When a Smudge is more than a Smudge


There is difference between reading the Word of God and observing the Word of God. That difference is important.That difference is essential in understanding the Word of God. Learning to observe the Word is essential to accurately handling the word of God.

I love movies that don’t cause me to think all that much. To be fair, though, I also love movies that make me think or remember historical events. I suppose the type of movie I want to see depends on my mood. One of my favorite movies to watch when Im in my “turn brain off” mode is National Treasure 2. I find that movie fun to watch even though there are violent parts and reminds us of the assassination of President Lincoln and the American Civil War that we seem to continue to fight.

In one scene in this movie, Ben, Abigail, and Riley are examining a document that purports to show that Ben’s ancestor was part of the group of conspirators that killed President Lincoln. As they examine the document in question they come across something. Ben draws Abigail’s and Riley’s attention to it. Riley says ” yeah, it says smudge”. Both Ben and Abigail found the”smudge” interesting and investigated further. Riley seemed dismayed by the process. Well Ben and Abigail kept looking and their perseverance paid off. What Riley saw only as a smudge turned out to be a cue that began their quest to clear Ben’s family name. Sometimes this happens in our approach to the Bible. What some see as just a little smudge others see as something relevant and probably important. How do you see the Bible? How do you read it?

There is difference between reading the Word of God and observing the Word of God. That difference is important.That difference is essential in understanding the Word of God. Learning to observe the Word is essential to accurately handling the word of God.

When we read the Bible with have the the words processed in our brain and we gain a superficial understanding of what was just read. We often times rush through our reading in order to get to the next portion of Scripture to read. Although this reading of the Bible far too often passes for our study of the Bible, it really shouldn’t. Let’s take a look at observing the Bible and how that impacts not only our understanding of the Bible but also our progressive sanctification.

When we observe the Bible we see more than the smudges that others see as unimportant. When we observe – instead of read or simply see – we understand better what the author meant with words he chose.When we understand better the author’s intent when he wrote a particular passage. When we better understand the passage, the better application we can make to our life and make real life change. Isn’t that the purpose of reading the Bible? Isn’t our goal to change and become more like Christ? Of course it is!

Observing the Bible includes more than simply reading. Think of observing as reading more than the words of the page but hearing the author speak to your heart and mind. To observe means more than seeing a smudge. When we observe we look at many more things than just the obvious.

One of the things that we “see” when we observe the Bible is the specific contexts of the passage we are reading. Now what do I mean by using the plural “contexts”? There are three things that are important to consider their particular context.

The first context we consider is the grammatical context. This means that we look at the grammar of the passage to give us clues to its meaning. These include how the sentence is structured, what is the object, and what how the verb functions. When we consider the verb especially, we really need to know if it is active (the subject is doing the action), passive (the subject receives the action of the verb), or middle (the subject does the action of the verb in an more intense way than the active voice). We also want to consider the syntax of the passage. Syntax is best described as the rules of grammar that give meaning to the passage. All these variables go into observing the grammatical context of a passage.

Another context to consider is the historical context of the time. Words have meaning at particular moments in time. These meanings don’t always stay the same throughout the time the word is used. Sometimes a word changes meaning or falls out of use altogether as time marches on. But these changes don’t impact the meaning of the word when it was first used. We must understand what was happening in the culture where and when a particular word or passage was written.

The third context we consider when observing the Word of God, is literary context. This context is concerned with the how the words appear to us. “What type of literature is this passage?” is a common and important question we need to ask. There are various types of literature contained in the Bible. In  the Old Testament there is what is termed Historical Narrative. This is the typically how stories are told. The  there is Poetry. Hebrew poetry is unlike the poetry we may have learned in school. The Psalms are a great example of Hebrew Poetry.

Another type of literature is Prophetic. This type of literature is concerned with future events. Oftentimes this type of literature is misunderstood because we fail to recognize the the special rules for interpreting prophecy. Then there is Gospel literature. Gospel literature is kind of tweener literature. It is between Old Testament and New Testament. It occurred in the period of transition. Then there Epistolary literature. This is where the church get its marching orders. Understanding which type of literature we are reading is an essential step in understanding, properly applying, and accurately handling the Word of God.

So what do you think? Is a smudge just a smudge? Or should we take a deeper look at it? Well when it comes to the Bible we far too often look at the difficult parts of the Bible as a smudge and move on when. If we are like Ben and Abigail in National Treasure 2, then we will take our time and look deeply into the Bible so that we can reap the rewards of observing the Bible rather than simply reading it.

After all, the treasure of the Word of God is far more valuable to our being Christlike than what any of our ancestors did.

A Successful Day

I don’t want to teach what I know. I don’t want to teach what I believe. I want to teach what is true.

My dad gave me some of the best advice I ever received so that I could consider each and  every day a success. My dad told me over and over to learn something new every day. If I did that, I could view that day as a successful day rather than a wasted day. I’d like to say that I aways heeded that advice but, sadly, I haven’t always learned or wanted to learn something new each day. This is even more important when we consider our progressive sanctification. Am I really dedicated to learning God’s word each and every day of my life? Does the Bible even address this attitude that my dad tried to instill in me? Let’s take a look at a passage of Scripture and observe some important points regarding our learning His word.

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:15-19 (NASB)

There is a lot to unpack in these few verses. I want to consider a few important truths regarding how we should learn and what the effect of learning not only the proper things but also the proper way. Let’s dive in and see what we can observe regarding this very important topic of learning God’s word.

The first observation I want to bring to the front is that this passage is about false teachers. Paul dealt with people like this all the time. He worked on defeating them and did battle with them willingly. But for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on the steps we can take in order to be prepared for each and every challenge of life – each and every challenge to biblical Christianity.

In v. 15, NASB translates the beginning as “Be diligent”. Some other translations use the word “study” here. So which is it? The Greek behind this word means “to hasten, exert ones self, or to give diligence.” So both ideas could be included though I personally like “be diligent”. I think it captures the idea here better and the emphasis is on exerting one’s self toward be properly prepared. So the first thing I want to observe about learning is that it is a process that takes effort on our part.

We need to work at learning – and stick to it – to be properly prepared. There are no shortcuts. Learning God’s word is hard work. It is rewarding work, but hard. Don’t be afraid to embark on a new study. Don’t be intimidated by it. Embrace the challenge and be diligent in pursuing to know the truth.

The next thing I want to draw your attention to is the idea of “accurately handling the truth”. This is really important to understand. To handle the Word of God is one thing. To handle it accurately is whole  different thing. Simply memorizing the Bible is not enough. Simply memorizing some Greek terms to impress others is not enough. To accurately handle the Word of God means that we research it. It means we look into the background of it. It means we endeavor to understand the various contexts of it – the culture it was written in, how it was written, and the grammar used to write it.

Once we understand these things, then we can observe what it says, interpret it correctly and then apply it to our lives. If we miss any of these steps, we may as well not even try. Whatever conclusion we draw will be incomplete at best and at worst dead wrong and false.

We are not to mess around arguing about a word here and there. We are not to have empty conversations about nothing edifying. We need to be diligent –  theres that word again – to seek out the essential and true meaning of any passage of Scripture. If we don’t diligently seek to understand His truth, then we will teach what we think is correct. We will teach the bias we have. We will teach what we think is right and it may not be right.

I don’t want to teach what I know. I don’t want to teach what I believe. I want to teach what is true.

 I must be willing to change what I know and change what I believe in order to conform myself to His truth. Then, and only then, am I truly learning the truths of His word. Then, and only then, can I accurately handle His truth. Then, and only then, may I share His truth with others.

After all, isn’t that the goal of learning something new each day. To share it with others so that they are then able to pursue the truths of God’s word for themselves.

Now THAT is what I call a successful day!

Ears on my Heart

How often do we listen to God? I mean REALLY listen to God! I’ll bet that we hear God sometimes but listen to Him less than we like to admit. In fact, listening to God is probably one of the most neglected habits we have while we are being progressively sanctified. We hear Him but don’t listen to Him. So what’s the difference? 

I believe the difference between hearing and listening has to do with our attitude. Sometimes there is something blocking us from hearing, so that can be difficult at times. I remember when I was much younger – 16 or so – I was helping my dad in our house. He had been talking to me but I continued to do what I thought he had wanted me to do. The issue was that something had changed, he told me to do something else, and I failed to hear him. When he asked if I was simply not paying attention or if I had not even heard him, I said I was ot paying attention to him. But, in reality, I had not even heard his voice. Eventually I admitted that I was having trouble hearing him and my teachers in school. I went to the doctor and found that my inner ear canal was blocked with something. I was given some medicine to help clear it out. Eventually my inner ears cleared and I could hear again. Listening, though, was another issue! After all I was a teenager and already knew everything!

We treat God like this sometimes, don’t we. We go about what we THINK He wants us to do. All the while He is saying that we need to do something else but we don’t hear Him or listen to Him. Sometimes, like me at 16, there is something in the way of our hearing Him and thus preventing us from listening to Him. This could be sin in our lives, unbelief, or simply being too busy with our own life to hear Him. But sadly I think we are all-to-often too enamored with our own plans to hear Him. You see, much too often we are spiritual teenagers…we already know everything so why do we need to hear God?

But hearing and listening to God is vitally important to our progressive sanctification. If we hear Him and then listen to what He says, we will become progressively more like Him. If we decide to do things our way, we will be, well, spiritual teenagers…we’ll continue to be legends in our own mind! But this should never be! 

You may wonder why I keep writing about “hearing” and then “listening” to God. Well, let me explain.

Hearing” is a simple process of processing sound waves that travel through the air, strike the eardrum, which in turn vibrates some bones which then cause nerve impulses to travel to the brain. The brain then interprets these impulses as sounds and, voila, we hear something! But listening is something else. 

We listen not so much with our ears…not so much with our brain. We listen – at least we should listen – with our heart. We have some really great examples of this in Scripture. I will concentrate on only one.

Let’s look at 1 Kings 3:5-9: 

5 In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” 6 Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7 Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. 9 So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”

1 King 3:5-9 (NASB) 

In this passage we see that Solomon is now King of Israel. Solomon recounts how God had shown kindness to David in David’s life. God kept His word to place a descendant of David’s on the throne (who is Solomon). Solomon states the reality that he is young and inexperienced (v. 7) and that he has a big job to do governing Israel (v. 8). In verse 9, Solomon responds to God’s question in a majestic way. He responds as we should pray each day. The NASB does a great job translating the Hebrew here in v. 9. I want to zero in on the words “understanding heart”. 

. So Solomon wants to hear with his heart. He wants to have understanding, knowledge, and wisdom in dealing with the governance of Israel. He wants his judgments to be correct and discerning. In short, he doesn’t want to just hear…he wants to listen. 

  (The Hebrew here is leb shema. This means hearing (shema) heart (leb) – the term leb is oftentimes used for the center of mental faculties in the human. However, here I think the context is clearly more than simple mental faculties and employs more than acquisition of knowledge)

We need to listen with our heart to actually hear with understanding as God speaks to us.

This doesn’t mean that we hear God’s voice audibly. I believe the vast majority of the fantastic conversations with God with Him speaking audibly are not true. God typically speaks to us through his word. But we need to understand that listening to God is more than just reading His word. It is more than just praying to God. It is more than just sitting down and emptying our mind of the daily clutter. 

Listening to God means we hear with understanding. That means we both study the Bible on a deep level AND read it on a devotional level. That means that we pray to God asking for wisdom AND walk through the circumstances that bring us wisdom. That means we worship God with our voice AND with our Spirit. When we incorporate understanding into our hearing we have listening. And listening to God is a very good thing. 

When we listen to God we can’t help but grow closer to Him. We can become closer because we don’t simply hear what He is saying to us through His word but we also understand its application to us AND we apply it. Far too many folks just skim the Bible without ever really studying it so that they can apply it to their lives. That is like hearing someone on the phone tell you how to avoid a major pothole in the road then going out and ignoring everything they said. Then, when we drive through the pothole and damage our vehicle, we complain about the pothole. 

If we want to continue to draw closer to Christ – if we want to be progressively more sensitive to sin, more like Him and less like ourselves, we must – MUST –  practice putting ears on our heart. We must listen with our heart and not just our ears and brain. 

No Soup for You!

If we properly understand the purpose of trials, then our attitude about them and about God will change.

I used to watch a TV show years ago titled “Seinfeld”. It was a wildly popular show about nothing. It really didn’t have much of a story line or plot. Most of the time it simply observed the mundane aspects of daily life in New York City. The “best” part of the show were the characters. They were overblown for sure. But they were funny. So very funny.

One character I really liked was called “The Soup Nazi”. This guy, who operated a soup restaurant, had a very particular way he wanted people to order his soup and conduct themselves in his shop. If one failed to obey his policies to the letter that person would be denied soup with a loud “No Soup for You!” and kicked out of the store. I guess you had to see it to laugh.

Sometimes I think that we see God as the Soup Nazi. If we fail to do everything exactly as He wants us to, He will kick us out of His shop with a loud “No Grace for You!” This attitude is fueled by our lack of understanding regarding the purpose of trials.

Trials are a part of the Christian’s life.

We need to understand that trials are essential to our development as Christians. But there are some who profess to belong to Christ who see trials differently because they misunderstand the purpose of a trial. For these, a trial is a sign of judgment from God because of a Christian’s disobedience to Christ. For these folks, if anything but smooth sailing is experienced by Christians then there is something very wrong in that Christian’s life. They could not be more wrong about this. If we properly understand the purpose of trials, then our attitude about them and about God will change.

In James 1 we get to see the purpose of trials. Lets take a look at a few verses in James 1:

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

In v. 2 our attitude should be one of joy. Lets keep this in mind when considering trials. In v. 3 we see that when our faith is tested through a trial, it produces endurance – translated “perseverance” in a previous article. But this is not the purpose of a trial. This is a step toward the purpose of the trial. To understand the purpose of the trial and why we should have an attitude of joy while encountering a trial, we must look intently at v. 4.

in v. 4, endurance has its perfect (or complete) result. That result is that we are “perfect and complete lacking in nothing.” So, when we endure a trial, the result of the endurance is that we get a part that is missing. That missing part, whatever it is, is necessary for us to be Christ-like. SO our experiencing trials, while seldom pleasant, is always necessary to our development. We wont arrive at our “perfect and complete” state in this life. But we will (or at least should) be progressing more and more toward Christ-likeness.

So how are you doing enduring trials? How is your attitude? Do you think that persevering through a trial is because you have done something wrong and the great Soup Nazi in the sky is saying “No Grace for you! Now get out!” If you do think this way, you need to rethink your position.

If you get bummed by trials, think about how God is perfecting you. Think about how He is getting rid of the impurities of your life through the heat of the caldron of trials. And focus on where God is taking you. He is moving you toward perfection. He is making you more Christ-like. More like Christ. More like Him.

“Whatever it Takes”

Hymn by: Lanny Wolfe

There’s a voice calling me
From an old rugged tree
And He whispers draw closer to me
Leave this world far behind
There are new heights to climb
And a new place in me you will find

For whatever it takes to draw closer to you Lord
That’s what I’ll be willing to do
For whatever it takes to be more like you
That’s what I’ll be willing to do

Take the dearest things to me
If that’s how it must be
To draw me closer to thee
Let the disappointments come
Lonely days without the sun
If through sorrow more like you I become

For whatever it takes to draw closer to you Lord
That’s what I’ll be willing to do
For whatever it takes to be more like you
That’s what I’ll be willing to do

Take my houses and lands
Change my dreams, change my plans
For I’m placing my whole life in your hands
And if you call me today
To a place faraway
Lord I’ll go and your will obey.

I’ll trade sunshine for rain
Comfort for pain
That’s what I’ll be willing to do
For whatever it takes for my will to break
That’s what I’ll be willing to do
That’s what I’ll be willing to do