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How to Filter Everything with the Bible

Last Wednesday I had the privilege to preach at Ekklesia’s midweek service on the subject of the Christian mind, a subject I’m obviously passionate about. I ended the sermon talking about how we need to use the Bible to filter everything that comes our way, in order to find the truth and spit out the lies. I didn’t quite get to say everything I wanted to say on the matter, so I decided to discuss it here.

Elemaris_Cool_schwarz_300dpiI cannot overstate how important it is that believers try and filter everything through the lens of Scripture. Because the devil is constantly tempting us, the world is constantly preaching to us, and our flesh is constantly blinding us, we must use the Word of God to navigate through all of this. Our guide cannot be our intuition or our own logic. It cannot be our experiences. We are people of the Book and so all our arguments must come from the truth of this Book.

THE MARK OF MATURITY

We need to learn to discern between truth and error. Albert Mohler says, “The absence of consistent biblical worldview thinking is a key mark of spiritual immaturity.” What that means is that if you are unable to decipher through things happening around you and determine if it coincides with the Bible, then you are spiritually immature. Now, that doesn’t mean you are going to have all the answers, but that does mean you know how to find them, or at least the fact that you need one.

Hebrews 5:11-14 says:

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Who does he say is the spiritual child? The one who does not know how to handle the Word of God. The one who does not know how to discern between good and evil, right and wrong teaching. The one who does not know how to filter what they hear and see.

So it’s not only the super-Christian (as if they existed) who should know how to wade through the moral and ethical complexities of life. All Christians are called to grow up, just like all babies are called to become adults.

FILTER THE WORLD

We cannot be passive thinkers. If you’re watching TV, don’t just sit there and let your brains ooze out your ears. The world is constantly preaching sermons to us. Every movie, song, book, blog, and political speech, is preaching a message to you, inviting you to come and believe. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up agreeing with the lies and miss the truth.

As you go throughout your day, you shouldn’t just let any old thought pass in and out of your head. You have to be vigilant and aware, constantly. We are most vulnerable when we are most aloof.

I hate to break it to you but you’re actually going to have to work at this. I know this is hard. Sometimes I just want to zone out and let my mind wander. My mind can run off so badly that I sometimes don’t even realize what’s going on around me (which really annoys my wife). When that happens, I just have to remind myself, if you didn’t want to think hard then you should’ve never allowed yourself to graduate kindergarten.

FILTER BIBLE TEACHINGS

Along that same note, Ephesians 4:13-14 says:

“Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Once again, it’s the spiritually immature who’s tossed to and fro by every kind of teaching they hear. They are helpless. My daughter Madeline is only ten weeks old, and her head is so big compared to the rest of her body that when she tries to sit up she just falls over. Imagine a baby like that in a sailboat, with waves tossing to and fro. Helpless. The baby is not in control, the ocean is.

It’s the same with a spiritually immature person. They hear something that sounds slightly spiritual and they think it’s so awesome and they put it up on Facebook. They think, Well a pastor said it, so it must be true!

Most Christians put down their guards when they hear vaguely spiritual language or they see the label “Christian.” It must be good because they mentioned God! This is why if you look at most of the best-selling books in Christian bookstores, they are written by authors who are peddling false teachings. And the Christians gobble them up like they’re Olive Garden breadsticks.

Don’t take in anything blindly. I don’t care if it’s a sermon, a song, or a book endorsed by Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. It may make you feel good, but is it true? Search the Scriptures.

In Acts 17, Luke writes about the Bereans and their reactions to Paul’s teachings about Jesus. Instead of just accepting his word blindly, they searched the Scriptures to see if such things could be true. Luke says that they were more noble than the Thessalonians for their diligence.

I can’t do the thinking for you. Mark Driscoll, John Piper, or Tim Keller can’t do the thinking for you. You are free, no encouraged, to check everything we say with the Scriptures. You don’t have to agree everything said or written. If you’re confused or don’t understand, that’s okay. Search for the truth.

FILTER YOUR EXPERIENCES

Don’t even interpret your own experiences with a passive mind.

You may think that a certain worship experience was so mind-melting and heart-stopping, but 1 John 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

If it does not coincide with Scripture and if it does not affirm Christ, then I don’t care if it gave you the biggest spiritual high you’ve ever experienced. False teachers don’t come from outside the church but inside, and they are deceiving many.

As I’ve written earlier  spiritual highs and experiences are not unique to Christianity. You can get the same high at a Coldplay concert. What’s unique to Christianity is the truth of the Gospel. Stick with that.

FILTER WITH QUESTIONS

You may say, but I’m not a theologian. I don’t think I am able to filter all this. What’s the point?

Everyone is a theologian. Theology literally means “words about God.” Everyone has some sort of idea about God, even atheists.

Everyone is a theologian. The question is whether or not you are a good one. A good one searches for the truth—for how God wants to be represented.

I want to encourage you to ask questions. When someone comes your way, don’t accept it blindly. Also, don’t reject it right away. Ask questions. Is this true? What does the Bible say about this? Are there actual verses (taken in context, of course) that would support this?

I don’t necessarily think questioning is a bad thing. Questions are good and fine if you have the right attitude. The best place to ask a serious question or voice a doubt should be church (sadly it’s often not). Where questions can go wrong is where you don’t like the answer you find in Scripture, so you go looking for something else to tickle your ears. That shows you are not concerned with the truth but with yourself.

The mark of a Christian is that they will uphold and defend the truth. 1 Timothy 3 calls the church the “pillar of the truth.” If we don’t stand for the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus is God who became a man to save sinners like you and me, that He died on a cross to take the punishment we deserved, and that He rose again to give us new life if we trust in His work, then no one will stand for it.

Let’s take back our minds and use them for Christ.

A Response to Rachel Held Evans and the Millennial Exodus from the Church

Rachel Held Evans, popular blogger and best-selling author, has an article on CNN.com that’s created quite the frenzy on the interwebs. The last time I checked, the article had been shared 163,000 times on Facebook. The piece is titled, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church,” and it’s striking more chords than a youth worship leader. Evans has also invited people to join in the conversation, hence my blog post.

In the article, Evans seeks to diagnose why so many young adults are fleeing much of America’s churches. She believes the cause of the exodus is because millennials are finding less of what they value in the church—and please don’t suggest to her that it’s found in “hipper worship bands.”

Evans states:

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

In short, the church needs to change or it will become obsolete.

Personally, I’m smack in the middle of millennial generation (24). I’m also pastor at a church, so I have some stakes in this game. I know my voice is just a drop in the blogosphere ocean and that there have already been some great responses to Evans herehere, and here, [and here] but I wanted to add my two cents.

WHERE EVANS IS SORT OF CORRECT

Not everything Evans has to say is incorrect. I agree that many churches do need to change but not because millennials are leaving. They need to change because they’ve wandered from the truth of the Bible.

Many churches rely on the power of politics to save them, not the Gospel. Many churches rely on emotional experiences to fuel their worship, not an intelligent faith. Many churches care more about preserving their own comfort, not the souls of those around them. Many churches believe they are without sin, not sinners saved by grace. Many churches care more about the amount in attendance, not the individual.

There are many things wrong with the churches in our country and in the churches around the world. In my own church. People sin, therefore the church is full of sinners. Sinful people will jockey for positions. Sinful people will gossip and commit adultery. When a church is full of sinful people then the church will be full of sin. But then again, that’s kind of the point. Isn’t it? Jesus didn’t marry a spotless bride. He married her to make her spotless. We are all in process of healing and the church is the hospital.

Does that excuse the sin that occurs in the church? No. Churches should continually evaluate themselves and repent of sins committed. When repentance does not happen in a church, that’s when you can tell something is really off.

When I talk to people who have left the church, millennial and all other, many times it turns out because they were never shown that church was worth it. They were always preached to about the truth but they never saw the truth actually lived out.

I have friends who have grown up every day of their lives in church, hearing that marriage is sacred. Then they get to college and find out their parents are getting divorced because the father or mother had an affair. It’s no surprise that they are repulsed by all the traditional marriage talk. All they’ve seen are empty words. In their minds, all this church talk is pointless.

Enough with empty words. The church needs to first believe that the truth does work—that the Gospel has enough power within itself to save anyone (Romans 1:16). It’s a message that has sparked revival regardless of persecution or zeitgeist. Jesus promised that if the church was built on the Gospel, then the gates of hell could not even prevail against it (Matthew 16:18-19). I think it can survive a few angst-filled twenty-somethings.

WHERE EVANS IS INCORRECT

I think one of the biggest problems with Evans’ evaluation is she doesn’t recognize that millennials are at least partially responsible for their own exodus from the church.

Yes, I know many have been hurt by people in the church. Yes, I know the church can be frustrating at times. But millennials need to stop playing the victim. Regardless of what’s happened to them in the past, they still get to make their own choices. They have the same Bible that their parents have. And millennials are willfully leaving the church.

Why are they leaving? Whenever I talk to someone who has vacated the church, they typically voice one of the reasons that Evans states in her article. But I’ve found there’s usually something deeper going on. Even if all those things Evans listed in her article were found in a church, I still don’t think a large majority would go to church. This is proven by the fact that there are whole denominations who meet her criteria and they’re actually seeing a decline in attendance across the board.

Millennials are not leaving the church because they have no other choice but to desert the sinking ship. They’re leaving because they don’t care about the church. They don’t like being under authority or having someone call them out for their sin. They want an institution that looks just like them and when they can’t have it, they huff off the basketball court, ball in hand. It’s individualism and consumerism to the core.

This is quite the pickle, if you think about it. Millennials are choosing to abandon Jesus’ bride. They’re leaving the only institution Jesus said He would build (Matthew 16:18-19), the people Jesus chose to die for (Ephesians 2:16), the family they were adopted into (Ephesians 2:19-22), the body they were called to function in (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), the pillar of truth for the whole world (1 Timothy 3:15), and the bride Jesus is coming back for (Revelation 21:1-7). Most of the New Testament is about Christ working in and through the church. Most, if not all, of the epistles were written to churches or their leaders. If you look at the New Testament, I think you’d have a hard time justifying that you can love Jesus but not the church.

Perhaps it’s the millennials who need to change.

If millennials truly love Jesus and want to please Him, they should choose to stay with His bride, not abandon her. If not at their current church, then they should dedicate themselves to find one they can at least tolerate to be in. If they see problems, instead of whining about them, they should do something about it. They should be the change they want to see (to loosely quote someone millennials love to quote). We always talk about making a difference. Here’s our chance to impact the only organization Jesus promised to build. In His mind, there is no plan B to reach the world.

One final thing I think Evans missed is all the millennials who haven’t left but are instead trying to make a difference in the church. I get to see them every day.

The overwhelming majority of the 1500 person church I serve at (named Ekklesia) is made up of millennials. And we are in Eugene, Oregon, one of the most unchurched states in the nation. Ekklesia is also a diverse crowd. Some grew up in the church but many didn’t. Many got saved through hearing the Gospel preached day after day. We are racially diverse (especially for Oregon, one of the whitest states in the Union). We are economically diverse.

And we do do just about everything society would advise against. Get this, we preach the Bible for 45-60 minutes every Sunday and Wednesday—and they’re expository sermons. We believe in the exclusivity of the gospel. We believe in traditional marriage. We believe in the inerrancy of the Word. Yet millennials come. And it really has nothing to do with us because we haven’t tried anything special—unless you count our hip, Greek, one-word name. Both our campuses meet in middle school gyms. We don’t use formal liturgy. We don’t have wine for communion. We didn’t have strategy meetings and focus groups to try and figure out how to best reach the young crowd. We just opened the Bible. They just showed up and never left.

There are churches reaching young people. I could name off more in our city and more in Portland who are doing the same thing. They are faithfully preaching the Bible and wondrously seeing people changed.

As we look at trends like the one Evans has pointed out, we also have to remember that being a Christian is not going to be considered cool. Persecution is guaranteed all throughout the Bible (John 15:18-20, 1 Peter 4:12-19). The Gospel is going to be seen as foolish to most people (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). We don’t need to freak out when these verses are realized in our lives. Instead of capitulating to the spirit of the age, we need to hold fast even stronger to the truth, trusting that Christ will see His church through.

Out of Context: Matthew 18:20 – Where Two or More Are Gathered

carpool_sign_500To continue our series looking at commonly taken out of context verses, I wanted to take aim at one of the most famous of them all, Matthew 18:20.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Typically, I’ve heard it quoted in church services by pastors and worship leaders praying in front of the congregation: “Lord, thank you so much that You are here with us right now as we worship. Your Word says, ‘Where two or more are gathered, there I am also.’ We have at least three hundred here just to be safe, so we know for sure you’re here.” I’ve also heard it in small prayer meetings: “God we know you can hear our prayers right now because Sebastian and Helga are praying with me.”

It’s used as an encouragement to the others listening that God approves of their worship. We know something really extra-special and spiritual is going down because God is actually here with us.

I’m definitely not innocent in my use of this verse. This verse is so commonly used that it’s become another prayer-ism that people naturally say along with “Heavenly Father,” “Place a hedge of protection,” “Bless this food to our bodies” (Because you know, of course, nutrients only travel through your bloodstream if you pray—especially fast-food), and “In Jesus’ name.” Sometimes we don’t even think about it. We just say it.

This is a public service announcement to not take all our Christian-ese as given truth. We need to think through what we say and do in the Christian life, even if it’s been said or done by pastors, and see if what we’re doing is actually founded on the Bible. If it is, then that’s great! If not, then we need to reevaluate our spiritual habits.

(1 + 2 = God) is an equation we really don’t need.

THE CONTEXT

Here’s the context to Matthew 18:20. It’s a little long, but stick with me.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Jesus here is teaching His disciples how things are to work in His kingdom, in His church. He has just finished teaching the disciples about true greatness (18:1-6), how to fight sin (18:7-9), and God’s heart for the lost (18:10-14). Then in verse 15 (our context), Jesus transitions to talk about how we deal with others who sin against us. Justice is not found in taking matters into our own hands but in an orderly system of checks and balances, and in restoration. Jesus gives the disciples four steps to follow in such a situation.

1. Talk about it

Jesus tells His disciples that if they’ve been wronged by someone else in the church, first and foremost they are supposed to confront that person one-on-one (18:15). Not gossip. Not put passive-aggressive statuses on Facebook. Lovingly face-to-face. The goal in all of this is restoration and redemption.

2. Take one or two witnesses with you

If for some reason the perpetrator does not believe you or is not sorry for their sin, you must take one or two people to again confront them (18:16). This shows the person proof that the accusations are not the result of a grudge but in reality seen by multiple people. Jesus says, “every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (18:16). Does that number sound familiar?

3. Have the leadership confront them

If the perpetrator again rejects your loving correction, Jesus says you and the witnesses are to bring it before the “church” (18:17). I don’t have time to explain it all, but I take this to mean the church leadership and not the entire congregation. Hopefully having all the pastors confront the person will make them see the severity of their sin.

4. Send them out of the church

If they still won’t repent, even after multiple confrontations, the church is to send the person out because they are willfully rebelling against God’s Word (18:17). They will bring others down if you don’t (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Timothy 2:16-19; Titus 3:10-11).

Then Jesus ends this sermonette with a reassurance, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (18:18-19). He’s saying, if you go through this process correctly then God agrees with you. This is encouraging because proper church discipline is not a fun deal for anyone.

As a part of His encouragement Jesus ends saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (18:20). Remember that number? It’s the same amount of witnesses needed to properly confront a person in sin. Jesus isn’t saying you need two or three people praying to Him to have Him present. Jesus is encouraging believers that if they go through this process of church discipline properly then He supports their decision.

It’s almost hilarious how different this is from the common misinterpretation of this verse.

IMPLICATIONS

So, is Jesus present when two or more gather in His name? Yes.

He is also present when only one gathers in His name. Or none. God is always with you (Psalm 139) and you can call out to Him at anytime or anyplace. He wants you to. He’s not waiting for a magical number of people to appear.

If that were the case, then what do you do if you have two people gathered but one secretly and nefariously has not gathered in Jesus’ name? Is fellowship broken? No.

Instead, we can come to Jesus at any time, knowing that He is ready and excited to hear from us.

Other Out of Context posts:
Philippians 4:13 – Can I do all things through Christ?
How to take a verse out of context

Out of Context: Philippians 4:13 – Can I do all things through Christ?

As a followup to my tutorial on how to take a verse out of context, I thought it would be beneficial to show and not just tell. I wanted to take a look at some of the most commonly taken out of context verses and place them back into their proper place. You’ll be able to see the implications of taking a verse out of its context and how it really does change the meaning.

Unfortunately for Christians, many of the favorite verses we quote are actually taken out of context. It’s usually not heresy, that takes some real skill, but what happens is we often take a belief that is consistent with American culture and force it into a verse (tip of the day: American doesn’t always equal Christian). I want to look at such an example today.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, ESV).

This is a verse I’ve quoted to myself many times over the years. On the surface, the meaning seems pretty straightforward: “When insurmountable situations occur, I can rely on Christ’s strength to help me accomplish it.” Whenever I hit a hard test in school, I remember quoting this to myself (because I didn’t study) and it always gave me that extra boost of confidence for the test. In college, Tim Tebow used to wear this verse on his eye black during football games, carrying him to a national championship and Heisman trophy. I’ve heard of other believers using this verse to encourage themselves to ask that girl out, apply for that job, audition for American Idol, and countless other random things.

It’s the American dream with Jesus steroids.

The logic flows like this. Can Jesus do all things? Why, of course He can. He is God after all. If I’m saved, doesn’t Jesus live in me? Yes, right again. Then by the transitive property, I can do all things.

It sounds nice and I understand why people believe it, including myself years ago, but—and I hate being a wet blanket—this understanding of the verse is incorrect. It takes Philippians 4:13 out of its context.

THE CONTEXT

Here’s the immediate context of the verse:

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Alright, let’s unpack this to discover the correct meaning.

To give you some background, Paul is writing from prison to the Philippians. Paul had a good relationship with the Christians in Philippi, so naturally they were concerned for their imprisoned pastor (4:10). The problem was that although the Philippians were worried for Paul, they had no opportunity to express that concern through more gifts (they had previously given Paul a gift, 4:18, but wished to do more). Paul, sensing their concern, sought to reassure the Philippians that he did not need another gift. He writes, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (4:11-12).

What Paul? Aren’t you in prison? How can you be content with that? It’s because he knows the secret to being content—and he reveals that secret in the next verse.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

THE IMPLICATIONS

Paul says, the secret to being content is Christ. In any situation, even if you are alone in a dark Roman prison, you can be content through Christ’s strength. That’s what Philippians means by doing “all things through Him.” It’s about finding complete satisfaction in Jesus Christ, even in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death.

So Philippians 4:13 is not talking about accomplishing anything through Christ. Can we do great things with Christ, things only possible with His strength? Of course. But Jesus is not Siri, waiting for us to give Him requests to fulfill.

I think such a belief can be subtly dangerous. It gives a whiff of the Prosperity Gospel—the idea that Jesus’ work on the cross accomplished for me not only spiritual victory over sin but physical victory over sickness, poverty, and hardship. It says, if I believe hard enough and take hold of that victory, Jesus will make me healthy, wealthy, accomplish my dreams, give me a hot spouse and kids that behave, and I’ll die at an old age peacefully in my sleep.

It’s about using Jesus as a genie to get more stuff.

This idea is profoundly unhelpful. What happens if you don’t accomplish that goal you were pining for? You fail the test. You don’t get the job. You lose the game. Your mortgage goes belly-up. What went wrong? By the old logic of Philippians 4:13, either you didn’t believe Jesus could do it or Jesus can’t do it. Tell that to someone who just found out that their cancer came back and you’ll quickly see how this interpretation falls apart.

Paul couldn’t get the thorn out of his flesh. Timothy couldn’t heal his stomach ailment. What was wrong with their faith? Nothing. In fact their faith was strengthened because of their trials.

Knowing what this verse means in its context should actually give us more encouragement than less.

We are not promised that hardship will avoid us. We live in a broken world and it takes its toll. But we are promised that in the middle of the hardest things life can throw at you Christ will still be sufficient for you, His power is made perfect in weakness, and you can make it through His strength.

Now that is something far more valuable than getting an “A” on the test.

The 8 Best Bible Study Apps

One of my favorite things to do is to help other Christians learn how to study the Bible. It’s an invaluable skill because studying the Word of God is no light matter. But it’s not just about methods and principles; you have to have the right tools. Luckily, we have been blessed with technology that allows any believer to dissect the Word of God at a rate faster than ever before.

I am an app-a-phile. I cannot get enough of those little square icons. Lately I’ve been trying to leverage that addiction for the glory of God. Through all my relentless pursuit, here are the best apps I have found to aid you in your study:

ESV Bible

The ESV is my translation of preference. This is the official ESV Bible app from Crossway and there’s more than what meets the eye. It has a powerful search function that is wicked fast and effective. If you can’t remember the reference to a verse or even just a portion of the verse, you can type it in and the app will spit out all the possible answers. Also, If I want to see every verse in the Bible that uses a word, for example “faith,” it can show it to me. And it’s free!

Faithlife Study Bible

This app from the geniuses down at Logos Bible Study Software is proclaimed as the world’s largest and most advanced digital study Bible. It’s study articles hold over 2.2 million words. It’s Bible dictionary hold over 2,800 articles. It comes with several different Bible translations. And it’s free!

Bible App

The Bible App (also known as YouVersion and brought to you by LifeChurch.tv) could quite possibly bring the Word of God to more people than any other device/person/invention in history. It is creeping close to 100 million different downloads all around the world. It boasts hundreds of Bible versions (I didn’t even know that many existed), reading plans, and in all comes in dozens of languages. You can add your own highlights, bookmarks, and public or private notes. And it’s free!

Logos Bible Study Software

Logos is a revolutionary Bible study software for computers. I have never seen such a powerful engine used to make Bible research so easy and efficient. It literally removes hours away from my study. Your resources for Logos are all cloud-based, which means if you download the app then you are able to see all your resources (in my case, thousands of books) anywhere you are on your iPhone or iPad. To fully utilize the breadth of Logos you will need to purchase some expensive packages, but it’s worth it for any serious student. The app itself can be used without purchasing the computer software and it’s free! The free version is still really useful, sporting over 40 Bibles, free books, reading plans, highlights, and a few other study tools.

ESV Study Bible

The print version of the ESV Study Bible is my go-to study Bible. The good people down at Crossway have put a lot of time and effort into this Bible and it does not disappoint. For those who don’t want to lug a five-pound, fifty-dollar tome around, they have created an app version of the study Bible. It’s interface is exactly like the ESV Bible app but it also comes with 20,000 notes, over 50 articles (the articles themselves are worth every penny), over 200 maps, over 200 charts, 80,000 cross-references, and 40 new illustrations, among many other features. The price is $14.99.

Strongs Concordance

This is a pretty valuable tool for word studies (especially if you don’t have Logos). This concordance tracks the usage of every word in the Bible from the original languages. If you want to know what the original term in Greek used for “truth” in John 14:6 and what it means, you can look it up with this app. The price is $4.99.

Kindle / iBooks

These two are the most popular ebook reading apps and they come with their own digital bookstores. There are pretty great selections of commentaries and other reference books in these stores. Almost all the books in the stores are cheaper than their printed counterparts. There are even great books in the stores that are free to download. The app is free but most of the books are not.

Evernote

Evernote is basically a digital file cabinet that is fully searchable and customizable. I use it to store anything from articles I’ve found online, thoughts I’ve jotted down about a passage, pictures or lists of books I want to buy, and so much more. Evernote is cloud-based, so all your notes and clippings are synced with all your devices. And it’s free!

If you have any other apps that you love to use for Bible study, or any of your favorite apps for anything, I would love to hear about them in the comments.

How to Take a Verse Out of Context

2013-06-21 08.11.31Sometimes you just need the perfect verse.

Unfortunately, such verses are often difficult to find. You dig and dig and dig to have that special sentence pop out at you from the pages, but to no avail. Then suddenly you see it, the verse your should has been longing for. It’s like God is sending a tweet directly to you. It’s exactly what you were looking for. Just the sight of the black letters on the page is enough to make the strings of your heart play a heavenly lullaby.

Elated, you take your newfound revelation and proclaim it to those closest to you. Do you see? Can you feel it? The baby-skin-soft love of God has come and started a ballroom dance in my soul through this verse. Come and dance with us too! 

Your friend looks incredulously at the passage and shakes their head. “It doesn’t mean what you think it does. It’s about circumcision, not a promise that you will find a husband in eight days.”

Crestfallen, you drag your feet back home like Charlie Brown. You were dead certain about the interpretation. How could you be so wrong when you were so sure?

Your buzzkill friend says it’s because you took the verse out of context. They explain:

The Bible, just like any other message communicated, needs to be understood within its specific context. Each sentence is a part of a paragraph. Each paragraph is a part of a book. Each book is a part of the whole. They cannot be separated.

The Bible is not a collection of codes to be deciphered or a string of individual philosophical statements conveniently in large print. First and foremost, it is a story—the truest of stories. When you are trying to understand a specific aspect of a story, you cannot lose sight of the whole. The revelation that Darth Vader is Luke’s father (spoiler alert) carries no weight if you don’t know everything that had taken place previously.

It is a fact of language that anything communicated must be understood within its context. The word “love” means something different if it’s next to the word “ice cream” instead of “wife.” This is how humans communicate, and conflict usually occurs if context is not respected and understood. We don’t want people taking statements from our contracts, love letters, or instructions out of context. If I’m on a plane, I sure hope my pilot has taken every single dot of his flight manual within context. God’s Word deserves the same treatment.

But if none of that really matters to you, here are a few easy ways to continue taking verses out of context:

1. Ignore the verses surrounding your passage.

A good rule of thumb to find the context of a verse is to read the twenty verses that came before and the twenty verses that come after. “Jesus wept” (11:35), could be about your recent break-up if you don’t ready the Lazarus stuff.

2. Ignore what book of the Bible you are actually reading.

A book’s genre and overall themes really affect a verse’s meaning. Poetry is understood differently than a history book, which is understood differently than a personal letter.

3. Ignore the fact that the Bible comes from a different culture and was not originally written in English.

Americans do just about everything different compared to someone from the first century Middle East. Something that would make absolute sense in our minds would sound like lunacy in theirs.

4. Ignore the Bible as a whole.

Because the Bible is one big story, there’s an overall theme, message, and hero. If your interpretation somehow ends up elevating you and not Jesus, then it’s probably out of context.

5. Ignore all the scholars who came before you in the past two thousand years.

Color me impressed if you find a truth that none of the billions of Christians, all equally filled with the Holy Spirit, for thousands of years could think of. There are plenty of cults who have paved that road.

6. Ignore the more obvious contextual interpretation for one that aligns with your feelings.

If all else fails and you don’t like what the context says, you can always make up a new meaning for the verse.

I mean, you never know. Does that verse have to be about circumcision?

Theology vs. Experience: Which Should a Christian Focus on?

Worshipper

Is he supplicating or contemplating?

There’s a trend running around the American church that devalues theology’s place in an individual’s life. It holds that a relationship with God will produce all the truth needed. Theology may be for some people, (dusty academics hidden behind mountains of rotting books and pious pastors who have no people skills) but not for them. It says theology only engages the mind but not the heart. Because God is a relational God, He wants us to experience Him—He wants us to drown in His love like it’s a big love-ocean. They say you simply can’t get that kind of passion if you treat Christianity like the SAT’s.

While there may be some legitimate concerns underlying these sentiments, there is a subtle danger here.

They are right that what matters more is heart-transformation, not information infusion. What they don’t realize is that a Christianity entirely based on experience and feelings alone will lead people astray.

It’s a false dichotomy to think the mind and heart are exclusive. God created us to engage Him with our whole being. Focusing on one side can make the other suffer.

Here are a few warnings about focusing solely on spiritual experiences:

1. Spiritual Experiences are not unique to Christianity.

Buddhists fall into trances as they commune with the spirits. Through prayer, Mormons receive the “burning in the bosom,” a gut sensation that’s supposed to confirm the veracity of the Book of Mormon. Hindus and New Age experience tranquility through their yoga and meditation. The pagan Greeks experienced an “ecstasy” that would take over their body and mind, causing them to speak in tongues.

Those spiritual experiences are real, and they are real because the spirits behind them are real—and they’re definitely not of Christ. There is an enemy at work and they would love to distract people with real experiences that confirm lies. This is why John warns, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

He wouldn’t say that unless believers were already falling for it.

2. Experience is very individualistic.

Many times when experience is emphasized, it’s just individualism and consumerism wrapped up in spirituality. It’s all about experiencing God in your own personal way.

The customer is always right.

The problem is everyone experiences things in different ways. If one person experiences God as a mother figure, another hears God’s audible voice in the wind telling them words to write down in a journal, and another sees Jesus in bodily form at the local Denny’s every other Tuesday, how are we to decide whether or not these are accurate representations of God? Based on experience alone, there is no way. They have felt the emotions and cried the tears, so it must be true.

Following such logic, the aim of church then becomes about feeling God, not about gathering to know and praise Him. Inevitably such a perspective transforms from being about God into being about self.

3. Elevating experience can bring about a low view of Scripture.

A failure to anchor experience to the truth of the Word is why we have whole denominations throwing snakes at each other during church. They take one verse out of context and it’s reinforced by the intensity of their experience. Holding a rattlesnake may be one of the biggest adrenaline rushes you can feel, but that doesn’t mean your heart and God’s are hugging.

This goes beyond bizarre religious practices. If how I feel matters more than what is written, then it will affect how I live—how I view things like sin. A dating couple can justify sleeping together and co-habitating because they think they love each other. A person who was abused can justify their hate because they were hurt by an evil man. A husband can justify leaving his wife because he believes another woman is his soulmate.

When how you feel matters more than what is written, anything goes. This is why Jesus called us to “die to ourselves;” there’s something more important than how you feel. If you’re a Christian, it can’t be about you anymore.

A BETTER WAY TO GO

Theology is literally “the study of God.” If you want to have a vibrant relationship with God you must study Him—you must grow in theology—because what you believe about God will influence how you experience Him.

It really doesn’t matter if someone says they don’t “do” theology. Everyone is a theologian. The question is whether or not they are a good one.

A good theologian is not someone who has all the answers. A good theologian seeks to know God as He wants to be known, as revealed through His Word. A good theologian has a heartfelt faith and an intelligent one.

Filter everything through Scripture. God must be worshipped “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It’s our duty to draw deeper into that truth, and allow it to transform our hearts.