Category Archives: Bible study

We’re Not Required to Swallow Camels

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:8.

I have the urge to judge myself according to the big things I have or haven’t—mostly haven’t—done. And when I see the lack of greatness, I feel guilty, and I want to do something. (A wise man said that we are all arminians by nature.) I want to get a degree in theology, or write “the definitive book on” whatever, or be a martyred missionary. Why is that? It’s because I think too highly of myself.

Pride makes the mortal want immortality. Vanity makes me want to be more than I am. How easily I forget God’s greatness while I search for my own.

Does God require, or even desire, for us to do great things? What He desires of us, He will accomplish through us. What does He require? Justice, mercy, and humility, says Micah. God wants us to look to Him. To walk with him, humbly, like a child. And he wants us to love Him and others. In my zeal to do something bigger, I forget what God requires.

God help us not to strain at gnats in our zeal to swallow camels.

Let Every Man be Slow to Tweet

“In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise,” Proverbs 10:19.

This verse, along with James 1:19, has been the one I’ve most often repeated to myself, and the one I’ve most often despised myself for not remembering.

In his commentary, John Gill writes:

“Where a great deal is said, without care and forethought, there will not only be many weak things uttered, but much falsehood, and at least many idle things, which cannot be excused from sin…”

And Matthew Henry writes:

“Those that love to hear themselves talk do not consider what work they are making for repentance.”

This not only applies to worldly talk, but can especially apply to “spiritual” talk (see Ecclesiastes 5:1-2). It is in this area that we should be the most cautious, humble, and “slow to speak.” When we think that we are being “led” to set a brother straight, or that God has “laid it on our hearts” to say something, we should have a care.

I don’t want to excuse our sin, but I have no doubt that temptation is more present and pressing than it was in Gill’s day. The lumber yard wasn’t open on Sunday mornings in the spring. There were no billboards of scantily clad women along the wagon road. And there was no WordPress, no Facebook, no Twitter, nor email tempting one to spew forth words for the whole world to read.

It’s true that “Speaking may be to great profit and advantage, when it is with care and judgment, and founded on close meditation and study,” (Gill). But, when there is no care or judgment, no close meditation or study, we should stay quiet, both in the real and the electronic world.

Selah

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.

Selah. (Psalm 46:1-3, KJV)

Selah.” In the midst of such a hurly-burly the music may well come to a pause, both to give the singers breath, and ourselves time for meditation. We are in no hurry, but can sit us down and wait while earth dissolves, and mountains rock, and oceans roar. Ours is not the headlong rashness which passes for courage, we can calmly confront the danger, and meditate upon terror, dwelling on its separate items and united forces. The pause is not an exclamation of dismay, but merely a rest in music: we do not suspend our song in alarm, but retune our harps with deliberation amidst the tumult of the storm. It were well if all of us could say, “Selah,” under tempestuous trials, but alas! too often we speak in our haste, lay our trembling hands bewildered among the strings, strike the lyre with a rude crash, and mar the melody of our life song,

Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David.

“For the Lord gives wisdom”

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding, Proverbs 2:5, ESV.

There is much that can be said about our verse, but I want to make three simple points. First, true wisdom comes from God. Second, if we want wisdom, we have to seek it. Third, if we seek wisdom, and ask for it, we can trust God to give it.

One thing that all wise people have in common is humility. This isn’t true of all intelligent people; you might know a prideful genius. Nor is it true of all educated people, hence the phrase, “puffed up with knowledge.” But pride and wisdom are foes; where one is, the other isn’t. It takes humility to realize that we need wisdom, and it takes humility to realize that we must look outside of ourselves to find it.

The Proverb tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, so we should realize that wisdom doesn’t come from within. We must look outside of ourselves to something greater. To that which has fallen on hard times in our day—Truth, which comes from God.

Amanda and I lived in Motley County, Texas for three years. Motley County lies in the midst of the northwest Texas ranch country, where land is measure in sections instead of acres. With a county population of 1200, there was no need for each town to have their own school, so all 100 students attended Motley County Independent School district. The nearest decent grocery store was 60 miles away; Amanda’s doctor was in Amarillo—130 miles away.

Motley County lies at the edge of the Caprock Escarpment, which separates the rugged rolling plains of West Texas from the flat, endless high plains of the Texas panhandle. When Amanda was expecting our two daughters, and then for a time after they were born, we regularly made the trip up the Caprock and across the plains to Amarillo. For miles and miles, the tall, swaying grass goes on, like a calm sea, with nothing else in the way of the horizon.  Unless you pass a grain bin, a feedlot, or an Allsup’s, the scenery never changes.

Not much more than a century before we drove our Trailblazer up I-27, cowboys were blazing their own trails through the same high plains. There weren’t any street signs, or even grain bins, during the cattle drives; no land marks at all, natural or otherwise. In those days, it was easy to get lost in the high plains, just as it is easy to get lost in a desert. You could wander endlessly. But the cowboys knew of a fixed, unchangeable truth, an infallible guide—the North Star.

At night when the stars came out, the north bound cattle drives could see if they had drifted off course. When the chuck wagon and other wagons were unhitched in the evening, the drovers pointed the wagon tongues toward the North Star. That way, they were set to go in the morning.

If God is real, and the Bible is His Word, then we have a sure and infallible guide, more sure than the North Star. Spoken from the One who created the heavens and the High Plains, the One who knows “the end from the beginning,” there can be no greater source of wisdom than the written Word of God. Though the written Word is our greatest source of wisdom, it’s not the only source. The Bible itself affirms this. God uses many means to teach us. All is God’s creation, and all of His creation speaks of Him. But we don’t always know what we should learn from nature, or how to apply it, do we?  So the Bible is the safest source.

In our search for wisdom, we can get distracted and off course. We can wander endlessly amongst the philosophies of our world, the well-meant advice from friends, the thousands of well-marketed self-help books. We need something with which to check our course. All true wisdom comes from God. To make sure that we are headed in the right direction, we must follow His Word.

So there is the Bible. I have several of them, and there’s no one in my town who doesn’t at least have access to one. You most likely have one, too. And there are people available to teach us if we wish to learn more. Granted, wise people may be scarce in your town. They are scarce in any town. Gray hair, I have learned, doesn’t equal wisdom. But wise people from other places have written lots of books which are also easily available. And then there’s life itself, which gives plenty opportunity for making gains in wisdom, though it seems that we rarely take advantage of the opportunity. Hence, gray hair and wisdom aren’t the same.

Learning takes effort. I’ve named only a few sources of wisdom; there are many, but none will avail if not used. We must seek, as the proverb says. We have to read, look, ask, and listen. We must think, and think some more. Wisdom won’t fall in the lap of the lazy, though a loaf of bread, or a roof, may.

We can look with confidence. Our proverb tells us that the Lord gives wisdom. James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him, (James 1:5).

In the C.S. Lewis book, The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan the lion sends Digory and Polly, with the flying horse Fledge, to the walled garden on top the hill, far out of Narnia, to retrieve a life-giving apple from the tree in the midst of the garden. The first night, the children are hungry:

“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.

“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.

“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.

“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse….”But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”

God knows that we need wisdom, but He likes to be asked, too. “It will be given him” who asks, and of course seeks and searches. Those are the prerequisites. We have to know that we lack wisdom. We have to ask. And we must “Seek it like silver, and search for it like hidden treasure,” (Proverbs 2:4).

Let’s remember, here, that God doesn’t just “Help those who help themselves.” This unbiblical cliché ignores a most important aspect of God—His grace. God helps the helpless, those who can’t help themselves, and those who know that they can’t help themselves.

This doesn’t contradict what we have said above about laziness. Though God helps the helpless, he also blesses and works through our effort. A pastor friend of mine told me that the Holy Spirit works most through those sermons that the preacher works most to prepare, and I’ve learned that to be true.

In the early 90’s, my Dad was laid off from two jobs within a short time. With a house payment and wife and two children, he had a lot to take care of. Daddy believes in a sovereign, all-powerful God. He does today, and he did then, so he trusted God to provide. That didn’t mean that he sat in the house waiting for heavenly manna and a monthly mortgage check. I remember instead that when he returned from interviews, he put on his work clothes and mowed lawns, painted houses, and did whatever else he could to make money to hold us over. Daddy worked. God provided.

Paul assures believers that God will “supply every need.” James includes wisdom within these needs, and says that if we ask, “it will be given.” So “seek it like silver,” and trust God to deliver.

Why I’m Going Back to My Own Bible Reading Plan for 2011, and why it Matters

I started my 2010 Bible reading plan last November, so it’s time for me to review this year and plan for next. How did the plan help my reading? Did it help my reading? And will I use it again?

For 2010, I used the Robert Murray M’Cheyne Bible reading plan. By reading the 4-5 pre-selected chapters a day, I will have read the New Testament and Psalms twice, and the rest of the Old Testament once.

There are some things I like about the plan. The first thing I like is the variety. Each day’s reading is made up of chapters from different parts of the Bible. Today, for instance, my readings were 1 Kings 18, 1 Thessalonians 1, Ezekiel 47, and Psalm 39: history, epistle, major prophet, and wisdom literature—a nice mix. But this forced variety is also a disadvantage. I’ll tell you how later.

The next thing I like is the quantity of reading. I can manage 4-5 chapters a day. And I’m happy with the amount of Bible that is covered over the year.

So, will I use it again? Not next year. I’ve decided to go back to my old plan, the one I used for the seven years before I tried M’Cheyne.  Here’s how it works and why I like it.

It’s simple. At the start of the year, I write all 66 books of the Bible on the front of an index card, which serves as a book mark for the rest of the year. As I finish a book, I check it off. The rules are few. First, I try to read at least three chapters a day except Sunday, when I read five. This allows me to read every chapter in a year. Second, every book must be checked off by year’s end.

The main advantage is freedom. There are days when I want to read more than three chapters, and days when I can’t read any. Since there isn’t a daily schedule, I can be flexible. Usually, what ends up happening is that I read more. I finish in an average of 10-11 months. One year I finished in 8. But who cares if it takes me 13?

This freedom improves the quality of my reading. On days when I’m struggling with a text, I can reread the same chapter several times, or I can stop reading altogether without getting behind. On days when I’m enjoying a particular book, I can read as long as I like.

Besides being able to choose how much I read, I can choose what I read. Some days I want to concentrate on the Old Testament, and so I can. If I’m feeling smart, I read Paul. Feeling down, I read the Psalms. This, too, improves the quality of my reading. The more enjoyable it is, the more attentive I am.

One last thing: the disadvantage to variety in popular reading plans. Reading only one chapter a day from a specific book or genre can disconnect the reading from the context, making it more like a daily devotional than serious Bible reading. My old way of reading allows me to do a more concentrated and in-depth study of a particular passage, book, or genre. This works well for me because variety distracts me.

So, back to the index card. It works well for me. It may not for you. The important thing is that we read the Bible. All of it. By reading all of it, we have a better understanding of the individual parts. And by having a plan, we’re more likely to read all of it, understand the individual parts of it, and come to a better knowledge of God through it.

Questions From Today’s Reading

I’m much more attentive to my reading when I take notes. This morning I wrote down some questions from each of my passages. Answer them if you want. If you get them all right, you’ll be eligible to win a blog cap from Calvinistic Cartoons. You’ll just need to pay the shipping. I’ll pick up the price of the cap.

1 Samuel 29: David sets out with the Philistine army as they prepare to fight Israel, but the commanders send David and his men back. David acts offended.

Was David really going to fight his people? If not, was he wrong in deceiving the Philistines?

Ezekiel 8: In Ezekiel 6, God pronounces judgement on Israel for the sins they commit in the mountains..  Where do the sins that he pronounces judgment upon in chapter 8 take place? What parallels can we draw between the visible church then and the visible church today?

John 9: Why did Jesus anoint the blind man’s eyes with mud and then tell him to wash. Couldn’t he have healed him with a word?

1 Cor. 10: Paul says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Some teach that Paul isn’t talking about temptation to sin, but that he’s talking about trials. How do we know, from a simple reading, that Paul is talking about temptation to sin? (The answer is not “because Paul uses the word temptation.”) Hint: One of the most basic rules of interpretation.

Thoughts from this morning’s reading

In 1 Samuel 27, David goes to live with the Philistines in order to escape Saul. Achish gives him and his men Ziklag, from where they raid the Geshurites, Girzites, and the Amalekites, killing the men and the women. Why? There’s no indication that God told David to do this. Again, we see that even those after God’s own heart are still sinners.

Anyone who doubts that God hates sin should read Ezekiel 6, where God announces judgment on those who practice idolatry in the mountains: “…I will cast down your slain before your idols. And I will lay the dead bodies of the people of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars.”

Before we judge Israel we should remember our own idols. And what does the fact that God has Ezekiel address the mountains, rather than the people, tell us? You tell me.

In John 7, Jesus says, “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory, but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood,” (vs. 18). I like what Greg Gilbert said: “I’m radically committed to being unoriginal.” Preach the word.

Finally, in 1 Cor. 8, Paul says: “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” The more we learn, the more we see that Paul is right.

Paul’s word regarding not offending weaker brethren can be taken too far. Everything that we do has the potential to offend someone. Brain Hedges has a great post this week: “Beware of ‘Professional Weaker Brethren’.”

Paul later writes, “Why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” (10:29-31, ESV).

Jesus was called a glutton and “winebibber,” but he didn’t abstain for the sake of the weaker brethren.

I’m reading through the Bible using the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan. Won’t you join me? You don’t have to wait until January 1!

A Newly Converted Arthur Pink

From Chapter 1 of The Life of Arthur W Pink by Iain H Murray…

Before his conversion, Pink was a diligent student. After the conversion, his focus of study changed. He immediately loved reading and studying the Word of God.

For the next two years Pink spent all of his spare time in his bedroom reading. He read at least ten chapters of the Bible a day, and then spent time with a more in-depth study of one chapter. He also memorized a verse a day, later writing that, “The writer memorised the whole epistle of Ephesians on the street-car, a verse at a time.”

Pink immediately felt that he was called to be God’s servant. The seminaries in Europe at that time were liberal. Pink was not willing to enroll in one. As Iain Murray writes, “Having already been trained in one school of unbelief he had no intention of entering another.”

Instead, Pink sailed across the ocean to enroll in Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute. He spent six weeks there before he told the school officials that he “desired to enter the pastorate without further delay, that [he] felt [he] was ‘wasting [his] time’ at the institute.”

In July of 1910, Pink became pastor of the Congregational church in the small town of Silverton, Colorado, where he stayed for two years.

Do you think that Pink’s refusal of formal theological education helped or hurt him?

You can see my other posts on this book here.

My full review of this book was posted on Discerning Reader. You can read it here. DR editor Mark Tubbs calls this book “The definitive biography of one of the most influential Evangelical authors of the twentieth century.”

The New ESV Online

News from Crossway (Quoted with permission):

“Wheaton, IL (May 13, 2010)—-Crossway is pleased to announce the new ESV Online. A key part of Crossway’s ESV Digital initiative, the ESV Online is a powerful and convenient tool giving access to the ESV Bible and other resources for understanding and applying God’s Word.

Free access to the ESV Online is now available by signing up at www.esvonline.org. Users are able to customize their own interface, highlight and mark verse numbers, add bookmark ribbons, search the ESV text, and manage personal notes. The free version also includes a variety of daily reading plans and devotional calendars.

Want to try the highly acclaimed ESV Study Bible free? For a limited time, everyone who signs up for an ESV Online account will receive a free 30 day trial access to the ESV Study Bible. Current Online ESV Study Bible users will be contacted via email over the coming weeks and will have their accounts migrated to the ESV Online site with access to all the study notes and resources.  The Study Bible module is also available to purchase within the ESV Online platform or for free with the purchase of any print edition of the ESV Study Bible.

 In addition to the above, Crossway is developing many more ESV Online modules to enhance the study of God’s Word. Stay tuned for the release of Greek tools, MacArthur study notes, commentaries, Bible Audio recordings in numerous languages, and much more!”

“What Does God Want of Us Anyway?” by Mark Dever

What Does God Want of Us Anyway: A Quick Overview of the Whole Bible

Mark Dever

Crossway, 2010

Dr. Mark Dever has a passion for teaching the Word of God. And, like all good teachers, he wants his pupils to be equipped to learn on their own. A key to understanding the Bible is seeing how all the parts fit together—the big picture. In order to understand who God is and how He deals with His people, we must consider His entire revelation. Considering isolated lines out of a text on the Civil War would be a poor way to study American history, just as considering verses outside of the context of the whole Bible is a poor way to study God.

What Does God Want of Us Anyway, as the subtitle tells us, is a quick overview of the whole Bible. There are three main parts—the Message of the Whole Bible, the Message of the Old Testament, and the Message of the New Testament. These parts originally came from three sermons Dever preached at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Those who listen to Dever’s 9Marks interviews know that he loves brevity. He often asks his guests to give one-line gospel presentations, one-sentence summaries of the books they’ve written, or one-word responses to books they’ve read. His new book proves that he can summarize with the best. Even the subtitle, A Quick Overview, didn’t prepare me for the tiny package that arrived in the mail. After all, it is the whole Bible, a work which only the most skilled can explain in 122 pages.

Dever explains the main themes throughout the Bible, which, he says, is primarily a history book, albeit inspired. Through His acts in history, God reveals who He is, who we are, and how He deals with us. The same themes—God’s holiness, man’s sin, the need for redemption, and covenant promises—run through the entire book. But Dever doesn’t ignore the trees in his zeal to show us the forest. He summarizes, in about one line each, every single one of the 66 books of the Bible. And he does a great job of it.

Many Christians study only their favorite parts of the Bible. Some even ignore the entire Old Testament. But Dever says this is a mistake:

If we can better understand the Old Testament, we will have gone a long way toward better understanding the New Testament and, therefore, better understanding  Jesus Christ, Christianity, God, and ourselves.

A better understanding of Jesus Christ—isn’t that the goal? And if we reach that better understanding through taking a look at the Bible as one unified book with one unified, consistent message, then this little book of Dever’s, though most basic, is most important.

Since the three divisions of the book are based upon three sermons, there is some overlap and repetition. Dever himself points this out. But other than that, it will be hard to find a more concise yet more helpful book on understanding the Word of God.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Crossway.