God’s Limiting Factor

I can hear the Reformed Theologians now: You Can’t Limit God. God is supreme. God is sovereign. God does what He wants to do without regard to man, beast, or nature.

But this Reflection is not about Calvinism versus Arminianism, or the misunderstood and misnamed Sovereignty-versus-Grace controversy; so let’s put those arguments aside.

I propose that humans are the only factor in limiting what God will do in our own lives. Not what God CAN do, but what He WILL do. Why? Are we superior to God? Absolutely not! Is God sovereign? Yes, absolutely!

God can side-step mankind when He wants to, and He often does. No one, including Lucifer, can thwart God’s ultimate plan. However, Scripture makes it clear that God does not mandate our lifestyle. We are not robots; therefore, God does not commandeer man’s will. God would receive no honor or glory if He programmed us to worship Him. Instead, He programmed us to be worshippers – but it’s our decision whom or what we will worship.

As I obey God, I can accomplish my part of His will on earth. He directs me in the decisions I make and the direction I go. But if I disobey Him, He does NOT direct me. He may direct other situations to guide me back to where He wants me, but it’s up to me to cooperate. God is omniscient: there’s no doubt about it. And since God already knows what I will do or not do, He already knows what He will do or not do regarding my life.

Scripture makes it clear that God hates sin; therefore, God does not make me disobey Him. But neither does He make me obey Him. Obedience is my decision. All through Scripture, and with assistance from the Holy Spirit, God implores man to listen to Him, to obey Him, to follow His leading. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That statement alone reveals our freedom of choice, and reveals that God does not make the choice for us.

Is God stressed out about my disobedience? Heavens, no. God is bigger than that.

God’s imploring or pleading with us is not because of His inadequacy, but for our benefit. God is encouraging us to grow in our relationship with Him so that we can cooperate with Him in fulfilling our portion of His plan both here on earth and throughout eternity. Yes: God has plans for us!

Genesis 1:26A says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness ….” In that regard, God gave man a say-so about how he (man) will live.

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 spells out the blessings God promised Israel if they would obey Him, and verses 15-29 spell out the problems they would encounter if they deserted or rebelled against God. It identifies our freedom of choice without God’s intervention. But it also shows that God strongly desires us to obey Him.

Joshua 24:15 further clarifies it: “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (NASB)”

Then Deuteronomy 30:19 gives the conclusion: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.”

Do you see it? God is clearly telling man to make a choice. You might ask, “So, what’s your point?”

You are the only person in the universe who can affect the quality of God’s interaction in your life. Therefore, you are the only one who can limit your relationship with God. Others may battle you, interfere with you, try to stop your progress in various ways. Others may hurt you, persecute you, belittle you, slander you, and so forth. Although God knows if and when that will happen, none of that can hinder your relationship with Almighty God if you don’t let it.

Not even Lucifer has the authority to control or guide you.

It is your response to people or reaction to those situations that affect your relationship with the Lord – either positive or negative – and that determines how God will interact with you.

God will not mandate your reaction, and you cannot react properly without His help. It is a team effort. So in every situation in life, no matter the circumstances, learn to look to the Lord to see how you should respond.

How God will use you in heaven depends on how you cooperate with Him here on earth. So choose Life. Choose Christ and live.

Itching Ears, Misplaced Devotion

Carol and I know many people who are dis-satisfied with church-life. They want to go deeper into the Word of God. They want to get into the mind of Christ so that they can know God’s thoughts on every issue, but they think of church services as on the level of kindergarten. They place themselves on a higher plane than the Church and look down on others.

However, when I look at their lives, I find many of them to be spiritually arrogant. Many of them do weird things – in the name of Christ, of course. I am reminded of Second Timothy 4:3-4 that says, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

One Sunday evening, I watched Pastor Frank tell a parishioner, “If you believe and stick your head out the church window and yell ‘Jesus’ three times as loud as you can, you will be healed.” The woman obeyed and Frank victoriously pronounced her healed. When she died a month later, Pastor Frank merely intoned, “She didn’t have faith.”

I watched Pastor Carey announce to his congregation, “If you believe, and sign the book of life in the back of the church, you’ll never die. No matter how long Jesus delays His return, you’ll live until He comes back.” With people lining up to sign his book, I asked my father, “When Brother Carey dies, that will disprove his theory, won’t it?” Dad responded, “No, son. His followers will just think the pastor didn’t have faith.” Brother Carey died in 1993 and people continue to propagate his fables.

One day while praying, Jack had an experience with the Lord that could have changed his life. Jack was excited and wrote down every detail so he would never forget it; and every time visitors came, Jack excitedly read the experience to them. One day a minister he hadn’t seen for some years came to visit, and Jack went to his room to get the document. The visiting minister wondered what happened when he heard Jack yell, “Oh no! The rats ate my experience!”

Yes, the rodents found their way into the desk and destroyed the document. However, Jack had lost the reality of his experience to spiritual rats long before. Why? He placed his affection on an experience rather than on the Lord of the experience.

Let’s back up for a minute. I am from a Pentecostal background and have been affiliated with various denominations. I’ve also been dis-satisfied with church at times. I always want to go deeper into the Word of God, and I want to know God’s thoughts on every issue. So, what’s the difference?

Many of the folks to whom I referred place their faith in spiritual experiences, spiritual knowledge, and spiritual gifts; but that emphasis tends to overshadow Jesus. Scripture tells us to exalt Jesus, the resurrected Christ, the Giver of the experiences, knowledge, and gifts. That’s where I am. There is a world of difference here. If we are devoted to or focused on Jesus as we study the Bible, He will help us gain the knowledge, experiences, and gifts as He sees appropriate. But our priorities will be correct.

Some friends remind me that First Corinthians 12:31 says “Earnestly desire the best gifts.” They think that’s an exhortation to go after gifts that appeals to them. But I respond, “You are seeking the gifts while side-stepping the Giver of the gifts. That’s backwards. Instead, that verse encourages us to utilize the gift that is most appropriate for the situation, for there is NO spiritual gift that is more important than any other. And if we seek God’s input, He will grant us the wisdom we need as we respond to any and every situation.”

I’ve seen people healed of terminal diseases and seen other miracles take place. But I understand the purpose of miracles and spiritual experiences. Yes, they benefit man, but they are supposed to help us focus our attention on the Lord, to honor and bring glory to God.

First Corinthians 2:16b tells us, “We have the mind of Christ.” That is, Jesus will reveal His thoughts as we remain true to Scripture and turn away from those who exalt either themselves or their ideas.

“Itching ears” generates misplaced devotion and causes us to put our faith in miracles or in experiences. Instead, we should put our faith in the Scripture and on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do You Trust God?

What in the world is “trust”? Can “trust” be qualified? What I am getting at is… oh, let’s start over.

Let’s define the word. Trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. It is conviction · credence · reliance

Can a person live without ever trusting someone or something? No.

You think I’m wrong? Let’s check it out.

Are you sitting on a chair or standing up? Either way, you are trusting something. You either trust the chair to hold you – as I am doing right now – or you trust the floor to hold you; and the floor is holding the chair. I don’t care if you weigh 75 pounds or 575 pounds: you trust the floor, chairs, the bed, even a motor vehicle to hold you; which proves you trust their manufacturers. So we just proved that everyone on earth trusts someone or something. It’s just a matter of in what or in whom we will place that trust.

Next: can “trust” be qualified? That is, can you partially trust someone? Or is it an all-or-nothing concept?

When I was five years old, we lived in El Cajon, California. My dad put me on the top bunkbed, and said, “When I say ‘jump’, you jump to me. (Yes, the lights were on.) But I was afraid of falling, so I told dad I didn’t want to jump. Dad promised me that there was absolutely no way I could fall; because even if I jumped awkwardly or inadvertently fell off the bed, he would still catch me.

I don’t know if you understand the fear of falling, but I was almost scared to death! I was emotionally paralyzed. But dad said very gently, “Eugene, if you can’t trust me, how will you ever learn to trust God?” You see, the proof or result of trust is obedience.

 Well that made sense – even to a 5-year-old.

So I suddenly leapt off the bed and hit dad in the chest with my 40 pounds and nearly knocked him over. Dad caught his balance and asked, “Why didn’t you warn me you were going to jump?” I responded, “You said you would catch me.” Dad chuckled, hugged me, and said, “Good job.”

Dad taught me about trust. Dad taught me a lot about life.

Did I fully trust dad, or did I partially trust him? If we consider my fear, we might say I partially trusted him. But if we consider my obedience, we say I absolutely trusted him. Obedience verifies trust.

What was it dad said? “Eugene, if you can’t trust me, how will you ever learn to trust God?”

As I grew older, I learned to trust God with my entire life.

How would my faith in God have been affected if dad dropped me? That’s hard to say because dad caught me. However, Dad most likely would have picked me up, apologized profusely to mom (who was watching), and tenderly talked to me about what went wrong. And because of that, I think I would still have learned to trust God.

I’ve experienced many situations since I left my parents’ home where I could have forfeited my faith and lost trust in God. But I am reminded of John 6:65-68. Many of Jesus’ disciples left Him, and Jesus asked if the twelve would also leave. “Peter responded, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Job was one of the richest men in the world, and he lost everything. He lost his children, livestock, respect and admiration of friends and business associates, and was accused of being a terrible sinner.

But in spite of all of that, Job never lost his faith in God. He wanted to talk to God face-to-face and defend himself, but he never lost his faith. Job 13:15a says, “Though he [God] slay me, yet will I trust in him.” In chapter 19 verse 25, Job proclaims, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will eventually come to the earth.” And God, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, did come to earth to redeem us.

Human mistakes and misfortunes should not deter us from trusting God. Jesus said if we love him, we will obey him. And Obedience is a manifestation of trust.

So, do you trust God?

You Can Rule With God

The following is an excerpt from the chapter on Humility in my book, Charter of the Christian Faith.

Years ago, Tom Whittlesey, a life-long friend and author in Tulsa, Oklahoma, wrote and gave me a proverb that helps me stay on track:

“God is not impressed with our ability; God is not disappointed with our inability; God is only gratified with our availability.”

With that in mind, think about the following people who were available to God.

  1. Noah wasn’t a ship builder, but he obeyed God and saved mankind from total annihilation.
  2. Abraham was trained to be an idol-maker but became the father of the Faith.
  3. Sarah was Abraham’s pampered half-sister, but she became the mother of the Jewish nation.
  4. Moses grew up in the Egyptian palace, became a general in the Egyptian army, and committed murder. Nevertheless, he prompted Pharaoh to set the people free.
  5. Rahab was an innkeeper, and perhaps a prostitute; but she assisted the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan River. Then marrying an Israelite, she became one of the ancestresses of Jesus.
  6. King David committed adultery and ordered a murder, but he wrote many of the Psalms while making Israel a mighty nation.
  7. Deborah, the judge, was not a soldier, but she gave Barak the battle plan.
  8. Peter was an uncouth, impulsive fisherman, but he is the one who declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God! and became a leader in the early Church.
  9. Saul arrested Christians to be tortured or killed, but he became the Apostle Paul, ministered to the gentile nations, and wrote at least thirteen of the New Testament books.
  10. Martin Luther was a depressed monk, but he rediscovered, “By faith you are saved; not by works lest any man should boast.”
  11. Corrie ten Boom was a watchmaker’s daughter; but surviving the holocaust during World War II, she shared her testimony of love and forgiveness around the world.
  12. Billy Graham was raised on a dairy farm, but he took the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

Did you notice how each of the people on that list helped build the kingdom of God? They were not trained to do what made them famous, and all of them would have remained in the shadows of history had they not obeyed God. However, because they responded to the Lord, their influence is still being felt in the world, and that is one way by which they are rulers in God’s Kingdom.

Because of God’s promises, their rulership has been increased in heaven. The principle is in Luke 19:17 where Jesus was telling a story. “The king said to the servant, ‘You are a good servant. Since I can trust you with small things, I will let you rule over ten of my cities” (NCV). When we humbly avail ourselves to the Lord, and obey Him, God is not hesitant to expand our reputation in order to build His Kingdom. Let me repeat: God is not impressed with our ability; God is not disappointed with our inability; God is only gratified with our availability.

God created us to rule with Him. His response to our humble availability is likely to be, I am indeed pleased. After a maturing process, you shall become a ruler in My Kingdom, beginning in this earthly life.

Read more in Charter of the Christian Faith – available at Amazon.com.

The Beatitudes are Progressive

This is a follow-up to last week’s blog. It gives a little more insight into the book, Charter of the Christian Faith.

I began seriously studying the Beatitudes while attending the Oklahoma Baptist University in 1985. At the end of the semester, I had to choose one of five topics for my thesis, and I chose Matthew 5:1-12. As I began the research, I experienced almost as much confusion as I did when I read the Beatitudes as a child. But the more I dug into the topic, the more interesting it became, and the greater impact it had on my life.

A major concept I discovered is that the Beatitudes are progressive; they are sequential steps to godliness. It wasn’t obvious when I compared Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God with Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. The words didn’t adequately convey the intent of the Beatitudes; that’s why it’s difficult to comprehend the depth of the message. But when I realized that poor in spirit is sincere humility and mourning is deep sorrow because I have offended God, it became clear that there is an order to these concepts.

This example will clarify my point. When we want to learn math, we don’t begin by studying lambda calculus or advanced trigonometry. We start with adding and subtracting, and progress from there. In like manner, we’ll find out that everything we need to know, or even want to know, about enhancing our relationship with Jesus, starts with humility: the first Beatitude.

As we study the Bible, we find that the Beatitudes, and how God uses them to change and mature us, flow in magnificent sequence—in perfect order.

As we often climb stairs one step at a time to enter a house, mankind has known for thousands of years that we learn one step at a time. Jesus knew it and was a master teacher. That’s why these are not random thoughts to mull over; they are sequential. Following a logical order, each Beatitude is the step to reach the next one.

The goal that God the Father set before all of us is for us to become like Christ, but He knows it will be a life-long endeavor. Therefore, He provided the eight-step process the Church calls the Beatitudes to make the spiritual journey more understandable. In fact, the Sermon on the Mount, prefaced by the Beatitudes “is considered to be the most important sermon Jesus ever preached and starts with what is considered to be the most important attitudes that we need to have, The Beatitudes.”11

Preceding each chapter, is a pictorial illustration of the journey. The man represents humanity, the donkey represents the human mind without Christ, and the lion represents the Lion of Judah, and that is Jesus who is available to help us.

How did Jesus begin this teaching?

And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain; and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him. And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying….

Whoa! Stop there. Let’s think about this.

There were 5,000 men, plus possibly another 5,000 women and children. How could a multitude that large hear, let alone understand, someone sitting down? Something doesn’t seem right about this picture.

That’s why we study. Let’s read further and analyze the scene.

Although Jesus spoke to large crowds at other times, Matthew 5:2 reveals that Jesus may not have been speaking loudly to thousands, or even hundreds of men, women, and children in this setting. Others may have heard, but the entire Sermon on the Mount—three chapters—was spoken primarily to these twelve men. Why do I say that?

The phrase He opened His mouth is a solemn pronunciation. This is in contrast with verses such as Mark 15:1 which says, And they cried out again, Crucify him! To cry out is to shout! But the phrase He opened His mouth is an important, quiet activity. Jesus was teaching His followers personally, quietly, and without the interference of a noisy crowd.

According to the end of chapter seven, there were many people on the hillside, and some listened in and learned from the Master. (Jesus also taught these same truths to others in different places.) But in this setting, although others may have heard, Jesus purposely addressed a small group of twelve men.

Learn more about Jesus’ primary teaching in the New Testament, and how you can become an effective representative of Almighty God by reading Charter of the Christian Faith. You may find the book on Amazon.

THE BE-WHATITUDES?

For many years I’ve taught about the Bible and from the Bible. One of the series I’ve been asked to teach on quite often is found in the 5th chapter of Matthew. Because of the profound nature of that section of Scripture, I call this teaching, Charter of the Christian Faith. Today’s blog is a portion of the preface of my book by the same name, and will give you a feel for what’s in the following pages. The foreword is written by Rev. David Ravenhill.

I remember as a child in Sunday School, one of my teachers wanted us to memorize the be-something-or-others; but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. I hated memorizing, and these things didn’t make any sense to me. Not only did I not understand them, but the teacher also couldn’t adequately explain them, either so I never got a gold star for learning those be-whatitudes.

But I did mentally retain other verses that made sense to me. Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” And John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” I understood those verses, even in the King James Version. In fact, most of what I committed to memory was from the KJV.

Also, Acts 1:11 clearly told me that while the people stood watching the incredulous sight of Jesus ascending into the sky, angels told them how Jesus will return. Men of Galilee, they said, why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go! (NLT). That gave me confidence that Jesus would come back, and it told me how He would return. No questions, no guesses. No less than 67 famous people, and more than five hundred others, have claimed to be the returned messiah; but people should have understood they were fake messiahs because not one of them came the way the Bible says Jesus would return.

Nevertheless, I had a hard time with the Beatitudes, but I wasn’t alone. Author Philip Yancey said in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, “I learned the Beatitudes [as a teenager] yet I never faced the fact that none of us—I above all—could make sense of those mysterious sayings, let alone live by them.” He later said, “If I fail to understand this teaching, I fail to understand Him [Jesus].” That is a powerful statement.

Teacher and song-writer Bill Gaither said, “What we call the Beatitudes still challenge our value systems every day.” Many people—including many in the Church—view the Beatitudes merely as lofty ideals: holy-sounding platitudes which are beyond our grasp. Some people think of them as verses or sayings to comfort the spirit in time of trouble. But is this the primary intent of the first major teaching that Jesus gave us in the New Testament? I don’t think so.

I believe Matthew 5:3-12 is the Charter of the Christian Faith, and this Charter is developed in the full Sermon on the Mount in chapters five through seven.

Again, quoting E. Stanley Jones, “Years ago when I asked Mahatma Gandhi what we could do to naturalize Christianity in India so that it would cease to be a foreign thing, among other concepts he replied: ‘Practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down’—and he had in mind the Sermon on the Mount.… This fresh discovery, by a Hindu, of a truth long buried beneath the armaments of the fighting West, has been one of the most important spiritual discoveries of modern times.”

In order to properly understand the Beatitudes, we must realize they were not originally intended for our consolation, and they’re not statements to make us sound spiritual. Rather, they comprise one of the most important sets of instructions we could ever receive.

I’ll share more highlights in weeks to come, but you can order your copy on Amazon today. Also, check out my website at genelinzey.com.

What’s the Problem Here?

Why is there an uproar in America about having the Ten Commandments posted in public view? You might have been told the issue is separation of church and state, but that isn’t true. Some of my friends who call themselves atheists, and with whom I get along fine, don’t have a problem with the Ten Commandments being posted. Granting me the freedom of expressing my faith grants them the corresponding freedom to express theirs.

Although many faiths could be mentioned in this blog, I will mention only Islam, Judaism, and Christianity: three monotheistic religions.

Let’s briefly look at and comment on the commandments found in Deuteronomy 5: 6-21. The first four reflect on our relationship with God.

  • You must not have any other gods before [in priority over, or other than] me. Every person in the world is religious, and every country in the world has its own god or gods. Other nations place great importance on their god or gods without worrying about offending others – Islam being the most dynamic about this – so why are Christians being forced to change?
  • You must not create an object to worship. Adherents of Judaism and Islam agree with this, and many agnostics and atheists don’t care about it.
  • You must not use the name of God thoughtlessly or loosely. Although most people misunderstand this one and ignore it, adherents of Judaism and Islam agree with this principle.
  • You must honor the Sabbath day. Labor unions worked hard to give their members one or two days off from work each week, and the courts who invalidate the commandments won’t sit in session on Saturday or Sunday. Also, Judaism and Islam have their day of rest.

The next six commandments relate to human interpersonal relationships.

  • Honor your father and mother. Properly understood and applied, this command is one of the primary supports for most civilizations on earth.
  • You must not commit murder. We have stiff laws prohibiting murder. This command attempts to protect us from mentally sick and evil people who purposely kill others. Islam does not agree with this one.
  • You must not commit adultery. When this was observed and upheld in our culture, our society was strong. However, many people – including members of our courts, legislative bodies, and some presidents and pastors – have disregarded this one simply because sexual perversion is one of the world’s primary joys.
  • You must not steal. We arrest people and send them to jail for this.
  • You must not lie. We have contracts to keep people honest, and we can arrest people if they break contracts or commit perjury.
  • You must not think of taking your neighbors wife, house, land, or whatever else belongs to him. This command covers a lot of territory, and the courts are busy tending this every week of the year.

We’ve just seen that US citizens are not against at least seven of the rules, so what’s the problem with the Ten Commandments?

Here it is: the sound of “The 10 Commandments” reminds people of the God of the Bible. They may not be against a moral code; they are against God. And many who are NOT against God have been deceived into thinking the vast majority of people have to change our culture in order to keep from offending the miniscule minority. However, any culture that adheres to and lives by these ten laws – including honoring a Sabbath day – will be a healthier society. And most people know it.

I am still convinced these laws are the basic foundation upon which our nation was founded, although some folks disagree with me.

When we examine the Ten Commandments, it’s likely that only three of them are offensive to the general public. They are numbers 1, 3, and 7: many people don’t want God in their lives because they want the freedom to enjoy their evil, sexually-perverted lifestyle.

Some adherents of Islam agree with the ideals included in nine of the Ten Commandments. But they disagree with it all simply because the laws originated from the Judeo-Christian God; and, of course, command #1 disallows serving another god.

Other people all around the world have their own gods, and they don’t change their religion in the face of disagreement or opposition. But we in America are changing our historical, foundational belief in God simply because people disagree with us. But removing our historic foundation is outlawing moral integrity, and approving immoral hypocrisy. And that could destroy the fabric of our society. What’s the problem here?

I’ll tell you.

Many Americans have been convinced that in order to be tolerant, we must set our own beliefs aside. We have been deceived into thinking that stating our own faith is an intolerant act.

But our country has lead the way in guaranteeing personal freedom. We have openly offered freedom of expression of faith for all religions. So in keeping with the concept of religious freedom, and refraining from being ignorant hypocrites, we should not deny our own citizens the freedom of expressing their faith in Jesus Christ and Almighty God.

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.

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.