Bible Study?

Lately I have been hearing this term used in a somewhat derogatory fashion. Seems that people are starting to see Bible Study as a difficult and unhelpful tool in their walk with the Lord. Seems that more and more we are focusing more on the relational aspect of the body and very little on the relationship that is the head of that body. Sermons are becoming more and more stories and psychology methods than the true Spirit lead preaching of the word of God. Many sermons that I hear today are becoming more and more topical and filled with a lot of fluff.  So I wonder…are we seeing the reality of 2 Timothy 4:3-4 play out in our cultures? (At least I see this in american culture)

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.” (2 Timothy 4:3–4, ESV)

I ask the question in my mind…What is the purpose of the church, or better the ekklesia (called out ones)? Do we still see the body in the way that Paul did when he wrote to the Ephesian church?

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, ESV)

This is the same writer who penned to Timothy these words…

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 3:14–17, ESV)

Wow, the word of God is profitable for just about everything in our lives, yet we have become so filled with bible cliches and whimsical quoting of scripture in a way that does not build up the body but beats on a person our point of view of the passage. Can we not get back to a place where we have a passion for GOD’s WORD so that we can identify with David when he writes…

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(Torah) of the Lord, and on his law(Torah) he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1–2, ESV)

Look how beneficial it can be to our lives….

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7–11, ESV)

More desired than Gold? I once knew a person that was a treasure hunter and the passion that he put into seeking out hidden treasures and gold was almost obsessive. Seems to me that our passion for the WORD of GOD should be equally obsessive. Yet what we tend to be obsessive about is usually not His WORD. We can binge watch Netflix, play video games from dusk till dawn, Instagram and twitter until our fingers are numb, but we wrestle to just spend 5 minutes with the Scriptures and then we pat ourselves on the back because we feel like we have accomplished something and done our daily bible study or reading for the day.

So where can we start, maybe we can start with a prayerful desire to know God and learn of the beauty of HIS Words to us. Spend a few weeks or more just pondering Psalm 119. Seek not to think of it as Bible Study but as a time to learn more about our God and the amazing words He has given to us to instruct us on how to live in His presence and in HIS Kingdom and with His people. Kindle in our hearts a healthy fear of the Lord but wrapped in the Love of His presence.

Maybe as we seek His presence and wade deeply into HIS WORDS, the Spirit can quicken in us the same feeling that the disciples had on the road to Emmaus when they said….

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”” (Luke 24:32, ESV)

In my own life, I have personally reflected on some of the words that Jesus prayed in John 17…

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent……..Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:3, ESV) and (John 17:17–19, ESV)

How do get to know the “one true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” By a deep Spirit lead desire of HIS WORDS, because it is here that we see who He is and what He desires of our lives. It is in those Words that we are edified and equipped.

My prayer, is that we can feel deeply the words that were penned in Psalm 119…

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes;

I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:9–16, ESV)

 

 

 

Rend Your Heart

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:12–13, ESV)

Lately this verse has been showing up in a lot of different places in some form or another. Though it is a common desire of the Lord since the fall in the Garden of Eden for man to repent and return to the Lord, the message even today seems very strong. Do we hear it? Is this a message that God’s people need to hear as well?

In my blog I have talked a lot about repentance, but today I wanted to focus on what it means to “rend your hearts”. But, before we can understand what it means, we must first have a understanding of what the word “heart” means.

Often we think of the the heart in terms of emotions like love and kindness but a biblical view of the word “lev” (heart) has a much more rich meaning.

First, I really like the ancient word picture we get from the original pictographic definition of the word for heart. Jeff Benner describes it this way:

“The first picture in this Hebrew word is a shepherd staff and represents authority as the shepherd has authority over his flock. The second letter is the picture of the floor plan of the nomadic tent and represents the idea of being inside as the family resides within the tent. When combined they mean “the authority within”. (Jeff Benner, Ancient Hebrew Word Meanings)

I have also heard it described as “that which controls the inside”. This seems to line up with other descriptions that one can find in various OT dictionaries and word study books. A summary of these could read as the heart being the seat of emotions, the seat of thought, with fear, love, anger, joy, sorrow, hatred, all attributed to the heart. Important to understand is that scripture also describes the corruption of our human nature in connection with the heart. You can read of a heart that is hardened, that is wicked, that is perverse, godless, deceitful, and desperately wicked.

In our verse from Joel above the Lord asks us to repent (return to me) with all our heart. So that which is “the authority within” needs to turn back to the Lord. We must submit our authority to the authority of the Lord. But it requires something radical. It requires weeping, mourning, and fasting. It also requires us to “rend our hearts”. The word rend is an imperative verb which suggests a command or instruction with the idea to to break, shatter, smash, crush “the authority within”. Seems that David understood what this means:

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, ESV)  

But, how can we do this, our heart is deceitful, and wicked. Lucky for us, Scripture does not leave us hanging. Let’s just explore some verses from both the OT and NT.

“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed…..his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.” (Psalm 112:1–8, ESV)  

This verse starts with the fear of the Lord, and relates this awe and trembling reverence to one who delights in the Lords commandments. It then describes the benefits to this delight. One of the benefits is a heart (the authority within) that is firm and trusts in the Lord, and a heart (the authority within) that is steady and is not afraid.

David also knows how this must happen:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, ESV)  

It is a work that David knew must come from the Lord. Later the Prophet Jeremiah would write about this in terms of a new covenant:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:33–34, ESV)

Thus we see in the New Covenant verses that being the same ideas forward…

“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:10, ESV)

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14–19, ESV)

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:6–7, ESV)  

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21–22, ESV)  

Ezekiel describes the removal of a heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh, what does that suggest? (I will let you ponder that one)

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27, ESV)

There is a action of God in all of these verses that bring about the end result of a pattern of life that is careful to walk in obedience to the Lord. An interesting question still comes to mind, and the Lords instruction in Deuteronomy may help answer, what comes first – a desire to seek God, or God giving us the desire to seek him?

“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today.” (Deuteronomy 30:1–8, ESV)  

So, based on this pattern we could lay out this idea:

1. The Lord sets before us His pattern for living. His Word given both written and in the world around us. 

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19–20, ESV)

2. We remember who He is, and the promises that He has given. He sets them before us.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14–17, ESV)  

3. Return to the Lord (Repent).

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37–38, ESV)  

The Holy Spirit is given AFTER they repent!!

4. By God’s Spirit he circumcises our heart and gives us the ability to walk a life of obedience.

“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today.” 

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:3–6, ESV)  

Part of this whole process is the rending of the heart (the authority within) and then the Lord giving us the power through His spirit to walk in obedience to His commands. But it is a process, and until the Lord returns we must continue to turn to the Lord, and sometimes our old nature will require use to rend the authority within as we fall back into sin. The words our Lord had to the church of Sardis should be a sobering reminder that even the church must seek to “rend its heart”

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:1–3, ESV)  

Lord, help me to put away pride and self, and to submit “the authority within” to your will.