What would a Resource Site for Bible Study contain?

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I’m throwing together some random thoughts today about another one of my lifetime projects that I hope to get on the web before I pop off.

I have already begun posting on my devotions site. The idea behind that one is that as I read my daily devotions each morning, I write whatever seems appropriate, and blog it.  Before long, I will have produced a running commentary of whole books of the Bible, and the idea is that some day I will have covered the whole text. At my current rate, I should complete this project in four or five years. Any time I am granted beyond that will be good for corrections and rewrites.  One useful thing that I have done is tag and categorize the posts by text and subject. That makes the site useful for searching topically as well.

Another of my lifetime projects is the completion of a systematic theology site.  This idea started as a book on systematic theology, and then I started posting each chapter as it was written.  At present I am about 2/3rds completed with that project.  Already I have found that if people ask particular doctrinal questions, I can usually refer them to a chapter or section in the blog for more detailed answers.  These posts are categorized by theological locus.

The project I am considering right now is a resource site for Bible study.  What should such a site contain? Here is a short list:

  1. Background information on each paragraph/ pericope.
  2. Word studies and translation notes on key words found.
  3. Theological summaries of key topics.
  4. Significant quotes from commentaries, etc.
  5. Suggestions as to how to apply the texts.

Did I forget something?  If you have a suggestion of something else which should be included, send a comment.

I am also thinking that the best way to do this project would be to do everything in one post per section, and to start with Genesis 1 and go through the Bible text in the given order.

I am not ready to start this project yet, because I want to plan it so that it can be accomplished without delays and revisions. I also want to have an idea of what I am going to do about titles, and what the tags and categories for such a site should be.

I am also toying with the  idea of setting it up so that others could contribute to the project. This may entail getting people to volunteer to contribute as collaborators for certain texts or sections. Or, it may just be a matter of asking people to contribute by means of comments.

The idea of a resource site is intriguing to me.  If done well, it will have the advantage over a commentary in that it would not be confined by space, and it would make the data available to the general public without cost.

If someone reading this has the idea that you might want to try putting together a resource site as well, GO FOR IT!  There is plenty of space on the web.  I look forward to seeing what happens!

Overcoming Pray-ers Block

Praying-Hands-Print-C10055209

 

Why Prayer is Important

Prayer is among the most important disciplines that mature Christians learn in their walk with the LORD. The saying goes that “prayer changes things.” That is not exactly true. If it were not for our loving, merciful and sovereign God, prayer would accomplish nothing. But since we have a God who answers prayers, the importance of prayer cannot be understated.

Most Christians agree with this assessment, so proving the value of prayer is not necessary. Even the most immature Christians recognize and acknowledge that they should pray – that it would be good for them if they did pray, and that prayer would change their lives if they did it more often.

The Bible reminds us again and again that when God’s people pray, things happen:

“Abraham prayed to God, and God healed…”[1]

“Isaac prayed to the LORD …and Rebekah his wife conceived.”[2]

“Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down.”[3]

Hannah prayed for a child. She “called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the LORD.””[4]

“Elisha prayed” and some eyes were opened, others were blinded.[5]

“Hezekiah …and Isaiah …prayed” and stopped the Assyrian army from invading Judah.[6]

“Ezra prayed” and his people repented of their rebellion.[7]

Daniel prayed and God delivered him from the lions.[8]

Jonah prayed, and God delivered him by the fish, and then from the fish.[9]

Jesus prayed, and taught his disciples to pray.[10]

They prayed, and taught the church to pray.[11]

Pray-ers Block

But in spite of this biblical evidence, I dare say that we all stand convicted that we do not pray enough, and feel defeated by our sad attempts to reach heaven in prayer. We read Paul’s challenge to “pray without ceasing,”[12] but are ashamed to admit that we do not live up to that challenge. Like a writer, who knows she should be writing, but suffers from writers block, we pray-ers are often stricken with pray-ers block.

There are no easy, automatic solutions to the problem of pray-ers block. Like regular bible study, consistent giving, and loving fellowship with other believers, regular prayer is a discipline. It can be accomplished, but not without hard work, determination, and self-control.

Perhaps some readers are ready to stop reading now – afraid that my counsel has strayed away from the doctrine of salvation by grace. Let me assure you that I have not done so. Every spiritual and physical blessing we ever receive from the LORD is through grace — bought by the blood of Christ and not our own works.

But the champions of salvation by grace were also the champions of regular disciplined prayer. They taught that once crossing the threshold of deliverance we would be faced with a wilderness that we would need to be guided through. That guidance comes through the Holy Spirit, and we keep in contact with him through prayer. They knew from the writings of Moses that it is possible to be rescued by grace and still die in the wilderness. For that reason they commanded prayer.

To put it another way, our call into the church by grace is a call to be the church – which requires doing battle in the spirit realm. God has taken up his battle armour for us. “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.”[13] That does not mean that we are bystanders in the spiritual war. No, by faith in God’s grace we must:

· Trust in his truth (fasten on the belt),

· Trust in his righteousness (put on the breastplate),

· Trust in his gospel of peace (put on the shoes),

· Trust in his protection (take up the shield of faith),

· Trust in his salvation (take the helmet),

· Trust in his word (take the sword of the Spirit)[14]

But that trust is demonstrated by “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints”.[15] The kingdom of God is at war with the kingdom of darkness. We demonstrate which side we are on –our citizenship in the kingdom –by doing warfare – on our knees.

Some practical Suggestions

Pray-ers block is not something that can be overcome by putting into practice a few simple steps to success. However, like writers block, it can be overcome if the sufferer really wants to, and is willing to change her behaviour to make it happen. To that end, here are a few suggestions of the kind of changes that have helped others pray more consistently.

1. Pray out loud. For many, attempts to pray silently are defeated by minds that get distracted too easily. Some have found that praying out loud helps them to concentrate, and keeps their minds from wandering off.

2. Write your prayers. Writing out one’s thoughts to the LORD often helps to keep those prayers on target. Writing is also understood as being more substantial than merely speaking, which can help the pray-er to realize the significance of what he is doing. The Bible contains many examples of prayers offered to God which have been written for our benefit.

3. Read and/or listen to other people’s prayers. Those prayers written in the bible are of benefit to us today. Also other prayers by great saints of the past, and the things they have written about prayer can serve to guide us in expressing our devotion to the LORD, in seeking his will, and in praying for others. They cannot replace our prayers to God, but can serve as examples for us to follow.

4. Make lists. Some of the great warriors of prayer that I have known brought lists with them to prayer meetings. The lists helped them to focus on particular people and specific needs. The lists were also evidence that they took prayer seriously. This suggestion is particularly helpful if one is task-oriented. Be creative! Sources of these lists can include:

a. church bulletins and directories,

b. social networks,

c. newspapers,

d. prayer calendars,

e. newsletters,

f. websites,

g. school yearbooks,

h. club membership lists.

5. Illustrate. Use pictures to help focus your prayers. One of my lists is my friends on Facebook. Having profile pictures associated with each name helps me to stay focused on them and their needs as I pray. When we were foreign missionaries, my family benefited greatly from an army of pray-ers who kept our prayer card in their Bibles, or on their refrigerators. Regularly seeing our picture reminded them to keep praying for us.

6. Covenant. Make agreements with yourself and the LORD to pray for specific things at specific times. Examples of such covenants include:

a. praying for a congregation every time you pass the building where they worship,

b. praying for everyone you know on their birthdays,

c. praying for political leaders every time you see the national flag,

d. praying for the sick and injured that you know every time you see a hospital sign or see or hear an ambulance,

e. praying for people with a certain first name every time you see that name in writing, or hear it spoken.

f. dividing all your lists into seven categories, then assigning a day of the week to each category.

7. Record. When you pray for specific things, keep records of the requests so that you can see how God is answering your prayers. We often miss the joy of discovering how much God is listening because we fail to check back on the status of prayers previously prayed.

Persevere!

There are victories to be won, and obstacles to be overcome which will only happen when God’s people appeal to him to intervene. God is looking for a people who are willing to persevere through the times when prayer seems dry and distant. He is looking for people who see every challenge they face as an opportunity to pray until he does something about it. He is looking for a people who are not satisfied with a “normal” prayer life. We can be a people like that if we only learn to persevere in prayer.


[1] Genesis 20:17.

[2] Genesis 25:21.

[3] Numbers 11:2.

[4] 1 Samuel 1:20.

[5] 2 Kings 6:17-18.

[6] 2 Chronicles 32:20 -21.

[7] Ezra 10:1 .

[8] Daniel 6:10.

[9] Jonah 2:1, 10.

[10] Luke 11:1; Matthew 6:9.

[11] Acts 1:24; 4:31; James 5:13-16.

[12] 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

[13] Isaiah 59:17.

[14] Ephesians 6:13-17.

[15] Ephesians 6:18.

on Matthew 26:64

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R.H. asks

“Can you refer me to a helpful explanation of what exactly the Lord Jesus meant when he spoke (to) the High Priest in Matthew 26.64?”

 

 

Matthew 26:64 ESV

Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Caiaphas used this statement by Jesus as his only evidence to assert that Jesus was a blasphemer and deserved death. To him, Jesus had definitely crossed the line with the statement. What was Jesus saying?

  1. He affirmed Caiaphas’ charge that he claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God.  The idiomatic statement “You have said so” was understood as a direct confirmation.
  2. He implied that more evidence would follow. The statement “but I tell you, from now on…”  is the equivalent of the modern colloquialism “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” 
  3. His challenge was not specifically to Caiaphas, but to all of the people he represented.  The second “you” in the verse is plural in the Greek, and so is the third “you”. He is speaking to the Sanhedrin Council. He asserts that they  will personally see that Jesus is who he says he is at some point in the future. By extension, this challenge applies to all unbelieving Jews and all other nations and individuals who reject Christ in this life.
  4. Particularly, Jesus claims to be the one who will fulfill Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man who comes in the clouds (Daniel 7:13-14). This is a reference to his second coming. This explains when this revelation will ultimately take place.
  5. Jesus’ reference to his being “seated at the right hand of power” seems to come from Psalm 110:1-2.  This messianic prediction speaks of a time when the Messiah will rule over the earth, and God will defeat all of his enemies. Caiaphas would have understood this statement as a direct rejection of his authority as high priest. Jesus implied that by rejecting him, Caiaphas had sided with all other authorities who reject God, and will suffer their fate.

Why would Jesus use the enigmatic phrase “from now on” (Greek ap arti) if he was referring to his second coming?  I think he implied that the first evidence of his messiahship and coming glory was going to be the crucifixion itself. It was the crucifixion that the Sanhedrin was calling for.  Jesus was tying together the two divergent aspects of the Messiah by saying that the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is going to prove to be the Son of Man of Daniel 7. Remember that all the members of the Sanhedrin affirmed the concept of the coming Messiah in principle. 

This should serve as a wake-up call for all of those who claim to believe in God and the Bible but are not yet ready to subscribe to the lordship of Jesus Christ, and to join his church. The trial that day was not a debate between atheists and theists. It came down to one man: a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. The ultimate fate of millions of people depended upon the Sanhedrin’s willingness to accept that Jesus was who he said he was.  They were unwilling.

The gospel affirms that Jesus is who he said he was. Those willing to accept that claim will not be ashamed when they see him coming in the clouds.

Spring Cleaning

garbage_bags_250x251 Yesterday I spent a couple of hours cutting an old carpet into 3×3 squares, and pulling it up. Today my son-in-law helped as we stuffed that old carpet into garbage bags to be left for pickup with this week’s trash. We are repairing and refurnishing a room that will soon be occupied by my eight month old grandson. I told little Simon that the next time I do that, he is going to help.

This time of year in the U.S.A., we do a lot of those kinds of projects. We call it spring cleaning. It is a good time of year to do reality checks on old things that need to be thrown away – things that did not survive the winter, or have outlasted their usefulness. It never fails that once we start looking over all the things we have collected in storage rooms and attics and basements – we wonder why we have kept all this junk in the first place.

On a cosmic scale, God also has a spring cleaning in store. It is called Judgment day. The apostle Paul said that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.”[1] That man is Jesus Christ. He will decide who and what remains after Judgment Day.

In fact, he is actually doing the deciding right now. Today Jesus is hearing the prayers of people who are calling out his name for the first time. He is listening to those prayers. He is deciding who will inherit the eternal life of the age to come.[2] It is a gift that will not be given to everyone. Not everyone will make it into the next age. Those who do not make it will be destroyed.[3]

It is not a pleasant thought, but it is unavoidable. This world is too much marred and disfigured by sin and its consequences for a peaceful transition into the next age. The apostle Peter described that day as one which “will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”[4]

He had described the fate of those who are lost as like that of Sodom and Gomorrah – two Old Testament cities that were destroyed by God because of their wickedness. He said that “by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.”[5] Now, if they are the examples, and they are gone, why do so many think that God cannot truly destroy the ungodly? If they are the examples, and they were condemned to extinction, why do so many feel today that they are going to spend eternity alive somewhere – no matter what?

The fact is – the lost will be truly lost. They will not make it into the new age of everlasting life. God has a marvelous destiny of untold glory and joy, but only for those that Jesus Christ allows in. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father and eternal life except by him. Have you come to the Father through Jesus Christ? Come to him. Judgment Day is coming!


[1] Acts 17:30-31.

[2] Matt. 19:16, 29; 25:46; Mark 10:17, 30; Luke 10:25; 18:18, 30; John 3:15f, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2f; Acts 13:46, 48; Rom. 2:7; 5:21; 6:22f; Gal. 6:8; 1 Tim. 1:16; 6:12; Titus 1:2; 3:7; 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11, 13, 20; Jude 1:21.

[3] Matt. 10:28; 22:7; Luke 17: 27, 29; 20:16; 1 Cor. 3:17; 6:13; 15:24, 26; Heb. 10:39; 2 Peter 2:12; Rev. 11:18.

[4] 2 Peter 3:10.

[5] 2 Peter 2:6.

Bell’s Base Cards

lovewins Rob Bell does a masterful job of shaking the foundations of the modern theology of human destiny in his new book entitled Love Wins.[1]  He exposes the fact that much of what people say about salvation and human destiny is not based on the Bible, therefore does not hold up to the scrutiny of direct questioning. He dares to ask direct questions – many of them.

His tactic is similar to that of knocking down base cards in someone’s house of cards. A house of cards can be an enormous thing, but it is only as strong as the first few cards one lays out. Those base cards serve as the foundation. If they are stable, one can build fortresses out of flimsy cards upon them. But topple those base cards and the entire thing falls apart.  Bell has identified some flimsy base cards in modern theology: the idea that only professing believers will go to heaven and its corollary that all others will suffer in hell forever.

He attacked those familiar base cards by appealing to scripture after scripture to show that the Bible addresses very different issues. He wanted to show that the whole of modern theology about human destiny was built upon assumptions that do not come from the Bible.  He accomplished that mission. Each chapter in the book identifies a presupposition, and then proceeds to topple it by going to the text of scripture and comparing the presupposition to what scripture actually says. In short, Bell does theology and he does it well.

Nevertheless, Bell’s book is destined to be much maligned.  He has taken on subjects which are practically taboo for evangelical Christians.  “Heaven when you die” and “conscious eternal suffering for the lost” are concepts that are too holy for most good church people to investigate.  Expect Bell to be branded a hopeless Universalist. Expect retaliation. Expect The DaVinci Code all over again.

…And rightfully so.  Any good theologian worth his or her salt makes a difference.  Bell has swung a pendulum, and one should expect the thing to swing back in the other direction. Paul told the Corinthians that “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”[2]  Bad theology can mobilize good theology.

With that in mind, let me tell you where I think Bell has it wrong.  He spends numerous pages showing that the gospel message is not about going to heaven when you die – then he puts the saved in heaven when they die. He can do no other, because for Bell (and most of his opponents) the human soul has to live eternally somewhere.  Bell sweeps away all of the scriptural evidence that he has amassed against the concept that heaven is a destination. In the end, he says what he has been arguing against.

He agrees with his opponents that all human beings are immortal, except that, unlike them, he argues that their immortality gives human beings hope for restoration to God even after their bodies die. He argues from scripture that God is love and therefore never gives up on his own. So, as long as there is life, there is hope. He argues for the concept of future probation on the basis of two premises: God never stops loving, and human beings never stop living.

Herein is the problem: none of Bell’s opponents want to deny either of those premises.  They believe that God is both loving and just.  They want to agree with what the Bible says about his love, but not forget that it gives equal time to his wrath.  When they talk about Judgment Day, they envision that it will be just that – a day in which God will judge humanity, and determine the eternal fate of everyone.  They cannot envision a Judgment Day that extends to however many years and centuries needed to purge humanity of all sin and rescue all. Hence, they must believe that death seals the fate of all.

The all important doctrine that Bell and most of his opponents agree upon is the concept of innate immortality: that all humans are born immortal. That doctrine will lead Bell’s opponents to insist on eternal conscious suffering in hell for the lost. It leads Bell to insist that a loving God would never condemn people to such a fate for a limited life of sin; therefore he must give opportunity for restoration.

Allow me then – in Rob Bell fashion – to suggest that it is that presupposition that keeps both Bell and his opponents from seeing what the Bible says about the destiny of the lost.   The Bible says that only God is immortal.[3]  Immortality is a promise from God that Christ will give to the saved – it is not an innate characteristic of every human.[4]  For anybody to live anywhere forever, they must have eternal life. Eternal life is promised to the saved only.[5]

What, then, is the destiny of the lost?  The God of justice who gave us his truth in his word has decreed that the lost will be destroyed.[6]  Since the wages of sin is death, they will die.[7]  They will be appropriately punished according to the decree of a God who is both loving and just, and then they will be no more.[8]  They have been granted one life to live.  That one life is a gift of grace from God. Nobody deserves to live forever.  God is under no obligation to give unbelievers an eternal life, either to suffer, or to repent. He is sovereign, and if he has decided that the wages of sin is death, no theologian has the right to convert the sentence.

Bell wrote a book about a victory.  He envisions an eternity in which all sin is forgiven, all wrongs are righted, and love wins.  He is absolutely right. Love will win because God will win.  God will win because he is God, not because he is love. His love and justice work together to produce a heaven and earth without evil. Our participation in that victory is not a given. Some will not make it. That is what it ultimately means to be lost. In the end, God wins. Reader, where do you stand before God? Don’t take his patience for granted.



 

[1] Rob Bell, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  (Robert H. Bell, Jr. Trust, 2011).

[2] 1 Corinthians 11:19.

[3] Romans 1:23; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16.

[4] Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54; 1 Timothy 1:10.

[5] Matthew 25:46; John 3:15-16, 36; 4:14; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68, 10:28; 12:25; Acts 13:46, 48; Romans 2:7; 5:21; 6:22; 1 Timothy 6:12; 1 John 5:11; Jude 1:21.

[6] Matt. 10:28; 22:7; Luke 17: 27, 29; 20:16; 1 Cor. 3:17; 6:13; 15:24, 26; Heb. 10:39; 2 Peter 2:12; Rev. 11:18.

[7] Matt. 21:41; John 5:24; 8:51; Romans 6:16, 23; 1 Cor. 15:26, 54; James 5:20; 1 John 3:14; Rev. 21:8.

[8] Psalm 104:35; Ezekiel 26:21; 27:36; 28:19.