Some thoughts about Bible study…


I’m no expert! I’m just a guy who has over 50 years of experience of reading and studying the Bible, doing it the wrong way and doing it the best way. My purpose is not to tell you what you should do but rather to share what works for me and has been most helpful on my spiritual journey. So, I open my study door and welcome you in. Observe, and if you find something that might help you, please take it.

The absolute place to start is to develop the utmost regard for the Word of God. I can’t over stress the importance of loving and honoring God’s revelation to those he loves. Deuteronomy 32:46-47 The Bible is the way we learn about God, the beauty of the Christ, and the depth of his love for us. Always have as your purpose when you open your Bible that you want to hear from God. Believers should want to be listening to what God has to say so that they may be shaped by his words into the most useful vessels possible.Unless you master the Bible it will not master you. The following are some things that have been helpful to me and I think can be to you as well.

1. Context is king! A passage out of context often becomes a pretext.

Never come to your Bible only to find passages that seem to support what you already have decided is truth. Always come to your open Bible with an open heart and and open mind expecting to hear and learn truth from God. The Bible is the primary way God speaks to his children. But back to context…

Think of context in at least these ways.

Historical
Geographical
Cultural
Situation
Speaker
Audience

If you will think about Scripture in these ways you will be far more likely to get the meaning intended for you. All Scripture (Old Testament and New Testament) is God’s message to us to change us for the better. 2 Timothy 3:16

Critical thinking is required work here. Who was speaking? Who was the speaker speaking to? Why? What principal can I apply to my life today from a statement made many centuries ago to people in a different culture? If you will develop the habit of thinking in terms of context you will avoid some common pitfalls along the way. A good study Bible will have introductions to the books of the Bible and will give broad context to the story. Use that resource!

Remember this! Every false teacher takes God’s word(s) out of context. Everyone!

2. The Bible is it’s own best commentary.

A given text is best understood by reading other texts that address the same subject. A good reference Bible is invaluable. Before you consult a favorite teacher or preacher, before you read a commentary, read the Bible FIRST and then, and only then go elsewhere for more light.

3. Read whole books of the Bible. Admittedly some Bible books are quite long and you might not be able to read all of the book in one setting. But however you do it you must read the whole book.

My practice for many years (since I got high speed internet…) has been to do most of my Bible reading online. I prefer Bible Gateway but there are several other very good sites to choose from. I also prefer the ESV (English Standard Version). It is a trustworthy word for word translation that I find just as comfortable to read as the more popular NIV or Living Bible but more true to the best manuscripts available.

I turn off notes and references for my original reading. I read the book several times until I am pretty familiar with the story. I want to know how that passage applies to me and to others. Often it is in the simple reading of the Book that God seems to zero my mind in on a truth I had previously not seen or had forgotten. Remember, if you are God’s child, the best Teacher lives in you. The Holy Spirit alone is the supreme teacher. John 16:13

Once I have read through the text several times and thought about it, asked myself questions, and considered the actual words of passages, only then do I turn on notes and references. Then I read the passages referred to by the references given. Then next I read the notes available. My last resource is to read a commentary. I think it is far better to find what God is saying to me than to read what some other man says God is saying to me. Of course commentaries are very valuable but don’t get the cart before the horse. Let God speak first, ask God to show you His truth and then as a last step read a commentary, or your favorite preacher’s thoughts on the passage. How wonderful it is to have read a passage and come to a conclusion and then later find sweet assurance that I got it right when I find other trustworthy men and women reached the same conclusion.

4. Don’t allow a pet doctrine, your church traditions, your denomination or lack of a denomination, to get you off course.

Determine in your heart that your purpose is to allow the Word of God alone to advise you and set the agenda for what you believe and trust. If you are fortunate as I am, one day you too will be elderly and will have some time to contemplate your handling of the Word of God. You will see your mistakes, some because of youth and inexperience perhaps, some because of sinful tendencies, and some because of poor methodology. And thank God you can see some things you have done right and you will realize you are better because of it.

Remember this truth! When God described the ways we are to love him, one way is with our minds.

“And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

To love God with our minds requires some discipline. It goes against our natural bent. We must be purposeful, determined, and persistent. We must control our thinking, bringing even our thoughts into subjection to God’s will. To be right we must think right. We are to meditate on God’s word. Think for the glory of God. Treasure Christ in your mind first and your heart will reflect it and your life will show it.

I hope these thoughts will be helpful as you learn to love God more and grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ for his magnificent name.

Royce Ogle
Monroe, LA

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The Erosion of Truth


It is not a little disturbing that casting doubt on the veracity of the Holy Scriptures and Bible characters has in the past few years become quite in vogue. I read tweets and posts on Facebook, and many blogs, and there are more and more young preachers and others who are fascinated with those well trained graduates of institutions of higher learning who have reached the conclusion that the Bible is not really true after all, at least not all of it.

I have heard it said that history repeats itself and that there nothing new under the sun. How very true! Decades before most of those who are most admired, and those who admire them, were born I was living in a time when theological liberals, called “modernists” back in the day, were busy with higher criticism, discovering extra-biblical writings and other evidences which according to them proved the Bible is not really reliable. I’ll perhaps never forget when a few years ago I learned first hand that in our churches of Christ we had some preachers who did not believe the resurrection of Jesus, believed Jesus was just a man, although admittedly a better man than others. And more recently there is a host of men whose sport is to cast doubt on the truth and authority of Holy Writ.

My observation is that most of these guys are more impressed with themselves than anyone or anything else. It is very difficult to shroud pride isn’t it? I have always been a skeptic. There…my admission! With that said, I am a bit reluctant to trust a man who spends hours every day promoting himself, what he knows, and what he does, and what he has done, and …. Well, you get the picture.

(Just to get it off my chest… A person with a British accent, or whatever that Geico salamander has, is not necessarily more brilliant than those who don’t have it.)

So, why in the wide wide world would anyone believe that God hates sin? Further, why in the age of enlightenment we live in would someone believe those who refuse to believe God’s truth are objects of His coming wrath? I’ll admit it, I don’t understand much of the last book of the Bible. And, I’m not the one to ask about final punishment. But I am sure that the same Holy Spirit who by revelation gave the great Apostle Paul the mysterious gospel of the grace of God to be preached to the Gentiles also revealed the truth to him about the sure wrath of a Holy God against sin. I don’t claim for a second to know what all that means, but rest assured it is not good.

The aged and experienced apostle Paul had some words of instruction and warning for a young preacher.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

Of course it was happening in the first century just as it is today and it is still a real danger. It seems to come in waves, waves of unbelief couched in church talk and verified with seminary degrees and best-selling books. Paul’s warning to young Timothy was “Be sober-minded…” Good advice in 2011 I’d say.

I fear that for many of our people there is more value in reading what someone said about God and the Bible than to really know God and actually read the Bible! One of the “markers” or indicators of a true Christian is that he loves the “teaching”. That is the body of truth the apostles taught.

We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
(1 John 4:6)

Clearly, the “us” in the above verse is the apostles. This is not a difficult concept. One way you can tell a believer from a make-believer is by observing how he receives the Word of God. If a fellow has lots of problems with Paul and Peter and John…you had better watch him! And, we have lots of people leading people away from the apostles teaching rather than to the apostles teachings. I didn’t write either of these Bible passages but both are true and good advice for today.

Be careful! Everyone who looks like a sheep is not. I would go so far as to say any preacher who does not major on Jesus and what He accomplished for ungodly sinners should be taken in small bites at best. Instead, many of our unknowing people are taking them down a leg at a time.

If the Bible is not dependable we have no hope. Those who are making the case for moral improvement as a way to be fit for heaven and to avoid final punishment are deceitful liars, they are from the evil one and not from God.

Unbelief by any other name is still a recipe for perishing without God.

For Truth,

Royce

God is at work, for your good.


One of the best known verses in the Bible is Romans 8:28.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

Do we really believe it? Really? All things is mighty broad. Should we really believe that “in ALL THINGS” God is working for our good? Other translations say it slightly different.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

In both cases, it doesn’t really matter what translation, the promise is absolutely life changing and incredible….if it’s true. My divorce many years ago was one of those “all things”, how about it? The untimely death of my 2nd wife of 17 years was one of those “all things”, was it? I saw one of my dear friends quickly go from robust mom and grandmother, devoted wife and great Christian sister, to the object of a funeral a few weeks later. And now a second friend, a proud ex Marine, man of faith, just an all around good guy, is in a fight with cancer that he will not win. Or, does he win?

Here is an exercise you can do. Take a sheet of paper and one side list all of the bad things that have happened to you in your life since you became a Christian. I know you have some to list, we all do.

Now turn the paper over and list all of the good things that have happened in your life. That should be quite a list too. You’ll get the idea before you finish the list of good things. You will be shocked at how many of the “good things” can be traced back to the “bad things”. God is at work in your life making things work out for your ultimate good! I’m certain He is!

Think of several Bible characters that quickly come to mind. Joseph is at the top of my list. Then there is David…, see where I’m going here? And even Jesus can be on this list. Being betrayed by a friend and deserted by the others and then executed for the crimes of others was one of those “all things”. But God!! But God raised Him from the dead!

I believe that if you and I can become convinced that our Sovereign God is really in control, even when bad things happen, we can find faith for the moment and maybe even some joy knowing that God has our good in mind and is doing something about it.

God is for you, don’t give up. God is for you, don’t give out. My advice is faith it ’til you make it!

Royce

The Journey from Legalism to Liberty in Churches of Christ


In the Bible there are many passages of Scripture that are so wonderful, so majestic, that I can hardly take them in. I read them and am in awe! I think about them and meditate and ponder and measure myself against them and wonder if I have begun to appropriate their promises for myself. I am often convicted, sometimes shamed, and at other times filled with thanksgiving. Some of what I find in the Bible seems to big for me. It is like walking into the front door of the Dallas Autorama, where do I begin? How can I possibly be able to see and appreciate it all?

One of those passages that to me is much more than enough for my mind and my heart is this one.

1″Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:1-4)

Where do I start? I mean this passage is so jam-packed with wonderful truth that I can hardly decide where to begin unpacking its promises. Maybe the best way is to go line by line and see what God is saying to us.

Vs. 1. Peter establishes his apostleship and the deity of Jesus. And he lays out the fundamental truth that every Christian is equal in that each of us have our standing in Christ by faith and that the only righteousness we can claim is His righteousness. Here is the basis of unity among believers, a common faith that gives each of us “equal standing”, even with the apostles.

Vs. 2. More grace and more peace come to us in knowing Christ more, for He alone is the source of grace and peace. Paul prayed for believers that they would “grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord”.

Vs. 3. Jesus said “I have all power in heaven and in earth” and here Peter says is it by His “divine power” that we are given “ALL THINGS that pertain to life and godliness”, “through the knowledge of Him (Jesus)”. Let’s see now. I’m living here on earth and I want to be godly. How do I get equipped for the task? Peter says get to know Jesus more because He is the source of ALL THINGS I need for living and being godly. If in Him I find that I have ALL THINGS that means that NO THING will be lacking. My ability to live a godly life, and the power to perform it, and even the will to do it, is locked up in the person of Jesus Christ. But there is more! He has a purpose for me and every other Christian. That divine purpose is that we bring him glory and share in his glory and that we are becoming like him now and finally will like him be excellent!

Vs. 4. By the means of his great and precious promises to us, and for us, we literally take on the divine nature and thus escape the corruption of this world.  Our greatest needs are spiritual needs and only He can provide them. Our greatest enemies are spiritual enemies and only by His power and might can we fight them…and win. And our common desire for immortality can be realized only in Him who was and is and is to come, our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Hebrew writer said that in “these last days God has spoken to us through His Son”. The revelation of God we call the Bible is the story of the loving Creator loving those he created, again and again showing mercy, offering grace, and being rejected. The central theme and central person are one and the same, Jesus Christ our Lord. Only through His work and His worth are sinful men and women set right with God. Knowing Him, really knowing Him, and giving Him honor and glory, with our lips and in our living, is man’s highest good. He is our peace. He is our righteousness. He is our joy. He is our assurance. He is our life. He is all we need.

A Heritage Hijacked

Just over a decade ago I started worshiping, working, and loving, in a Church of Christ. I didn’t know much about the churches or the Restoration Movement but I determined to learn. And so I did. In a few months I started to learn that I knew more about the CoC heritage than most people my age who had been in the RM for generations. And I was shocked at how much churches today are unlike the founder’s dreams and ideals.

The Campbell’s, Stone, and others had some noble and good ideals. They dreamed of Christians from every stripe worshiping together in primitive ways and so infusing the message of the gospel and Christian morals into the culture that someday the whole earth would improve spiritually and morally so that in Alexander Campbell’s mind, the church’s impact on society would usher in the millineal reign of Christ on earth. Of course he was wrong about the end of his dream but none-the-less his dream was noble and pure.

Fast forward a few hundred years to the last 60 or 70 years and up to today and most of our more traditional congregations hardly resemble what the founders envisioned. Alexander Campbell coined the phrase “We are Christians only, but not the only Christians.” But now, in the year 2010, a rather large but steadily decreasing number of our churches hold to the premise “We are Christians only, and the ONLY Christians!” They will tell you in a hurry that even many other church of Christ folks are lost, in addition to two other significant groups who share with them a common heritage.

A movement that began as a “unity movement” to unite into one “the many sects” of Christians is now as fractured as any group on earth except for Baptists who have split and the splinters have split and there are dozens of Baptist groups of different flavors.

A movement that was pure in ideals and noble and right in vision was too soon hijacked by legalists. They turned what was a Bible loving and Christ honoring group of local churches into largely fragmented sects who each believed only they were saved and that everyone else who was not exactly like them in belief, and practice, were lost.

Get in line or you’re out!

By the early 192o’s, salvation and worship were clearly articulated by two sets of five points. Salvation became these 5 points.

1. Hear (Rom. 10:14-17)
2. Believe (Mark 16:16)
3. Repent (Acts 2:38)
4. Confess (Matt. 10:32-33)
5. Be Baptized (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; I Peter 3:21

And, most of those who adhere to this “Plan of salvation” will add a 6th step, “Live a faithful life”.

While these 5 points are biblical and good and right, putting your faith in a “Plan of salvation” does not save. Faith in Christ saves. Interestingly, not one chapter in the New Testament includes all of these 5 steps but the NT references salvation scores of times. I wonder, how did those earliest Christians manage to “turn the world upside down” for Christ and win tens of thousands before even one of these passages was written?

Here is the problem with the “Plan” as I see it. It has become a check off list. A candidate for baptism will be asked the following questions. (That he “heard”, step 1, and believes, step 2, is assumed. In reality he may or may not have heard the gospel) “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” The candidate responds “Yes.” “Have you repented of your sins?” He responds “Yes.” “Who is going to be the Lord of your life from this day forward?” He responds “Jesus”. And then he is baptized after the baptizer says “Based on your confession of faith I baptize you for the remission of your sins.”

Check, check, check, check, check. Now it may very well be that this fellow believes Jesus is the Son of God in the same way he believes Richard Petty was a race car driver. That is not faith, that is giving mental assent to a fact. In many cases this person has trusted a “plan” to save him and not the Lord Jesus. The proof is in the puddin’. I have seen door knocking campaigns where of more than a dozen who followed the plan not one life was changed an iota. Sometimes though God saves in spite of our ignorance and unbelief. Maybe the gospel gets in someway and a few will trust Christ and not in the plan of salvation and be saved.

Worship is just as glib. Again, 5 is the number. There are 5 acts of worship. They are”

1. Singing
2. Preaching
3. Praying
4. Giving
5. The Lord’s Supper.

Click, click, click, click, click. People are taught that if you do right you will be right. This is what the legalist refers to as the “Pattern of worship”. If you follow this pattern you are right and if you don’t…..Oh wait a second! Singing must be only A Cappella. You might ask, “Where does the Bible say that?” And the answer is unbelievable, really it is. What you will be told in essence is “We believe it because the Bible doesn’t say it. We have our reasons..”

If you don’t follow this so-called “Pattern of worship” you are not obedient to Jesus and you are lost. (Never mind that even the order of the 5 acts are points of disagreement and one group will condemn another to hell if the order isn’t as the first group says it should be….??? I’m not making any of this up.)

So, generic Christian Bill goes off to the “building” on a Sunday morning and one by one he clicks off the 5 acts. He sings the 3 songs and the invitation song. He eats a tiny cracker and drinks some Welches grape juice. He listens to the preacher. There was an opening prayer and a closing prayer. He puts $5 bucks in the collection plate and He is home in time for the kick off and he has done what is “authorized”, he has scripturally worshiped! Really?

Lets just examine one of the 5 acts of what is “authorized” and is one fifth of the “pattern” to be followed. Prayer. Someone prayed twice and Bill might have even prayed, but more than likely he only listened to someone else pray. Now I ask you, when we read in the Bible that the early church “prayed together” is this what they did? Surely, with a tiny bit of reflection, nobody believes that is what they did. So has bro’ Bill violated his own pattern?

Here is the flaw of the 5 step plan of salvation and the 5 acts of worship. A person who is not a Christian can breeze right through both of them and in fact they do it all the time. How can I be so sure? I personally know people, close friends, who did it for years. That is until they came to know the only source of eternal life, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Doing right does not make one right.

Everyone who has been around our churches of Christ very long knows several people who have been baptized more than once. Some of them have been immersed 3, 4, or more times. Why? They thought they didn’t do it right. They simply couldn’t understand why their lives were no different since they had followed the “plan”. Only when a sinner puts his faith in Christ, when he believes in a trusting and dependent way upon Jesus does he get what he needs and wants. For many it is synonymous with baptism. However, that is not true with everyone. I know an elder, a very godly man, greatly used by God to share the good news all across the country, whose testimony is that it was years before his life started to match his confession. Baptism, and the other acts are useless unless the candidate, like the man from Ethiopia long ago, believes “with all his heart” in Jesus Christ the God-man, and not in a plan.

Shaking off the shackles.

In the last 11 years I have seen a noticeable difference in my own congregation. The message of the grace of God demonstrated in the doing and dying of Jesus has started to grip the hearts of more and more of God’s people and the harvest of souls is increasing. All around the country people are leaving the bondage of legalism and embracing the love and grace of God. Their testimony is that finally they are free from doubt, free from worry, because they have been convinced that it is not about them but about Jesus. His dying for them, His burial, and His resurrection for them is an objective fact and their faith in Him is sure and firm.

Ephesians 2 answers the objections of the legalistic types whose indictment of anyone who preaches or teaches salvation by grace though faith alone is that we don’t value “works” or “faithfulness” and that we believe a person can live any old way and be fine in God’s eyes. Nothing could be more wrong.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

A careful reading of this passage precludes any nonsensical idea that just because one holds to salvation by faith that he does not value good works.

This is astonishingly clear. Salvation is not the result of works! (Vs. 9)  By the way, that is true before or after one is converted. But keep reading.

Christians are God’s product, His “workmanship”. We are His “creation” in Christ Jesus for what purpose? GOOD WORKS! And, this is something that God didn’t just hatch up at the last minute. No, He prepared this plan “beforehand”. What is the plan? “That we should walk in them”. (Vs. 10)

This is not my plan, it is God’s plan. Just as sure as God created dogs and bull frogs God created Christians to “walk in”, or “do” “Good Works”! A person who does not do “good works” as a lifestyle is not a Christian. Read 1 John. He says this exact same thing. So are “works” important? Yes, so important that God’s design for Christians included them. But, make no mistake about it, not one person will be saved because of their good deeds. “Not of your own doing” in Vs. 8 and “Not the result of works” in Vs. 9 means exactly what it says. No seminary degree with an emphasis in biblical languages is required to unpack this passage and understand it.

So, how about you? When you retire at night do you have the assurance that everything is OK between you and God? Are you trusting Him? Or, are you depending on your ability to worship right, be good enough, and hope it all works out in the end? There is a better way! Put your whole trust in Christ alone and enjoy the love and grace only he gives.

I suggest that everyone who reads this post take some time and read John 17, slowly and prayerfully, asking God to show you the truth of those words. You will find that you are safe in Him.

For truth,

Royce Ogle