Getting Into Bible Study…

There are different ways to consider the main lines of what God says in the Bible. After years of personal study, a very competent Bible teacher of the 20th Century set out some key subjects as a starting point. His suggested approach is provided in full in our Resources Section. We have drawn attention to this material before, but it is worth doing so again!

Here is a recap of the main headings. If you see matters you want to study further just start by reading the fuller document here, where you will be able to track the Bible verses supporting each key point.

SECTION 1 – THE INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE

  1. The importance of the subject
  2. What is meant by the term “Inspiration”?
  3. How the Scriptures themselves regard Inspiration
  4. How the Lord Jesus and the New Testament writers accepted the veracity of the Old Testament Scriptures
  5. Fulfilled prophecy as evidence of the divine origin of Scripture.
  6. The exactness of the inspired Word
  7. God’s sovereign care of His inspired word at the hand of copyists, translations and versions.

SECTION 2 – THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

  1. Belief in the existence of God
  2. The Being of God
  3. The Attributes of God
  4. The Trinity

SECTION 3 – THE CREATION AND ENTRANCE OF SIN

  1. The Creation of the Universe
  2. The creation of the angels
  3. The entrance of sin

SECTION 4 – THE PATRIARCHS AND PREPARATION OF ISRAEL

  1. The Patriarchal Period
  2. The beginnings of the nation
  3. Education as to a coming Redeemer
  4. How Israel developed historically
  5. How Israel degenerated spiritually

SECTION 5 – THE FULNESS OF THE TIME

  1. At the close of the appointed period
  2. The Incarnation
  3. The Atonement
  4. The Resurrection and Ascension

SECTION 6 – THE PRESENT WORK OF THE SON AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD

  1. The present work of the Lord Jesus
  2. The present work of the Holy Spirit
    1. Generally.
      1. In relation to the believer
      2. In relation to the Church the Body
      3. In relation to the House of God
      4. In relation to the world

SECTION 7 – THE CHURCH WHICH IS HIS BODY

1.         The word Church generally

  1. Singular form
  2. Plural form

2.         The Church which is His Body

  1. References to this Church in the N.T.
  2. Viewed as an eternal purpose
  3. In shadowy outline in the O.T. Scriptures
  4. In the full light of N.T. revelation

SECTION 8 – THE HOUSE OF GOD

  1. Jacob’s early vision
  2. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
  3. The Tabernacle in the Land
  4. The Temple of Solomon
  5. The Temple of the Remnant
  6. The Remnant Temple rebuilt by Herod
  7. The Spiritual House of the New Testament

nihilism: Much ado about nothing!

No, this is not a comment on a play by William Shakespeare. It is about the increasing interest in what some philosophers term “nihilism”. That term comes from nihil which is a Latin word meaning “nothing”. The discussion goes back centuries, and the way the term is used has changed a bit. The current debate seems to focus on whether or not there is any value in seeking a meaning to life; does human existence actually have no point: nothing? Nihilists say there is no ultimate meaning to life, and for humans there is nothing beyond the grave. It is worth thinking about where that conclusion leads.

Certainly, the inquisitiveness of our species has always made us seek answers to questions about the origin, extent, composition and order of the universe. Looking in the other direction, the mysteries of microbiological research and nuclear physics has brought increasing knowledge of tiny things hidden from the human eye, or even the microscope. Did we emerge from nothing, only to eventually vanish again into nothingness? In this information complexity and overload context, some may think religion is too simplistic. They may think attributing origins, powers and rules to God is just an easy way to avoid the harsh realities of an otherwise apparently pointless existence. Yet the fine-tuning of the universe, the laws by which it operates at cosmic and microbiological levels, and the shear mathematical improbability of complex life emerging by chance, all provide substantial support for accepting these are the result of design by a Designer who is not confined to this physical universe, and for which the name “God” is the appropriate term. To bring something out of nothing is the prerogative of God (see Heb.11:3).

The expansion of available knowledge made possible by the development of super-computing has changed outlooks. For every unwanted effect, people may believe its unwelcome cause can be identified, if sufficient research is done. Then the problem can be avoided, and we can be happy again. Yet we all know that in reality remedies are not available for all problems, and we have to come to terms with suffering, and dying. Sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes violent people inflict harm and seem to get away with it. Present suffering is a big problem for people who are nihilists because they have no confidence in life beyond the grave. Therefore, they inevitably must conclude suffering is unfair. Christians on the contrary can take comfort from relying on a just God who has an eternity beyond the grave to make up for any “unfair” suffering in our present lives (see Rom.8:18).

Assuming there is no meaning to life may lead to at least two major problems. First, we may devalue our own lives, and even opt to end them prematurely when things are not going our way. Second, we may devalue the lives of others, and adopt an extremely selfish attitude. After all, if there is no ultimate meaning to our seemingly very temporary life, and no unavoidable lasting consequences for wrong choices, why not just live for the moment without a care about the effect on the lives of others? But if that idea offends our sense of moral expectation, then we must ask where does a sense of moral accountability come from? Why are people different from so many other animals in this respect? Yet, if our Designer had moral objectives to achieve when bringing humanity into being, and intentionally extended our DNA and related aspects governing what we are as humans to enable achievement of moral goals, resolution of our questions is in sight. As the Bible indicates, these added-values specific to humanity are not discernible merely by physical examination (see 1 Cor.2:14).

The increased interest in nihilism is occurring while interest in spiritual matters is also increasing (yes increasing!), as noted in 2017 Pew research results for the USA. Moreover, there is good reason to have faith in God, since data shows people’s degree of religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes (see for instance the research report on “Religious Involvement, Spirituality, and Medicine: Implications for Clinical Practice” by the Mayo Clinic in 2001). To believe in nothing, is not really liberating, since one person’s liberty may act as an undue constraint on others’. And taking account of the needs of others may bring the happiness that eludes those who strive only to please themselves. A sense of responsibility for others, and personal accountability, can help satisfy spiritual needs we all have. But “spirituality” is a very broad expression, and once we appreciate its importance we need to find the meaning of life by reference to its Creator. Christians see in the Bible the written result of the Creator communicating with His creation, including us.

The wise writer of the Bible book Ecclesiastes was challenged by the realities discussed above. If God is left out of the equation, the result must be “life is pointless; just like chasing after the wind” (see Eccles.1). But that writer’s conclusion was that it is wisest to focus on our responsibility to our Creator, based on God’s right to hold us to account for the lives we are given to live (see Eccles.12:13,14). Interestingly, the Bible cautions us that if we operate selfishly, without love for others and for God, that is exactly what results in our being “nothing” (see 1 Cor.13).  As Christians we need to be ready to demonstrate the value of our faith, and be ready to provide answers when it is challenged (see 1 Pet.3:15). If we are not merely “nothing”, how are we to establish the value of a person to God? The Bible begins to provide an answer when it describes the sacrifice God was prepared to make to demonstrate love for us (see Rom.5:6-8).

He is returning!

Why are fewer people responding to “the Gospel”, the good news that Jesus, God’s Son, has been punished once-for-all by God for all our wrongdoing, so that God is now acting justly and in love when He offers to free us from the punishment we deserve – if we accept that Jesus has instead suffered for us. That is the start of the good news. And alongside the relief it brings is the assurance of God’s related promise that if we accept His offer of being saved from punishment, we shall also receive spiritual life that extends forever beyond the grave. So the good news continues. And all of the injustices we face here on earth, the eternal God will deal with when everyone appears for judgment. All that is good news (for those who are pardoned), but extremely scary for those who refuse God’s offer of freedom from punishment, and must therefore face the existing forever penalty they deserve from a righteous God whose love has been spurned. So why aren’t people believing the good news? The simple point we are making here is that they haven’t realized they need to. And perhaps that’s because people today have not been exposed to the Bible warning that Jesus is returning, soon!

You can read more about that here

If your preference is to watch a video then you can click on this link, and Karl Smith will provide an interesting thought or two about this matter on our Reality Check Facebook page.

So what are you?

“Who” we are is sometimes the challenging question today. We are living in a world where identity crisis has become a familiar complaint.

God has given us a real identity, each of us is a person able to think and act and relate to God.

How do we do those things? Are we just a bundle of cells? Well, that doesn’t seem to add up. No scientist can just bring chemicals together and make it alive; only living things can be used to make more living things. But where did that life come from in the first place, and what are the true necessary components for a human life?

There is no shortage of opinions! People who study the Bible carefully will know that at least three terms are used when describing people. They undeniably have bodies. Then there are invisible aspects that the Bible talks about that can’t be assessed under a microscope, but we know we have them from the Bible’s statements. Here, we just want to think about human beings having not only bodies, but spirits and souls as well. We might even be able to say the Bible in different places says we ARE: our bodies, our spirits, our souls, using just one of those descriptions whenever the emphasis needs to be placed on one particular aspect.

This is getting too complicated! So we’ve added a whole page in our website to provide a better introduction to the subject. You’ll find it by simply clicking HERE.

Starting again…

For those dedicated users of our Bible Reading Plan, you will now be coming to the end of the scheduled readings. That means you will have read the whole of the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice, since starting the planned readings. So what do you do now? Start again!

This weekend, we begin all over again in Genesis. The more we read the Bible, the more familiar we become with its sequencing and message. In this respect, the shorter reading each day in our Bible Reading Plan helps to connect the main reading with other parts of the Bible dealing with the same subject.

Remember the days when as a child you went to sleep with an open book on your head, just in case there was a sort of osmosis that might happen and the book’s content would miraculously transfer from the pages into your brain? It doesn’t work. There’s simply no substitute to paying attention to what you read. Many people also find it helpful to make their own notes about what they read, as they read. It will help memory recall. Repetition helps in that way too. So the best thing to do when you finish reading the whole Bible is to read it again…and again…and again!

Commute time turned into…work time

What have you done with it?  Well, perhaps you didn’t notice you had it. We’re talking about that precious commodity: time. We all only have 168 hours a week, and we’re told a lot of us spend a major proportion of it sleeping! But for a large segment of the working population another huge use of our time has been spent travelling to and from work: commuting time. But over the past year, the pandemic changed that. “WFH” crept into texting language. Work from home became a reality for many more people.  For some it has been welcome, as it provided more flexibility.  For some it added untold additional mental stress, as it came with extra home duties, including perhaps being an unpaid teacher of sorts.  How that has changed our valuation of those noble folk who follow a calling to be full-time teachers! Much more could be said about such related aspects.

Here, we just want to focus on how for many people the cessation of a need to spend time commuting has introduced new possibilities. As the world entered into the period of the pandemic, economists feared that there would be enormous global economic recession. Some industry sectors have indeed been very harshly affected, especially those related to entertainment and non-essential retail trades. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, in other sectors productivity has in fact improved. Part of the reason is that workers have turned commute time into work time. Some businesses may also have been able to cut costs associated with accommodating workers in office buildings, but it is the time issue we’re thinking about. This is where we find an extension of Parkinson’s Law: as we have more time available, we find more work to fill it!

Before our minds go off on an unproductive tangent, let’s just refocus and remember this is a church website, and we are looking for spiritual opportunities. 1 How much time did you formerly spend going to and from meetings of your church? In many large cities and towns, church congregations have tended to move further and further away from their initial centre, as property prices and the needs for good education and other family priorities led people to relocate some distance away from the church’s building. The venue for meeting didn’t move as the people moved, so the result was a commuting church. For some, that meant (pre-pandemic) the time actually spent meeting with the church was only half of the commute time! Also, for workday meetings, those in families often had to leave youngsters at home to do school homework, so numbers attending church meetings mid-week inevitably were lower. Video-conferencing has changed all that! It has given us back the opportunity to be at the church meeting without paying for it in commuting time, and it has enabled far more people to attend. Of course it is not the same attending by video-link as it is when we can shake hands, and even enjoy a coffee together after our spiritual priorities have been met. But have we invested the commute time profitably?

More to the point perhaps, what have we learned from the experience, and how are we hoping to ensure benefits are not lost as the world bounces back? 2 Will we just bounce backwards with them, or can we see how to “bounce forward”. Now we know better than ever how important it is to be close to people, will we go back to getting in our cars to do that, or will we refocus more locally?  Will we look for opportunities to be close enough to fellow church goers so that a long commute can be avoided? Will our Christian testimony among near neighbours result in others being drawn to share our faith as they get to know us better from more frequent local contact and our greater contribution to local community activity? Will we continue to find strengthening through online prayer times, that are better informed as we see one another more frequently and understand needs better? Or will we just contribute to more carbon dioxide emissions until we can afford a new electric-powered car?

We are at an inflection point, a pivot point. It is easy to simply resume where we left off pre-pandemic and recommence the commuting church experience. For some of us that might be the only, or even the best, solution. For others, fresh fields of opportunity could lie ahead. The old picture of the man trying to keep a foot on the boat and another on the dock illustrates the difficulty of a pivot point. Perhaps we can almost hear the command of the Master: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” 3. Let us consider our direction prayerfully, with attention to the Master’s instruction book and roadmap.

Bounce back…or bounce FORWARD

The writer of the Bible book, Hebrews, was very concerned about the direction his readers were going. They had become Christians, and now faced a period of significant difficulty. They reached a pivot point. Would they bounce back to their previous religious practices?  That option had the comfort of possibly again experiencing the acceptance of society, and the familiarity of meeting expectations of others. But that is not what they were urged to do by the Bible writer. 1

Instead, the objective was to “bounce forward”.  That meant relying on their faith in God, not their acceptance by society. It meant not quitting, but rather quietly relying on God who would never leave them, nor forsake them. 2 It meant expressing faith in what could not be seen, but yet was as much a reality as what they could bump into!

The Epistle to the Hebrews rides through biblical history, faces up to the present challenge and points upward. It places the reader, not alone in a world that opposes them, but among a vast company of God’s worshippers. It extracts them from the mundane problems of a hostile world and brings them into experience of spiritual blessings in heavenly places. 3 Please read the whole epistle, and take in this amazing theme.

We are about to emerge from the pivot point of a pandemic. Are we thinking we should just bounce backwards, and again be satisfied with what we experienced before? Or are we among those who can’t wait to “bounce forward”, to take all the positive learnings and additional possibilities that have accompanied a prolonged period of reflection and ingenuity, and employ these more fully as we are liberated from both the strictures of the recent past and the sometimes false comforts of what preceded it?

Worth reading

Here is an anthology of poetry that will appeal to Bible-loving Christians. Check it out here:

Some of the content has appeared in previous publications, and like all good poetry its repetition will simply further imbed its value, impressing it on heart and mind. Reading for the first time is like opening a window. Scripture references are provided that show how divine inspiration of the Word of God almost inevitably bears spiritual fruit. Read the Foreword to confirm the value of poetry in reinforcing the truth of Scripture. Check out the last but one verse on page 104, and follow its guidance! You will find topics and specific challenges in these poems that will halt you in your tracks, and may bring you to your knees, or cause your mind to rise to higher things.

Choice or Chance?

Atheists may note that world religions do not even agree on how earth history is dated, and they will also say that any loving god would never permit the world conditions we see around us, typified by natural disasters, painful inequality and awful suffering, often resulting from disease. They deny human culpability, and reject God’s existence because their imagined god is one who would necessarily intervene to prevent all such harm and danger and, instead, miraculously provide a life of happiness for all (interestingly, it is atheistically inclined governments that have intentionally killed the most people!). Effectively, they instead bow willingly to another god: chance.

The God of the Bible is nevertheless proceeding through time (however we disagree about measuring it!) to provide eternal salvation at His expense for all people who willingly comply with His terms. Choice, rather than chance, completes the picture. A logical concept of this real God must conclude that, en route to His goal, we are actually living in the best possible universe to achieve it. If there were a better scenario, this truly all-knowing and all-powerful God would indeed have employed it. Fairness is provided by eternal blessings that outweigh the unwanted but necessary and time-limited adversities; He also displays He is a God of both justice and love; see 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

(Extracted from article in NT Issue 3 2020)

Choice or Chance?

The Church of God in action