Our Responsibility to Discern False Teaching

A prophet of God sat under an oak, taking a rest from his long journey. He had come from Judah to Bethel to deliver to King Jeroboam a harsh but needed message.

God had told this prophet not to eat bread or drink water while on this mission, and to return by a different way than he had come. Perhaps the man of God thought these directives were to protect him from the possible diversion by the king, who offered him refreshment and a reward. Or they were to keep him from appearing to show any sign of compromise, as a meal together would indicate friendship and fellowship. Or he might have felt they were a form of fasting, symbolic of his dedication in doing God’s work.

Maybe he should have interpreted them as, “Don’t linger. Do your business and get back as soon as possible.”

As he rested, an older man rode up to him on a donkey, identifying himself as a prophet of God as well. Prophet 2 (let’s call him Henry to avoid confusing pronouns) invited Prophet 1 (George, let’s say) home for a meal. George repeated what he had told the king: he had been told not to eat bread or drink water in that place.

But Henry assured George it was all right. “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’”

George didn’t think he had a reason to distrust Henry: he was a fellow prophet after all. And George was probably tired, hungry, and thirsty. So he accompanied Henry back to his house.

But Henry had been lying.

“As they sat at the table, the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back. And he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord and have not kept the command that the Lord your God commanded you, but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, ‘Eat no bread and drink no water,’ your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.’”

There’s no record of George’s response. But on his way home, a lion killed him. George’s body was thrown from his donkey, but the lion didn’t eat either George or the donkey. The animals just waited with the body until townspeople passed by and brought word back to the city about what had happened. Henry heard the news and rode back to pick up George, then brought him home to bury in his own tomb.

This is one of the oddest stories in the Bible (1 Kings 13). One of the first questions that comes to mind is, “Why did the second prophet lie to the first?” What earthly reason could he have had? The Bible doesn’t tell us. He didn’t hate the first prophet: he mourned him, called him brother, and confirmed his prophecy to Jeroboam. He even asked to be buried next to him when he died.

We have to remember this is not an isolated story just thrown into the narrative of Israel’s kings. This incident took place within the bigger context of Jeroboam’s awful sins of making golden calves for Israel to worship and setting up a whole different system than what God had given Israel. Perhaps this story is an OT illustration of the NT verse in 1 Peter 4:17: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” If God would discipline his own prophet who had disobeyed a simple directive, what would He do to the likes of Jeroboam? Perhaps this story was confirmation that God would deal with Jeroboam as the prophet had said.

There are several truths and applications that could be gleaned from this passage. But the one I want to hone in on is this: Know God’s Word. Obey it. Don’t let the surrounding culture turn you away from it. Don’t let even other professing believers distract you from it.

That’s not to say we never ask counsel or receive advice. The Bible tells us to do both. The fellowship of other believers, Bible study books, commentaries, and other aids can open our understanding and point out things we missed.

But we’re to know God’s Word for ourselves so we can discern when someone is telling us something different.

False prophets don’t always look or sound like false prophets at first. They are “deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Paul said in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

Much of the OT warns against false prophets. In one place, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD'” (Jeremiah 23:16).

The NT warns of false prophets and teachers as well. In her book Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, Alisa Childers writes: “Much of the New Testament, including the entire book of Jude, is dedicated to helping Christians watch out for, recognize, and avoid these sheep-clothed wolves. In researching some of these passages, I discovered that the topic of false teachers and false teaching is addressed directly in twenty-two of twenty-seven New Testament books. Encouragement to keep the true faith and to practice discernment is mentioned in every single one.”

The Bible warns that false teachers will not only come in from the outside, but they’ll arise from within the congregation. In Paul’s farewell message to the elders at Ephesus, he warned, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert,” (Acts 20:29-31a). Peter warned about false teachers arising “among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1-3). This was what happened to Alisa Childers, whose book I mentioned. Her own trusted pastor began undermining longstanding doctrines of the faith.

The Bible gives us the responsibility to watch out for false doctrine. I’ve already mentioned Paul’s admonition to “be alert” in Acts 20:31. Jesus began warnings about false teachers with the word “Beware.” Paul says elsewhere, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

I don’t think this means we need to become unduly suspicious of one another. But we study the Word of God and check whatever we’re taught against it. The Bereans in Acts were called noble because they did this with Paul’s teaching. Alisa followed their example and searched for the truth, nailing down why she believed what she did.

After Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders, he said, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). When he wrote to the Ephesians later, he said God had given the church gifts in “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” in order “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:12-14).

So while we don’t need to get paranoid, we do need to be alert. And we remember that we don’t come to the Bible just for affirmation or comfort or warm fuzzies. We come to it to find truth about and from God. We study God’s Word for ourselves and with others, and as we grow in spiritual maturity, we won’t be deceived and tossed about.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Books Shape Our Thinking

A couple of times in our lives, my husband and I attended churches where we didn’t quite agree with everything, but we felt these churches were the closest we could find to our own understanding of Scripture. The differences weren’t a matter of false teaching or heresy: they were areas where good people could differ and should be able to give each other grace. We felt as long as the Bible was preached and taught rather than a particular system, then everything would be okay.

In one church, over time, we began to notice that everyone from the pastor to Sunday School teachers to lay leaders began quoting the same authors. Then their vocabulary began changing to match the authors they revered. Concepts that used to be alluded to were now main points. Sermons and lessons changed emphasis to feature points from these authors, and Bible passages were viewed through their lens. When one man spoke about this belief system as being “in the club,” it almost seemed a little cultish.

In another church, the issue wasn’t a particular belief system. But every Christian bestseller that came along was eventually taught in our church. When we moved, I found sermon notes from our first year there which were rich and meaty and directly from the Bible. Later sermons were second- or third-hand thoughts from popular books.

One of my favorite writers reads and quotes authors that I am uncomfortable with because their view of Scriptural truth seems a little skewed to me. Instead of following standard hermeneutics, principles for interpreting Scripture, they twist things a little to get a different outcome more in line with popular culture. They are not quite heretical yet, but this subtle shift will lead that way if continued. This lovely author, with so much talent and potential, is getting more entrenched in this kind of thinking every year. It grieves me to see it.

We’ve seen a couple of young men we’ve known get caught up in belief systems that, again, I don’t think are heretical, but I don’t agree with. It wouldn’t be a problem except that these belief systems now dominate their conversation and online presence. They like to bait and argue over their points of belief. Even though they are not being heretical, their ministry and outreach has been hijacked into debating rather than gently persuading people of God’s truth.

We observed over the course of years a definite shift in thinking and beliefs in each of these cases. The speaker or writer didn’t come to their new views from their Bible reading, but from the books they read. Those books then colored their view of Scripture.

One of our former pastors used to frequently quote Charlie “Tremendous” Jones as saying, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.

If that’s true, and I think it may be, we need to be watchful about what we read. Of course, these days many people read online articles and listen to podcasts as well.

Does this mean we should only read books where we know we’ll agree with everything? Not necessarily. It’s good to exercise discernment. Sometimes when we are entrenched in our own tenets and lingo, we can get a little myopic.

But we should filter everything we read through the Scriptures. The Bible tells us to “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Early Christians were called noble because they checked everything even the apostle Paul said against the Scriptures.

We need to be careful not to swallow everything an author says just because they use Scripture or religious talk. The devil does that. “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). With Eve, Satan questioned what God said and then skewed His meaning. He quoted and misapplied Scripture when tempting Jesus. Peter said of Paul’s writing:

There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.(2 Peter 3:16-18).

Some writers don’t go that far–they are not exactly heretical. But a subtle shift in emphasis can skew their teaching, and therefore our thinking. Then a particular facet of their understanding becomes a hobbyhorse. So we need to be discerning not just with writing we might be prepared to be on guard with, but also with popular writing.

We need to make sure we are spending more time with the Bible itself than even books about the Bible. If we’re spending thirty minutes a day in a theological book and ten minutes in the Bible, we’re off balance. One former pastor used to say that bank tellers were instructed in discerning counterfeit money not by studying counterfeits, but by studying the real thing. The more familiar they were with legal money, the more easily they could tell when something was a little off with money they were handling. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). As we read and study, we need to pray with the psalmist, “I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!” (Psalm 119:125). Then our “powers of discernment” will be “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

We need to ask God to search our hearts, show us our blind spots, and “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).

I love good books. I’ve had my thinking shaped in good ways by authors who faithfully studied and represented God’s truth shared in His Word. I especially love writers and teachers who, like the Levites in Nehemiah’s time, “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8).

But we need discernment to know when a teacher is giving the sense of the Word itself or twisting it a bit for their own purposes or from their own mistaken understanding.

And we need to be careful that our thoughts, understanding, and resulting actions are shaped by the Bible itself.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Your Soul Needs Food Even When It Doesn’t Want It

Your Soul needs food even when it doesn't want it

You’re sick. Your sinuses are inflamed, your throat is raw, your nose is red, drippy, and chafing. You have a fever and ache all over. And you don’t feel like eating.

But you do eat. Nothing sounds good (except maybe the proverbial remedy for a cold, chicken soup). But you eat because your body needs it. And the very food you don’t have an appetite for not only nourishes you, but helps your body fight infection and get well.

The same is true spiritually. When something is wrong in our lives—someone has hurt us, we’ve given way to some sin, we don’t feel we fit in at church, maybe we’re even a little malnourished from lack of time at church or in the Bible—we tend to put God’s Word aside. Our appetite for it has waned.

But we need the Bible now more than ever. We may not be able to keep up with our usual routine or an intense study. But we need to keep sipping and tasting. We might spend more time in the Psalms or the gospels than some of the other books. We might listen instead of read.

And the very Word we don’t have an appetite for not only nourishes us, but helps us heal. It will strengthen us and help us fight spiritual infection.

So when your appetite for the Word of God is off, keep partaking. Your soul needs it. You may not feel instant refreshment. It may seem a little dry. But ask God to open “the eyes of your heart” and minister to you.

Often a subdued appetite can be aroused by tasting food. It didn’t sound good, but once we had a few bites, we wanted more. We may feel like reading the Bible is the last thing we want to do. But it’s been my experience, many times over, that once I start reading it, I want more.

Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways (Psalm 119:36-37).

They loathed any kind of food,
    and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
    and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

(Psalm 107:18-22)

Jeremiah 15:16 Partaking of God's Word

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

What Light Reveals

I woke up in the middle of the night. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, I became aware of a round shape on the edge of my bed.

I thought it was a headhunter.

It’s not like we had a lot of headhunters roaming southeastern Texas in my childhood. But I was seven or eight with a vivid imagination. I constantly pictured someone hiding in dark corners, or reaching for my ankles in the darkness under the bed, or staring at me in the darkness while I slept.

I decided if the headhunter thought I was asleep, he wouldn’t bother me. So I laid very still, closed my eyes tight, and drifted off again.

In the morning, when I woke up to light streaming in my room, I saw the rounded head of my teddy bear beside me and had a good laugh at myself.

During this time, my brother and I shared bunk beds. I had the top bunk, since I was four years older. When he was little, my brother used to have some pretty wild dreams. Once he woke up in the night and toddled to my parents’ room to tell them there was a snake in our bed. They accompanied him back to our bedroom to turn on the light and assure him there was no snake . . . except there was a snake. The box springs under the top bunk were uncovered, and a snake was making its way through the coils. I happened to be asleep on the top bunk.

I don’t remember the sequence of events, but I was retrieved from bed, and our neighbor somehow appeared. I don’t remember her face because she usually wore a bonnet. She looked like an extra from Little House on the Prairie or maybe a middle-aged Holly Hobbie. Her name was Mrs. Beeson, and she seemed an expert on all manner of flora and fauna. She told us this was not a poisonous snake, and it was probably after a nest of eggs in the window next to the bed. Still, she chopped its head off. I can still remember watching in awe as the snake’s head and body still moved though they were severed.

In one situation, light exposed false reasons to fear and brought comfort. In another situation, light exposed a potential danger to be dealt with. In both, light showed the difference between reality and imagination.

Light provides rich imagery and symbolism in the Bible. This Bible Study Tools article says, “Throughout the Old Testament light is regularly associated with God and his word, with salvation, with goodness, with truth, with life. The New Testament resonates with these themes, so that the holiness of God is presented in such a way that it is said that God “lives in unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6:16). God is light (1 John 1:5) and the Father of lights (James 1:17) who dispels darkness.”

Ephesians 5:13 says, “When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.” When we shine God’s light and truth into our lives, we discern reality from imagination. We see what’s innocent and what’s dangerous. Our fears are comforted with God’s power and grace. We see areas that need cleaning, like when the afternoon light exposes missed spots of dust. We see the next step on the path ahead as God’s “word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

God’s light even exposes our hearts to us. Jeremiah asks, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9). We can fool ourselves about our motives, even our own sin. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (emphasis mine).

Earlier in Ephesians 5, Paul says :

For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible (verses 8-13).

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). We need to regularly shine God’s light on our circumstances, our culture, and our own hearts to have the right perspective and response.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

14 Reasons to Read the Old Testament

It’s safe to say most of us gravitate to the New Testament of the Bible. We enjoy the Old Testament stories, the practical wisdom of Proverbs, the emotional depth of the Psalms.

But Jesus fulfilled all the OT ceremonial law and the sacrificial requirements, so we’re not under obligation to practice those any more. And all that past history is . . .well. . . .past. The NT seems more practical.

So why bother to read the OT?

Well, there are several good reasons.

1. The whole Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). One of our former pastors used to say the Bible is divinely brief. Think of all the things an eternal God knows and could tell us. He chose the particular words in the Bible for specific reasons.

2. The whole Bible is beneficial. 2 Timothy goes on to say all Scripture is “beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work” (3:16b-17, NASB).

3. The OT provides examples for us. “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11, NASB). The context of these verses talks about various things OT Israel did wrong. Then the passage warns the reader, “Therefore let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall” (verse 12).

4. The OT helps us appreciate what we have in Christ. Our  church recently studied Leviticus.

The tabernacle and temple system emphasized the distance between us and God. Only the priests could enter and only with the right sacrifices conducted the right way. When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was supernaturally torn in two, indicating the way to God was now open.

Hebrews 10:19-20 tells us, “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, through His flesh.” Because He made a way for us and is our high priest, we’re encouraged to

  • approach God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith
  • hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering
  • consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds (verses 21-25).

5. The OT emphasizes holiness. A seminary professor taught a class on Leviticus. He asked his students to try to keep the regulations in Leviticus for a week and journal about the experience. One replied that the assignment had him evaluating everything in his life related to holiness all the time. The NT requires holiness, too. But we don’t often examine every area of our lives to see whether we measure up to God’s holy standards as they were required to in the OT. We’re free from the strictures of the OT ceremonial law, but we still need to submit our conscience and practice to God’s Holy Spirit.

6. The NT quotes or alludes to the OT over 880 times. The NT would not make sense without the OT foundation. [1]

7. Jesus quoted and believed in the Old Testament. Jesus told the Jews who opposed Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39, ESV). The Scriptures He referred to were the Old Testament writings. Many times He said, “Have you not read…?” and quoted something from the Old Testament, meaning that He expected them to know what it taught.

After His resurrection, when He walked along with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV).

8. The OT instructs us and gives us hope. Paul tells us in Romans 15:4: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” When we realize we are not that different from the complaining, disbelieving Israelites in the wilderness, we have hope that God will be faithful and longsuffering with us as He was with them. When we read of God helping His people through various trials and troubles in the Bible, we’re encouraged that He will take care of us as well.

9. The OT and NT tell us about the same God. Some have felt that the OT presents an angry, vengeful God while the NT shows us a merciful, loving God. But they are one and the same. God shows His grace and mercy and love to His people many times in the OT, even when they behaved the worst. And many places in the NT warn of God’s wrath against sin.

10. The Old Testament shows us our need and prepares us for the only One who can meet it. The laws and sacrificial system showed Israel the impossibility of keeping God’s law and the need for a Savior. The law was our “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24, KJV). The sinless lamb of the sacrifices points to the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. The OT sacrifices had to be repeated, but Jesus’s offering took care of our sins forever (Hebrews 10:14).

11. The Old Testament points to Christ, from the representation of the scapegoat, to the atonement, to Messianic prophecies. A former pastor, Dr. Mark Minnick, used to say that the Old Testament showed Israel’s need for a judge, a prophet, and a king. But even the best judges, prophets, and kings fell short. Jesus fulfills all those offices perfectly.

12. The Old Testament is part of our spiritual heritage. Romans 11:11-31 tells us we were grafted into the olive tree of the Jews.  The true Israel is by faith, not just lineage. Galatians 3:29 and Romans 9:6-8 say that those in Christ are children of Abraham:

Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9, NKJV).

13. The Old and New Testaments form a whole, with each part of the same overarching story. L. E. Maxwell, cofounder and eventual president of the Prairie Bible Institute, said in his book Crowded to Christ, “The New Testament is enfolded in the Old, and the Old Testament is unfolded in the New.” [2]

14. There are treasures in the OT. If you skipped the OT, you’d miss some of the greatest treasures of the Bible, like these:

Zephaniah 3:17: The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Isaiah 30:15a: For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

If the OT seemed dry or hard to understand in the past, a good study Bible helps. You can find a variety of sizes and types of commentaries and other study aids. This past year I have used Warren Wiersbe’s “Be” commentaries on different books of the Bible. They often show up on Kindle sales. They’re detailed enough to give insights, yet simple enough to understand.

If you’ve been avoiding the OT, I encourage you to read and study  it. You’ll find rich, meaningful treasure there.


[1] “O.T. Quotations Found in the N.T. – Study Resources.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 15 Jun, 2021. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/pnt/pnt08.cfm&gt;.

[2] L. E. Maxwell, Crowded to Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950), p. 272.

Unless otherwise stated, all Bible verses are from the ESV.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Do You Want a Fresh Word from the Lord?

I know what it’s like to wish I could look up and see God’s will sky written in the blue expanse. Or to wish I had I could hear from God personally and specifically. Or, I am sorry to say, to feel bored with a seemingly dry or familiar part of Scripture.

But we don’t need to long for something more or something different.

Peter tells us, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

We have “all things that pertain to life and godliness” “through the knowledge of him who called us” by “his precious and very great promises.” As we get to know Him more and more through His Word, we have everything we need to live for Him.

One former pastor used to say that the Bible is “divinely brief.” Of the multitude of things God could have told us, the sixty-six books contained in the Bible are what He chose to convey to us.

What are we doing with that special, God-given book?

No, God won’t tell us which job to take, which city to live in, or which person to marry in the Bible. But the Bible will teach us principles of walking with God and developing wisdom, and God promises to guide us in the way we should go.

Some times in the Bible are intensely personal. I don’t know how many times my scheduled reading for the day directly answered something I had been praying about or pondering.

When I was in the hospital before being diagnosed with transverse myelitis, I was scheduled for an MRI. The night before, nearly every nurse or aide who came in asked me if I was claustrophobic. I wasn’t sure. I was told the MRI sometimes made people feel uncomfortable because they slide you into this close-fitting tube and you have to be very still. They said they could give me a sedative if I thought I would need it. I wanted to avoid unnecessary medication if I could, so I declined the sedative.

The next morning, the Daily Light on the Daily Path reading, which is made up of just Scripture verses with no commentary, was about being still, being quiet, or resting in the Lord:

  • “Sit still, my daughter” (Ruth 3:18)
  • “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)
  • “Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted” (Isaiah 7:4)
  • “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15)
  • “Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psalm 4:4)
  • “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7)
  • “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established” (Psalm 112:7-8)

Many of those verses were familiar to me, and throughout the MRI, I repeatedly went over them in my mind. They washed over my soul and quieted me.

Every meal we eat can’t be a Thanksgiving or an anniversary dinner at the steak house. But even the peanut butter sandwiches and tuna casseroles nourish us.

Every conversation with our spouse won’t be thrillingly romantic. The everyday “Can you pick up the dry cleaning?” and “Good dinner, thanks” weave together with the highlights to form the fabric of a strong relationship.

Every day isn’t fireworks and feasting. Most are quietly spent at home.

Every time in the Bible won’t be a mountaintop experience or warm and cozy.

But all our times in the Word help us get to know God better and strengthen us to live for Him.

We’ll never exhaust the Bible. There will always be something new to learn, no matter how many times we read it. But we also need the repetition of old truths so we don’t forget them.

If the Bible seems “old” or stale to us, maybe reading Psalm 119 will help the psalmist’s enthusiasm infuse our souls. Asking God to speak to us and give us understanding and a new appreciation for His Word helps as well. Aids like a good study Bible or commentary or study book can help open passages up to us.

Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Psalm 119:24-25 says, “Your testimonies are indeed my delight; they are my counselors. My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!”

Do you need a fresh word from the Lord? Pick up the old faithful Bible. Let God’s Word revive you.

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Where Bible Reading Plans Go To Die

Our church uses a Bible reading plan that takes us through the whole Bible in about four and a half years. We discuss the week’s reading each Sunday morning. The man making the announcements last Sunday mentioned that we’d be starting Leviticus this week, “where Bible reading plans go to die.”

It’s true, isn’t it? How often have we begun January in Genesis with good intentions of reading the Bible, only to get bogged down by the time we get to Leviticus.

So we tell ourselves all those regulations don’t apply to us any more since the sacrificial system and feast days were fulfilled in Christ, and we move on to something more interesting. That is, if we haven’t given up our reading plan completely.

But there are several reasons New Testament Gentile Christians should still read Leviticus.

It’s inspired of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” God gave it to us and it’s profitable for us even though we don’t observe all the rituals in it.

It’s instructive. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

The New Testament quotes from Leviticus and refers to it over 100 times according to Warren Wiersbe in Be Holy (Leviticus): Becoming “Set Apart” for God.

Key biblical truths are better understood with Leviticus as a foundation. Imagine growing up repeatedly bringing sacrifices for sin to the tabernacle or temple. Then imagine being stunned by this news:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-13)

Or imagine reading that the lamb for a burnt offering had to be perfect and without blemish and then finding that “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Or imagine having the whole burnt offering in Leviticus 1 in mind when reading Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Sure, we can get some of these concepts in the New Testament on their own, but we get a fuller picture and a deeper appreciation when we understand the background of them.

It emphasizes holiness. Dr. Wiersbe writes in Be Holy, “The word holy is used 93 times in Leviticus, and words connected with cleansing are used 71 times. References to uncleanness number 128. There’s no question what this book is all about.”

A seminary professor taught a class on Leviticus. One assignment was to try to keep the regulations in Leviticus for a week and journal about the experience. One student wrote:

Every day, I found myself focused on thinking about ritual purity and impurity. Partway through the week, I realized that I was thinking about these things all day long and in every aspect of my life, and that’s when it hit me: God cares a lot about our purity and holiness. Not just from a ritual perspective, but also from a moral perspective. All day long and in every aspect of life, the Lord wants me to pursue purity in my heart, in my life, in my actions. He wants me to reflect his holiness in all that I do. I have been treating holiness way too lightly! O Lord, help me to be holy!

It underscores the pervasiveness and seriousness of sin. We take sin too casually these days, maybe because we seem to be able to receive it easily. But we forget what it cost.

It encourages thankfulness and appreciation of Jesus’ sacrifice. We not only appreciate all that He went through, but we’re thankful for His deliverance. Jay Sklar, the seminary professor mentioned earlier, said that after teaching Leviticus, he could hardly sing a hymn about Jesus’ sacrifice without tears of thankfulness.

Israel’s feasts helps us understand our Christian celebrations. The ESV Study Bible’s introductory notes to Leviticus say:

The festal calendar of Israel enumerated in Leviticus (Lev. 23:1-44) has strongly shaped the Christian church’s traditional calendar. The three main national pilgrim feasts of Israel are the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Booths. For those churches that follow the traditional calendar, these celebrations find their climax in Good Friday,  Easter, and Pentecost. To fully understand the Christian celebrations, one must see their initial purpose in the OT (p. 213).

It teaches love for neighbors. Did you know that the first instance of the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” occurs in Leviticus 19:18? We see justice tempered with mercy in the regulations in Leviticus. Justice and fair treatment at large begins with justice and fair treatment on a personal level to our neighbors and acquaintances.

In Mark 12, a scribe asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The scribe responded, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’” (Mark 12:28-34).

Many hymns refer back to concepts in Leviticus, like “Is Your All on the Altar?” and “Whiter Than Snow.”

Sure, there are some difficulties in Leviticus. Some of the regulations or restrictions that seem most odd to us are thought to have connections with the pagan worship in Egypt that the Israelites had lived with for 400 years. There are a few passages that are hard to understand.

But by and large, Leviticus sheds light on much gospel truth. OT Israel practices these things looking ahead to Christ’s sacrifice, seeing much of it in symbolic form. As the NT church, we look back on the symbols and object lessons to more fully understand.

I’m approaching Leviticus this time with eager anticipation.

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Finding Time to Read the Bible

A blog friend was once reading a book about Bible study. She lamented that, as good as the book was, it didn’t mentioned how to find the time to employ all that instruction.

I guess the authors feel that once we are assured of the importance of Bible reading and study, we’ll make it a priority and make time. And I think that’s pretty much what it comes down to. If we are waiting until time magically opens up with the solitude and inclination we need without a dozen other things crowding in…I just don’t think that’s going to happen, at least not regularly.

Years ago our assistant pastor spoke of struggling to make time for reading his Bible. He said to our senior pastor, an older, godly man, “I guess you don’t have trouble making time for Bible reading any more, do you?” The older man just laughed.

Finding the time is always going to be a struggle. There are always duties, distractions, and people clamoring for that time. The Enemy of our souls fights against our spending time in the Bible. Instead of getting discouraged about it, we can just accept that it is a common problem and  prayerfully seek ways to deal with it. Perhaps reminding ourselves of reasons to read the Bible will renew our motivation.

We need to remember, too, that making time to read the Bible isn’t just about ticking off another duty. Every relationship thrives on communication. If we went for days without talking with our husbands except in the briefest necessary exchanges, we’d feel the effects pretty soon and realize we need some time alone together. Though sometimes we need to set up routines to establish good habits, taking time to read the Bible shouldn’t be a matter of rigid schedules, but rather of taking time to meet with the One Who loves us best.

So with these things in mind, here are some suggestions for carving time out to meet with the Lord:

1. Get up earlier or stay up later. I can hear you groaning. But for many of us, that’s the only way to get some time alone.

2. Keep the Bible handy. One friend with three small children close in age kept her Bible out in her kitchen. She couldn’t set aside a longer period of solitude, but she could read in smaller snatches through the day.

3. Bible apps. There are a number of apps with Bible reading plans, reminders, etc. Since we usually have our phones nearby all day, we have easy access to the Scriptures all the time.

4. Listen. Some people like to listen to recorded versions of the Bible while driving, exercising, making dinner, etc.

5. Plan for it after a natural break in the day. It’s hard for to stop in the middle of a morning or afternoon and put everything aside to read. But a break in the routine, when we’re shifting gears anyway, can help us work in some time for reading, like after a meal, after taking the kids to school, etc.

6. Meal time, especially if you eat alone.

7. Waiting time. We usually check social media or open a book if we have to wait at a doctor’s office or in car line at school, but that can be a good time for some Bible reading.

9. Establish a routine. Once we get used to setting aside a certain time for Bible reading, it’s not such a scramble to look for that time every day.

9. Don’t wait for perfection. One problem with a routine is that we can’t always figure out how to function when the routine is disrupted, like when we’re traveling or someone is sick or we have small children at home. I wrote a post some time back called Encouragement for mothers of young children about trying to find time for devotions with little ones in the house. Though I normally like getting up early and having solitude and quietness for Bible reading, that just didn’t work with little ones. Yet God enabled me to read and profit from it while they kept me company or played near me, even though usually I couldn’t concentrate under those circumstances.

10. Anything is better than nothing. You may not have time on a given day to work out your full Bible reading routine. But you can usually read something. I’ve found that when I truly only had a few moments, God often gave me just what I needed in a verse or two.

11. Talk with your husband, roommates, siblings, whoever you live with. Years ago I caught part of a radio program where the preacher was scolding women who wanted to spend early morning time to have devotions. He said the husband as the leader should have that time, since the wife had “all day” in which she could have devotions. The man obviously had not spent a whole day at home alone with kids. That mentality is wrong on many levels. Not long after that a missionary speaking at our church mentioned protecting that time for his wife, a much better example of servant leadership and love. If the only way either parent can have devotions is for one of them to watch the children, then they can do that for each other. If a particular time of day is the best time for two people in a house, they can work out different locations if they get too distracted in the same room. Whatever conflict there might be about time and place preferences, talk with each other to work out the best solution for both and be willing to compromise.

12. Pray. In the blog post I referred to earlier, I mentioned that sometimes I’d get to the end of the day and lament to the Lord that I had no idea when I could have read my Bible that day. I began instead to pray at the beginning of the day for wisdom and alertness for those moments when I could, and that made a profound difference.

13. Set something aside. If we have times to read other books, peruse Facebook, watch TV, or play games on our phones, we have time to read the Bible. I admit, if I sit down to relax for a few minutes with a book and realize I haven’t read my Bible yet that day, I don’t always have the best attitude about laying down my book and picking up my Bible. But when I confess that to the Lord and then go ahead, He graciously speaks to me through His Word. We do need time to relax as well, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of time in God’s Word. He knows our needs, and we can ask Him for both time to spend in His Word and for some down time.

What about you? What ways have you found to make time for Bible reading?

(Revised from the archives)

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Dwelling Richly

Letting God's Word dwell richlyHave you ever wondered what Colossians 3:16 meant when it said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”?

A couple of translations and one commentary connected “rich” to the “Word of Christ,” indicating that God’s Word is rich, and we should let it dwell in us. It is, and we should.

However, most translations phrase the verse so that “richly” modifies “dwell.” In fact, according to the definitions at the bottom of this page, the Greek word translated “richly” is an adverb meaning “Richly, abundantly, copiously.”

So how do we let God’s Word dwell “richly, abundantly, copiously” in us?

One former pastor put it this way. When a guest of honor comes to your home, what do you do? You “roll out the red carpet” for them. You give them the best bed, the best room. You bring out the guest towels and dishes that you save for company. You make your best recipes. You generally set aside your normal pursuits to some degree to spend time with that person.

In these days of more casual entertaining, you might not have special dishes or towels for guests, and you might have everyone work together on the meal and the clean-up. Still, you make some accommodations for a guest. You don’t generally put them in a drafty back room with a lumpy mattress where the Wifi doesn’t reach. You don’t invite someone over and then ignore them. You don’t go about your business and then bump into them in the hallway and act surprised: “Oh! I didn’t know you were here. Carry on.” Well, you might if one of your children’s friends came over unexpectedly.

What do most who come to your home value? Time, the hardest thing to give. As lovely as special table settings, wonderful food, and a well-appointed guest room are, they all fall a little flat if the hostess is constantly flitting about taking care of details. As Martha learned, Jesus cared more about her time, attention, and open heart than what was on the menu.

So how do we let the Word of God dwell richly with us? First of all, notice the word “dwell.” The Bible isn’t just a special guest who comes to visit once a year. It stays, lives in, abides in, inhabits us. Jesus spoke of His words abiding in us. God often tells people in the Bible to meditate, think over, chew on, His Word. You can’t think on what you don’t know. That meant they had to have read or heard it enough to mull over a piece of it at a time.

So we don’t treat God’s Word as a once- or twice-a-year visitor. We let it abide, dwell with us. That involves spending time with it. As we’ve discussed before, that doesn’t necessarily mean spending hours a day reading and studying it. Some days and seasons of life allow for more time than others, but we try to give it some time most days. We try to give it the best time of our day when we can get the most out of it rather than the leftovers of our day. One of my mottoes regarding the Bible is any time spent with it is better than nothing. So there may be busy, weary days when we fit it in whatever spare moments we can find. But as much as we can, we make room and time for the Bible.

And then, throughout the day, we think about it. That might involve listening to Christian music, sermons, Christian radio or podcasts. Or it might involve just thinking. John O’Malley suggests in Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles that we jot down on a 3 x 5 card something that stood out to us during our Bible reading, and then set the card where we can see it through the day and think over it.Some people have memory verse cards they’ll go over when their hands are busy but their minds are free.

Many mental health experts recommend getting away from the constant barrage of information available through our phones and computers, especially when so many agitated opinions are flung about. Instead of automatically checking our phones, we could spend those minutes reading the Bible or thinking about what we read earlier.

Psalm 1:1 says “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

What’s the result of this rich dwelling we give God’s Word? Colossians 3:16 continues: “ Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” When we fill up on God’s Word, we spill over into serving others and worshiping God. Psalm 1 goes on to say that the one who meditates on God’s Word day and night is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” When we’re filled with God’s Word, we have a continual source of nourishment.

If our service seems lifeless and forced, our worship barren, our inner spirit dry and withered, we probably need some time letting God’s Word dwell richly in us.

What are some ways you let God’s Word dwell richly with you?

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God’s Word: Our Sure Guide

My husband sat on the Zoning Board of Appeals in the town where we used to live. People would come before the board to settle disputes over property lines or usage or appeal a ruling. The board had a thick book of zoning regulations which the members were to consult in order to make their decisions.

Sometimes people would appeal to all the work they had put into a structure that they had placed in a wrong area without checking the zoning regulations first. “It’s already there. It’s not hurting anyone. Can’t we just leave it?”

Sometimes the board sympathized with the plaintiff. Occasionally public sentiment swung heavily toward one side.

But the board members could only make their decisions based on the zoning regulations.

Why? Because they were Pharisaical hard-nosed rule-followers who only cared about regulations?

No. The regulations were there to insure the greatest efficiency and happiness of the people and businesses of the city. To allow a structure in a wrong place or a usage of land that went against the zoning ordinances would cause problems for other people down the line.

This need to go back to the book, to make every decision in accord with the zoning regulations already in place, reminded me of the Bible.

People don’t want to hear their choices are harmful, they are worshiping a false god, they’re going in the wrong direction.

Sometimes it’s easier to go with the flow. “If I take a stand on this issue, I’ll only stir up a hornet’s nest.” But we don’t do people any favors by hiding truth.

There are some issues where the Bible allows for differences (Romans 14). We don’t die on those hills. We pray and study God’s Word and make the best informed decision we can, and we allow others to do the same.

But where God draws the line in the sand, we need to draw the line also. We speak the truth in love, with kindness and compassion.

Satan still questions, attacks, and twists God’s Word today just as he did with Adam and Eve. He even masks his falsehood by seeming as an angel of light.

Our church is almost finished reading through the major and minor prophets in the Old Testament. Many of the prophets had to contend with false prophets who told the people what they wanted to hear. When Jeremiah warned that God was sending the Babylonians to take Judah into captivity, he was considered a traitor. Who wouldn’t rather listen to the prophets who said everything was going to be all right? But who would be better prepared to face what was coming—those who listened to Jeremiah or those who listened to false prophets?

The New Testament warns:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:3-5).

Who do we listen to? Those who make everything pleasant, who never mention sin and repentance, who never take unpopular stands, who promise prosperity and blessing no matter what? Or the ones who tell the truth according to God’s Word, even when it’s hard, even when it’s painful, trusting that He is good and right and true and kind and will work everything out for good in the long run?

Do we go to the doctor who says everything is okay when we have an insidious cancer growing in us? Or the one who says, “We have to treat this thing aggressively or it’s going to kill you?”

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). The KJV says His commandments are not “grievous.”

But His Word is not just about rules.

Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors (Psalm 119:24).

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17)

Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life (Psalm 119:49-50).

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130).

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Peter 1:3-4).

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord,  and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither (Psalm 1:1-3).

What a treasure trove we have in God’s Word! We can echo the psalmist: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17). How we need to consult His Word every day and build our lives around it.

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