Does Bible Journaling Mark Good Bible Study?

Journalig BibleThe other day, I came across a blog post about ways to do Bible journaling. Now, the very concept of Bible journaling strikes me as strange to begin with, and seems even stranger when I realize that the term currently refers to coloring and drawing in one’s Bible. The blog post I read featured several enormous photos of a Bible (presumably belonging to the author) almost totally covered with pastel highlights, post-it notes and pink comments written in the margins.

As I looked at photo after photo of the Bible, with all its artistry, my mind went back to a guest preacher who once spoke at the church I belonged to in California. During the early portion of the service, he sat across the aisle and one row up from me, making it easy for me to glimpse the open Bible on his lap.

The Bible was quite well-worn, with pages that had obviously been handled many, many times. Verses were highlighted and underlined, and copious notes filed the margins. I gazed at the man with admiration, thinking, “This guy really knows the Word!”

When he got up to preach, however, he handled Scripture so badly that I left the church in tears. I’d never heard anyone twist God’s Word that severely in my life! He totally misinterpreted the passage, making points exactly opposite to the text in order to promote a heretical agenda that he hoped our church would adopt. For all the markings and notes he’d made in his Bible, his Biblical illiteracy was astounding.

Ladies, a well-worn Bible laden with markings and notes doesn’t necessarily indicate that its owner properly understands correct doctrine. Those brilliantly colored phrases may or may not be understood in their proper context.

I have absolutely nothing against marking one’s Bible. A good, consistent color code can help you in studying, as long as you don’t overdo it. Turning your Bible into a coloring book, however, distracts from serious Bible study.

Do you notice a similarity between the blogger in my opening paragraph and the guest preacher with the open Bible on his lap (during a part of the service when nobody else had their Bible open)? Both gave onlookers an opportunity to admire their evident devotion to God’s Word. Of course, only the Holy Spirit can judge their motives, but I can’t help wondering why they made it so easy for people to see their Bibles.

In pondering this whole subject, I thought of something Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount.

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ~~Matthew 6:1-6 (ESV)

Is it possible that this Bible journaling fad is more about showing others how much attention we give our physical Bibles than about learning and obeying the Word of God? It depends, obviously on each individual. Not every woman who marks her Bible does so for the purpose of showing off, and those who don’t practice Bible journaling must be careful not to judge. But, and pay attention here, it’s extremely easy to mark up our Bibles with secret hopes that someone will happen to see those brightly colored highlights and admire our spirituality.

Might I suggest that you have two Bibles? Use one for your private times with the Lord, marking it in whatever way genuinely helps you study and properly understand God’s Word. If your husband and kids happen to see you marking it, okay. But don’t go out of your way to show it to them. Keep it between yourself and the Lord. Take the second Bible to church and Bible Study, marking it very seldom. Your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.

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His Blood Availed For Me!

Even as a new Christian, I yearned for everyone to know the wonderful Savior Who had graciously granted me forgiveness by shedding His innocent blood in payment for my sins. So Charles Wesley’s powerful hymn, “O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing” became one of my favorites early on.

In particular, I love its reminder that no sin, no matter how vile and polluted, can resist the cleansing power of Christ’s blood. All too often, I let the enormity of my sin obscure my vision of His great grace in taking the punishment on my behalf. The name of Jesus certainly does charm my fears and bid my sorrows cease! How can I not both praise Him and long for others to praise Him with me?

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Pilgrim In This Barren Land

Christians know that, for all its glitz and glamour, this life can’t really offer anything of value. As citizens of heaven, we don’t feel at home here, and we easily see the emptiness of the world and its hollow pleasures.

Praise the Lord that, because of His love and faithfulness, He guides us through our pilgrimage in this life, promising to bring us safely to our eternal Home!

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Saturday Sampler: March 26 — April 1

Butterfly SamplerJohn Ellis’ piece in PJ Media, Teenage Boy Sues School Over Transgender Bathrooms is a political article rather than a specifically Christian one, but it serves as a reminder that our culture has chosen a path that degrades most of society. Christians must prepare to be marginalized as a new version of “morality” takes over.

Continuing her series on discernment at Growing 4 Life, Leslie A. writes Learn to Discern: Acknowledging the War. Find out how (and why) spiritual warfare fits into using discernment properly.

Does the Lord care how we worship Him? Rebekah Womble, blogging at Wise In His Eyes, believes He does. Her blog post, The Freedom of Worshipping God’s Way (she spelled worshiping with two p’s, not me), helps us understand why we must avoid self-styled approaches to worshiping a holy God.

Why Bargain With God?, a post that Kennedy Mathis wrote for Biblical Woman, brings back memories of my struggles as a single woman. But the principle she’s learned really applies  to any struggle Christians have.

As you can tell, I appreciate the series on cessationism that Jordan Standridge has been doing for The Cripplegate this month. His latest article, Three Reasons God is a Cessationist, employs arguments I’ve heard before, but they’re not common arguments. Please, if you have any Charismatic or continualist leanings, consider the points he makes.

Cameras Buettel, writing for the Grace To You Blog, says You Might Be A Pharisee If… This essay helps us examine ourselves (and others) more effectively to make sure we remain faithful to the Bible.

Jennifer of One Hired Late In The Day writes Same Bible, different beliefs, showing how the Lord helped her work though a perplexing question. And while you’re on her website, please check out Deconstructing Absurdity: a discernment lesson to watch her tackle a recent Tweet by Rick Warren.

R.C. Sproul posts TULIP and Reformed Theology: Unconditional Election on the Ligonier blog. Appealing to Scripture, he both explains the doctrine of election and deals with the argument that election is unjust.

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Discernment: More Than Exposing Error

Ladies Study 01When did Christians begin equating discernment with calling out false teachers? Certainly, identifying harmful teachings and trends that worm their way into even the best of churches has merit, especially in this age of technology when false teachers can influence a lot more people in a lot less time. At times, discernment bloggers absolutely must name names and loudly denounce error. Please don’t think I disapprove of warning other believers when wolves threaten God’s flock.

But if we reduce discernment ministry simply to the act of exposing false teachers, we distort the entire concept. One aspect of a ministry should never be mistaken for the ministry as a whole.

In addition to enabling Christians to recognize error, Biblical discernment draws us towards God’s truth. It refutes bad doctrine by filling us with sound doctrine. That sound doctrine, in turn, leads us to greater intimacy  with the Lord.

By intimacy, I don’t mean a romantic or quasi-erotic experience with Jesus as our supposed Lover. As we study Scripture, rather, we see Who the Lord is, how He thinks and what He values. The doctrine of Christ’s supremacy, for example, gives us an understanding of His relationship to His creation, as we see in the following passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)

It may interest you to know that Paul actually wrote that particular passage in  response to false teachers who tried to tell the Colossians that Christ didn’t have supreme authority. In this case (as in so many others), Paul refrained from naming the error directly and instead addressed it by replacing it with the correct view of the Lord. In the process, he drew his readers into a deeper understanding of Christ’s deity, His role as Creator, His eternal nature and His atoning work on the cross. That, dear ladies, is a hefty amount of doctrine to pack into one little paragraph!

Doctrine helps Christians discern error, then, but it does so with the purpose of leading us into a closer knowledge of the Lord. Simply calling out false teachers may allow us to feel an air of superiority, but that’s quite different from leading us into His presence. True discernment does protect Christians from deception, but that protection ought to ultimately bring us into greater worship and adoration of the Lord.

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Perspectives In Titus: A Meaningful Salutation

purple-bibleFor a few reasons, we’ll continue our Titus Bible Study by remaining in verse 4 of Chapter 1 today. Primarily, we’ll do so because last Monday we used this verse to introduce Titus rather than exploring how it fits in with the rest of Paul’s salutation. Its context makes going on to verses 5-9 awkward since we didn’t really examine it last week.

As I’ve just mentioned, verse 4 concludes Paul’s salutation to Titus. This salutation can’t be skipped over lightly because of its rich doctrinal content. Most of this epistle centers around the practicalities of church structure and function, leaving Paul little opportunity to proclaim doctrinal truths, which probably frustrated him just a bit. For that reason, he took full advantage of the chance to pack theology into every crevice of his letter to Titus that he could find. You see, Paul proclaimed doctrine as a way to express his worship of Christ.

Let’s look at the entire salutation, remembering the great doctrines of God’s sovereignty and His election of believers that we saw in our study two weeks ago.

 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. ~~Titus 1:1-4 (ESV)

Paul has just introduced himself as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, stating his mission of bringing the Gospel of eternal life to the elect. Notice how he delights in the details of God’s sovereignty? But now he realizes that he needs to finish his salutation, so he greets Titus by calling him “my true child.”

That phrase conveys far more than mere affection. Most commentators believe that Paul led Titus to the Lord. They base their assertion on the fact that Paul uses similar language to describe Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17) and Onesimus (Philemon 10). The apostle reminds Titus of the spiritual bond they share.

But he quickly erases any thought that he’s spiritually superior to Titus by adding the phrase “in a common faith.”  Here Paul suggests that Christians have a faith shared by both Jews and Gentiles,  common to all believers regardless of their position within the Church. As an apostle who is ethnically Jewish, Paul considers this Gentile convert as his equal

This phrase also may allude to the Council of Jerusalem, where the possible presence of Titus may have demonstrated the erasure of distinction between Jews and Gentiles. If indeed Titus had been present at the Council, this allusion would have served to encourage Titus in the genuineness of his ministry. Such an affirmation would help Titus in exercising his pastoral authority in Crete.

Paul’s epistles often open by wishing the recipients grace and peace, so this occurrence of that phrase shouldn’t surprise us. Since none of the commentators I read said much about it, I will simply remark that grace and peace come through Christ Jesus our Savior. In the previous verse, God is called Savior, implying Christ’s shared deity with the Father. Both Father and Son impart grace and peace.

As we close today’s study, perhaps we can think about the wonderful truth that, by God’s grace, each of us participates in a common faith. By grace, we stand before the Lord as equals with each other. Therefore we must avoid attitudes of spiritual pride, accepting each other in love and humility. As we progress through the book of Titus, we’ll discover how such love and humility plays out.

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Celebrating, Not Merely Stating

Lady Reading BibleThe First Century church at Colossae, because of its location as a major seaport welcoming tradesmen and sailors representing a variety of cultures, struggled against false teachings of various kinds. In response to the multiplicity of errors that made their way into the Colossian church, the apostle Paul wrote a letter meant to correct the doctrinal problems. Before addressing the particulars, however, he reviewed the basic Gospel message.

Paul introduced this review of the Gospel with a powerful explanation of Christ’s deity:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)

In describing Christ as  “the image of the invisible God,” Paul equates Him with God. From there, He identifies Christ’s role in creation, insists that He holds the entire universe together, and crowns Him as the Sovereign Ruler. Then he makes his claim even more directly in verse 19: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

Yes, God dwells in every believer through His Holy Spirit, but He doesn’t give us all of His fulness.  Vincent’s Word Studies offers the clearest commentary on verse 19 that I could find.

The word must be taken in its passive sense – that with which a thing is filled, not that which fills. The fullness denotes the sum-total of the divine powers and attributes. In Christ dwelt all the fullness of God as deity. The relation of essential deity to creation and redemption alike, is exhibited by John in the very beginning of his gospel, with which this passage should be compared. In John the order is: 1. The essential nature of Christ; 2. Creation; 3. Redemption. Here it is: 1. Redemption (Colossians 1:13); 2. Essential being of the Son (Colossians 1:15); 3. The Son as Creator (Colossians 1:16); 4. The Church, with Christ as its head (Colossians 1:18). Compare 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 1:20, Ephesians 1:23. Paul does not add of the Godhead to the fullness, as in Colossians 2:9 since the word occurs in direct connection with those which describe Christ’s essential nature, and it would seem not to have occurred to the apostle that it could be understood in any other sense than as an expression of the plenitude of the divine attributes and powers.
Thus the phrase in Him should all the fullness dwell gathers into a grand climax the previous statements – image of God, first-born of all creation, Creator, the eternally preexistent, the Head of the Church, the victor over death, first in all things. On this summit we pause, looking, like John, from Christ in His fullness of deity to the exhibition of that divine fullness in redemption consummated in heaven (Colossians 1:20-22).

Again, the passage celebrates (rather than merely stating) Christ’s divine nature, making it inseparable from the Gospel message. Christ, being God Himself, willingly bled and died on the cross to atone for the sins of those who trust in Him. Remember, Paul here identified Christ as both the Creator and the focal point of His own creation, and in the next breath introduced His willingness  to sacrifice Himself for our rebellion against Him. If that amazing fact doesn’t give you a desire to fall on your knees with wonder and adoration, just keep reading about the Gospel. It only gets better.

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