Guiding principles for students of Scripture

Today, I am working on material for a teaching series that I am going to give at Church180. We are going to be studying a letter that St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae around 60 A.D.

As I am working on this material, I keep thinking about basic principles that guide my approach to Scripture. I needed to write them down, and figured that this would be a good place to put them.

These are the principles that guide me as I read and prepare to teach Scripture.

  • There is a God.
  • He has told us who He is and what He wants in multiple ways. His most detailed revelation is through the Scriptures.
  • The Scriptures were written over multiple centuries by a diversity of men, in a diversity of circumstances.
  • The Scriptures were given by God to men to address specific, historical circumstances.
  • Many of these circumstances have changed since the time when the Scriptures were written (e.g. how we travel, how we communicate, the means of war, the introduction of global organizations, etc.).
  • While much has changed over the course of time, there is much that has not changed (e.g. basic human emotions, good, evil, etc.)
  • The work of the student is to determine what is timeless, and then apply it to 21st century living.
  • As we “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV) we will understand God and how to live “righteously” in the 21st century.

Much sloppy and destructive teaching has been done because of a disregard for basic hermeneutical principles. With that in mind, here are a handful of questions that guide me as I seek to “correctly handle the word of truth”:

  • Who wrote this? What was his point of view (e.g. Luke was a doctor. Amos was a farmer.)
  • To whom was it written? (e.g. Matthew wrote to a largely Jewish audience. Paul wrote to a largely Gentile audience.)
  • Why was it written? What issues are being addressed? (e.g. Proverbs is a collection of “wisdom sayings” collected over a period of years; Paul wrote to address specific issues and questions in various local churches)
  • What historical, geographical, cultural distinctives might influence this letter? (e.g. when Paul writes that women should not speak in church… is there something cultural going on that might help me understand this and properly apply it in the 21st century?) 
  • When I am studying a particular verse, I pay attention to what is said before and after that verse! In other words, pay attention to the context! Much harm has been done by teachers/preachers who have ignored context. There are multiple levels of context:
    • Immediate context – what is said in the sentences before and after the verse
    • Letter context – how should I understand this verse in light of the entire letter? To whom was it written? Why was it written? What is said at the beginning and end of this letter? How does that influence my understanding of the verse in question?
    • Author context – If I am studying something that Paul said, I ought to inquire as to whether he has addressed this topic in his other writings. 
    • Testament context – If I am studying something in the New Testament, how do other New Testament authors address this topic? Do they even address it?
    • Broader context – does my understanding of the verse in question agree with the broader teaching of Scripture? If my understanding of a particular verse is in conflict with other verses of Scripture… I am probably understanding it incorrectly.

The study of Scripture is a serious matter and ought to be taken seriously. There is great reward for the one who does this work seriously. One of my favorite quotes regarding this matter comes from St. Paul:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT)

 

How I disappoint myself

I am most disappointed in myself when I give in to myself.

  • When I hit snooze…
  • When I say the first thing that comes to mind…
  • When I procrastinate…
  • When I skip the gym…
  • When I skip a date with one of my girls…

Whenever I give into my weak desires… I disappoint myself.

As a matter of fact, I can disappoint myself more bitterly than anyone else can disappoint me!

The opposite is also true.

When I do the hard, but right thing… I am deeply gratified and pleased. 

One of my favorite sayings these days is:

Easy choices… hard life. Hard choices… easy life.

Do the thing you know you ought to do… not the thing you want to do… you won’t regret it!

***This post was inspired by the fact that I got out of bed and followed my morning ritual this morning… and I feel GREAT! While on the other hand, I did not do that yesterday… and felt off all day!

3 Ideas to get “Unstuck” spiritually

stuckI am in the middle of a conversation with someone who is “stuck” spiritually.

This person doesn’t like being stuck, but isn’t sure how to get “unstuck.”

I just sent them three ideas and thought it might be helpful for someone else too… so here they are:

Help someone who cannot return the favor

Most of the time when we are stuck, we have our head in a dark place. We’ve withdrawn and see or hear no one other than our own disheartened, discouraging voice.

The truth is there are other people… other people who may actually have it worse than you… but you’ll never know that until you get in your car and go find them.

Once you’ve found them… do something for them. Need some ideas? Here are five:

  • Go to the local homeless shelter and offer to help them for an hour.
  • Get background checked so that you can volunteer at your local public school… then go volunteer with the kids.
  • Go to your church and ask what you can do to help.
  • Look across the street and see what you can do for your neighbor.
  • Go to McDonalds and see if you can spot a hungry person… buy his/her lunch.

Read a book that will give you fresh ideas.

Too much time on Netflix, Facebook, and any other social media site will just send an avalanche of “I suck” down on your head. Seriously, “stuck” people should not be spending their time reading the faux lives of their online “friends.”

Rather than looking at other people’s lives… go make your own!

If you don’t know where to start, and your stuck so you probably don’t… pick up a book! Interact with some experts. If you’re looking for a recommendation I would be happy to suggest some to you. Just shoot me an e-mail and give me a word or two describing why you’re stuck and I’ll put together a short list of recommendations!

Finally…

Take 30 minutes to pray and write down your thoughts in a journal.

Last week I taught, at Church180, about how Jesus was less busy, but accomplished more than we ever do or will. The question we asked was, “HOW did He do that?” One part of that answer is that he regularly “withdrew for prayer”. You can see that teaching here.

By incorporating prayer into your life you create space to hear a new voice… God’s voice. The voice you are most often hearing, if you’re stuck, is your own. It’s telling you all the reasons you cannot… will not… should not… did not…. God’s voice is different. He will speak… but only to those who are ready to listen.
When you are listening… and you hear… WRITE IT DOWN!
It’s amazing how many insights I’ve had that I don’t remember BECAUSE I DIDN’T WRITE THEM DOWN! Don’t make the same mistake! Always pray with a pen and paper readily available!
So there you go… three ways to get “unstuck.”
Have you ever been “stuck”? What did you do to get “unstuck”?

3 ways to develop spiritual strength

photodune-7653254-muscular-man-praying-s-1024x1024Strength is something that I want in every area of my life: physical, emotional, financial, mental… and spiritual.

Mark Bell, a powerlifting coach, always says that, “Strength is never a weakness.” I’m sure that some might argue that… but I think that fundamentally he is correct. Strength is the antidote to so much pain and so many problems!

This morning I was building strength in my spiritual life by spending some time reading and reflecting on some words written by St. Paul in the Bible.

Let me show you what he wrote, and then I want to ask you three questions:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9 NLT)

So here are the three questions:

  1. What are you praying about?
  2. What are you thinking about?
  3. Who are your models?

The answers to these three questions will tell you everything you need to know about your spiritual strength. Your weakness or your strength is directly proportional to your answers.

If you pray about nothing, think about negative things, and model your life after weak people… then you’re going to be spiritually weak (and probably weak in other areas too)!

If you want to change your spiritual weakness into strength then listen to what St. Paul teaches us…

Spiritual strength is developed and sustained when we:

  • Pray about the things that worry us.
  • Think about the things that encourage and inspire us.
  • Model our lives after people who are spiritually strong.

So with this information in mind, let me ask you again:

  1. What are you praying about?
  2. What are you thinking about?
  3. Who are your models?

Learn… or be normal.

A while ago I ran across a quote from Henry Doherty…

“It is the studying you do after your school days that really counts. Otherwise, you know only that which everyone else knows.”

Geeze… I don’t want to be normal. Normal assumes that things will get worse unless they are intentionally made better. I want to get better… so I expect to keep learning!

For me books are my go to source of information. I also find helpful coaches and teachers on YouTube.

Where do you go to keep learning? Take a minute to let me know on this poll!

Time is your friend…

One of the books I’m reading now is The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.

Yesterday I snapped a picture of one of the pages and shared it on my Instagram page. I thought I should share it here too… and make a comment or two.

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For a long time I saw time as my enemy. It was TIME that was keeping me from the things I wanted.

Now I see how wrong that was.

Now I see that what was keeping me from the things I wanted was ME refusing to do what Jeff Olson says is necessary for success, “a few simple disciplines, repeated every day.”

Seriously! Since I’ve been embracing this idea that time is my ally I have:

  • Become a better dad
  • Completed more projects around the house
  • Become more organized in my work environments
  • Gained weight (I’m trying to do this)
  • Written more

Olson’s line that keeps bouncing around on the court of my heart is this…

“Time will be your friend or your enemy; it will promote or expose you.”

Question time…

Do you see time as an asset? An ally? Or do you see it as your chief enemy?

Seven Decisions

7Last week I bought two new books: The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John C. Maxwell and The Seven Decisions (Understanding the Keys to Personal Success) by Andy Andrews.

I’ve started reading “The Seven Decisions” and already realize, “this is one of those books that will be read and re-read!” Andy Andrews does an amazing job of crystallizing the keys to personal development!

What I love so much about this book is Andy’s personal story!

When he was 19 he lost his mother to cancer, and shortly thereafter his dad died in a car accident! Reeling from this one-two punch, Andy began making bad decisions that resulted in him being homeless… living under a bridge!

During his period of homelessness he did odd jobs, but had lots of free time. Much of that free time was spent in a library… where he started reading the stories of successful men and women.

As he read his “self-pity turned to passion” because he noticed something… these men and women had some themes in common! Andy began to practice these principles… and his life began to change! Now he is a New York Times best selling author who writes about these commonalities!

After reading literally hundreds of biographies and autobiographies he has identified seven common practices of successful men and women, and in his book “The Seven Decisions” he identifies and explains them in detail!

I strongly encourage you to buy the book for yourself, but for your sake, and mine, I am writing them down here.

The seven decisions that determine personal success:

#1 The Responsible Decision

“The buck stops here. I accept responsibility for my past. I am responsible for my success. I will not let my history control my destiny.”

#2 The Guided Decision

“I will seek wisdom. God moves mountains to create the opportunity of His choosing. It is up to me to be ready to move myself.”

#3 The Active Decision

“I am a person of action. Many people move out of the way for a person on the run; others are caught up in his wake. I will be that person on the run.”

#4 The Certain Decision

“I have a decided heart. Criticism, condemnation, and complaint are creatures of the wind. They come and go on the breath of lesser beings and have no power over me.”

#5 The Joyful Decision

“Today I will choose to be happy. My very life is fashioned by choice. First I make choices. Then my choices make me.”

#6 The Compassionate Decision

“I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit. I know that God rarely uses a person whose main concern is what others are thinking.”

#7 The Persistent Decision

I will persist without exception. Reason can only be stretched so far, but faith has no limits. The only limit to my realization of tomorrow is the doubt to which I hold fast today.”

Oh this is good stuff! I’m glad I picked this book up! I hope you might think about grabbing a copy too7!