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This past Sunday, while preaching from 2 Peter 1:19-2:4, I said about the Bible, “It can only mean what it meant.” Based on the encouraging response to the message, I want to expand on this thought.

The Bible is God’s Word, completely without error. I’ve heard countless sermons being with, “Turn in God’s inerrant, inspired, infallible Word to . . .” This phrase acknowledges that the Bible is different than any other book. But, it is still a book—a perfect book, but a book.

Authors write with an audience and purpose in mind. The biblical writers are no different. Paul wrote his epistles to particular churches for specific reasons. Moses wrote for the generation wandering in the wilderness. John wrote his Gospel evangelistically. These books didn’t float down from Heaven. They were written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit. Certainly God is the ultimate author of Scripture, but He used men to produce His Word.

Since God’s Word was written by people to people, then we must interpret and apply the Scripture based on the rules of human communication. The key to understanding the Bible is authorial intent. What was Paul’s intended meaning in Romans 8:28-30? Why did Mark provide a detail in a story that Matthew and Luke did not? These types of questions are crucial to understanding the Bible. Without understanding, we can’t obey and apply God’s Word. If we can’t do those things, then our sanctification short circuits.

We inherently understand the importance of authorial intent in other forms of written communication, but easily neglect it in our Bible study. How chaotic would the world be if we decided the meaning of laws for ourselves, instead of following the legal intention? We can use our feelings to interpret tax laws, but the IRS will use the law’s intended meaning to come after our bank accounts. No amount of “peace about it from God” will get us off the hook.

Since Scripture is written with a purpose, we cannot make the Bible mean what we want. It can only mean what it meant. That meaning has many applications, but the author’s intent doesn’t change. We have to understand what the author meant to understand how the text applies.

We have to know certain facts to be able to interpret a text. First, we need to identify the author and audience. Second, we need to understand the circumstances that prompted the writing of the book. Third, we must pay attention to our passage’s context.

Don’t be intimated thinking that you will never be able to understand the Bible. Seminary or Bible College aren’t required to know the Word. A good study Bible will provide the needed background material.

Most importantly, we must approach Scripture knowing that each author wrote for a specific purpose. When we do this, the Bible comes alive because it is rooted in real people and events. This assumption will allow you to put yourself into their shoes, hear what God said to them, and see how that word applies to you.

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Full disclosure.

I have pumped gas once in the last 15 years. I don’t even look at the gauge.

When I get out of the shower in the morning, my coffee is sitting on the bathroom counter.

I am the frequent recipient of a “love blanket.” (I’ll explain that later.)

 

Sometimes submission is really easy. Sometimes not. It is always a hard concept to swallow.

Ideally, submission naturally flows from a relationship where the wife is highly valued, respected, and loved. The husband considers the wife’s needs and opinions as he leads his family, and she trusts fully in his ability to make wise and advantageous decisions. While some marriages come closer to that ideal than others, none are perfect.

When we think about submission, it is easy to imagine a world where a dictatorial husband makes decisions without considering how it will affect his wife at all. He issues decrees about how the house should be run and even how his wife should behave. The wife is deprived of dignity and identity.

So, how should godly couples handle decision-making?

Truthfully, submission is less about the mechanics of decision-making and more about faith. We are commanded in Ephesians 5:22 to submit to our husbands as to the Lord. Submission to our husbands is submission to the Lord. We struggle enough to trust the All-Knowing, All-Powerful God of Creation with the details of our lives. How in the world are we supposed to trust the guy who can’t run the washing machine or empty the trash? The world might spin off its axis if we don’t intervene!

We submit in faith. The good news is that our faith is not based in our husbands’ fallen nature. Our faith is in the Lord. When I trust that the Lord is able to redeem any difficulties we face because my husband made a bad decision, I am submitting to him as to the Lord. I believe that the Lord does indeed work all things together for good.

Submission applies to more than decision-making.

With years of experience listening to couples talk about their problems, I can readily spot two ways that wives fail to be submissive in their day-to-day attitudes toward their husbands. We tend to “mother” our husbands, and we fail to recognize the importance of encouraging our husbands.

We mother our husbands when we nag them, belittle them, and try to control them. My mother-in-law insists that men do not really grow up until they are thirty-five. I know some men (and women if we are being honest) struggle with adult responsibilities. Our husbands will forget to pick up their laundry, mail the utility bill, and take out the trash. We fail when we assume that we need to teach our husbands to do better. He knows he needs to do better. The Holy Spirit tells him regularly that he does, just like the Holy Spirit tells you that you need to do better. Your husband is a grown man being sanctified by the God of the Universe. Treat him like grown-up, and let God work out the details.

Encourage your husband. Men are fragile creatures. Their wives hold an enormous amount of power over them. A man’s success in life depends a great deal on how his wife views him. If you ask him (and he is willing to answer honestly), your husband will tell you that your opinion of him matters more than anyone else’s in the world. I promise. What you think about him and how you speak to him can make or break your husband. Men have slain dragons for the love of a woman. Your husband could conquer the world if he knows for sure that you believe in him. I want to tell you to choose your words carefully. Don’t. That is not enough. Change your heart. Whatever is in our hearts comes out of our mouths. Trust that God is making your man into a dragon-slaying beast, and watch your husband succeed.

Treating your husband like a grown-up and believing in him are two ways that you submit to him and to the Lord. Because the Lord is infinitely wise, our submission to our husbands is how we respect them. Respect is the thing they need most. God commanded them to love us because we need it. He commanded us to respect them because they need it.

In romantic movies (which I hate, unless they are Christmas movies), we all realize that the guy loves the girl when she falls asleep on the couch, in an airplane, on the floor, in the car, etc. and he gently puts a blanket on her. In our house, we call this a “love blanket.” The bestowal of a love blanket is a sign of affection. Almost every day, John gives me a blanket. It means I can sit down and stay there. And I know I am loved. How does he know that I believe in him? That I respect him? I treat him like an adult. He knows what needs to be done, and I trust him to do it. I believe in him more than I believe in myself. No matter what he says he wants to do, my response is always, “Yes! You can do that!” Because he can do anything God calls him to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My wife can testify that I’m about as routined as a person can get. My grandfather passed this trait to my mom, she gave it to me, and I either blessed or cursed my third daughter with it. Greenwich doesn’t set its time by Admiral Boom anymore. The world synchronizes to Brenna’s 2 PM snack.

Routine is good, especially if decision fatigue plagues your life. Many leaders eat the same lunch or wear the same outfit every day. The routine reduces stress and provides stability. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson calls it his “anchor.” He wakes up every day around 4 AM to work out, not matter what. He uses that time to focus and rejuvenate. Using this focus, he’s transitioned from professional wrestling to acting with incredible success.

Routine works.

My vital routines are the first and last things I do each day. Both are related to my most important relationships. First, I sit down at my kitchen table at 6 AM to have my quiet time. Second, Donna and I go to bed together every night. (Calm down. This isn’t that type of post.)

Other than knowing Jesus, my most important relationship is with Donna. Over the years, we’ve figured out the importance of going to bed at the same time. We look forward to it each night. Before we fall asleep, we talk about whatever comes to mind. Our girls have told us that they can hear us laughing. Everything is funnier when you’re sleepy. It’s our anchor. The girls are in bed, the sound of a running dishwasher signals the day’s end, and we can unwind.

I recommend that you and your spouse find a time in your day for just the two of you. God made you one flesh. That connection must be maintained or the relationship withers. Maybe it’s the early morning hours, or the middle of the day, or last thing at night. Whenever that time is, make the most of it. Listen. Laugh. Support.

While Donna is priority over every other human, nothing is more important than my relationship with Jesus. If I’m not growing in Him, then I can’t be the husband I need to be. So, each morning at 6 AM, I sit down with my coffee and my Bible. I don’t do anything fancy. I use three bookmarks, starting in Genesis, Job, and Matthew. I begin my devotion by reading a chapter in the New Testament. Next, I pray. Finally, I read my two Old Testament chapters. As simple as that sounds, without this time I would dry up spiritually. God called me to be a pastor. I am continually preaching and teaching His Word. If I didn’t have a consistent quiet time, my own soul would be malnourished.

Naturally, your routine will be different than mine. I’m not sure how many of you have a Kylo Ren coffee mug to use during your private devotions.  However, if you know Christ, our relational priorities are the same. Take control of your day. Find your routine. Grow.

I suppose someone out there may be the exception, but I’ve never met a believer who didn’t want to be blessed by God. No one has ever said to me, “I just love it when God rains down His wrath into the middle of my life.” Instead, correctly, we want to be blessed.

What is a blessed life? Is it one of financial security, marital bliss, or physical health? We might be tempted to say yes. No one wants to struggle with money, marriage, or sickness. The Bible, however, defines a blessed life differently.

According to Psalm One, a person who forsakes sin and delights in God’s Word is blessed.

The Psalmist tells us that a blessed man “does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers (NASB).” Before the remainder of this Psalm, and all one hundred forty nine other Psalms, the writer reminds us that we live in a sinful world.

A blessed life is one that is not dragged down by surrounding sin. It does not sit, walk, or stand with the wicked. Instead, the blessed life forsakes sin. A Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, must choose not to sin. Since salvation brings spiritual life, believers are able, through God’s power, to “just say no.”

Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (NASB).”

Clearly, since Christ has not returned and we have not been glorified, we will not always take “the way of escape.” The blessed life consistently, though not permanently (yet), flees sin.

If forsaking sin is a negative command (thou shalt not), then delighting in God’s Word is the positive counterpart. To live a blessed life, a believer must be in God’s Word.

The Psalmist writes that the blessed man’s “delight is in the law of the LORD.” He mediates continuously on God’s Word. This devotion produces continued spiritual fruitfulness. Verse three says, “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water (NASB).” The Word of God, like a nearby stream, provides constant nourishment.

Reading the Bible does not guarantee spiritual growth. Not reading the Bible, however, does guarantee no spiritual growth. We learn about God’s nature and character through His Word. As we obey it, we learn that His commands aren’t arbitrary. Instead, His commands reflect His nature. By reading and living God’s Word, we grow in intimacy with Him.  We will be firmly rooted and will not wither.

The blessed life of verses 1-3 stands in stark contrast to the life described in verses 4-6. Unlike the blessed, the wicked have no spiritual root. The Psalmist writes, “They are like chaff which the wind drives away (NASB).” Those who sit, walk, or stand with sin cannot stand before God in judgment. Heaven, the assembly of the righteous, is off limits.

To delight in God’s law, His Word, is to delight in Christ, the Word. The blessed forsake sin and intake God’s Word because they’ve been made new in Christ. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one (NASB).”

The wicked, or natural, have not found their delight in Christ. The blessed, the spiritual, have surrendered their lives to Jesus.

Are you blessed?

Jesus Wants You to Know That Powerful is Normal

John 14:7–14 (NASB95) — 7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” 8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13 “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

 

I am a proud graduate of the University of Memphis. I began attending shortly after its name was changed from Memphis State University. Founded in 1912, the university was first called West Tennessee Normal School. A Normal School is a Teacher’s college. These schools trained future teachers according to specific norms and standards.

We understand norms and standards. No one would use a doctor who didn’t attend and graduate from medical school. Many professions require certification and testing to work in that field. These expectations ought to lead us, as believers, to ask a few questions.

What is standard for our relationship with Christ? What is normal Christianity?

As He spoke to His disciples on the night of His arrest, Jesus described Christianity as knowing God (John 14:7). He told His disciples that “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” Prompted by this statement, Philip asked Jesus to reveal the Father. In response, Jesus described His unity with the Father. Jesus, God the Son, didn’t do works according to His own initiative. Rather, the Father, who abided in Him, did the works.

Jesus continued in 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” How could that be possible? Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and calmed the storm. He spoke with a supernatural authority. What did He mean?

Jesus spoke about a post-Pentecost world. He was telling the disciples, and all believers, that their Christian lives should be powerful. For example, the largest number of Christians the Bible mentions before Pentecost is just over 500 (1 Corinthians 15:6). Yet, in Acts 2:41, Luke tells us that three thousand people responded in faith to a single sermon. By Acts 4:4, the number of Christian men increased to about five thousand. Greater works indeed.

Are you living with power? Do you experience the greater works? Most of us would say no. While we love Jesus, we rarely see genuinely powerful experiences such as Pentecost. Why is that? The answer is simple—we are not living according to God’s will.

Jesus explained the origin of power in the Christian life. He said in John 14:13-14, “Whatever you ask in my name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in My name, I will do it.” Praying in Jesus’ name provides spiritual power. His name represents His character, His nature, and His will. In 1 John 5:13-15, John put it this way, “13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”

If we aren’t living according to Jesus’ will, then we won’t experience God’s power. Power, which should be our norm or standard, will be absent from our lives. This absence requires us to repent of those sins that sap the supernatural power we should experience.

If your prayer life is dry, then it might be that you are living outside of God’s will. If you’ve failed to see non-Christians become Christians, perhaps personal rebellion has impacted your witness. We desire to see prayers answered and people saved. If we aren’t seeing those things, then we need to look at ourselves.

Since God doesn’t change, then we should be experiencing His power like Jesus’ early followers. We may not see thousands come to Christ in a single sermon, but we ought to see God working. If He isn’t, then it’s on us, not God. Our lack of submission to God’s will has short-circuited our spiritual power.

Jesus Wants You to Know That Heaven is Waiting

John 13:31–14:6 (NASB95) — 31 Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; 32 if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. 33 “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” 36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” 37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times. 1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 “And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Christians love to sing, talk, and think about Heaven. During my first pastorate, we would occasionally have a favorite hymn service. We were a small congregation, so members would call out what hymn they wanted to sing. Most of those songs were about Heaven. We find comfort in eternity, but we must wait for it. How do we wait for Heaven? What do we do while we wait? How do we prepare?

After Judas left the Last Supper, Jesus began an important conversation with the remaining eleven disciples. These men would change the world within the next sixty years, but in that moment they needed to hear from their Lord to prepare for the future.

The moment for His glorification had arrived. After three years of ministry, the time for His death, burial, and resurrection had come. Within hours, He would suffer and three days later be raised.

Jesus told His disciples they would look for, but not find Him. He was going to a place they couldn’t. These words confused the eleven, but before they could ask His meaning, Jesus gave a new command. The disciples were to love one another as Jesus loved them.

This command may sound strange to us. After all, doesn’t the Old Testament also speak about loving others? Why would Jesus say this command was new? The key phrase is “even as I have loved you (v. 34).” Jesus told His men that they were to love one another sacrificially. Within hours, Jesus would lay down His life for the world. He challenged the disciples to love one another this completely.

God still commands us to love one another with a Christ-like love. This love sacrifices self for the sake of others, specifically other believers. While we are certainly called to love the world, Jesus gave this command to a Christian group. Fortunately, when we love one another sacrificially, the world notices. Jesus said in verse 35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The disciples didn’t understand Jesus. They focused on His departure. Peter and Thomas asked about Jesus’ destination. Peter wanted to go. Thomas wanted to know the way.

When Peter claimed to want to go with Jesus, he said he would lay down his life for the Lord. Jesus informed Peter of his impending failure. Peter would not obey the new command. Instead, He would deny Jesus three times.

Jesus didn’t let those weighty words remain in the air for long. He immediately began to speak about the comfort of His destination. John 14:1-3 has encouraged many grieving families, but in context these words were given to distraught disciples. Eventually, the disciples would go where Jesus was going, but He had to go first to prepare.

Thomas asked one of the most important questions in the Bible. He wanted to know about the place Jesus was preparing. In response, Jesus pronounced His uniqueness: He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the only way to Heaven. The truth about Christ is the only saving truth. Only the eternal can live in Heaven. Salvation through Christ exclusively grants eternality.

Christians typically use John 14:1-6 for comfort during loss. However, when seen in the larger context of John 13:31-14:6, the main idea is love. Of course, Heaven encourages Christians. Yet, while we wait to see Jesus face to face, He has commanded us to love one another sacrificially.

Jesus Wants You To Know That Evil Destroys

John 13:18–30 (NASB95) — 18 “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’ 19 “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. 20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” 21 When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.” 22 The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking. 23 There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, “Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.” 25 He, leaning back thus on Jesus’ bosom, said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus then answered, “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose He had said this to him. 29 For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, “Buy the things we have need of for the feast”; or else, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.

 

Tragic characters dominate literature and popular culture. From Hamlet to Anakin Skywalker to Gollum, we understand that not all famous stories end well. The Bible contains several tragic figures. Lot, Moses, Samson, and Gideon stumbled. Sadly, one person stands out—Judas Iscariot.

We don’t know much about Judas. The Bible doesn’t tell us about his call to follow Jesus. There are different opinions about his name’s meaning. We first learn about him in Matthew 10:4. Whatever his background and calling, Scripture consistently mentions Judas’ betrayal of Christ.

Judas was present for the entirety of Jesus’ ministry. In Acts 1:21-22, Peter gives the requirements for Judas’ replacement. The new apostle had to be someone who “accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us.” Judas saw Jesus’ miracles, heard his sermons, and lived daily with the Savior. He saw Lazarus raised. He heard the Sermon on the Mount. He experienced the calming of the storm. Yet, he betrayed Christ. A tragic tale indeed.

After Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He explained that they should also serve one another humbly. Immediately after that explanation, Jesus pointed out that one of them would betray Him. Peter, ever the alpha male, motioned to John to ask Jesus the betrayer’s identity. Jesus identified Judas with a piece of food. Tragically, Satan then entered Judas. Jesus told him to follow through with his plan. Judas left, with the others not knowing why.

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Judas felt remorse after betraying Jesus. In his guilt, he hanged himself. According to Acts 1:18-19, his body decayed, fell from the rope, and burst open. In a culture emphasizing proper burial, Judas’ body was desecrated.

We can take three lessons from Judas’ sad life.

First, we must not continually rebel against God’s Word. Judas spent over three years with Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God and His words are the Words of God. Judas heard these words every day. He heard the sermons and the parables. He heard the authority in Jesus’ voice when casting out demons or calming the storm. He was there when Jesus instructed the disciples not to take their money bags when preaching to the nation of Israel. Yet, Judas betrayed Jesus.

Second, we must stop any secret sin. John 12:6 tells us that Judas stole from the money box during Jesus’ ministry. The disciples only discovered this after his betrayal. On the outside, everything appeared normal. Yet, his secret actions telegraphed his later behavior.

Third, we must not pretend to be something we are not. The other disciples did not suspect Judas at all. He acted just as they did. Nothing appeared to be wrong. To play at being a follower of Christ is to defy the very God we claim to follow.

Judas chose to betray Christ. After years of being daily by the Lord’s side, his choices made him a tool of Satan. What a tragedy.