About the Author: I am Joshuah Ellis and I have been working, full time, with the Hub City church of Christ since June 1, 2016. I have never considered myself much of a writer. Perhaps that is why I like the blog format so much. For me, it feels like there is less pressure to be perfect with a blog as opposed to a more formal article In this blog, you will find personal stories, anecdotes, humor and maybe a bit of sarcasm, but the aim of each post will be the same: to encourage, inspire, and challenge the readers to dig deeper and work harder in their service to God. If you would like to offer feedback, leave a comment or contact me here.
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Yesterday, I preached about the widow and the very small offering she gave at the temple (Mark 12:41-44). As I went through the lesson highlighting various parts of the text and making the relevant applications, I kept coming back to one thought. “This isn’t just about money.” I tried to communicate that during the sermon, but I wonder if that is a whole other lesson in and of itself. So here you go. A few ways we can give, that has nothing to do with money.
1. Time. I know this one is obvious, but do we think of donating our time in a context other than charity? Think about the time it takes to read your Bible, say a prayer, or try to encourage a fellow Christian. This can be viewed in the same sacrificial manner as the widow’s offering. Think about the time you are willing to sacrifice back to the Lord today and see if you can come up with some way to increase it.
2. Attention. Believe me when I say that I understand this is not always as easy as it sounds. I have kids and I have had to wrangle them all through a worship service. My wife certainly has more experience in this area than I do, but I still know what it is like. Still, God deserves our attention. Inside of the church building and out. Do you think of your attention as yet another way to sacrifice and give back to the Lord?
3. Data. Ok. I know how this sounds, but hear me out. We use our phones for everything. In fact, I just downloaded an app, on my phone, to tell me how much time I’m spending on my phone. Ironic, isn’t it? However, if we are using our phones for communication, social media, and everything else, why not think of a way to use our phones to glorify God. Listen to your daily Bible reading on your phone. Use social media to invite someone to worship. Send a text to a sick member of the church. Find a way to sacrifice with the tools God has given us.
4. Prayer. Again, I know it seems obvious, and the reason I bring this up is tied to a personal connection. There have been times when I told someone I would pray for them and then, for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Maybe I forgot. Maybe I got distracted. It’s no excuse, but it happens. Why not get a bit more intentional about the prayers to which you have committed yourself? Keep a list of those for whom you have offered to pray and start making good on those promises to carry their petition to the presence of the Father.
Some of this might seem overly simple, and maybe it is. The importance is less on which of these (if any) you choose and more about heeding the example that Jesus brought to our attention that last Tuesday of His ministry. To have the heart of the widow mentioned, to me, is the point above all others in this account. If we could make it a priority to have that heart, then what we choose to give isn’t important as long as we are giving and doing so with the proper attitude.
This past Sunday, during Bible class, we were discussing 1 Corinthians chapter 8. Of course, there are some meaty topics covered in that chapter (see what I did there?). However, there was one moment during the study of this chapter that stands out above the rest.
One of our members asked the question, regarding the conduct of the stronger brother toward the weaker (and I am paraphrasing):
Where do you draw the line? If you have one brother who is getting offended by ridiculous things or being overly demanding, or if you have another brother who is trying to be authoritarian, what do you do?
I loved this question as it forced me to consider some realities about the current church and do some hard thinking on some things. What I observe is that as Christians, we often want a formula, one formula that works in all situations. The problem with this is that any time you have 2 people trying to close the divisions among them, it is a truly unique situation for which there is no foolproof formula.
Thus, the topic of today’s blog. 3 things you need in order to make sure that every Bible study (in which there are opposing views) is a guaranteed success.
1. Love your brother. This should go without saying, but it doesn’t. Guys, if you plan to sit down with someone, open your Bibles in order to resolve and issue and your primary concern is being right or “winning” the argument, then you should just pack up your things and go home. So many times, in the Bible, we read about loving one another (John 13:34; 1 Peter 4:8; John 4:12-13; Ephesians 4:2-3; 1 Peter 3:8-9) and the list could go on. This is not about you and unless your attitude is right at the beginning of this encounter, then chances are you are about to do much more damage than good. Not to mention, the discussion is going to end in an argument and would thereby be unsuccessful.
2. Meekness. Again, it should go without saying but it doesn’t. This is another circumstance in which you must check your motives. Is this about you or about you being right? James tells us to receive God’s word with meekness (James 1:21). You can’t do that if you treat your Bible like a weapon that is to be used as nothing more than a proof text to show how clever or spiritual you are. That is not meekness? Both parties have to share this quality if the study is to be a guaranteed success.
3. Respect for God’s Word. Obviously, you are not going to get very far in your study if it devolves into a philosophical discussion as opposed to a biblical one. Again, we return to a similar fact. This is not about you, your ego, your intelligence, or your righteousness. This is about following God’s perfect Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17), wherever it may lead. Without this, there is no chance of a successful study.
So, there you go. 3 ingredients to a guaranteed successful Bible study and the answer to the question I was asked in Bible class. While there is no “one size fits all” answer for every situation, there is a pattern. When 2 people who love one another, show an attitude of meekness and have a real respect for God’s Word, sit down together to study, they will always end up where they need to be. Why? Certainly not because we are perfect, but because God is. Because His Word is. Because, when we choose to follow and submit, we can never be found wanting. God won’t let us.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
I know we have all been there. You’ve just finished your Bible reading and the only thought that is swimming around in your head is, “what?” Maybe it was the word usage. Perhaps you were reading about a complex concept. It could have even been the style of writing that tripped you up. While I am by no means the authority on interpreting biblical text, I do think there are some things we can keep in mind while studying our Bible that might help us get through some of these more difficult passages.
1. Start with what you know. This is a favorite method of mine when teaching Bible class. We have a tough passage, there might even be more questions than answers, but what do we know for sure? Generally, when we make it a priority to start there, it reduces the temptation to make assumptions that are not really supported by the text.
2. Remember the context. Context goes beyond who was writing and to whom. Those are important pieces of information to have but there are other questions to ask as well. Where did the audience live and is their culture a factor? Why was this being written? Is the author answering a question, correcting, rebuking, teaching or prophesying? And, the list could go on, but these should get you started.
3. Use another version of the Bible. Other translations are a huge asset to us and most of them can be accessed for free online. www.biblegateway.com is a favorite of mine, and from there you can access every version of the Bible on the planet. Look at one verse but from a handful of translations. At the very least, you should get a better idea as to what you are reading. Bonus: This website also has a great Bible dictionary/lexicon that can be very useful.
4. Consider commentaries. I almost hesitate to include this. However, commentaries can be a helpful tool. I would always advise caution however and suggest that the commentary is your last, and I mean very last resort to be used, and only after you have studied the passage on your own for a while. Even then, make sure that any information derived from commentaries is supported by the text rather than a human ideology.
5. Take some time away. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to step away from a text for a while only to find that when I returned, it was like the lightbulb went off. Sometimes we just need fresh eyes when looking at something. At the very least, a break can give you some time to pray about what you are reading and really let it sink in.
I hope you found this list useful. I am sure there are other suggestions I could have added. Leave a comment below with your methods for navigating difficult passages.
I have yet to meet a Christian who, at the end of a full Sunday, looks back and says, “That was a total waste of time!” Even if it means we have spent an entire day focused on worship, Bible study, maybe even a potluck, and are completely exhausted by the end of it all, we still usually feel that it was a great way to spend our day.
Serving God on Sunday is easy. At least, it is easier. We are surrounded by people who encourage us. Our minds are focused on God. We are all gathered together in a common safe place. And, the whole day has been set aside for this sole purpose. We don’t have to worry about people challenging our beliefs or attacking us. We typically don’t even have to worry about worldly influences distracting us.
So what happens 12 hours later when we wake up ready to start our work week? Do we walk into Monday with the same zeal and servitude we possessed the day before? What about the rest of the week? Does our faithfulness endure throughout the week or does it fade as the days progress?
Without the safety net of the church building, we are forced to either serve or not, on our own, in an environment with much less accountability and support. I think we would do well to consider how we hold up under such circumstances.
In the Trenches
I recently spoke with my closest friend. Keep in mind these conversations are often a bit disorganized and chaotic, so I can’t even remember exactly what the topic was, or even which one of us even said this, but a comment was made that was incredibly enlightening to me.
“Real service to God happens in the trenches, not in the pews”
This is not to say that our worship is unimportant or “not real.” I believe the point is that what we do on Sunday is not the full scope of our service to God. One brother told me one time that he considered Sundays as the preparation for the rest of the week. I think there is a lot of truth to that.
Consider the Source
Think about this with me. I am sure the disciples felt most encouraged when they were at the feet of Jesus. But, why were they there? Was it not so that they could do the work that they were given when they would be away from Him (Matthew 28:19-20)? Consider Paul. I am sure it was nice for him to spend time with the others after his conversion (Galatians 1:18). However, Paul’s real service was the work he did on his journeys and with the churches of the day.
What about Us?
So what does your service look like on Monday? Are you using the encouragement and knowledge gained the day before so that you can be a better brother, sister, encouragement, evangelist, servant, husband, father, wife, mother, Christian? Or, do you expend your best efforts for the Kingdom on Sunday only to remain inactive until it is time to go back to the church building?
If so, let’s resolve to be better together. Let’s work together using what we take in on Sundays and impact the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. Let’s get into those trenches and do the work.
“Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest”
(John 4:35b ESV).
The other day my youngest (6) got angry with his brother and hit him. Shocking, right? As usual, he had to suffer through a consequence for his unwise choice and be told to “make it right.” Reluctantly, he walked to his brother and barely above a whisper said, “sorry.” Afterward, my other son responded with an unenthusiastic “I forgive you,” and they both went about their business.
Any adult, other than their parents, would have chuckled at the exchange and chalked it up to kids being kids. It was, for the most part. However, it got me thinking about what God teaches us about forgiveness. Granted, my children are young and still learning. It’s not surprising that they don’t fully grasp what it means to repent, forgive or even be forgiven. What is surprising as that many adults, Christians even, might be in the same boat. So, here are 4 things you need to know about forgiveness:
1. Forgiveness is more than saying, “It’s ok.” The Greek word that is translated into “forgiveness” in English literally means “to release” (source). In other words, when you forgive someone, you release them from whatever it was that they did to you. Make sure when you tell someone that you forgive them, that you mean it. It’s no joke, especially when we think about this in the context of God’s forgiveness of our sins.
2. Forgiveness is a choice, and then again, no it isn’t. Forgiveness is a choice in that no one can force it upon us. I can make my kids say the words, but there is nothing I could ever do to make them actually forgive one another. That being said, forgiveness is something that is commanded many times in the New Testament. Paul preached of its importance (Colossians 3:13), and Jesus taught that we cannot expect to be forgiven I we do not, in turn, forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). In this way, we really don’t have a choice if we expect to please God.
3. Forgiveness is forever. That’s right. For. Ev. Er. If we truly think of it as a release, and we realize that we are to forgive others as God forgives us (Colossians 3:13; Matthew 6:12) and that His forgiveness is absolute (Hebrews 8:12), then we need to make sure that this is what we do as well. Smoothing over an argument only to resurrect it at a later date is not forgiveness. Holding a grudge either loudly or in silence is not forgiveness. Remember, we are to forgive AS God forgives us IF we want His forgiveness.
4. Forgiveness is not a waiting game. “I will be more than happy to forgive…as soon as ___________ apologizes.” Don’t do this. This is not representative of a godly heart at all. This is little more than manipulation. If there is an issue, it needs to be resolved. By who? It doesn’t matter. It just needs to happen. Jesus is very clear in Matthew 18:15. If you have been wronged, speak up. Sure love covers a multitude of sins, but if you are not able or willing to let it go, then don’t wait. Deal with it.
I can imagine that forgiveness can be one of the more difficult concepts in the Bible to consistently apply. However, rest assured that if God can forgive you (Romans 5:8), you can forgive anyone.