This afternoon I get to teach a room full of students that our God doesn’t blink off. Instead, he is constantly working to expand the reach of the gospel in our lives.
What has God been doing for 4,000 years?
I teach Lesson 6 of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Perspectives is a fifteen-week class about what God has been doing the last four thousand years, what he is doing now and how to find your place in his plans. It’s not easy, and it’s not cheap. But, if you want a bigger vision of how God is working to take his salvation to nearly eight billion people on our planet, you can’t miss it!
Lesson 6 of Perspectives covers God’s work between the end of the book of Acts (sometime before AD 70) and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. That’s a lot of ground to cover in two hours of instruction!
When most of us Evangelical Americans think about church history, we think of God blinking off sometime in the first couple centuries after Jesus and blinking back on when the Reformation leaders left the Catholic church. This, of course, is a misunderstanding of how our God works.
For those fifteen hundred years God worked through his people expanding the reach of the gospel. The message of Christ moved through Roman civilization, then traveled to the Barbarians and then to the Vikings. Rather than blinking off and blinking back on, God’s work built momentum during these times to make us ready for a final push to the ends of the earth.
From the Apostles to the Empire
The expansion of the gospel began with the Apostles. Following Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension back to the Father, they didn’t stay in Palestine. Some of them traveled to surprising places. When missionaries arrived in India generations ago, they found churches in areas thought to be unreached. Those churches traced their lineage back to the Apostle Thomas. The Apostle, Matthias likely carried the gospel deep into Ethiopia. And, some stories tell us that Joseph of Arimathea might have found himself on the shores of Great Brittain. (Yes, the guy who took Jesus off the cross and let him use his tomb for a few days. SPOILER ALERT: Jesus didn’t need that tomb for very long!) In February, AD 313, Christianity became the religion of Rome. Then, as Rome drew to a close toward the end of the Fifth Century, God’s work was just getting started.
Greater than outside threats
As the church expanded through Roman civilization, they had decisions to make. Church councils discerned between true faith and errant views of Christ. Offenders were often excommunicated and exiled outside Romans civilization. As they found new homes, they taught people about Jesus. The Barbarians began to believe. Over the next four hundred years, faith in Jesus expanded as Roman civilization collapsed. Then, the next threat and frontier loomed on the horizon.
As Western Europe was coming together under the reigns of leaders like Charlemagne, a new threat arose. People from the north began to raid, pillage and plunder. Unlike the Barbarians who had brought the doom of Rome, the Vikings were seafarers. And, they had no respect for God or his people. We all know how Vikings do things. They destroyed monasteries, stole the church’s treasures and carried captives back to their homelands. Many faithful women were taken. Many of them refused to give up hope in their captivity. So, God continued the expansion of the gospel through captives taken involuntarily to the Viking homelands. Over the course of the next four hundred years, God brought much of Europe — including the Vikings — to hope in Christ.
So, what? That’s the question of the Twenty-First Century. What does this mean for us? The God who refused to blink off through the rise and fall of Rome, Charlemagne, and the Vikings is the same God who refuses to blink off in your life. No matter what foes arise or how tough life gets, you will not be deserted. Jesus paid the highest price to prove God’s love to us. So, whatever you face today, don’t forget that our God doesn’t blink off!
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 ESV
THIS BLOG CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER AND HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS (ALTHOUGH, YOU SHOULDN’T NEED A SPOILER WARNING FOR A MOVIE NEARLY TEN YEARS OLD).
How Star Wars should have ended (and Harry Potter did)
Last night as I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I realized how Star Wars should have ended!
Every Christmas my wife and I pull out the Harry Potter movies. Since the first couple movies were holiday releases, the familiar John Williams score as the big Warner Brothers logo opens scratches a Christmas itch in my brain.
Last night we finished the series again. As I watched the last hour or so of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, I realized this movie was how Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker should have ended.
Two movies. One story.
After almost eight whole movies of getting to know Harry, Hermione, Ron and their world, the final movie culminates in a battle that leaves Hogwarts in rubble and gives Voldemort the upper hand. After retreating, he makes an announcement that no one else has to die if Harry will give himself up. So after learning via memories from Professor Snape, Harry does that very thing.
On the way to the Forbidden Forrest to give himself up, Harry opens the snitch he received from Albus Dumbledore following his death. Inside the snitch, he finds The Resurrection Stone. As he clutches the stone in his hand, the heroes and mentors who have gone before surround him. They tell them they are with him. Then, he lets The Resurrection Stone fall from his hand because it’s done its job. That moment was when the lightbulb went off!
As I watched Harry talk with Serious Black, I realized I was watching the scene from the end of The Rise of Skywalker when Rey heard the voices of all the Jedi. Then, Harry sacrificed himself to defeat Voldemort. That was what Rey did, too. I’m not going to comment on who did it better. That’s not the point. The point is that it’s the same story! But, it’s the same story — not because someone at Lucasfilm stole Rowling’s story — because it’s THE STORY (more or less)!
THE STORY is God’s story
THE STORY — the metastory — is the one God has been writing for the last four thousand years. After creating the world, watching it fall, rebooting it with Noah and his family (see The Matrix Reloaded for more on that part of the metastory), choosing Abraham and his descendants, giving them a home, watching them turn to idolatry, sending them into exile, giving them a home again and letting them be conquered by the Roman Empire, he sent his only Son to be THE The One.
The night before Jesus sacrificed himself for us to win the victory by receiving the punishment we deserved for our sin, he spent the night in a garden preparing for his sacrifice. He met with his Heavenly Father, not all those who went before him. The Apostle John taught us that there was no one before him (John 1:1). Then, he surrendered himself and died on the cross.
However, just like Harry and Rey, that wasn’t the end of his story. He rose from the grave victorious. He defeated sin and death. Jesus fulfilled the law with his sacrifice. Everyone who trusts in him and his sacrifice for us receives eternal life. Yes, this means life forever, but it also means knowing our Creator and our Savior. This is the metastory that writes all the great stories for us. So, why does this metastory feel so real to us?
The metastory is our story
The metastory about Jesus is real to us because every one of us has experienced it ourselves. For all of us there has come a moment when we had to give ourselves up. Our sacrifice doesn’t save the world. When we repent of trying to save ourselves and trust in Christ, we die to ourselves join with him in his resurrection. This happens the moment we trust in him, and it happens every day the rest of our lives.
In Luke 9:23, Jesus told us:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
This metastory feels so real to us because it describes the story we faced when we trusted in Jesus as well as every day of our lives. And, we don’t’ just die for ourselves. When we give ourselves up every day, we follow in the footsteps of the faithful before us (Hebrews 12:1). We also die for the people we love most. Our sacrifice shows them our hope is in something bigger than us. Then, we use our words to tell them that something is Jesus!
A dream convinced me it’s time to give things away
Recently, a ridiculous dream that convinced me it’s time to give things away. I’m not the kind of guy who reads a lot into dreams. For the most part they are just our brain’s way of dealing with all the ideas and data floating around in our heads. However, this dream had an important message for me.
In my dream our church was doing a musical?!? (Apparently, there were several levels of ridiculous in this dream!) I was directing this musical. I was in the middle of working with individual actors on their parts. (As with most dreams, there was a sense of continuity — I understood why I was directing and what was going on even though I was just dropped into the middle of it.)
The next actor to walk in to work with me was Olivia Wilde!?!
Of course, this made perfect sense in the dream. I took a few minutes to tell her how appreciative I was to be working with her. I began sharing with her my grand vision for that scene…
Then (you guessed it), I woke up!
I would love to have a chance to talk with Olivia Wilde — or just about anybody — about what Jesus has done for us. I could probably do a pretty good job at that. But, of course, I have no business directing her, or any other Hollywood and Broadway star, in a musical!
Doing things I’m not best at
As I thought about my dream, I realized I have made a habit at our church of doing things I’m not the best at. I’ve been pretty good at a lot of them — sometimes by just working harder. However, if I take myself and others seriously, I’m doing some things that are probably as silly as directing Olivia Wilde.
This afternoon a group of musicians was rehearsing at church for an event we have coming soon. I showed up to see how their rehearsal was going. They played part of one of the songs they are working on. They sounded GREAT!!! I couldn’t have added a thing. When they finished and I told them how impressed I was, I was reminded that I need to find more responsibilities to give away.
This is a big year for our church. We just signed a two-year lease. We want to be ready to find a new home that can really reflect who we are at the end of 2021. If that’s going to happen, it’s time to give things away. I am going to have to give many of my current responsibilities away to people who can do a better job than I can. I think me working harder has accomplished just about as much as it can. Now it’s time to be the body of Christ.
In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul wrote:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (ESV)
Working hard not to work so hard
The last thing I would ever do is say that anyone at CrossRoads has not pulled their weight. We have one of the most dedicated, hard-working churches around. That’s why our church of about one hundred people on Sunday mornings has touched lives around the world in ways that many churches ten times our size have not. But this year I am working hard to not work so hard because my working hard is holding us back. Instead of working harder, I’m going to follow Paul’s advice and work at getting more people working. And, I’m going to need your help doing that!
As you pray for CrossRoads Church this year, ask God to give us wisdom. We are going to be intentionally deciding what is most important to us as we move forward. Then, we are going to be finding the best ways to involve ALL of us in doing the important things we need to do to bring God’s kingdom.
Yes, what we believe is important. Yes, there are distinctives we hold to about God, Jesus, faith, sin and salvation. Sometimes, though, we need to just love somebody and tell them about Jesus. We worked on that yesterday.
What did you do yesterday?
What did you do yesterday? Yesterday we loved people. At least we tried. I’m not sure we always get it right.
Yesterday was our third I heart My Neighborhood event. This one was pretty simple. We got together at one of our members’ homes and knocked on doors asking three simple questions:
What is something a church might be able to do to make your neighborhood a better place?
Do you know someone in your neighborhood who needs some help?
How can we pray for you?
It’s always interesting to see what kind of response we will get. I’ve noticed that the nicer the house, the more likely the person who answers the door is going to be grumpy. I’ve also noticed that the number of people who answer their doors is inverse to the number of Ring doorbells on a street. And, people over 65 and under 35 are way more likely to answer the door and talk cordially with us. (Gen X-ers, what’s up with us?) And that’s all OK because we really just want to talk with people who want to talk with us. (Life’s just easier when mean people don’t answer their doors.)
One great response makes it worth it!
What I’ve noticed as we have worked to just love somebody is that one great response makes it worth it! Yesterday, the group I was with got to meet a couple ladies who invited us into their house, talked with us about some needs in their neighborhood and let us pray for them. That was a lot of fun.
The other group met some people who thought it was really interesting that a church was knocking on doors. They found out as they talked with people that there were not many unmet needs in their block because their block takes care of one another! What?!? I want to move to that block! What a great place to live! (If you live in that block, I impressed! Keep it up! And let us know how we can help! We want to support neighbors caring for one another! Seriously, we want to be that kind of neighbor!)
Just loving somebody will cost you something (or, maybe, a lot)
You’ve probably noticed that loving someone always costs us something. Yesterday it cost us about two-and-a-half hours of our Saturday morning. Saturday morning is prime family time. That’s expensive.
Jesus told us that loving people is not cheap. In Luke 10, Jesus sent his followers out to prepare the way for his teaching. When they got back, he listened to their report. Then, he told the story of The Good Samaritan. You are probably familiar with the story, but let me give you a little refresher (You can read it for yourself here.)
Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. (That’s putting it mildly.) A Jewish man was mugged on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. As he laid there on the side of the road, a couple good Jews walked by without helping him. Then, a Samaritan tended to his wounds, put him on the animal he had been riding and took him to the nearest inn to be cared for — in a world without CareNow, inns were the closest thing to urgent care. Then, the Samaritan paid the bill for the man’s stay and medical bill.
To be fair, the Samaritan was not a poor man. He had an animal with him. Feet were the cars of the day, so he probably had some wealth. But, he understood at least part of the purpose for his wealth was to help someone else. And he did. Generously! A lot!
…and tell them about Jesus
It’s funny. Once you have met a real need in someone’s life, they will let you tell them about Jesus. Of course, you can’t be judgy or fake. You have to continue to love them. (Your love has to be the real thing. They will figure it out if it’s not.)
What do you tell them about Jesus? That’s pretty simple really. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul told us what our message should be:
Jesus died for our sins and was buried.
He rose from the grave (proving death and sin were defeated).
When we trust in him, we receive a place in his resurrection.
Even though it’s not a tough message, sometimes it can be hard to share. But, you’ll find it’s a lot easier when you really love the person you are sharing it with (and they know it).
Come love people with us
If you live near us and want to make our cities better places to live, you are invited to come love people with us. This time we were just knocking on doors. We often have people doing the work of loving people by doing odd jobs or small construction projects to meet real needs. You are welcome to send me a note and let me know you are interested.
How have you seen the greatness of Christ this week?
One of the questions I like to ask people who believe in Jesus is: “How have you seen the greatness of Christ this week?” How would you answer that question today?
It’s kind of funny really, but a lot of people who believe in Jesus and follow him have a lot of trouble answering that question. This morning at our church we will be taking a look at Joshua 24 together. In Joshua 24, Joshua began by spelling out all the great things God had done for his people. He started with Abraham and his family. He recounted the story of how the great God had chosen him and his descendants. Then, Joshua spelled out the challenges they faced and how God brought them through. (Sometimes, God gave his people’s enemies rest while they continued to struggle. What was he thinking?!?)
Joshua reminded God’s people how God led them to Egypt where they eventually become slaves. Then, he delivered them and gave them their own land. Their enemies couldn’t even curse them. When they tried, God turned the curses into blessings. And, God provided for them. He gave them cities they didn’t have to build and food they didn’t have to plant. Then, Joshua told them they had a decision to make.
Which gods will you choose?
Joshua told them to serve the LORD, or decide who they were going to serve. The problem we all face is that Christ is never the god we choose.
In Dale Ralph Davis’ commentary on Joshua, he points out that when Joshua asked God’s people to choose who they would serve, he gave them two choices. He told them to make the conservative choice of the gods of their ancestors before God chose Abraham or the progressive decision to worship the gods they found in the land God had given them.
One of the crazy realities about our faith is that we don’t choose the God of the Bible! When we choose a god, we always choose a conservative, traditional god who maintains the status quo. Or, we choose a progressive god who is into all our new ideas. There’s only one way we serve the God of the Bible…
We don’t choose Jesus
In John 15:16, Jesus told his disciples:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide… (ESV)
We don’t cast our vote for Jesus. Our god always looks more like us. The god we choose likes our friends. He (or she) listens to our music. He votes for our candidates and supports our ideas and truth claims. Really, we never choose Jesus, but in his mercy, he chooses us. Then, everything changes.
It’s kind of weird, but if you have been chosen by Jesus, you don’t choose him. You just serve him. Your life becomes about the business of bearing fruit for Jesus and his kingdom. You realize he is what this is all about, and you make all you do about him. Paul described it this way:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV)
You use your life — yes, your life in your physical body — to make the name of Christ great! Then, something crazy begins to happen: you see the greatness of Christ!
How will you make the name of Christ great this week?
Are you chosen by God? Then, make Christ’s name great this week! Let what you believe about Jesus drive you to serve him. Let the everyday tasks that could feel like a grind be about Jesus’ greatness! Let your relationships demonstrate his love — especially for the unlovable. Because Jesus has brought God’s mercy, remind yourself with every breath who that breath is for, and spend that breath for the greatness of Jesus’ name. And, make disciples. Help the people around you follow Jesus. Encourage other believers around you to keep following and serving Christ. And, offer eternal life to someone who has not believed in Jesus yet.
If God has chosen you, look for ways to answer the question, “How have you seen the greatness of Christ this week?” I promise you won’t be disappointed!
One of the most important take-aways from the Christmas story in the gospel of Luke is that yes, what you believe matters.
This past Sunday, I finished up my Christmas series from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2. There in my church with very few people over the age of 45 and a rock band, I got to teach about the hypostatic union. Wait! Don’t leave! This is important!
In the incarnation of the Son of God, a human nature was inseparably united forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining distinct, whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion, so that the one person, Jesus Christ, is truly God and truly man.
When Jesus was twelve, he knew he was God…
I taught about Jesus’ trip at the temple at age 12. In that story, we see that from the time Jesus was a boy, he knew his place with his heavenly Father.
After a trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus’ family headed home to Nazareth. At the end of their first day of travel, they realized Jesus was missing. Luke describes three days (Yes, parents, THREE DAYS!) of searching before they found Jesus. He was in the temple.
When Mary and Joseph found Jesus, Mary asked him how he could do this to them! Jesus’ simple reply was:
“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV)
Pretty simple question, right? But, it has HUGE implications. From twelve years old, Jesus understood who his Father is. In his question, Jesus implied that he understood his deity — he understood himself to be God!
Even though Jesus was not considered an adult at twelve years old, his family was devout enough he would have understood that to claim God to be his Father was a claim that he, himself, is God. In John 5:17-18, John writes about Jesus:
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him… he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (ESV)
Jesus didn’t become God. He was God…
One of the misunderstandings many people have about Jesus is that he didn’t become God or understand his God-ness until much later in life. (Most people point to his baptism when God spoke from heaven and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.) I recently saw a cable program — sorry, I can’t remember what show or network — where John the Baptist had to talk Jesus into believing he was the Christ at his baptism.
Instead, we see here in Luke 2 that Jesus knew who his Father is and, subsequently, his own God-ness nearly eighteen years before his baptism. We also see in Luke 2 that his God-ness is not simply an idea his parents had taught him along the way. Jesus’ understanding amazed everyone as he was being taught in the temple. (Yes, the religious leaders taught him.)
For a long time, I believed Jesus was teaching the religious leaders in the temple. However, Luke very clearly described the religious leaders teaching and Jesus listening and asking questions. Jesus learned from the religious leaders. Just a few verses later Luke wrapped up the second chapter of his gospel by writing:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52 ESV)
And, Jesus was completely human, too…
Jesus learned. Jesus grew up. Jesus’ life displayed not only his God-ness but his human-ness as well. So, it’s also important for us to understand Jesus’ humanity. He experienced everything we experience. Jesus felt, hurt, laughed and loved. He understood what if felt like to bring his parents joy as well as frustration. With the exception of sin, Jesus lived as we live. That’s why the writer of Hebrews could write about him:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 ESV)
Then, Jesus died…
Then, of course, he died. I don’t know about you, but dying kind of scares me to death. When I think about exhaling my last breath, I get a little weak in the knees. Jesus knows that feeling. But, he also knows the feeling of what comes next. After Jesus died like we will all die, he experienced resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote about Jesus’ resurrection. He told us that because Jesus rose, everyone who trusts in Jesus’ death and resurrection will share in his resurrection:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? …But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20 ESV)
So, believers, Jesus understands you. He feels what you are feeling. He knows what dreams and fears feel like. Jesus even knows what it feels like to draw his last breath. He also knows what it will feel like to draw the next resurrected breath.
We serve an incredible God. He came to earth and became human — while remaining completely God — for us. He understands our humanity. And, when we trust in him, we share in the victory his death purchased for us. We receive the gift of eternal life by believing he died on the cross in our place and rose from the grave. Then, we follow him who purchased salvation for us.
So, yes, what you believe matters!
If you are ready to trust in Jesus, send me a note. I would love to talk with you about it!
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been reading from 1 Corinthians — a letter from the Apostle Paul to a church in the First Century that was divided by all kinds of problems. It has really hit home because our world seems so divided right now. As I have read, this question just keeps running through my mind: “Is your God big enough?”
Is your calling big enough?
Paul opens 1 Corinthians talking about calling. God called him to be an Apostle. God set us apart to be holy, called us to be saints. And, God blesses us with grace and peace that comes from God and Christ himself. But do we look like a people called together and blessed with grace and peace?
Is God’s grace big enough?
Then, Paul expresses his gratitude to God for the grace and gifts God gives us through faith in Jesus. He writes about how God enriched their speech and knowledge. He encourages them that Christ is the one who will sustain them until the end because the God who called them is faithful.
This introduction to Paul’s letter led me to ask some big questions about the God I believe in — or, maybe, my belief in God. In spite of these great claims about God’s work, the church in Corinth divided itself over the very blessings Paul wrote to them about. They fought over sin and spiritual gifts and even Communion. What in the world would make a church so blessed by God so divided?
Their God wasn’t big enough. The rest of the letter Paul points out the shortcomings in their attitudes and behaviors that reveal what they truly believed about God.
What do our lives say about God?
I’m afraid we don’t do much better. We divide ourselves over everything from baptism to politics. Although we claim to serve the God who created the universe and gave his only Son to save us, we struggle to believe he is bigger than our pet ideas and preconceptions. Let’s decide to change that. Let’s find the God who called us to work together to make his name great. Let’s answer the question, “Is your God big enough?” by working together to bring his kingdom of love and life to hurting people around us.
What can you do today to make sure your faith is in the God who is big enough?
What do you do when the Bible is hard to understand?
What do you do when the Bible is hard to understand?
This week — actually for the past 2 weeks — I’ve been working on writing a lesson for Daniel 9. Daniel 9 is a chapter that contains some prophecies that make it kind of tricky to understand. As I worked on this lesson this week, I thought I would share 3 tips with you to help you understand the Bible when it gets hard to understand.
Tip 1: It’s all about Jesus
All of it is about Jesus
The most important overarching principle of reading the Bible is that it’s all about Jesus. All of the Bible — both Old and New Testaments — tell us about Christ. The Old Testament tells us why we need Christ an what he will be like when he comes.
When the religious leaders were trying to entrap and kill Jesus he told them: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me John 5:39 ESV
From the very beginning of the Bible we see foreshadowing of Jesus. Following Adam and Eve’s first sin, God told serpent:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. Genesis 3:15 ESV
Then, he covered the first family’s nakedness by executing an animal and covering them with its skin. This anticipates the principle from Hebrews 9:22:
…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22 ESV
It also demonstrates that the failure of the man and woman to cover their nakedness with the clothing they tried to make from fig leaves was because they needed a covering for their sin that came from the sacrifice just as our righteousness is the gift of God purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness… Isaiah 61:10 ESV
This thread of Christ and his deliverance is echoed throughout the Old Testament. For instance, when the nation of Israel needed a hero, David arrived on the scene and killed the giant while the other warriors cowered nearby. Jesus is the Savior who slew the giants of sin and death when all we could do was cower on the sidelines.
About Jesus, not me (or you)
The challenge we face as 21st Century readers is that we often try to find ourselves, rather than Jesus, as we read the Bible. The Bible is about Jesus. He is the main character of the Bible. Every story in the Bible primarily teaches us about him. Every other character in the Bible was a supporting Character whose arc was devised to tell us about Jesus. We have a similar role in redemptive history. Our own stories are brief interactions with Jesus that continue to show him and his glory to others.
Always begin reading the Bible by looking for Jesus.
Tip 2: Genre matters
We all read different types of books, but we don’t read them all the same way. Great fiction authors and historians are both trying to teach us something about our world, but they do it very differently.
Some people talk about reading the Bible literally. That’s exactly how the Bible should be read if, by literally, you mean according to a passage’s type of literature. Different books and passages from the Bible have to be understood differently.
Much of the Bible is narrative. God uses joy and heartbreak in the lives of his people to show us what he is like. Some of the Bible is poetry that proclaims the greatness of God. It often uses metaphors and allusions to show us who God is and how he has revealed himself to us. Some of the Bible is wisdom literature full of insights how to live in a way that allows our lives to point to Jesus. Some of the Bible teaches us very directly who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Much of the Apostles’ writings clearly tell us who Jesus was and what he was like.
Always try to understand what genre you are reading when you read the Bible.
Tip 3: Look for law and gospel
When many people think of God’s law, they think of The Ten Commandments or the first five books of the Old Testament. Those are full of God’s law, but there’s more to it than that. When many people think of the gospel, they think of the first four books of the New Testament or the passages in the New Testament letters that tell us about how Jesus died receiving the punishment for our sin and rose from the grave. That, of course, is the gospel. But, did you know that you can use the law and gospel as a tool for understanding all of the Bible?
When you read the Bible, always keep your eyes open for commands. Commands or imperatives are the law of God in both the Old and New Testaments. When Moses or David or Jesus or Paul or Peter gives us a command, that command is law. Law usually pretty easy to identify because it has a verb that involves doing something like: “Thou shalt,” “you must,” “you should,” “do this,” or “do that.” Back in the 16th Century theologians understood that these commands that make up the law of God exist for three big reasons (I used Ligonier Ministries web site to refresh my memory on these):
To show us our sin — all of us. When God gives us a command, if we are honest, we realize we don’t measure up to it. God’s law demands perfection, and we all break all the laws all the time. That’s why in the sermon on the mount, Jesus describes adultery as looking with lust and murder as being angry with someone. (No, not all anger is murder or every look at a woman is adultery, but we have all crossed those lines.) God’s law first shows us how we fall short, so we will look to Jesus for our salvation.
To restrain us. God’s law given through scripture and through civil authorities gives all of us a sense of right and wrong throughout all history and in every culture. We all understand that taking from others is wrong even though different cultures draw the lines a little differently.
To tell us God’s will. How do we know God’s will? The law tells us how God wants us to live. When we are obedient to God’s law, we are doing God’s will. When we have a decision that is not guided by God’s law, we act in wisdom and freedom. (More on that another time.)
What about the gospel? Whenever you see in the Bible a statement that tells you who you are in Christ, you are reading an announcement of who God has made you in Christ. Throughout the Bible, we see statements about us that tell us we are healed, resurrected, forgiven, righteous and children of God among many, many other promises in Christ. All of these promises find their “yes” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).
No, I’m not talking about prosperity gospel because the fulfillment of these promises is in our resurrection in Christ — the completion of which we will not experience in this life. But, we do receive the firstfruits of our resurrection in this life as the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer as the seal of our salvation as well as Christ’s presence with us in the Spirit as we go about the task of making disciples.
So, as you read the Bible always keep your eye open for commands and promises that teach us our shortcomings and God’s will for our obedience as well as God’s promises to us in Christ.
What if you need a little more help?
Well, I guess it’s time for me to finish my lesson on Daniel 9. Say a prayer for me that I get it right. That leads me to the last tool we have when we need to know what the Bible says: commentaries.
Just about any time I write a lesson or a sermon, I find a good commentary to help me correctly understand the passage I am teaching. I like to think of commentaries like having another believer (who is way smarter than I am) to guide me through the text I am teaching.
When I’m reading a passage in order to teach through it, I often have insights that bring the passage to life. Those are really exciting moments because I know the people I will be teaching will be wowed by something about God or what he has done for us. Commentaries are very important to me in these moments because I want to make sure that insight is not something new.
I know you’re probably thinking: “Wait a minute! Don’t you want to share something new?” Yes. I want to share an insight that is new to the people I am teaching. However, I don’t want to share a completely new idea. Because the Bible has been studied for over two thousand years, someone has had just about all the correct understandings of the Bible. Any new understanding I have about a biblical text is probably wrong. So, when I’m studying a passage, and I come up with an idea I can’t find in a commentary, I check another commentary. If I can’t find it after checking a couple, I move on. As much as I want to share new ideas with the people I teach, I want to get it right.
The problem for most people is that commentaries can be kind of expensive. Here are a couple solutions:
First, John Calvin has written commentaries on just about every book of the Bible. His commentaries are available online for free. They are not super easy to understand, but they are a great place to start if you don’t have another option available to you. You can find them here: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/commentaries.i.html
Another great solution is to simply make sure the commentaries you are purchasing are worth having. Before I buy just about any commentary, I check bestcommentaries.com. There you can find a list of commentaries for every book of the Bible. Each commentary is rated with info on how helpful it is to people with different purposes.
Because the Bible is worth getting right, I would encourage you to begin investing in commentaries as you work to understand the Bible.
Oh yeah. And pray. Maybe, we should have started there. God’s Spirit who dwells inside every believer works in us, so we can understand God’s word. Jesus is God’s revelation to us — he is all the revelation we need (Hebrews 1:1-3). The Bible about 1,500 years of God-breathed words telling us about Jesus. God’s Spirit illuminates that revelation, so we can understand who Jesus is and how to follow him at the deepest part of who we are. So, anytime you open your Bible, pray. Ask God to cause his Spirit to use those words to change you at your very core, so you can be a disciple of Jesus and a disciple-maker.
And, as you pray, please pray for me. When I read the Bible God uses his words not just to instruct me, but to instruct hundreds of other people.
God’s word is rich. It is active in every believer by his Spirit, so read it, understand it and let God’s Spirit change you.
As we get ready to begin a new year at CrossRoads, we are going to take some time to reflect on the reality that God is great. Today, I want you to think about our challenge to being witnesses to his greatness: We are busy.
God is great…
One of the questions I ask followers of Jesus all the time is: “How have you been a witness to the greatness of Christ this week?” Do you know what answer I usually get? “I don’t know.”
How can a follower of Jesus answer that question: “I don’t know”?!?
We are busy…
I think the answer is pretty simple: We are busy.
I don’t think there’s a single follower of Jesus who says to themselves: “I don’t want to be a witness to Jesus’ greatness today.” But, it’s hard to look back on a day, a week or a year and try to figure out how you have been a witness to the greatness of Christ. Seriously, most mornings I wake up, and yesterday is a blur. I can’t usually tell you what in the world I spent my time doing. I can remember a few important things I did, but the rest is just a spatter of activity. I even take time every morning to reflect on yesterday and think about what I have on my plate today, and I just can’t remember!
Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time working on how to be more productive. One of the productivity gurus I’ve been learning from is Michael Hyatt. He is a high-level performer. He knows how to get things done, and he’s great at helping other people how to get things done, too. You can find his resources at his website or on Amazon. As I have read Hyatt’s books and used his planner, there is one super-important principle I have found over and over again.
We are creatures who thrive on simplicity. In a world where God is great and we are busy, we need goals, objectives, systems and habits that simplify and declutter our lives.
One of the principles Hyatt teaches is to spend time each week and every day deciding what will be your Big Three: What are the three most important things you will get done? These are the three things that take us out of the rat race into the world of accomplishing something — and knowing what it is we accomplished! Every day you begin by consciously deciding what your Big Three will be. Every week, you spend some time thinking about what you want to accomplish this week and decide on a Big Three for the week as well. What Hyatt points out in his books and planner is that we often don’t get more than three things accomplished each day, so we should simplify our plan for each day to three big things that will make our day or week a success. That way, we can look back at yesterday or last week and celebrate that we really got something done to make our lives, our work, our families and the world a better place.
One of the keys to making sure we are being witnesses to the greatness of Christ every day is to make one of our Big Three items reflect that goal. Take a few minutes to reflect on these ideas as you think about life in a world where God is great and we are busy:
What are the Big Three things you want to get done today?
How will those Big Three things give you something to celebrate that you made your life, your work, your family and the world a better place?
How will one of the Big Three things you are going to accomplish be a testimony to the greatness of Christ?
Share your thoughts…
What is one way you are going to be a witness to the greatness of Christ today?
What is one thing you will do to simplify your life this year?
What’s one of your Big Three things you are going to accomplish today or this week?
The new year with a clean slate is almost here. This week begins one of my favorite times of the year. I just began setting up my new planner. Except for a vacation and a few holidays, my plan for the new year is completely clean. There’s something great about a clean slate! One of the beautiful things about our faith. We have a God who is all about clean slates.
In Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV), Jeremiah writes of God: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
God truly gives is a clean slate. Always! You just read it from Lamentations: his mercies never come to an end. Every day — every moment — is an opportunity for a clean slate because of what Jesus has done for us. John, of course, puts it this way:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 ESV)
A clean slate.
So, if you have a clean slate, what do you do with it? Psalm 19 has some great answers to that question:
What do we do with a clean slate?
Start with God’s greatness
Psalm 19:1-6 ESV The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork…
Creation gets it right. The sky, the stars, the mountains, the ocean — they all proclaim God’s greatness. What would your clean slate or calendar look like if you were to fill it up with meetings, appointments and events that make God’s name great? What would you add to your 2020 planner that wasn’t there in 2019? What would you leave out?
You were created alongside the rest of creation to make the Creator’s name great. And, now that Creator has become your Savior and your Father.
Follow God’s Law
I know. We all hate rules. And sometimes that’s exactly what God’s Law can feel like sometimes. But, it’s so much more.
Psalm 19:7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul…
God’s law is the words of our Father who loves us more than we love ourselves. His law is the words of our Savior who gave his own life for us. He won’t keep any good thing from us. The psalmist tells us to follow God’s law because it revives the deepest part of who we are.
What does your blank slate planner look like if you decide to fill it with loving God and meeting needs the way God’s teaches? Do you trust God to make it worth it?
Let your words and heart center on Christ
Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
In Matthew 6:33 Jesus said something that changed everything for me:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Jesus promises that when our hearts are focused on our Father’s kingdom, we can rest that he will meet all the needs in our lives. What does it look like for you to fill up your conversations and your heart’s meditations with thoughts about your Father’s kingdom? How does that change what fills up your calendar next year?
It’s time to start your new planner. It’s pretty close to a clean slate at the moment. How are you going to fill it up the next 366 days?