Monday, October 31, 2016

DAILY BIBLE STUDY PRINCIPLES

(Presentation given at Abundant Life Christian Church, Mountain View, CA – Oct. 2016)

My speaking assignment for this morning is to relate my personal method of Bible study. Before decribing this to you, I would like to establish several Biblical principles that have influenced my approach.

Have you ever heard of the doctrine “Sola Scriptura”? This is a Latin phrase that is literally translated, “scripture alone” or “only scripture.” This doctrine holds that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and that the Bible is the sole reliable repository of revelation about God Himself and the means of our salvation. I personally believe in this doctrine because it accurately reflects the Bible’s own attitude toward itself.

One small example of this can be found in Psalm 19:7, which says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” “Perfect” is a translation of a common Hebrew word meaning “whole” or “complete,” so this verse is telling us that the God's Word is sufficient, the only source needed, for our souls.

With the principle of Sola Scriptura established, I would also like to provide you with a very short mental picture of what a Christian’s relationship with God looks like on this side of the cross, and how the Bible fits into that relationship.

Before they sinned, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God every day in the Garden of Eden. After their rebellion (sin) against the Lord, mankind no longer had that privilege until Christ’s effective payment for sin on the cross. Now, those who place their faith in Him are clothed in His righteousness and have been restored to that same status of close fellowship that Adam and Eve enjoyed. Our world has not been redeemed yet, so we cannot see the presence of the Lord physically, but the intimate fellowship is the same. Prayer is the way we speak with God - - and the Word, the Bible, is God speaking to us.

The Lord tells us that scripture is “breathed out” - inspired - by Himself, so it really, literally is God speaking to us. Not to undermine the importance of prayer, which the Lord clearly desires, but in our daily conversations with Him, which voice, ours or His, is the most important one for us to attend?

On a side note, we should never forget how enormously blessed we are to have Bibles so readily available to us. This was not possible for the average person for many millennia. For example, if this were 1560 and we wanted to read His words for ourselves in our own language, we would likely have to travel miles to our local church to read a copy of the Bible that was literally chained to the pulpit! So again, since His “conversation” with us is so readily available, why wouldn’t we ardently desire to hear His voice directly from from the words He inspired?

Another truth I fervently believe, is that the Holy Spirit alone is sufficient to give us all understanding as we read the Bible. I base this belief on many verses, but several main ones (1 Cor. 2 and the apostle John) are below.
Because of this promise, for most of my Christian life I have avoided commentators, Christian books, footnotes, etc., and just rely on the Holy Spirit for understanding. The Spirit was specifically given to us as our Helper and will certainly fulfill Jesus' promise in John 14. (See below.)

It is my opinion, based on the scriptures describing the nature of man, that once you introduce a fallen human mind as your interpreter, even the mind of a redeemed person, you will get a certain amount of dross mixed into the pure gold of the Word. I say this because, though a Christian’s born-again spirit is aligned with the heart of God, their mind is still an organ in a fallen body. The mind is still undergoing a process of sanctification until it is perfected when meeting Christ on the other side of physical death. 

For these reasons, when I do my Bible study, I generally use only the Word and the Holy Spirit as my resources. In many ways, the Bible is its own interpreter. Within itself, many verses will shed light on the meaning of other verses found somewhere else in the scripture. This is where I’ve found the Spirit to be most obviously helpful as He brings these verses to mind and uses them to illuminate His words.

So here’s my process:

1. Before I begin reading the Word, I pray several specific things:
a) I thank the Lord for speaking to me and for protecting His message all these centuries. I do this to worship His goodness and power.
b) Next, I confess that I know that my mind is weak and dark, and that I realize I won’t have any genuine understanding of spiritual matters apart from what the He reveals to me.
c) Finally, I ask Him to help me understand and to impress it on my heart.

2. After praying, I read the passages.

Throughout the process of reading the Bible, I accept what God has said to me for that day, and I am content. Occasionally, it might seem as though He didn’t teach me anything (such as after reading a long list of “begats”), but I’m mindful that I’m not even a good judge of that.

If He reveals nothing new, fine. I thank Him for the good time together. If He convicts me, I confess and ask forgiveness right then. If He amazes me with some insight, I thank Him.

If I have unanswered questions, I put a little question mark in the margin in pencil. Over the years, one of the great pleasures of my life has been erasing these marks, but it’s almost just as exciting to find myself adding new ones because it means He’s leading me deeper. I also underline verses I want to remember in pencil.

And that’s how I study the Bible. Pray, then read.

Nevertheless, there are a few other things I do with my Bible that you might enjoy too.

1. I keep a scripture journal of verses that I particularly want to remember, and store an old volume or two in my car to read when I have to wait around for the children’s soccer practice to end, wait at the doctor’s office, etc.

2. Over the years, I’ve found that it is very helpful to insert my own name and circumstances into various verses to give them greater impact on my life.
Following are a couple of examples of this method that I teach in my marriage classes where I substitute my husband’s name and my own to personalize a verse.

Eph. 4:31-5:2 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Eph. 4:31-5:2 (personalized)
Carolyn, get rid of all your bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of resentment you might hold, particularly against Steve. The Lord wants you to be kind and tenderhearted to him, forgiving Steve for any and everything, just as the Lord forgave you.

Hebrews 12:15  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12:15  I must see to it that I don’t miss the grace of God by allowing any bitterness to grow within me toward Steve, and thereby causing trouble between us and defiling our whole family.

3. In selecting a Bible version to read, I try to avoid red letter editions. I do this because the red letters highlighting only Jesus' words have a subtle way of undermining the fact that all scripture is spoken by God, whether spoken through the Son and the Holy Spirit – so no part is less of God than another.

4. Finally – and this is taking years - something else I am doing now is copying the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) by hand. This was suggested to me by Deuteronomy 17:18, where it says, “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, your king is to write for himself a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.”

I’m praying that all who read this will go forward walking with their Lord daily, and that they will truly enjoy, grow, and be blessed by listening to Him.


Supporting scripture

Psalm 19:7  The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.”

2 Timothy 3:16  “All scripture is inspired by God.”

Psalm 119:89  “Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven.”

2 Peter 1:20-21  “Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God"

1 Corinthians 2:6-16  However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 
1 John 2:27  As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

John 14:25-26  “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you”

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”


Ephesians 4:22-24You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Sunday, May 17, 2015

THE FRUIT OF SELF-CONTROL

(Transcribed teaching presentation given at Abundant Life Christian Church, Mt. View, California, May 2015)

Some months ago, I was asked to speak on the fruit of self-control, so naturally, I’ve spent those months pondering, praying and generally cramming for the test. As always, I truly want to bring you words from the Lord that are both practical and encouraging; yet, as usual, I feel terribly inadequate for the task. Nonetheless, I’m enthusiastic about tackling the subject because over the years, I’ve observed how terribly important self-control is to a happy, successful, and God-honoring life.

As we explore the fruit of self-control this morning, please understand that I am not above anyone in this matter. I just want to be with you on the journey toward understanding the importance of self-control and how we can get more of it.

Since the time allotted for speaking is quite limited, I also had to decide on whether to focus on the personal issues of self-control or, since this is a mothers’ group, how to train it into your children. I decided to go with the former because a mother’s behavior is such a major influence on her child’s life. Like it or not moms, your conduct is the first building block in the developing character of your children.

It has always been apparent to me that self-control is the most undervalued and least sought of the spiritual fruits. I believe this is true because we all like to be thought of as that “gentle, or patient, or kind woman” - - but as that very “self-controlled” woman? Not so much. This is probably because self-control is perceived as being “inhibited” and projects a certain “uptight” image. But we would be terribly wrong not to view self-control as the most necessary, if not the very most important of the spiritual fruits.

Simply stated, self-control is the ability to control the expression of your emotions or desires, particularly in trying or tempting situations. Yet spiritually, we will find there is another dimension to self-control that involves dying to your self. This means accepting that “you have been bought with a price,” and that you are not your own. In other words, “you must die to your own will.” This is the Biblical the definition of the fruit of self-control.
As a Christian woman, you are a bondservant to the Lord God Most High, and His interests are to be your foremost interests. When a woman is living a life that’s submitted to Christ and dead to herself, other people will most likely view her as a self-controlled woman. Yet, I think you understand that “self-control” is a bit of a misnomer, because to be a self-controlled woman, you can’t really be the one in control. The Holy Spirit of God has to be the One at the wheel.
Over these past two years at Mom’s Timeout, our scripture themes have taught us this point. Spiritual growth and spiritual fruit come only from being connected to the True Vine. It’s a fact that we need the Holy Spirit to be spiritually alive, so He might well be compared to the coursing of blood that sustains the body or the sap that flows through a living tree.

It is the Holy Spirit that enables our connection with God, and it’s in this connection that the fruit of self-control is most needful. To have an intimate connectedness with the Lord requires that we submit our tongues, our hands, our whole body to His will.

I might also note that, without self-control, a person will be adding to the trouble that Jesus said would naturally come our way because we live on Earth, the Fallen Planet. To illustrate this point, I would refer to one of our recent speakers who stated that the fruit of gentleness is expressed when we say we’re “sorry for verbally lashing out at our family.”

Now, mind you, an angry outburst is very hurtful to the recipients and not at all constructive in creating a happy home, so these events truly contribute to the trouble in our life. Saying you are sorry is completely appropriate after doing something so offensive - - but don’t think the Holy Spirit is going to drop it there. Instead, He tells us that we express true gentleness by controlling our tongues in the first place, and not lashing out at all.

You see, that’s the thing about the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t accept emotional ugliness or a lack of control as acceptable or normal. He agrees with the conscience that He has placed in us - - and calling anger a sin, the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self control will try mightily to head it off so that the fruits of love and peace can remain.

It is because of this sort of inter-play with the other spiritual fruits that I prefer to think of self-control as less like a fruit and more like the sturdy little stem that bears the weight of the other fruits, holding them fast onto the True Vine. Plainly said, when we don’t control ourselves, there will be precious little joy, limited, if any goodness, certainly no patience, rarely gentleness, and woe little peace. None of these delicate fruits can thrive when the Self is allowed free-reign. Self is like a spoiling worm inside the fruit.

Now, as some of you know, my son, Zane, is a marriage and family counselor in Mt. View. And even though I personally take psychology with a large grain of salt, I like his therapeutic perspective because it is based upon personal responsibility, which we both view as Biblical. Because of my son’s background in psychology, I decided to investigate the field’s current recommendations for increasing self-control, and I have to say, my findings really gave me a chuckle.

After decades of research, study, and who knows how much money, psychology is pretty much echoing Biblical principles right down the line. And that’s just as we would expect, right? Since the Lord made us, He, above all, will know what is right for us.

To illustrate my point, I’d like to briefly share the tools of self-control currently being advocated by modern psychology and compare them to the Word of God.

The first tool: Distraction

The Bible recommends focusing our attention away from temptation; that is, mental distraction through moving our thoughts onto other things. There is a certain reformation of our thinking patterns involved in this process. Phil. 4:8  says “whatever is kindly spoken, whatever is lofty, and whatever is praiseworthy – put your mind on these.”

Psychology makes a parallel suggestion to mentally distract yourself, but it suggests busy work (clean a drawer, etc.) or brain games. Do anything to not think about the “bad” thing your flesh wants to do.

Concerning “distraction,” I find it quite telling that only the Bible deals with the root cause for the lack of self control. The Word recognizes that this lack is a product of a sinful thought life, while psychology settles for a temporary distraction that is not unlike a Cesar Milan side kick to a straying dog.

Second tool: Avoidance:

There are many recommendations and examples of wise avoidance in the Bible.  Here are just two: 1) Exodus 23:7 warns to “Keep thee far from a false matter;” and 2) Joseph’s notable flight from Potipher’s wife when she tries to seduce him.

The world of psychology also recommends avoidance through keeping temptations out of sight, and therefore, out of mind, e.g., if sugar is your downfall, keep sweets out of the house, etc. Just try not to see or be in the presence of a temptation. 

Clearly pure Bible.

The third tool: Make a Plan

God tells us to plan for contingencies in all areas of life. For example, Luke 14:28: “If one of you should desire to build a tower (or go on a diet, or not spend too much money, or refrain from speaking that snarky remark), then will you not first sit down and count the cost to do it?”  The point is to plan ahead for the outcomes you desire, which in keeping our topic, would be the ability to maintain self-control.

Following God’s lead once again, psychology also encourages us to plan ahead with an if/then plan. For example, if someone (perhaps a family member) does something to irritate you, you will plan to count to 10 before you speak back, take a walk, etc.

Making a plan is basically planning how you are going to implement the tactics of distraction and avoidance.

The final tool: Support Group:

I’ll bet you have never considered that the Lord invented the concept of a support group. His Word advises us to not neglect meeting with other like-minded Believers who share our values and will encourage us. This not only offers occasions to strengthen our faith, but also offers a place for personal accountability.

Naturally, psychology has also come to recognize the value of groups in gaining and maintaining self-control. Groups such as Weight Watchers and AA thrive because changes are most powerful when you have others for support.

Interestingly, the world of psychology also considers self-control to be like a mental “muscle” that can be developed through exercises in self-denial. Yet, the Bible emphasizes a divine dimension to the process when it introduces the concept of spiritual fruit. So, we find there are actually two sources of self-control.

The self-control of psychology is a skill that anyone can develop because it’s an exercise in the management of the flesh, including the brain. The military has developed an excellent program for this sort of thing called “basic training.” This is the kind of self-discipline mothers are trying to train into their children. It is rather mechanical in it’s nature.

We moms try to teach this basic self-control through direction of our children’s situations and choices, through our personal mentoring, and perhaps most particularly, through our measures of discipline. This kind of control can be learned by any motivated person at almost age.

In contrast, spiritual self-control, the kind that involves the inner woman, is available only to Christians because it is based on the teaching and promptings of the Holy Spirit.

When you are born again, you’ve miraculously been give a new heart that is in agreement with God, but you are also given the Holy Spirit dwelling within your heart to guide and prompt you. So, back to our earlier plant analogy, just as a tree grows and produces fruit as it obeys the urging of the sap, so you grow and you produce fruit by responding to the urgings of the Holy Spirit.

Picture those promptings sent by the Holy Spirit as little buds on the tree of your life. They give you hope of some delicious fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness and self-control. The Lord sends these fruits for you and others to savor; but just like the spiritual gifts, the spiritual fruits are intended primarily to glorify of God.

It is to this end that all of the spiritual fruits are given and powered by the Holy Spirit because, as the song says, “Jesus did it all.” The truth is, we can’t do the things that he has called us to do unless we actively and consciously listen to the Spirit and move as He leads us.
Nonetheless, the Word tells us we can grieve the Spirit by our actions and attitudes. The Bible refers to this as quenching the Spirit,” which just means causing Him to go quiet because He has been saddened over our conduct.
Any lack of self control resulting in sin grieves the Holy Spirit; and therefore, it impedes our connection with God because sin by its nature is “self” serving, not God-serving. When the Holy Spirt gets quiet in us, that’s when our fruit begins to develop blight. Even the stem – our self-control - begins to wither, and our fruit falls away from us, becoming like the fallen grumpy fruit we might find under a tree. So when we consider the issue of gaining and maintaining more self-control, the question really is about gaining and maintaining an intimacy and responsiveness to the Spirit of God.
The good news is that there are several ways to ensure a bumper crop of spiritual fruit, particularly, the fruit of self-control.

The first means is to grow your love for the Lord. I Cor. 14 tells us to “make love your great quest.” Specifically, these words mean you should make love for the Lord your greatest quest. You can do this only through reading the thoughts of His heart in the Bible.

When you read your Bible, you are standing face-to-face with the Lord, just like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. You will hear His voice in the text, you will be able to know that He is beautiful - - most desirable - - and you will want to love Him.

As you spend time listening to God speaking to you through His Word, it will strengthen your understanding of the grace the Lord has shown to us at such an immense cost. Our resolve to act and speak righteously through the control of our flesh is strengthened by this understanding of Him. And when you grow in your knowledge of God and your understanding of His grace, you will find that the spiritual fruit of self-control will also begin to wisely govern the freedom you have in Christ because we are not under a law of works.

This is what the apostle Paul described when he wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything,” (I Cor. 6:12). That’s the Holy Spirit at work through the fruit of self-control in Paul’s life. The Spirit informs him about what is good or bad and prevents him from being taken captive by any created thing. That’s how He works in our lives, too. When we know the Lord’s mind, we’re just better able sift what is really important to the Him in all the circumstances of our life and to act on that information.

The second thing you can do to gain greater self-control, is to ask God for a favor.
Since self-control relies upon trusting God instead of ourselves, requesting more faith is the perfect solution. Seriously, ask the Lord for more faith. You can’t get more any Holy Spirit. He’s a person, not a loaf of bread wherein you can get more slices. You either have Him or you don’t. But faith is a gift, a thing. It pleases our Lord when you ask for more faith because He is a generous God Who loves to give good gifts.
I would also add here that in the same way our obedience to the commands of the Lord is our true worship, manifesting the fruits He sends through His Holy Spirit are also a very real part of our worship offering. He likes the songs okay, but this is the worship He most desires from us.

We are ambassadors for the True God, and therefore, we are to be a people of grace, positively laden with spiritual fruit to give to others. So be fruitful and entirely generous with your fruit. Shower it on everyone you meet!

With all that said, I want to close with one parting observation on our spiritual fruit, particularly self-control, because the world has its “fruits” too.

The fruits of God are sweet and taste like life. This is because they spring from the Author of Life, our Savior, Jesus. The fruits of the World – i.e., malice, greed, jealousy, pride, and so forth – are the fruits of death. They carry the bitter taste of death in them, so it’s quite easy to distinguish between the two. Most anyone will be able to tell if you have godly fruit or worldly fruit, but this morning I’m going to ask you to take a hard look at your own fruit in the secret parts of your own heart.

We’re not supposed to judge other people, but the Bible encourages us to “examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.” This is an open directive to be a "fruit inspector" your own life. As long as you live on earth, you’re not going find perfection in yourself; but if you are not producing some fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life and experiencing an increasing growth in holiness, it’s a strong indicator that you may not actually be born again.

If, as you examine yourself, you don’t like what you find, run to the Lord, seek Him in repentance, and seek after Him in His Word. If you want Him, I promise that He wants you! If you draw close to Him, He will draw close to you.

Let’s pause for a minute because I’d like to pray for us about this.


Prayer closing.