But God

But God

One of my favorite phrases in the Bible is “but God.”

The phrase is peppered throughout Scripture. And it makes my heart smile every time I come across one of those verses.

They bring a vertical perspective to my horizontal circumstances.

They remind me that my circumstances are not permanent.

And they proclaim that when my situation appears hopeless, the God of hope is still on His throne.

Check out some of my favorites:

  • Genesis 50:20 (ESV)

You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…

  • Psalm 49:15 (ESV)

But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.

  • Psalm 73:26 (ESV)

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

  • Romans 5:8 (ESV)

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

  • I Corinthians 1:27 (ESV)

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.

 

Life is difficult, but God is real.

Problems multiply, but God is the original problem solver.

People will disappoint, but God is faithful.

Satan attacks, but God is our defender.

 

What other “But God” statements can you add to this list?

 


 
Two Types of Hope – Which One Is Yours?

Hope

If there’s one thing in short supply these days, it’s hope. Politicians promise, but fail to deliver on their promises. Family members make commitments, but disappoint us. Terrorists strike with seeming impunity. Jobs are scarce, money is tight, and the more we wish for positive change, the less probable it appears to be. Good things seem more and more like a function of luck than anything else.

Sort of like what the nation of Israel must have been feeling 2,000 years ago. The glory days of King David and King Solomon had passed 1,000 years earlier. The Israelites – God’s chosen people – didn’t feel very special anymore. They lived as a conquered people for more than 700 years, first under the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, the Medes-Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. Four hundred years had passed since any prophet spoke the words, “Thus says the Lord.” The peoples’ hope had been sapped, little by little and year by year.

Still, Israel hoped for freedom from their oppressors. They hoped to hear from their God once again. Yet when God did speak, most of them did not recognize his voice. When God sent them the Savior they needed, they were too busy looking for the military leader they wanted.

Fast-forward 2,000 years. Some of us are holding on by our fingernails, clinging to hope because there’s nothing else to cling to. And along comes the Christmas season. Four weeks of stress added to already stressful lives. Decorate, write cards (personalized), cook (like the banquets pictured in the magazines), bake (perfectly shaped cut-out cookies), wrap presents (with color-coordinated bows)…and for what?

The “for what” is Emmanuel – God with us. Christmas is coming, a day when we celebrate the birth of the One who has saved us from sin and from ourselves. A day when God became man.

Jesus came to earth the first time in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. His coming proved that hope in God’s Word was not misplaced. His first coming proves something else. It proves that when God’s Word speaks of His second coming, we can rely on this yet-to-happen event as much as if it has already occurred. It’s not a question of if it will happen, just when it will happen.

That’s biblical hope – so different from how we usually use the word hope today. Today we say things such has, “I hope it won’t rain,” but we have no idea whether it will or it won’t. Biblical hope is a certain anticipation, a knowledge that the only uncertainty is in the timing, not in the promise. God leaves nothing to chance.

It’s the hope Israel had 2,000 years ago as they waited for the Messiah to come. It’s the hope we have today as we wait for the Messiah – our Savior – to come again.

As we wrap the presents (or not), and bake the cookies (or not), let’s rejoice that the hope for a coming Savior is already fulfilled. And He’ll be back – because He promised. That’s a hope you can count on!

How has hope encouraged you this year?


 
Refrigerator Magnet Theology

refrigerator magnet
How many magnets grace the front of your refrigerator? One? Five? Twelve?

Refrigerator magnets can be silly, serious, or snarky. They can be cute, corny, or classy.

Refrigerator magnets have also generated much theology that sounds good…but isn’t.

Consider these catchy quotes:

  • God never gives us more than we can handle.
  • Cleanliness is next to godliness.
  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • We’re all God’s children.

Phrases passed down from generation to generation. Easily remembered sound bites with a whisper of biblical wisdom and a hint of Christianity…and a bucketful of error.

Let’s look at these four examples:

God never gives us more than we can handle.

This probably originated with II Corinthians 10:13:

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (NIV).

As you can see, the context of this verse is temptation. God always provides a way for us to stand against temptation. But what about other life experiences? Let’s face it, most of us have experienced situations way beyond what we can handle on our own. The key in that last sentence is the phrase “on our own.”

We live in a fallen, sin-sick world. Tragedy strikes. Suffering happens. Betrayal blindsides us. Most of the time, it is indeed more than we can handle on our own.

But Christians are never “on our own.” We have the presence of the Holy Spirit in us to strengthen, guide, and give wisdom. When God allows us to experience more than we can handle ourselves, it’s an invitation to run to the One who provides what we need when we depend on Him.

 

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

This phrase probably developed in response to all the Bible verses that reference being cleansed—verses such as:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9 NASB).

and

“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3 NASB).

But once again, if we examine the context, we’ll see these verses are talking about being cleansed from sin, not from physical dirt. (Although my mother may disagree!)

 

God helps those who help themselves.

This phrase does not appear anywhere in Scripture.

One of the biggest traps we can fall into spiritually is thinking that we must help ourselves before God will help us. The difference between Christianity and every other religion is that we cannot help ourselves into heaven. God has accomplished all that we need for our salvation. Consider Romans 5:6:

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (NASB).

God helps the helpless!

 

We’re all God’s children.

This phrase is more wishful thinking than anything else, because John 1:12 tells us:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (NASB).

Becoming a child of God does not happen by physical birth, it happens when we receive the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. At that moment, we are adopted into God’s family. In case you think this verse is the only way that teaches this, consider Galatians 4:4-5:

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (NASB).

We are all created by God for He is the One who gives physical life. Becoming a child of  God—being adopted into His family—comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Let’s guard against believing a statement because it sounds good or because it has been passed down from generation to generation. A refrigerator magnet is not the best source for sound theology. Check it against God’s Word to know, beyond any doubt, what is truly true.


 
Bible Study is Not Enough

Bible study

The title of this post is probably not what you might expect from a Bible teacher.

Bible study is important. No, it’s more than important, it’s critical. But studying the Bible for the purpose of quoting it or making memes or posters with Bible verses isn’t enough. Memorizing it or parsing Greek and Hebrew verbs is not the end game for the Christian.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course we should memorize Scripture. And studying the original language is often helpful in understanding our modern English translations. But why do we memorize it? Is our goal to build intellectual storehouses of facts to establish our expertise in all things biblical?

What does the Bible say about what we should do with its content?

  • “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV).
  • “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV).
  • “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things…” (Philippians 4:9 ESV).
  • “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV).
  • “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22 ESV).

Jesus had much to say on this subject, including:

  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21 ESV).
  • “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46 ESV)
  • “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV).

So where do we get the idea that God is pleased when we study and memorize His Word without obeying it? I’m the first to plead guilty as charged. Still, I don’t want to just admit my fault. I want to change the way I live, starting today. To quote a popular advertisement, I want to “just do it.”

Francis Chan illustrates this beautifully in this video clip. When he tells his daughter to clean her room, he does not expect her to return an hour later, proclaiming, “Dad, I memorized what you said.” Or announcing that she invited several friends to come study what he meant by that. And he certainly doesn’t expect her to brag that she can translate his command into Greek or Hebrew. No. What he expects is that she’ll do what he told her to do: clean her room.

We are called to speak the truth in love. But in order to speak the truth, we must know the truth and live the truth. No one said it would be easy. But it’s not optional, either.

What are you doing with your Bible knowledge?


 
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