[Update June 2015: We are witnessing the greatest power in the world displayed in Charleston, South Carolina these days. Journalists are dumbstruck. The family members of those slain in the church are suddenly international voices. The gospel of Jesus Christ is drowning out all other messages. Love is stronger than hate. Someone wanting to start a race war will not get his way. It could be confusing to some that the family members of the nine people killed in a Bible study would talk about forgiveness at a time like this. But forgiveness does not mean calling an evil thing good. It does not subvert justice. Forgiveness is not hiding from reality. It holds no moral ambiguity. Forgiveness in the New Testament simply means “to release.” This is what the family members are doing. They are refusing to hold the perpetrator of the evil act accountable to them personally. The killer will be subject to the judgment of the court, and the judgment of God. But for now the local victims are rising above vindictiveness. Their character is holding strong. Evil is being put in its place: its pitiful, pathetic, weak place.]
Some years back, after a young husband and father shot five young girls dead, the news coming out of the Amish community of West Nickels Mines headlined a single word: forgiveness.
This word caught the attention of the media, but what does “forgive” mean?
As current events go, the past week has been quite eventful. Racist murders in South Carolina, coordinated terrorist attacks in three different countries, two escaped convicts on the run, a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on gay marriage. I found myself recalling today the words of a letter written about 100 years after Jesus, a follower of Jesus explaining to someone else the distinctive lifestyle, beliefs, and attitudes of believers. The document is called The Epistle to Diognetus. We don’t know the author or the recipient, but the poignant description of what it means to be a believer in a worldly world is worth pondering during these eventful days. It is a wonderful description of living in the world, but not being of the world. See how you think it may apply today…
I still cherish my boyhood memories of going fishing with my grandfather. It seems like it was yesterday. One day while I was sorting through the wide variety of tackle I had collected, fidgeting with lures and sinkers and bobbers and the rest in my fancy tackle box, my grandfather looked at me and said: “Mel, you won’t catch a thing unless your hook is in the water.” Of course, he was right. His hook was always in the water, and he had much more to show for it.
The main principle of reading Scripture for a lifetime of spiritual growth is: just read it. Don’t spend too much time looking for the “just right” study Bible, or other helps. Don’t neglect reading Scripture because you are in a period when you are having a hard time understanding it. And don’t slow down because you have not found a plan that is right for you. Put your hook in the water. Something will happen.
Here are some guidelines for a lifestyle of fruitful Bible reading.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt.7:15-16).
When I was young in the faith, I had a deep hunger to find the truth of God because I had tasted it, it was deeply satisfying, and I sensed that my soul was just waiting to be revived from some kind of hibernation. So I sought out different Christian teachers and preachers, read some best-selling books, and sampled Christian radio teaching. But I was unsettled by the feeling I sometimes had that the Bible teaching I was hearing seemed only loosely linked with the biblical text, and it was peculiar, out of sync, and did not have the “ring of truth” I experienced when reading Scripture itself.
Some years later, I came to the conclusion that the “smell test” needs to be taken seriously. If we are exposed to teaching that just doesn’t “smell” right, then we ought to proceed carefully. Maybe the teaching is sound and we just need to get in sync with it, or it may be that our “noses” are all right and we’re hearing that most dangerous thing—false teaching.
Theology is not limited to the work of professors and clergy. Any serious Christian who has invested time in reading and studying Scripture is doing the work of theology, because theology (from the Greek words theos, meaning “God,” and logia, meaning “utterance, speech, reasoning”) is simply seeking ways to understand and speak about God, and all else in life as God defines it.
This is one of the enormous blessings of being a lifetime reader of Scripture. We are learning God. And learning everything God has said about everything else that really matters in life. What is a person? Why are people violent? What does a good marriage look like? What is our relationship with the animal kingdom? What happens after we die? How can we find peace and prosperity in life? Why does money become a source of tension? Where can we find justice?
What Scripture offers us, in its totality, is a comprehensive knowledge about God and life. This knowledge is not unlimited, for mysteries remain. Believers should not be frustrated by that. The Bible should never be criticized for not being what it never claims to be. It is not a comprehensive textbook of science. It does not address all areas of economics and government. The Bible is not a documentary of all the details of the historical periods it addresses, but rather, the telling of the story of God’s interaction with humanity.
It is dangerous to understand the Bible better. It is all too easy for us to feel just a bit of pride about pulling out the meaning of biblical texts, as if we were beginning to master the Scriptures when, of course, exactly the opposite is the whole point. The temptation may come from the power we may feel from having “spiritual knowledge,” which can move us from insecurity to superiority. Or we may want to put ourselves over Scripture so we don’t need to obey it. As Paul says, “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1).
Here are a few of the reasons why many biblical authors charge us with not just knowing the word of God, but practicing it.
God (through Moses):
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut. 11:18-20)
Some years back, I did a survey of our church’s congregation with the simple question: “If you could ask God one thing, what would it be?” I was not surprised that the most frequent response had to do with the problem of evil in the world, but I was struck by the next most common question: “How can I hear the voice of God?” The various wording people used indicated some were facing important decisions, others wanted to know if their lives were “on track” with God, some were in crisis, and still others expressed feelings of spiritual isolation and just wanted to “hear” from God.
There is a long history and many debates about how God “speaks” to us. Our concern in this chapter is how God speaks in and through Holy Scripture. This must be the believer’s major conviction, that we find the voice of God in Scripture, and that the authority of the Bible trumps all other claims about hearing God. Throughout Scripture, God is talking. Creation took place at the verbal command of God. The Hebrews became a nation when they met their God at Mount Sinai and he spoke to them through Moses. The prophets’ oracles often began with: “This is what the Lord says.”
[NOTICE: Sons of Korah will be in concert at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, on May 31 at 6PM. Tickets for this concert and others in the Midwest (Peoria IL – Mason OH – Danville IN – North Manchester IN – North Royalton OH – Wheaton IL) are available at the Sons of Korah website.]
Matthew Jacoby is the leader of Sons of Korah, “an Australian based band devoted to giving a fresh voice to the biblical psalms.” Click below to hear an interview I did with Matthew year before last on the release of his book about the Psalms, Deeper Places: Experiencing God in the Psalms.
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From the Sons of Korah website:
Sons of Korah is an Australian based band devoted to giving a fresh voice to the biblical psalms. The Psalms have been the primary source for the worship traditions of both Judaism and Christianity going right back to ancient times.
So far, in 23 different readings in “How to Understand the Bible,” through Bible Gateway we’ve covered three main areas: 1) approaching the Bible; 2) understanding the Old Testament; and 3) understanding the New Testament.
(If you missed any of this, or want to review any of this, you can go HERE, or you can get all the content of “How to Understand the Bible” in the paperback book HERE.)
The words of Psalm 46 may come to mind as we think of the many who suffer in earthquake-stricken Nepal.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
One of the certainties of life is that life is full of uncertainty. No one knows when he or she might fall sick, or have an auto accident, or witness a natural catastrophe—be it fire, flood, or earthquake. Such was the case in Nepal when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck at 11:56 AM a few days ago.
[On the ground report from Christian leader in Kathmandu, Nepal]
Greetings from suffering Nepal!
I am glad that you all are praying for us and by God’s grace we are fine and our missionaries are quite fine.
The disastrous Earthquake with an 7.8 of magnitude has struck the country of Nepal killing more than 5000 people. UN Reports that 8 million people have been affected and many have become homeless, parents less and widows. My heart cry when I see people desperate, watch the news and see the television report. There is a shortage of food, water and tents to sleep. Almost 90% people of Kathmandu valley are sleeping on the street and open space, but very few have got the tents.
I highly recommend this TED talk by Gary Haugen, President of International Justice Mission. I have interacted with Gary over the years, met with some of their staff in Washington, and always been impressed by the commitment, integrity, and passion of the work they do in the interest of international justice. This talk is based on Gary’s book, The Locust Effect (review), which frames the problem of global hunger in entirely new terms. It is encouraging, distressing, and motivating. It is also wonderfully informative.
If we did not realize already that it takes a lifetime to understand the Bible (and that’s a good thing), the point is driven home when we get to the last book in the Bible—Revelation. It starts out simply enough, it is a “revelation (in Greek, apocalypse) from Jesus Christ,” it is a “prophecy,” and it comes as a letter to seven churches. Fair enough, but then come the angels, beasts, earthquakes, horses and riders, wars, thrones, and much more. What are we to make of all this?
Here are two unhelpful approaches to Revelation. One is to think it is such an incomprehensible book of enigmas and riddles that we avoid it. The second is to uncritically follow someone else’s arbitrary interpretation of all the details and hidden meanings of its passages. Revelation is not too hard to comprehend, and we should benefit from it. But first we need to understand the big picture.
If someone asked you who your favorite teacher was when you were growing up, chances are someone specific would come to mind. And chances are you still respect that person today not because he or she was a fantastic lecturer, or had a superior knowledge of the subject matter, or had a memorable voice. Our favorite teachers—the ones who influenced not just our thinking, but our lives—are usually those people who taught us about life. And it wasn’t just with their words. Their own lives were distinctive.
Jesus is widely considered the greatest teacher of all time. But we will only understand him in this capacity if we consider setting and context. Jesus was not a college lecturer or a mystical philosopher. Those who were under the teaching of Jesus were following him on foot, from one village to the next.
On the night of the Last Supper Jesus gave his disciples an extraordinary body of teaching which we call “The Upper Room Discourse.” One way of summarizing what Jesus was telling them is “you’re going to be okay.”
Here are six points taking from John 13-17:
YOU’RE GOING TO BE OKAY – John 13-17
YOU’RE GOING TO BE OKAY AS LONG AS YOU SERVE IN HUMILITY.
John 13: 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
We all experience guilt and shame. Living as members of a fallen race in a fallen world has made it inevitable that we will have to deal with being wrong and feeling wrong at different times. We all go through our own internal ways of checking our attitudes or actions. Most people experience an inner conflict when they know that what they do or say is “wrong” by some internal set of standards. There are any number of different ways in which we react. Sometimes we try to change our behaviors, other times we adjust our standards to try to justify ourselves. And there is always the possibility that we will just try waiting the feeling out.