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Love One Another

 

Author: Charles Hegwood

 

As we enter the season of Lent, we reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross. Today we look into Jesus’ conversation with His disciples in the upper room. The upper room teachings were some of the most highly concentrated teachings of Jesus. Since this was the last night he would spend with his disciples before the cross, Jesus focused on the most important things. In John 13: 31-35 that thing was loving each other.

 

So what does it mean to love one another? I know the word ‘love’ gets thrown around a lot these days. Even in Jesus’ day, he was concerned about the way his disciples would and did love each other. Love would be the foundation of the relationship they shared. So as we ask the question of what it means to love one another, we have to look at what Jesus has to say about the matter. We will see that our love is a command from God and it is an identifier of our belonging to God. So as we go through Lent, let us focus on these words of Jesus by looking into John 13:31-35.

 

The Set up

 

Jesus had just said that one of his disciples in the room they were in would betray Him. This was upsetting. Judas then leaves the room to betray Jesus. Upon Judas’ exit, Jesus switches to a teaching moment about how he is about to be glorified by the Father, but where he is going, they will not be able to come with him. Again, this is upsetting to the disciples. He is talking about his death, resurrection, and ascension. They do not yet understand. There is now fear of betrayal from one of their ranks and Jesus’ troubling words that he is going away to a place they cannot be with him. This is the setup for teaching about love. It is born out of the context of betrayal, the cross looming like a storm cloud on the horizon, and the context of the Son being glorified with the Father.

 

A New Commandment

 

Jesus then gives them a ‘new’ commandment to highlight the importance of this love. Not that the command to love was new in itself, but that the application is now in the context of Jesus’ followers. This application would extend far beyond the nation of Israel to the whole world.

 

Jesus used commandment language because it was familiar to the disciples and to highlight the importance of loving one another. The disciples knew that when Jesus gave a command it was to be followed. This is how the Father in the Old Testament spoke to the people. He gave them commandments. Jesus also did not give them a helpful suggestion. We are commanded to do so. Understand, it is not an, “I have to love that person even though I don’t want to,” kind of thing. It is to be a characteristic of a follower of Jesus to love their brothers and sisters authentically. Just as Israel embraced with love the 10 commandments, so Jesus’ disciples were to embrace this new commandment with love as well. It should be with us, too. We should view the command to love one another as a wonderful way to love each other and God.

 

So what will this commanded love look like? It will look like the love Jesus had for his disciples. We need the Holy Spirit for that. Jesus loved his disciples through their ignorance, misunderstandings, and constant wandering away. He loved them with a shepherd’s love. He laid down his life for them. We are to love one another like that.

 

Love is an Identifier

 

So why was Jesus so keyed in on this idea of brothers and sisters in Christ loving each other? The reason is that loving one another as Christ loved us is an identifier to whom we belong. This means that how you love the people of God identifies you with God and his family. This is a love the world does not understand. Therefore, when they see it, it points to the glory and power of God. Such love shows that we are indeed a new creation and born again. Love like this is not a trait of a sinful, selfish nature.

 

This is wonderful and frightening all at once. It is wonderful because the love the church has for each other is to be a glimpse at heaven and a taste of the love of God. We get to be identified by those wonderful realities. It is also frightening, because when we fail it says the opposite to the people around us. We all know churches or people in churches who are not loving people. These kinds of people can sour the gospel of a church. The world will know we are the disciples of Jesus, by how we love and treat our spiritual brothers and sisters. This is a global, group identity in God’s family.

 

Conclusion

 

We know that John was heavily impacted by Jesus’ teaching captured in these verses. Read 1 John and you will see how John taught this exact type of love. So as we go into the Lent season, let us love our brothers and sisters as Jesus loved us. Let us build church communities that identify us as disciples of Jesus by the way we interact with each other, so that we can point people to Him. The way we love should be an attraction to those outside the church. Let your love for your brothers and sisters this Lent, and beyond, point all the people you run into every day to Jesus. Let them see Christ in you.

 

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All Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development Studying the Bible Uncategorized

Three Phases of the New Birth

Author: Rachel Kidd

 

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, we see His conflict with religious leaders of the day and are presented with the profound impact of His grace and mercy. It was so antithetical to the orthodoxy of the time and unprecedented in tradition, that it upended everything that came before.

 

Jesus came to change the world, to set humanity free from the bondage of sin and death. His ministry proves this over and over again, demonstrating His divinity and His incredible grace and mercy, even when He spoke harshly.

 

Mercy To The Adulterous Woman

 

Mercy is not receiving deserved discipline. In John 8:1, we see Jesus and a group of religious leaders in an intense stand-off. They bring Him a woman “caught in the very act of adultery” and ask if they should stone her, as the law dictates.

 

Jesus tells them to do what they must, but that the blameless and sinless among them should cast the first stone. Unable to find themselves without sin, the men drop their stones, from oldest to youngest, and leave.

 

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” – John 1: 10-11

 

Jesus embodied mercy to those standing face to face with their deserved condemnation, and gave them a way to be set free and remember their true identity.

 

We tend to remember what God forgets and to forget what God remembers.

 

Jesus sets us Free

 

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. – John 8:34

 

Jesus explains to the people that He has come to set them free from their sins, calling it bondage that enslaves them. He speaks matter-of-factly, even harshly at points with the people, making it apparent to them that their sin is not to be taken lightly.

 

“You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. That is why I said that you will die in your sins…–John 8:23

 

Jesus tells them that they are of Satan, of evil, while He is of God and heaven. He says they are doomed to die in sin unless they believe that He is the Son of God and are born again. Jesus then explains the steps to the new birth in Him, broken down into three phases.

 

Three Phases

 

  1. Belief (repentance, belief, receiving the Holy Spirit)
    1. “…for unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” –John 8:24
  2. Fellowship & Discipleship
    1. You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. –John 8:31
  1. Experience
    1. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” –John 8:32

 

These phases are especially helpful for us today, mapping out our journey to aid in our spiritual development. As you read through the book of John, it might be helpful to ask yourself and ask God, where am I in these stages? Do I have the assurance of eternal life like John describes? Am I walking in obedience as a faithful disciple of Jesus? How am I allowing freedom in Christ to shape my joy, understanding, character, or tendencies, to name a few?

Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior, as the son of God? Have you been discipled and mentored in your faith?

 

Jesus Gives Sight to a Blind Man

 

As we continue in the book of John into chapter 9, we meet a man who was born blind. The people around ask if he was blind because of the sins of his parents or his own sins, perhaps in a past life.

 

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. –John 9:3

 

Jesus continues, comparing His task on earth to work that must be done before nightfall. He calls Himself the light of the world, sent by God Himself to save humanity from darkness.

 

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” –John 9:4-5

 

Many religious leaders realized that He was accusing them of rejecting Him, the Light so that they could remain in their sin. He explained that He gives sight to those who know they are blind.

 

Jesus creates a salve from spit and mud, placing it on the eyes of the blind man. He tells the man to wash it off and when he returns, he can see for the first time. Through this miracle, Jesus demonstrates His power and the call He came to fulfill, the light He is, and the sight He came to restore.

 

Repenting, believing and receiving the Holy Spirit is an initial act that follows us throughout our journey to be made more into the image of Christ. We are to never stop repenting, believing and abiding with His Spirit. Jesus sent His Spirit to care for us and guide us as He is our Good Shepherd.

 

The Good Shepherd

 

Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. –John 10:9-10

 

In John chapter 10, Jesus compares Himself to a good shepherd, whose sheep recognize and find comfort in His voice. Shepherds in this time before nightfall would construct primitive corrals of sticks and brush, placing their bodies across the entrance where a door would be. The sheep then cannot leave without waking the sleeping shepherd, who would then direct them back inside the pen and safety. No predator either would be able to get inside to attack the sheep without first crossing the shepherd, keeping the flock secure.

 

Jesus says that He is the only gate to the sheep pen and that those who enter can only do so through Him. We are the sheep, He is the door. Because of Jesus, we are not only taken care of inside the fold but we are also protected from the enemy.

 

The Resurrection of Lazarus

In John chapter 11, we witness one of Jesus’ most dramatic miracles, when He solves life’s two most unsolvable problems — sickness and death.

 

Jesus had three close friends, siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus who lived in Bethany in Judea, several days’ travel from where He was preaching. He received word that Lazarus was sick and close to death. Instead of coming as soon as He heard, Jesus waited.

 

Jesus said:

“Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. –John 11:4-6

 

And so Lazarus died before Jesus’ arrival. For four days his body lay in the tomb as mourners grieved him. Mary and Martha wanted to know what could have kept Jesus for so long, knowing that if He had come sooner, their brother would still be alive. Jesus tells them that their brother will soon walk again.

 

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” –John 11:25-27

 

Jesus asks for the stone to be rolled away from the tomb, calling out to Lazarus to come out. Lazarus appears, alive and well, still wrapped in tomb-cloths. Jesus commands for him to be unwrapped so that he may be free.

 

John records these specific events, words, and instructions to pass on the faith once delivered to the saints. He wanted those that knew they were blind to truly see. He wanted His flock to be cared for and protected. He wanted His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—and all who read their story—to learn that He is the victory over death and the key to eternal life.

 

Because those who believe in Jesus and live in union with Him will never truly die.

 

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All Christian History Church Development

The Power of a Story

Author: Charles Hegwood

There is power in a story. Stories can slip past our defenses and engage our hearts. In some ways, God designed us to engage with stories. It is no wonder that the gospel is presented as a grand story woven throughout all sixty-six books of the Bible. Jesus also loved to tell stories called parables. He used parables for a variety of reasons. Some of the parables were relatable to the culture. Others were only meant for His disciples to understand. And others were shock-factor parables, meant to expose sin in the listener’s hearts. Today let us look at one such parable. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. We see that God is merciful to those who come to Him in humility.

The Shock Factor

 In our modern culture, we lose much of the sting of this parable in Luke 18:9-14. If you grew up in the church setting you instinctively view the Pharisee as the ‘bad guy’ in every story. Even in the culture outside the church, the word Pharisee carries a negative connotation from years of Christian cultural impact. However, to Jesus’ audience, Pharisees were seen as the spiritual role models and the standard for whom God approves. In some ways, they were the highly esteemed spiritual rockstars of their day. Jesus, however, was not impressed. And that shocked the crowd. When Jesus then told a parable about a Pharisee and then contrasted him with a tax collector, it was jarring. They would have naturally picked the Pharisee to be justified. We must ask, why.

Shocking Characters

You see after the exiles returned to Jerusalem, they began to study the scriptures. The leaders realized that the reason they were exiled in the first place was because they disobeyed God’s commands. So, call it a slight overcorrection, but a group formed called Pharisees, who were determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. They built fences of commands around God’s commands. And while their method missed the point of God’s Word, their hearts initially were in the right spot. However, over time the added rules became more important than God’s law. Their laws became a burden that God never asked His people to carry. By the time of Jesus, many Pharisees, though not all, had become arrogant and proud of their perceived ‘spirituality’.

By contrast, tax collectors were some of the lowest in the social order. The tax collectors were often placed below ‘sinners and prostitutes.’ They were seen as traitors for giving their countrymen’s money to Rome. They were also thought of as cheats, taking more than their fair share of tax money. So they were social outcasts. How could a tax collector even pray? And if he did, how would God listen? And yet we have this parable where the tax collector is justified over the Pharisee. They asked the same question we should be asking, “why would God listen to the prayer of the tax collector over the prayer of the Pharisee?”

The Heart of a Worshiper

Jesus was addressing a crowd, who as Luke stated trusted in themselves for righteousness. This context clue is key to understanding the ‘why’ of the parable. Jesus is telling the people and us what kind of heart a true worshiper of God must have. And we quickly see that job and behavior have nothing to do with it. I find this intriguing as a story. Back in the first century people were doing the same thing we still do today. We find ourselves trusting in our job status and morality. You may call it human nature, but Jesus called it sin. If you are trusting in your righteousness you are not worshiping God. The shock in this story sneaks past our defenses and self-righteousness and confronts us with the brutal truth.

We can dress well, say the right things, and show up to church every time the doors are opened, but none of these things will save us. If you trust in those things, you will find that the sin of arrogance and pride are quick to follow. The Pharisee is doing all the right things in life. He is somewhat generous, he is moral from an outside standpoint, he fasted twice a week, and gave the tithe. He was dedicated to His religious life. You would see him and think he is good and that God is with him. However, Jesus’ story has the Pharisees praying a prideful prayer. He trusted in all of those things to justify himself before God. While actions are important Jesus is saying that our ‘good works’ must come from a humble heart. We are justified through Christ’s blood as we seek God with humility.

Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector does not even go into the temple. He would not even lift his eyes to God. He knew that he was a sinner and felt the weight of that sin. He felt the weight of shame that sin brings. And yet he was undeterred. He called out to God. It was not a flattering prayer, but it was a heartfelt and passionate prayer. He knew he could do nothing to redeem his state. So he called for the mercy of God. According to Jesus, and the shock of the crowd, God justifies the humble prayer of the tax collector because his heart humbly sought after God.

Bridge it

Now, this story has slipped by our defenses. We are face to face with a raw mirror image of our spiritual state. Maybe we see the Pharisee looking back at us. We know we must respond by crying for God’s mercy. When I see the Pharisee looking back at me, I become the tax collector calling for God’s mercy and forgiveness. If you see the tax collector staring back, what do you do? You do just what the tax collector did. Call to God for mercy. God seeks the heart that is humble before Him. Trusting in Him alone for grace, mercy, and hope. Stare into the mirror of scripture through this story today and have a humble heart. God seeks such people.

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All Christian History

Christmas Thinking

Writer: Rachel Kidd

Who do we serve and why?

Luke, an accurate historian and scholar, provides us with the manifesto of the messiah in his gospel. Luke reports the life and ministry of Jesus to us, demonstrating how Jesus proclaimed, proved, and applied His manifesto.

Like the manifestos of other world leaders, it is intended to be a guide to life, a lens of divine providence through which to view the world. We are meant to ask God, what will you have me to do? Viewing Luke through this lens, understanding it as a report of Jesus’ manifesto, helps us understand Him better.

Do Your Christmas Thinking Early

You’ve probably heard the old adage, ‘do your Christmas shopping early,’ but what would happen if instead, we did our Christmas thinking early? As I write this in January with the very last of the Christmas decorations still lingering around the house, I think about how sad I usually am this time of year. With the holiday celebrations and gatherings over, I tend to feel let down in the gloom of winter. And yet, the book of Luke reminds me that Christmas is not just a season, it’s a message that rings true all year round.

According to Luke, when God intersected human history and became a man, He invited certain people to participate in His great miracle. Luke gives us a detailed look at the birth of Christ in an extensive 132 verses that can be divided into six paragraphs. This tells us how important the story is, how crucial every detail is to the message of the Gospel. The first paragraph tells the story of the Birth of John the Baptist, the last of the messianic prophets. He pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ and baptized Him in God’s will.

John’s birth was a precursor miracle, if you will, of the virgin birth of Jesus. Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were elderly and unable to conceive. The angel Gabriel tells the priest Zacharias that his wife will bear the last messianic prophet and herald in the birth of Jesus. Zacharias is dubious, unable to believe the angel’s prophecy. In turn because of his unbelief, Gabriel strikes Zacharias mute until the birth of his son. This priest has a great vision for God’s people, and yet is unable to share it aloud. How difficult must it have been for Zacharias, to be given this great message but unable to share it with others? I can imagine it was an incredible burden to carry for him over those nine months, likely a deep shame he felt in his unbelief. How can we learn from Zacharias?

The angel Gabriel then appears to a young, virgin peasant girl, Mary. He tells her this same good news, that God is going to become man and that she is highly favored among women. He tells her that God has chosen her to bear the child and be the mother of God. Mary is confused and disturbed, she is unsure what the angel could mean. She asks the angel, “how could this be? I am a virgin.” Here we see a distinction, between sincere questioning and even doubt and a lack of faith or unbelief. Mary is not punished for her questions, rather she is reassured by the miracle of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist. The baby in Elizabeth immediately recognizes Mary as the mother of God, leaping in the womb with joy. We see Mary opposite of Zacharias as someone who faithfully and dutifully believes in God’s call on her life. How can we respond like Mary to God’s calling, no matter how impossible it might seem? We also see that God encourages our sincere questions, wanting us to wonder and be curious. He doesn’t seem to expect a blind allegiance, rather a secure foundation of faith anchored in reassurance.

The next event in Luke details the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, giving us precise historical details. He tells us that Cesar Agustus issued a decree for a national census when Corinueus was governor of Syria. The records tell us that while the Roman emperor at the time Corineus was governor was a man named Octavious, he was given a name that signified divinity; Augor or Augustus. This tells that Luke is incredibly accurate and his history can be verified. Because of this census and based on Old Testament prophecy, Mary and her fiance Joseph are required to travel to their ancestral home of Bethlehem.

And on the night that Jesus was born, God sent angels to tell shepherds to go see the newborn King. All of these people experienced the miracle of the greatest event in human history. The miracle of Christmas is that God became man so that He could bring salvation to mankind.

Why the Shepherds?

There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” —Luke 2:8-11

We see here that the message of the Christ is not just for one tax bracket, race, color, or nationality. The Good News is for everyone, for the entire world. The shepherds, low of status as they were, are the first to hear of the birth of Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. Jesus wasn’t born in a palace, instead He was born in a stable and placed in a feed trough. Everyone who was brought into the story of Jesus was told for a reason, and informed for a specific, divine purpose. So, why the shepherds? Because they stopped and told everyone they possibly could. We can only imagine how fast and far the news from the shepherds traveled.

The hope of the Christmas story is knowing that God became man. The Old and New Testaments tell us that Jesus will physically intersect human history again in the miracle of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Just as the first Christmas was the only hope we have for salvation, His Second Coming is the blessed hope of the Church and the only hope of the world. We must follow the example of the shepherds with sincere belief and faith, telling everyone this Good News before we see it for ourselves.

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Categories
Christian History Church Development

Fulfillment of Jesus’ manifesto

Author: Rachel Kidd

Just like Matthew tells us, Luke emphasizes that Jesus was a man on a mission. Jesus came to bring a message of good news to spiritually poor people, the blind, bound, broken-hearted and bruised people. He says that His message will make the blind see, set the bound free, and heal the broken.

Luke is purposeful in the way in which he presents the message of Christ, making a clear argument for the gospel. Jesus proclaims this message in Luke chapter 4, proves it in chapter 5, and practices it throughout the rest of the book of Luke.

Jesus continually extends an invitation to us to become a part of His manifesto, a participant in His mission. In a broken world, we are always interacting with the spiritually blind and bound.

Today, the same Christ that walked the earth is within us. As the body of Christ, the church has the responsibility to fulfill Jesus’ mission on earth.

We are called to walk with the broken and sick, to share with them the Good News of the Gospel, or to fulfill Jesus’ manifesto.

Building Bonds

Throughout Luke, we see Jesus reaching out to the spiritually broken over and over again. We witness the bonds He builds with fishermen, sinners, and tax collectors.

Simon Peter was an ordinary fisherman from Nazareth, a working class man a bit rough around the edges. But Jesus called him. He gave him a nick-name Petra or Rocky, meaning stability. Peter was nothing but stable, but Jesus called out this quality in him.

Jesus developed His relationship with Peter, calling him the ‘rock’ and encouraging him for three years. By the book of Acts, Peter became the rock, a cornerstone of the early church.

Jesus exemplified what it means to encourage our friends, calling out good qualities in them and helping them become the best versions of themselves.

When I feel encouraged, I am motivated to improve. Words of affirmation from friends, family, or especially from a person of authority, make me feel valued.

Whatever you call people, they have a tendency of living up to it. It’s what it means to be a good friend, a good leader, and the living embodiment of the body of Christ.

The Miracle of Fish

Early one morning, Jesus is preaching to a crowd of people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Despite the crowds, Jesus’ attention is on a fisherman.

This man is discouraged, he spent all night fishing and didn’t catch a single fish. Jesus knows that one day, this man will be a great church leader and preach to thousands, inciting revival on the day of Pentecost.

But on this day, this man can’t even catch fish. How can someone who can’t catch fish become a fisher of men? Jesus saw Peter and who he could become.

With the crowds growing around Him, Jesus has been pushed to the water’s edge and running out of room on dry land. He asks Peter to borrow his boat to use as a pulpit, giving Him more space to preach to the crowds from the water.

Peter, probably reluctantly, agrees to share his boat. Peter continues to wash his fishing nets while Jesus finishes teaching from the boat. Afterwards, Jesus asks Peter to go out fishing with Him once more.

Now Peter had been fishing all night and was already discouraged, having caught nothing. But, he goes with Jesus anyway. Reluctantly casting his nets once again, he says “Teacher, we’ve fished all night and caught nothing.”

Jesus tells Peter to pull the nets in and check again. This time, the nets were overflowing with fish, requiring all hands on deck to pull them in. Both Peter’s and his brother’s boat were full of freshly caught fish, nearly sinking them both.

Peter falls to Jesus’ feet and says “depart from me oh Lord, I’m a sinful man.” Why would Peter respond this way to the miracle Jesus just performed?

Jesus is trying to recruit Peter to join Him on his mission, His manifesto. He is calling Peter to be a partner as they give sight to the blind, healing to the broken, and freedom to the spiritually bound.

He is asking Peter to leave behind his simple fisherman’s life and pursue instead a life dedicated to fishing for men. Peter seems to feel unqualified for this role by Jesus’ side, an uneducated, impulsive sinner with a temper and a foul mouth.

But, Jesus sees something more in Peter. He knows that this man who can’t even catch fish today, can become a great partner in the mission of the Gospel. He also knows that to get there, He must teach Peter a few things.

Fishing Lessons

Jesus teaches Peter and future readers of scripture, a few things about fishing for men as partners in His manifesto.

1. You are not the fisherman, Jesus is. You are not the deliverer, Jesus is.

Without Him in the boat with us, we will return with empty nets.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” –Matthew 19:26

When you try to go fishing for men, or lead someone to Christ, it is an impossible task without the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the evangelist and Jesus is the fisherman.

You cannot catch men alone, but with Jesus, anything is possible.

2. Jesus has control over the boat.

When Jesus gets on Peter’s fishing boat, Peter is no longer in charge. Jesus tells Peter when to cast the nets, when to pull them up, and when to return to shore.

When we accept the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are surrendering control to Jesus. We are giving Him authority over our lives, trusting in His wisdom.

3. Forsake everything to follow Jesus.

Peter was a career fisherman. He had spent his life learning his trade and earning a living. But, when Jesus calls him to leave it to follow Him, he does.

Peter doesn’t bring his hard-earned boat with him, he doesn’t continue to hold on to his former life. He leaves it all behind to become a follower of Jesus, a full-time fisher of men.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”-Matthew 16:24-26

Like Peter, we are called to be partner’s in the fulfillment of Jesus’ manifesto. We are called to follow Him, pursue His word, and lead others to Him through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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All Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible

How to Study the Bible

Author: Jon Slenker

God chose to speak to mankind through the bible. This is why it is referred to as his “word”. It has been said that when you open the word of God, you open the mouth of God. It is important to know how to study the bible not just to know the book, but to know the Author. Learning how to study the bible is an incredible journey filled with excitement, beauty, wisdom, deep love and strong justice. Sometimes it makes perfect sense at the perfect moment, other times you set it down and have more questions about your circumstance than when you started.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Joshua 1:8

God’s people are commanded to study his word (Josh. 1:8). The benefits of studying the bible are profound and eternal. When you study, take it slow, be patient, prayerful and cautious not to jump to conclusions. Learning how to study the bible for yourself gives you freedom to know and relate to God in more personal and practical ways. It also helps to know when someone is mishandling the text’s meaning and purpose. The bible warns us and encourages us to entrust it to those that will remain faithful hearers, students, and doers of it. The challenge remains that many interpret the bible wrongly either intentionally or accidentally. Interpreting God’s Word is an art and science to be practiced with care.

3 Phases of Bible Study

1 Observation

The first phase of bible study is Observation. As you open God’s word, approach it with reverence, humility and a healthy curiosity. Sometimes we study for different purposes. We may study a topic or doctrine, a word, verse, or entire book or letter. A healthy practice for studying the bible is one book at a time. Read the book in its entirety like you would watch a movie. Then start back at the beginning and practice observation, interpretation and application for each chapter. Observation, interpretation and application may be used for a passage containing a few verses or one. Remember the broader context. Don’t miss the forest for the trees. A student of the bible is like a detective attempting to see the big picture by correctly piecing together important data.

Taking your time studying an entire book or letter over weeks or months is helpful  to understand the bible in its entirety. The student should not approach a text simply to gain knowledge, but allow it to affect their heart, mind, soul and to put it into practice. Becoming a good observer is an acquired skill. It is our first line of defense for not misreading the text or making it about ourselves. Observation rightly aligns us and places us in the audience, not on stage.

Questions for Observation

  • Who: Author, audience, characters?
  • What: Events, occasions, theme, topic?
  • When: What was life like, global events that occurred during that time period?
  • Where: Place and culture, weather, distance, geography, topography, market, temple, home?

As you build evidence, record things that stand out to you and are emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unlike, or true to life. During observation, fight the feeling to make meaning of the clues. Note the questions you have, but avoid chasing them at this time. Keep inspecting!

2 Interpretation

The second phase is Interpretation. Now that you have collected your data, it’s time to make sense of it. This can be difficult at times due to language, cultural or communication barriers. Interpretation is important. Across the world, the Church gathers in different denominations solely for the purpose of how we interpret the bible. It is important for you to study the bible to know God and his ways to develop your own convictions and beliefs without needing to solely rely on someone else’s. Knowing how to study the bible as a faithful observer and interpreter reveals to us the pillars and principles that God established. He wants us to be knowledgeable, wise and aware to live an abundant, quiet and peaceful life (John 10:10; 1 Thess. 4:11).

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17

Characteristics of the Bible

Like God, his word is unchanging and eternal (Psalms 119:89). It does not contradict itself or contain errors. It is inspired, meaning it was “breathed out” by God (Psalms 119:105). The bible affirms itself as the holy, inspired word of God (1 Cor. 2:12-13). The bible tells a unified story centered around the primary character, Christ (Rom. 1:1-4). Jesus himself modeled how to interpret the things concerning Christ in all the scriptures beginning with “Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27). Peter would follow his lead preaching at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36). Stephen, mimicked this in Acts 7 when he was martyred for preaching from a christ-centered interpretation of the bible. Paul teaches that the righteousness of God comes through faith and not works, explaining that “the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Rom. 3:21-22). These passages show us that the Old Testament is the foundation of the New Testament and the New Testament assumes and affirms the Old Testament.

Begin your interpretation by establishing the context. Using the information from your observation, determine the author’s intent for writing this book or letter. Ask the following questions to build the original context, meaning and purpose. Answer the questions that relate.

Questions for Interpretation

  • What is the main point or big idea of the book or letter?
  • What is the structure of the book or letter? Are there sections of the book that transcend the chapters? The 5 ‘books’ or sections of Psalms is a good example of this. Chapters 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106 and 107-150 each have a unique tone or theme.
  • How does this text or passage fit into the book as a whole?
  • Does the author talk about this topic elsewhere?
  • What is the occasion?
  • What events are taking place and why is the author including them?
  • Determine a timeline of events as is helpful
  • What is the genre of writing? (Is it historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, an eye witness or secondary account?)
  • What does it say about God’s or man’s nature?
  • How does God relate to, or treat man and vice-versa?
  • How does man relate to, or treat man?
  • Is there a truth being told?
  • Is there a promise to believe?
  • Is there a sin to avoid?
  • Is there a command to obey?
  • Is there a principle to follow?
  • Is there an example to follow?
  • Has the pace of an account sped up or slowed down to emphasize something important?
  • What is being left out?
  • What is clear or unclear?

As you work to put the pieces together, fight the urge to apply it to yourself or others. Determine what the main point of the text is. What does the author want the recipient to know, believe or do? Is there a theme, topic, or belief the author explicitly or implicitly highlights? Christ-centered interpretation does not mean you should turn over every rock and pebble attempting to find some relation to Christ, but it does seek to know how Christ fulfills, relates to or affirms the main point of the text either in his birth, life, ministry, leadership, sacrifice, resurrection, or teachings. Finally, Utilize other sources like dictionaries, concordances, atlases, or commentaries. Let scripture interpret scripture before consulting outside sources.

3 Application

The final phase of studying the bible is Application. This is where we apply the truths and teachings of the passage studied to our own lives. Remember, the interpretation is one but the application is many. Paul tells Timothy to know himself, therefore, we should continue to inspect and know ourselves (1 Tim. 4:16). Our beliefs, traits, tendencies, emotions, weaknesses, inabilities, how we respond or react under mild or extreme stress (Rom. 12:3). We have to know God to follow him and know ourselves to lead ourselves. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Questions for Application

  • In what ways did the original audience apply the truths passed down to them?
  • How might they have applied it in their context?
  • How are we like or unlike them?
  • How should we be like or unlike them?
  • Is there a tendency or trait that the Spirit is bringing to mind?
  • O.S. Acrostic
    • What is God SAYING to me?
    • How should I OBEY?
    • Who should I SHARE this truth with?
  • How should my character, conduct, or conversation be affected by the Word of God?
  • How should this truth affect my:
    • Attitudes – toward God, others, circumstances, myself
    • Knowledge of God
    • Behavior – habits, reactions, positive or negative
    • Relationships – Where do I need to forgive, seek forgiveness, encourage, rebuke, submit, lead?

Application requires a decision and a specific plan of action in order to allow the Holy Spirit to make scriptural principles part of us. It takes around three months for habits to be replaced. Our tendencies are hardwired in us, and God desires behavior that honors ourselves, our people and him. But studying the bible is not just behavior modification or comprehension, it’s about salvation, truth, transformation, and relationship with God and man. Studying the bible should ultimately prepare you for a life of worshiping God and seeking the highest good of others.

Application is “best served” with prayer and meditation. What is God saying to you? Ask him. What does he want you to know, cling to, be warned of or comforted by? Let his word be ointment for healing, iron for sharpening, sweeter than honey, green pastures filled with peace, a rod for discipline and a staff for direction.

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All Can You Trust the Bible? Christian History Studying the Bible

Can You Trust the Bible?

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Is the Bible Reliable?

One of the questions I get asked the most about the Bible concerns some element of its trustworthiness. “Can you trust the Bible?” 

In fact, I was asked to speak at a philosophy conference many years ago, in which my question for the evening was, “Is the Bible Reliable?” In the weeks leading up to the event, I asked the moderator for a few more specifics on what he meant by reliable, qualifying “reliable for what?” He laughed and told me to take it where I felt inclined. 

He was less than pleased when I opened the lecture part of my discussion with a list of things that we could absolutely rely on the Bible to accomplish. For instance, your Bible will hold up one corner of your couch if its leg is broken. It may be a sacrilege, but it will work. I have a friend who once used a bible to defend us against a street gang intent on robbing us. It was efficient. Indeed, a good Bible will even stop most bullets… assuming it’s not a digital one on your smartphone. 

 

What Can’t You Rely on the Bible to Do?

I followed with a list of things that one could NOT rely on the Bible to do. You cannot rely on all of Scripture to be easy to understand or to give up all its secrets to the casual observer. You cannot rely on the Bible to reflect your own cultural or personal sensibilities back to you, or to use all your own categories for understanding the world. Scripture is neither a math text, nor an encyclopedia, nor dictionary, nor a comprehensive history of the world written with modern standards of what does and does not constitute history. It is not a manual on psychology, philosophy, economics, nor is it a textbook on biology, archaeology, linguistics, physics, chemistry, anthropology, or medicine. 

This does not make its literature primitive babble, nor insist that the Bible is utterly useless when discussing these matters, but it does mean that the authors’ orientation to the world, their vocabulary, and categories will not replicate our own. It does mean that the intention of the writers is not to satisfy inquiring minds, but is to impart a specific body of understanding and wisdom to the diligent student. 

 

The Cosmology of Scripture

While we categorize the animal world with mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and the like, it is perfectly acceptable for the inspired writers to present a world organized around different categories, like swims, crawls, or flies. In that case, a whale can be called a great fish, a bat can be classed with birds. My inability to trust Scripture to organize reality as my modern mind does is NOT a testament to its frailty, but to the important distinction between wisdom and knowledge. 

The cosmology of Scripture, for instance—the vision of the structure and nature of the world—has the disadvantage of being almost entirely presented in poetry, making their beliefs about material world forces difficult to discern with precision. For instance, it is plain from the historical texts written in prose—normal talk—that the ancients understood quite well that rain came from clouds and that clouds were made of water, but that does not keep their prophets from recording God’s poetic challenge to Job and his friends saying, “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail…?

Just so, sailors have known for ages that the earth is round, witnessing at sea as the hulls of ships disappeared from view before their sails, exposing the curvature to view. In fact, the Greek mathematician Eratosthenes discovered the circumference of the earth with a stick and a shadow almost three centuries before Jesus walked the shores of the Mediterranean. 

There is a big difference between what the arrogance of modern souls imagine about the ignorance of the past and what the ancients actually knew. We can trust the Scriptures to present to us the divine wisdom of the ages in an ancient husk if we are wise enough to wrestle our way to it. Hubris will sabotage us.

 

Is Scripture a Science Book?

Let’s finish with one more. You cannot rely on Scripture to be a science book. The scientific method was articulated millennia after the writing of even the newest Scriptures. Our particular way of thinking about and talking about the world as scientific-minded readers (however poorly we do at it) will not be reflected back at us. This does not make Scripture untrustworthy or wrong, rather it qualifies the kinds of discussions we can and cannot have with the Biblical text. 

For example: The Creation story of Scripture, which in truth stretches from Genesis 1 through Genesis 11 is not interested in our modern ontological curiosities about the origin of the material world. The Biblical Creation story is more interested in functional ontology than material ontology. Scripture tells us not about the origins of all the stuff, beginning its tale with the material world in place, unformed as it was, but does tell us about the nature of divine order in creation as God takes that material and turns it into a functional world. 

We want to know “when” and “how,” but the author of Genesis wants to talk about “Who,” and “Why,” and “What.” Who made the world? What did He make the world to be? Why did He make the world? How did He make it function? The ultimate question then becomes a wisdom question: How can I function best in the world that Yahweh made and that man has influenced? This is the Bible’s bailiwick. 

 

The Truth of the Bible and Our Holy Creator

The inspired descriptions of creation are made within the bounds of interest for the inspired writer, dealing with the realities of a world drowning in paganism. Therefore, I cannot rely on him to dazzle me with a scientifically definitive answer to questions of “when” and “how,” but I CAN rely on the prophetic writer to tell me the truth about life before the one Holy Creator of all. I can trust him to tell me the truth about the fundamental problem in the world’s systems. I can trust the Bible to speak the truth about the hope that we have for redemption and restoration in the salvation plan of that Holy Creator. 

This does not mean that the inspired writers are ignorant clods on all matters we would regard as scientific. They lived and prospered in their world far better than most of us would if magically transported there. True, we understand many things that they do not. We know how far the moon is from the earth. We know what the bottom of the ocean looks like. We even know the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. But we don’t know many things that they understood intuitively and that they learned by lived experiences so different from our own. 

It reminds me of the punch line in the majestic poem in Job 28, which after detailing all the then-modern accomplishments of man, asks the more meaningful question. We find boasts like those in verses 3 & 4, saying, “Man puts an end to darkness, And to the farthest limit he searches out. The rock in gloom and deep shadow. He sinks a shaft far from habitation, forgotten by the foot” But, the poet turns to the important counter in verses 12 & 13, “But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? “Man does not know its value, Nor is it found in the land of the living.

 

Can You Trust the Bible?

We can put an astronaut on the moon, but living peaceably with our fellow man is often beyond us. We can map the human genome but do not know how to cultivate truth and integrity. We may rightfully boast the former, but it is Scripture that will guide us in the mastery of the latter. 

As we continue to unpack the question, “Can you trust the Bible?” let us escape the simple-minded approaches to Scripture common to modern readers who have not learned to think reasonably or wisely about their own questions and expectations. Instead, let us articulate exactly what we mean (and don’t mean) when we ask, “Can I trust the Bible?” and continue the investigation in coming posts. 

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