smoking is bad for us.” That was over two decades ago, but now his son smokes, too.

Grandpa was right. Perhaps most resolutions are not meant to be kept. And perhaps my friend was right: it just made him feel good to say it.

But even if someone wants to make a change, there might be a built-in flaw in waiting until January 1st to incorporate the change. The flaw is in waiting because waiting to make it is a subconscious affirmation that the change might not be necessary.

Dad, also a practical man, once told me, “If you are serious about wanting to change, don’t wait until New Year’s Day. Start the change now, and ask the Lord to help you.” And through the years I have proven Dad’s statement to be true.  (That’s my grandson, Caleb, next to dad.) Dad continued, “Don’t make a statement and call it a resolution.”

If you think a change is needed, resolve, or determine to change. Make up your mind, ask God to help you, then set your will to cooperate with God. When you are tempted to resume your former ways, remind yourself that God is ready to help. Ask the Lord for emotional strength to keep your promise. The key is to be honest! Be honest with God and with yourself.

What was it that Polonius said in Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3?  “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

God did a marvelous thing when He created us in His image. He created us with will-power, and He wants us to use it for His purposes. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that we can do whatever He empowers us to do.

Do you want to change something this year? Don’t be hypocritical. Make sure it’s in line with God’s will, and then ask God for help. If you are honest, God will help you make that change. This year can be a New Beginning for you. I know the covid-19 stuff has turned the world upside down, but God is willing to help you. Ask Him – He’s listening.

Then you can rejoice and say with 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Old (unnecessary, improper, wrong, harmful) things have passed away, and behold, all (needed, good, wholesome, healthy) things have become new.”

Oh yes: if you find that Grandpa was right and you broke the resolution, Don’t Give Up! Things don’t normally change with one statement or in one day. It took time to form bad habits, and it will take time to change. So, don’t quit. With God’s help, you can make, and keep, good resolutions.

Happy New Year, Friends … 3 days late.