Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Feed Yourself

baby feeding himself

by Dennis Pollock

While nearly every professing Christian would agree that reading the Bible is a positive, spiritually healthy activity, few actually do it, at least on a regular basis. Poll after poll has shown this to be true. When you study the different reports based on polls about Bible reading, the headlines tell the story:

  1. "Americans love the Bible but don't read it much."
  2. "Many own a Bible but not many read it."
  3. "Most Christians don't read the Bible much."

 

This is not exactly earth-shattering news. Despite the huge place Christians give to the Bible in their words, regular Bible readers have always been in the minority. Sadly, they probably always will. What this means is that for many Christians, perhaps even the majority of them, most of their views and understanding of the Bible, and indeed of God Himself, will come primarily from the sermons they hear in church.

Is that a bad thing? This partly depends upon the pastors who preach to them every week. Just like mechanics, school teachers, doctors, and lawyers, pastors run the gamut from outstanding to incompetent. Most evangelical pastors sincerely desire to teach their congregations from the word of God, and make an earnest effort to prepare themselves every week to be able to present truths that will bless, encourage, and instruct their congregations. Having pastored two churches over ten years, I can appreciate the difficulties that pastors face, and I have the utmost respect for the many faithful, diligent pastors who labor tirelessly in large and small churches throughout the world. Leonard Ravenhill wrote: "Men misuse the preacher, demons taunt him, the flesh fails him, courage waxes and wanes in him, congregations ebb and flow before him, props fall beneath him, some forsake him, others disown him. How can a mere mortal take it all if he is not a praying man?" Praise God for the pastors who discharge their Christ-ordained duties week after week and year after year!

Diluted or Pure

With that being said, there is no question that the Christian who gets nearly all of his understanding of the Bible from his pastor's sermons, regardless of how faithful, studious, and godly that pastor may be, will miss a great deal and will likely always be incomplete and imbalanced in his knowledge of God and His word. In addition to the fact that thirty minutes of Bible per week is simply inadequate, any sermon one may hear, even from the best of preachers, will always be "watered down" by the minister's own ideas, rabbit trails, and perspectives. It will not be pure, as you would get when you pick up the Scriptures and read, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," or "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." This is not to suggest that sermons and Bible teachings are useless. God can and does use them mightily to bring about salvation and transformation in the lives of men and women. We should avail ourselves of good preaching and teaching as much as we can, but it would be foolish of us to exclusively embrace the diluted version, when the pure word of God lies at our fingertips.

Another reason why we cannot live only upon the preached word has to do with the natural biases and leanings of preachers. The apostle Paul told the elders at Ephesus, "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Sadly such an approach is pretty rare. It is not that most ministers deliberately withhold information or commit themselves never to preach on certain topics, or to overemphasize others – it is simply that ministers, like people in general, are biased. We are all biased, and in theological matters, as well as in many other things, we tend to gravitate toward our preferences.

Bias

A major problem concerning pastoral bias has to do with the toughness and tenderness of God. The Bible teaches that God is tender and loving – but also that He can be tough and strict. Many have decided that the answer to this dilemma is that since the cross of Jesus, God has had a personality change. In the Old Testament He was tough, demanding, and hard to please, but now that Jesus has come He has relaxed and is easy-going, and can pretty much put up with anything from His children. It doesn't take much of a Bible scholar to see through this. When you read about Ananias and Saphira being struck dead in the early church for lying, when you read of Jesus telling the church at Laodicea that they make Him sick and He is ready to vomit them out of His mouth, and when you hear Jesus warn us that the wicked will go to a place of outer darkness where the consuming worm never dies and the fire is not quenched, you get the idea that God can still get a little upset with His creation. Of course there are many verses about the love of God and the compassion of Jesus. Strangely it seems that God is, at the same time, both tough and tender, both loving and holy, both demanding and forgiving. The apostle Paul, definitely a New Testament character, exhorts us, "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God…" (Romans 11:22).

It seems that few pastors (or laymen) are able to maintain a healthy balance between these two attributes. There are churches where you could attend consecutive Sunday morning services for the next three decades and never hear the word hell mentioned. You would never hear of passages about discipline nor would you ever get even the slightest hint that God could ever be displeased with his children or anything they may do. You would hear message after message about how God wants to fulfill all your dreams, fix all your problems, and fill your life with continual happiness and fulfillment. Huge passages of Scripture and Bible concepts would go untouched and ignored, while other, more positive passages would be hammered home again and again and again. You would hear about God supplying all your needs ad infinitum, but never would you hear about how Paul had learned to be content in plenty and in lack. Jeremiah's promise that God knows the plans He has for us, plans of good and not of evil, would be well rehearsed, but the verse which says, "whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives" (Hebrews 12:6) would be curiously AWOL.

Tough or Tender

Certainly there have been pastors who have over-emphasized the tougher side of God, but this was more prominent in previous generations than today. In our generation, for every church that goes overboard on the tough side, there are a dozen churches which tilt in the other direction. In either case, the real problem is for the Christians who are getting all their theological information from their Sunday morning church services, and have no real clue what the Bible says, and where its emphases lie. Imagine a couple who allow television producers to place cameras in their living room, in order to record their interaction over the next several months. After shooting thousands of hours of footage of their conversations the video is edited and condensed into a one hour documentary. But when the couple sits down to watch it, they find to their horror that the only video that is shown are the clips where they were having disagreements and arguments. There are no hugs or kisses, no complimentary words, no friendly bantering… The producers have simply laid out everything negative they could find, one after another, and all the rest was completely ignored. When they complain to the producers, they are told that none of these scenes they showed were made up; they are all actual footage of interactions between the two. The producers are correct, technically, but their one-sided focus has so skewed the perception of the couple's relationship that it does not reflect reality.

Such is the nature of Bible preaching and teaching that tilts heavily toward one side or the other of God's nature. It may not be that the minister is guilty of making anything up or creating doctrines out of the air. He may have Scriptures to back up all his points when challenged. The problem is all those other Scriptures which he will never have the nerve to quote, Scriptures which bring balance and a more complete expression of the God of the Bible. For the Christian who regularly reads the Scriptures and knows them well, this is not too much of a problem. The balancing verses will be surfacing in his heart even while the pastor preaches, whichever direction he leans. But those spiritually gullible folks whose only source of Biblical truth is their pastor, or a favorite TV preacher, are easily and completely swayed. They are not fortified by a thorough and working knowledge of the Bible and generally assume that what is said from behind the pulpit, particularly if it is said with authority and a little raising of the voice, must surely be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The Whole Counsel of God

There are some churches where you will never hear one reference to the return of the Lord Jesus. You could sit in every service for the next twenty years and never get a clue that Jesus Christ is ever coming back for His people, and ultimately to rule and reign on the earth. It is not that the pastor says it won't happen; he just never says that it will. Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are never touched, never referenced, never mentioned. Nor is heaven given much attention. All the emphasis is on God's blessings in the here and now. If the pulpit at that church was your sole source of information, you would be no more likely to expect Jesus to return as to expect George Washington or Abraham Lincoln to show up at your church next Sunday morning.

GreedSome pastors preach about faith and blessings until you get the idea that the only reason God exists is to be your personal benefactor, and that all His plans and works are for the purpose of making you happy and making your wildest dreams come true. Some preach prosperity with such vehemence that you end up assuming you must surely be out of the will of God since you struggle to pay your electric bill every month. You are given the idea that the goal of the Christian life is to be so blessed that you can wallow in dollar bills. You will never hear Paul's words, declaring, "Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Timothy 6:9). But in other churches you are never encouraged to pray for definite blessings, and to expect them from the Lord. And any mention of healing is quickly followed with a quick disclaimer that we certainly cannot expect things like that to happen today. Biblical miracles all occurred before the Holy Spirit went into semi-retirement.

Read It For Yourself

The key to protecting yourself from a one-sided, imbalanced view of God is to read the Bible yourself – regularly, consistently, and carefully. Let the Bible serve as its own balance. Don't shy from reading those "flinch verses," the verses which literally make you flinch because they bring a different perspective from the one you have always held. And be sure to spend a lot of time in the gospels. Jesus Christ is "the brightness of God's glory and the express image of His person" (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus was both compassionate and tough; He could pierce holes through you with His flaming eyes when angered, but He could also melt you with His eyes of love and concern. He demanded much, but offered far more. "He went around doing good" and healing the sick, but was not shy about labeling religious hypocrites "snakes, fools, and blind." He spoke more about hell than any other character in the Bible, but also told us of a loving Father who delights to give good gifts to His children.

As we read of our wonderful Savior we shall behold "both the goodness and the severity of God" – goodness to those who repent, believe, and abide in Jesus, and severity toward those who refuse God's amazing offer of salvation through Christ Jesus, and to those hypocrites who profess faith in Jesus but live in complete contradiction to His teachings and commands.

To see a full listing of all articles available, go to our Written Devos Page.
For a full listing of all articles as audio mp3 files (free downloads), go to our Audio Devos Page.

 

     

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Missions Outreach


A major part of Spirit of Grace Ministries is our ministry in the great continent of Africa. There is a tremendous harvest going on in the world these days, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Above is a brief music video featuring video clips and pics from our recent mission in Magodes, Uganda.

Audio Devo: "Why is there suffering?"

People have debated this question for millennia. And we cannot speak concerning specific individual questions of suffering, but the Bible clearly speaks as to why suffering has always been a part of the human experience.