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.
Mel Lawrenz, Elmbrook Minister at Large and former Senior Pastor has recently spent time in Ethiopia where there is a remarkable story of faith that goes back 3,000 years.
In the valleys, plateaus, and mountains of sunny Ethiopia in the horn of Africa a dramatic movement of God has been afoot which reached dramatic proportions just in the past few decades. The country is known for many things: the origin of the coffee bean, the only African nation never to be colonized by a foreign power, an ancient connection with the Old Testament (the Queen of Sheba), and the New Testament (the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch via Philip the Evangelist in Acts 8), the site of ancient human remains, National Geographic photos of Stone Age tribes.
Mel will share lessons for us to learn from his two recent trips there, and the many years of influence Elmbrook Church has had through our supported missionaries.
Invite your friends to hear this fascinating story. This Sunday, March 15, 9:30am in the Elmbrook Church Chapel.
(AND, you may be the lucky person to go home with a bag of Ethiopian coffee beans Mel hand-carried back!)
There is a remarkable story of faith far removed from where I live in the Midwest of the U.S. where today there are grey skies and snow on the ground. In the valleys, plateaus, and mountains of sunny Ethiopia in the horn of Africa a dramatic movement of God has been afoot which reached dramatic proportions just in the past few decades. I recently returned to Ethiopia, and would like to share with you some of this story.
The country is known for many things: the origin of the coffee bean, the only African nation never to be colonized by a foreign power, an ancient connection with the Old Testament (the Queen of Sheba), and the New Testament (the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch via Philip the Evangelist in Acts 8), the site of ancient human remains, National Geographic photos of Stone Age tribes. Ethiopia is also associated with one of the worst famines of the 20th century from 1983 to 1985 in which almost half a million people perished.
If you were to stumble upon a long-lost manuscript that no eyes had seen for generations, and if you were to read its opening lines which offered a “wisdom” like what’s described in the following lines, you might consider it one of the greatest discoveries of your life.
Proverbs… for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young—
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance. (Ps. 1:1-5)
These are the opening lines of the book of Proverbs, one of three books in the Old Testament (Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes) called “wisdom literature” (although other books contain sections of a similar kind). So, in addition to historical narrative, law, prophecy, and poetry, the Bible also has this lively, deep, and profound set of books referred to as “wisdom.” These are books about real life.
The Bible is not just a book. It is relationship in words. God’s word to men and women, boys and girls. A living action between the almighty Creator of the universe and his most cherished creation: humanity. We do not understand Scripture unless we hear in it the divine-human dialogue.
The Psalms prove this. In the beloved 150 songs and poems in the middle of the Bible, we witness not just God speaking to us, but the privilege we have of speaking to God. This is the essence of relationship: two parties interacting with each other. And what an interaction! The Psalms express the full range of states of the human heart:
It’s okay to be honest if you’re having difficulty understanding sections of the Bible. Remember, our difficulty understanding Scripture is not a problem. It is what you’d expect of a body of scriptures that speak into the complexities of human experience, and contain the high truth of a transcendent God. When we come to the Prophets, typically the questions that get asked are: What are they talking about? Is this about them or us? Is prophecy about the past or the future?
One of the ways we know that the truth of the Bible is rooted in reality is that the story of the Bible—the drama of God’s interaction with humanity—unfolds in a real place. This is a real God engaging with real people across a timeline that goes for thousands of years in a specific part of the world. The Bible is not detached philosophy. It tells us what happened (in history) so that we can understand what happens (in life).
Illness is not only distressing, but confusing. Many people have a hard time knowing what to pray when they are seriously ill. The Scriptures make it clear that God listens to the cries of our hearts when we are in distress (the Psalms especially demonstrate that). It is honoring to God whenever we talk to him. If you do not know what to pray when you are seriously ill, here is one possibility…
My body is not working like it used to. I do not like being weak. I do not like pain. I do not like uncertainty. Thank you for letting me tell you this.