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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.

Study our free course Genesis and Exodus here.

Watch this complete lesson here.

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Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

Humility God’s Way

Author: Charles Hegwood

“My how the mighty have fallen,” is a phrase that you may have heard growing up. I often heard it when someone in a high position would fall, be dethroned or get taken down. The phrase often means to convey someone justly being humbled. This phrase has a mocking tone rather than a redemptive one. So, what does scripture say about humility?

Well, scripture says that God ‘humbles the proud.’ You will find themes of mighty kings falling because of their pride. He humbles righteously and for a purpose. He humbles His enemies in justice. He humbles His people to set them on the right path, His path. Today we are going to specifically look at Moses’ story. We will see that God teaches Moses humility by removing Him from a high position and authority so that he realizes that he can do nothing without God’s help.

God Humbles the Proud

When we are first introduced to Moses, it is in a time of struggle. Egypt is killing all the Hebrew boys. Moses, by the grace of God, is found floating in a basket by none other than the Pharaoh’s daughter. He then grew up in the household of Pharaoh and was educated and given authority. At some point in the story Moses recognized that God’s people, his people, were being unjustly treated. He made an attempt at rescuing a Hebrew who was being beaten by an Egyptian.

However, all he managed to do was kill the Egyptian. His arrogance was attempting to rescue God’s people his way. It did not work. The next day, two Hebrews were fighting, upon seeing Moses, they asked him snarkily if he would kill them too. This had to sting a bit. He certainly thought that he would have been seen as a hero and savior. However, they only saw Moses like the other Egyptian overseers. So, Moses fled in fear. The mighty had fallen. It was here that God would begin to work.

The Beginning of Humility

Moses found himself sitting in the wilderness alone and afraid. However, God was with him, even though he didn’t know it yet. His position and authority were gone. So was his pride. He had nothing left to be prideful about. However, being made humble is only the first step of the process. True humility comes from understanding that you can do nothing without God. Moses is not there yet.

For example, a scene unfolded in front of him with shepherds who were chasing away women at a well. Moses the protector sprung into action and chased away the shepherds and made sure the women got water. The story closes with Moses getting married to one of the women and living in the tent of the priest of Midian, his father-in-law.

There is some growth in humility here. Moses, who had previously dwelled in the palace now lived in a tent. He had always found his home in Egypt now he found himself living in a land that was not his. We see this feeling of sojourning in his first son’s name. Moses, no longer the man of position and authority, now helped care for a tent- dwelling people in the wilderness and seemed content.

God’s Presence Brings Humility

Moses had lost his power, position, and home. He had failed to rescue his people and now dwelt in a tent. Then God intervened in Moses’ story. God must intervene in our story as well. God showed himself to Moses in the fire of the burning bush. It is in this setting that God said that He would rescue His people that Moses could not rescue.

At first, Moses must have been relieved God was taking the lead on the rescue plan. Then God told Moses that He would use him to do this rescue. Moses argued with God saying that there was no way he could be the right person. Humility is a process and Moses was walking on the path but had yet to reach the destination. As you read through Moses’ exchange with God in chapter 3 you will see that Moses’ humility doubts God’s sovereignty. This is not godly humility. We will get there though.

Even though Moses had not yet arrived, notice what was happening. He was talking with God. I am always amazed at the grace and patience of God speaking to sinful humans. We see this through scripture. As Moses began to learn humility He began to talk with God. He was learning that without God he could do nothing. This is the result of God drawing near to the humbled heart.

The Journey of Humility

As I said before, humility is a journey we take. Moses learned throughout his life and ministry to be humble and trust in God. That does not mean that Moses did not have moments where he acted in his own strength, he did. That does mean we see a pattern of progression towards godly humility.

One of my favorite accounts of this is in Exodus 33:15. After the disastrous idolatry of the golden calf, God called Israel a ‘stiff-necked people’ and that He would not go with them any farther. Moses pleaded with God that if God did not go with them that he would not lead the people. Why? Moses realized that without God, he could not do it. After this intercession is when God’s presence altered Moses’ face. He had humbled himself rightly before God. He was on the path toward growth in godly humility.

Conclusion

Humility is a journey. Moses learned to be humble. Education is a process that takes time and testing. Learning humility was not something Moses mastered in this life. We will never master it perfectly either. We can learn though. We can see that we do not and cannot do anything without the power of God. Once we have come to the end of ourselves, then we may truly begin the journey to godly humility. A humility that looks to God for every breath and action. A humility that says, “I cannot and will not do this without You God.” Moses learned this over a long life of trials. I hope you will too.

Watch this complete lesson here.

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Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

God’s Grace in the Garden

Author: Charles Hegwood

We enter into one of the most sorrowful yet hopeful stories in all of Scripture. This is the Fall in Genesis 3. Questions are likely swirling through your mind as you recall the details of this tragic chapter. Such as, why did God put that tree in the garden in the first place? Why did God allow the serpent in the garden? Who was the serpent? And so, on it goes. What I want to do is look past the ugliness of this chapter and embrace the impossible grace of God in the face of an all-out rebellion by His special creation who we know as Adam and Eve.

If you grew up in church like I did, I encourage you to let go of all you know for one moment and read this chapter with fresh eyes. If you have vaguely read this chapter at some point in the past. That is okay. I welcome you to read it and take in all that is there. As we begin to dig in, I want to highlight the grace of God that is prominently displayed in this chapter. We rebelled and yet God did not abandon us but embraced us and promised a way to redeem us. Let us now look at those acts of grace and shadows of redemption.

The Setup

First, let us look back at all the good that God had given the man and woman. God gave Adam life and spirit. God breathed into him. God planted a garden and placed the man in it. God gave the man a purpose to fill the earth with worshipers who reflect God Himself. Even in the command to not eat of one tree, God was giving the man the offer of a relationship.

If Adam obeyed, then he was reflecting his love to God. All these good, gracious things were mentioned in the previous chapter. Adam had done nothing to create anything or to warrant the favor of God. Chapter 2 drips with God’s love and grace towards Adam, Eve, and by extension us. So let us not lose the wonderful context that precedes the rebellion. The darkness of the Fall is contrasted by the light of God’s goodness.

The Rebellion

The man and woman rebel against God through the eating of the fruit. Back up just a little bit though. We mistakenly assume eating the fruit was the first sin, but that is rash. Before Eve ate the fruit, she thought, “It looks good to me, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Maybe God is holding back on us. (Paraphrase and added commentary)” The first sin was the thought that maybe she knew what was best for herself; better than God did. That thought sowed the seeds of the act.

Let us back up a little further. Why was the serpent in the garden to begin with? Adam’s responsibility was to take care of the garden as an act of worship to God. If there was a crafty serpent, Adam had the authority from God to remove it. And yet there the serpent was, talking to Eve about the one rule God had given the man. Adam did nothing to stop this. We know by later context, that he was likely right there listening in. He may have even watched Eve pick the fruit. Never did he step in and try to stop it. Adam was not a voice of reason, calling Eve back from the edge of transgression. He did not quell her questioning of God’s goodness. You can see rebellion from every angle.

God’s Grace to the Man and Woman

God could have swooped in after the eating of the fruit and wiped Adam and Eve out. They could have died instantly. God could have come in like an angry father yelling and swinging the belt of justice, but He entered the garden quietly. He asked questions as a father would his disobedient children. This was grace. This was more than they deserved. God calmly spoke to the two people who had just spat in His face with their sins.

God did not mock the covers they had sown to hide their nakedness. The fig leaves did nothing to hide their shame. God one by one, gave them a chance to repent and come clean. Adam blamed God and Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Neither of them took responsibility for their actions. God gracefully gave out judgments. This may seem harsh, but consider what God had the right to do. He would have been just to kill them. The judgments were graceful in their promise of life. Eve would experience pain, but would still give new life through childbirth. Adam’s work would be painful and difficult, but they would live a life.

Then something amazing happened. God promised that these judgments would not always be so. Someone was coming that would end the curse they had brought on the earth. The ‘he’ who would strike the serpent would also be wounded. A battle was coming. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, this image of a coming Redeemer would continue. We know this is fulfilled by Jesus. Even in the ashes of rebellion and judgment, God promised to restore what was broken.

Finally, God did not demand their blood. They did not die, but some animals did. God used animal skins to cover them. This covering was a shadow. The animals died instead of Adam and Eve. The animals’ death covered their nakedness and shame. The shadow here is the promise that someone will die instead of us. We know that is Jesus. He died in our place and His blood covered our sin and rebellion, our shame.

Conclusion

In all these things, the grace of God drips from the pages of the Bible. Far from the angry God, some atheists like to paint in the Old Testament, as this story highlights God’s goodness and grace to sinful people. This grace is only magnified as the story continues into chapter 4.  I invite you to read through the Old Testament and see the grace of God, even in judgment. See the hope in the darkness through the promises found in this chapter. Your eyes will be open to the wonderful truth of God’s love for you.

Categories
Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

Created for God’s Glory

Author: Charles Hegwood

The route was difficult and the path steep. The stairs are worn and rounded showing their age in every crack and discoloration. The traveler painfully continues his journey. At the top of a mountain sits the old man, full of wisdom and knowledge. The traveler has come far to ask his most important questions, about the meaning of life. At least this is the picture in my mind as I think about asking some of life’s deepest questions. It’s also a common trope in stories. At some point in everybody’s life, a person will ask, “Why am I here?” “What is the meaning of life?”

The good news is that you do not have to journey to find some old guru at the top of a mountain. The Bible you hold in your hand every day answers these questions. In Genesis 2, we get to see the creation of man. Captured within this story God reveals the reason and purpose for our lives. We see that people were created by God to represent Him and glorify Him throughout the world.

The Main Character

            When we approach the Bible, we must ask ourselves who is the main character of the story. Hint, it is not you or me. However, so many people read the Bible and interpret it as if they were the main characters and actors. So let us look at the text itself. We see that God is the main character in Genesis 2; and all of Scripture. Just in chapter 2, we see God as active 22 times. The man God created is only active 4 times.

Why is it important that we take time and observe where God is active in the text? The reason is that we must understand who we are in relation to who God is. God created, made, spoke, formed, planted, placed, and commanded as some examples of how God is active in Genesis 2. God is in the driver’s seat. You will never understand life, your purpose, or who you are if you do not have a proper understanding of who God is. Most of the world’s problems go back to a breakdown in the understanding that this life is about God, not us. Therefore, we conclude that the purpose for our lives is to worship and glorify God. This is our creative purpose. You did not form yourself, but God did. We owe everything that we are to God.

God’s Goodness and Grace 

            When you read Genesis 2, I hope you see that God is good. He breathed life into the man He formed. God formed all the other animals, but He only breathed into the man. Our very life is a gift from God, but our spirit is more so. God planted a garden for the man. Understand that man didn’t have to do anything to grow the garden, God made everything grow and supplied the garden with beautiful trees with delicious fruit. God also watered the garden and thus maintained it. The man did not have to find the garden but was placed there by God. This is a love story. God took care of and out of His goodness and grace supplied the man that He gave life and spirit to all these good things.

I know there is often confusion about why God places a forbidden tree in the garden. He gave a command to eat every tree, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Bear with me here, God’s one rule given to the man was not foolish or arbitrary, but an invitation to join God in a relationship. This was entering into a covenant with God. The man’s obedience was a display of his love for God. Our obedience to God in our lives is our act of love to Him. We obey Him because we love Him. This is how we get to thank God for all the good He has done for us.

Created to represent God

             In verse 18 the story shifts. God now has the man begin to name the animals. Why? This was one of the ways that humans were meant to represent God on earth. We already know from chapter one that God created people in His image to fill and subdue the earth. The man is now fulfilling part of this command as he is given agency to name animals. It is easy to miss, but in verse 19 it says, “And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.” This is so amazing. God has given man the responsibility and the authority to name the animals. Thus, the name was so because the man now reflects God’s authority over nature. He has become what we often call a vice-regent of the King.

We also reflect God through communion with other people. Why was it not good for man to be alone? God said it was not good. God determines what is good for us. He did not create us to be solitary creatures, but to be social. And as the story goes, God formed a woman as a helper for the man. Let me give some quick points here. The woman was not a separate creation but shares the same breath of God the man has. The woman therefore has the same vice-regent status and authority to represent God on earth. The man and the woman will also represent God’s creative purpose through the propagation of children.

Conclusion

 As we reflect on Genesis 2, we see that we were created to represent and glorify God. We do this by understanding God as King over our lives. Therefore, we see our lives in relation to God. We reflect on God’s goodness and grace displayed through our creation. Finally, we see that we were created to represent God through working and subduing nature. As you ponder the deep questions surrounding meaning and purpose, consider who God is, what He has done and is doing, and what He has commanded us to do. Our purpose is to glorify and represent God in our world. This is not a small task but a glorious one. Go and glorify and represent God to the people in your lives today.

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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? Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible

The Purpose of the Bible

Author: Jon Slenker

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17

That God would reveal himself to mankind is no mystery! The very act is representative of who he is. His nature, character, personality, virtues and values, mission and vision, is all made known to mankind through the bible. God is a relational God who desires to know and be known. The express purpose of the bible is that we may know God, what he has done for us and how we should live in light of his revelation.

Three Kinds of Revelation

  1. General Revelation: Things that were made by God, like the galaxies, sun, sky, trees, and living things, are all ways that God has revealed himself and his handiwork. No one is without this evidence or knowledge of God. Refer to Psalm 19:1-6, Romans 1:18-25 for further study.
  2. Special Revelation: God interacting in special ways with his creation, include speaking audibly to man, revealing himself and his power through the Flood, a burning bush, a pillar of cloud and fire, the parting of the Red Sea, handwriting on stone tablets and palace walls, his written word the Bible, Jesus, his Spirit, miracles, dreams, and visions. Refer to Exodus 32:16, Psalm 19:7-13, Hebrews 1:1-3, Luke 1, John 1:1-14, Acts 2:1-4, Romans 1:16-17, 10:9-10.
  3. Progressive Revelation: The teaching that God has continually revealed more and more of his character, will and mission over time. Refer to Psalm 78:1-4, John 16:12-14 and Galatians 1:11-12. 

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 3:12

How to Know God

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”
Isaiah 46:9b–10

There is only one God (Deut 32:39; Isa 45:5-7; 46:9) and “the most fundamental need of humanity is to know God, and to know Him with ever-increasing clarity and intensity.[1]’” More than anything, the bible reveals God’s character, purposes and principles. It has been said “when you open the word of God, you are opening the mouth of God.” God uses the bible to speak to you and me so that we may know him, trust him and live out our identity and calling as faithful worshipers.

“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
Ps. 100:5

Identity, Character and Attributes of God

The bible reveals God’s character by how he relates with and rules sovereignly over his creation. In the bible, God self-identifies as and is called: Creator, the I AM, Abba Father, the Ancient of Days, the Living God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Lord of Hosts, Alpha and Omega, the God of Knowledge, God Most High, Mighty God, the Anointed One, the Word, the Lord Who Provides, the Lord Who Saves, Our Dwelling Place and more!

As we read the Scriptures observing how God interacts with his creation, we find that God’s character is upright and just. He does not lie, he does not change, does not do evil, is relentless for his people, is all powerful, all knowing, full of grace, truth, mercy and love. He is the light of men, holy, hallowed, a helper, and unique. He is the one true God.

“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
Psalm 90:2

To Know God’s Will and Mission

One of God’s purposes in giving us his Holy Scriptures is to follow his will, not simply discover it. We read in 1 Timothy 2:2-3 to pray for all people, kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. Paul continues, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

God has already revealed his will to us through the bible. If there is any discovering for us to do surrounding his will, it is to know God’s character, attributes and personality with greater wisdom and affection than before. God’s will is clear, to be a righteous ruler, on mission to seek and save that which is lost and marred by evil, sin and death. Since creation, God’s will has been to establish a people for himself and to reign as a benevolent and just Father, Counselor, and King. We do not need to seek out God’s will for our lives, it is not hidden from us or kept in secret to be found out later to see. God’s will was established from the beginning and he has already revealed it to us in his word!

If you want to know the will of God, devote yourself to his word and discern the times. Author, J. Grant Howard, Jr. writes that “God doesn’t want confused, bewildered, frustrated Christians wandering around anxiously searching for His will. He wants people who are walking confidently and peacefully in His will.”

Our God, the God of the universe, is a missionary God. Since Genesis 3 and the Fall he has relentlessly pursued to the point of sacrifice for the salvation of his children from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev. 7:9-10). Jesus entered humanity, put on flesh, forgave sin, granted new life, gave confidence to the broken-hearted and destitute, humbled the proud and corrected poor theology and practice. He laid the foundation for the establishment, the Church, and sits as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:19-21). He began and ended his three year ministry with a focus on character as we live out, preach and disciple others on the good news that Christ has come and revealed himself and his salvation to mankind!

To Know Ourselves and Our Purpose

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–”
John 1:12

Identity and Calling

Another overarching purpose of the bible is to know our own identity and calling in relation to God. We were made to worship and obey. We were created for a spectacular purpose. Therefore, we must know who God is in order to truly know ourselves. We find our meaning, hope and peace in our identity in Christ. The bible is God’s way of telling us who we are and how to live out our days as “Children of God” (1 John 3:1), “ambassadors” of his Kingdom (2 Cor. 5:20), a “holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), and “pilgrims”, in a world that is not our home (Hebrews 13:14-16).

The bible reveals our purpose, tells us how to live, grounds us in our physical and spiritual lineage and heritage, and gives us historical context for our lives and the times we now live. It teaches us about the past, present and future.

Every believer can be sure of their identity as adopted children of God, called to worship, obey, love others and make disciples. God gave us his word, so that we might know how to act  and behave in ways that honor him and others as we join him on his mission (Matthew 5; John 13:35). The author of Hebrews tells us an incredible purpose of the bible in chapter 4, verse 12 stating, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” It seems at times when we read the bible, it is moreover reading us.

The Great Commission passages in Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:14–18, Luke 24:44–49, John 20:19-23, and Acts 1:4–8 lay out our calling and responsibility as God’s ambassadors and Church. We are to preach the gospel, baptize, teach to obey, gather in community for the breaking of bread, worship, pray, make disciples and give of our time, talent, treasure and table as others have need (Acts 2:32-36).

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Ephesians 5:1-2


[1] Merida,  Faithful Preaching, 2009

Categories
All Studying the Bible

Our Guide on How to Study the Bible

Author: Charles Hegwood, M.Div., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

How to Study the Bible

So, you have decided to start studying the Bible? Or perhaps you are a seasoned pro looking to further sharpen your skills? For whatever reason at all, you have decided to read God’s Word, reading is the first and most important step. This brings up the question, “How do I study the Bible?” Well, you have maybe heard of the S.W.O.R.D method, FA.I.T.H., R.E.A.P., H.E.A.R., and on and on they go. There are enough Bible study methods out there to make your head spin. So many options can leave us paralyzed. Yes, that’s right. Too many options can leave you spending more time trying to figure out which method to use than reading the Bible itself. What I want to do is to boil these methods down to their core and get back to the reason we have made so many of these methods, to begin with; actually reading the Bible. When we read Scripture we want to hit these three areas: observation, interpretation, and application. Let’s take a look at each one of these components of reading the Bible while looking at Joshua 3.

 

Observation

So recently I taught a lesson on Joshua 3. I want to use this passage as our example as we look at how to study the Bible. When I begin the observation stage I first look at what genre of Scripture I am reading. Noting the genre will help in correct interpretation and application. Some books of the Bible have different genres within them. Joshua 3 is a narrative. Now that I have noted the genre I want to read through the chapter. Then I want to read it again slowly. Why? Well, there are no points for speed reading Scripture. In fact, if we read fast there is a danger of missing key details hidden within the passage. Since this particular passage is narrative, we may want to ask some questions like, “who is talking?” We see that in Joshua 3 God is talking with Joshua and Joshua then talks to Israel.

Now as we read through the passage slowly, we want to note details. First, observe the big details. What is the context? Well, here it is Israel about to cross into the promised land. They had been rebellious in the past and now are in a change in leadership and geographical location. You also want to notice little details such as Joshua 3:15 where we will get some detail on what the Jordan River does in harvest season. Spoilers, it overflows its banks. This detail is not trivial to the story. Sometimes I make mental notes of these details and sometimes I write them down.

We want to ask questions about the text as well. This may seem counterintuitive to some, but it is okay to ask questions when reading the Bible. One of the questions that I had was: ‘why does Joshua note the detail of the Jordan River’s seasonal overflowing?’ This seems to be a trivial detail but it actually will help us build our interpretation. Ask questions about what, how, and why things are in the text. Why does God ask the priest in Joshua 3 to step into the water before it parts? Note any words you do not understand. It may help to look at another translation or a dictionary. Like the word “consecrate” for example. It is not a word we use much in everyday life.  Ask questions even if you know the answer again because it helps us to get to the overall meaning of the text.

Before we move on to interpretation, let us have a word about words. One thing I do when I observe a text is take note of the words used. For example, when you see ‘so that’ this phrase is a purpose clause. Conjunctions tell us there is a change in the story or pros. I personally like to underline or highlight these words in my Bible. That way next time I read a passage I can observe quicker the textual details, words, and phrases. Before moving on from words, observe repeated words or phrases. Words are repeated for a reason. Observing word usage as well as all that was mentioned above will help us in the next section, interpretation.

 

Interpretation

Following observations made in Joshua chapter 3, we now want to begin to interpret these observations. Israel is in a time of transition of leadership (Moses to Joshua) and geography (wilderness to promised land). They are scared, they have sinned. So Joshua tells them to “consecrate themselves” or make themselves holy before God. God tells Joshua to tell the priest to step into the river holding the ark of the covenant and then the waters will part. We observe that it may require some faith to step into the water. And we must observe that the ark of the covenant represented God’s presence for the people of Israel. Interpretation is connecting the dots. God is calling the people of Israel to faith. After all, remember the Jordan river is overflowing its banks at this time in the story. This is a tactical nightmare. And yet that is the point. Joshua will not lead Israel across the river on his intuition of tactical genius, but instead completely reliant on God’s power to do what God has asked.

Now we have locked in on the theme of faith we may interpret that God is calling His people to have faith in Him to do what He has called them to do. The previous sentence is the main idea by the way. But it is not blind faith, instead faith that is preceded by God’s presence. See how I took all of the observations and plugged them in to find the theme and then the interpretation of a seemingly odd, unimportant story becomes knowable and important to the life of Israel and to our lives today. But we are not yet done. We must now work to apply the interpretation to our lives.

 

Application

This step is perhaps the most difficult. It is easy to be too generic here. Such as Joshua 3, have faith in God, the end. But that is not really application. In your personal study, this is the part that might take you hours to suss out. Yes, that is right. It is a process. Just like we did not want to rush observation, we do not want to rush the application. I personally will read, observe, interpret and then pray. I meditate on the text as I go about my day. This allows God to let His word seep into my soul. Take your time.

Write out big applications; for example, Joshua 3, “have faith in God to do his will.” And ask specifics like, “where is my faith lacking in God in certain areas of my life.” But wait, there’s more. Then ask, “Where am I seeing God’s presence in my life right now. And how is do I see His presence in that area.” Application is personal and can change as your life changes around you. For example, God is leading my family and I into a new place and ministry. There are a lot of fears. And fear can lead to disobedience. God has called my family to trust in Him to do what He has led us to do. God has promised to go before me. I have the works of Christ behind me and all around me. God is calling me to trust in light of who He is. I must step forward into these next steps trusting He will carry me and my family through. See now that is personal. I could go on but time and space will not allow it, but you can see how it is personal and my next step in application is to make specific steps and things to do. Application is a process that takes time and prayer.

Just make sure that your applications are always tied to the main idea and interpretation of the text. If your application seems untethered from the passage then you need to go back and repeat the above steps.

Let me end with this: We observe the text so that we may better interpret the text. Once we have observed and interpreted we must now apply it to our lives. There are different levels of application. You saw that above. We whittle the broad application down over time and through thinking on what we have read. Reading the Bible is not easy, but it is always worth it and rewarding. Take your time, saturate every moment in prayer, and think about what you have observed, interpreted, and applied throughout the day. After all, it is not a to-do list item but a time of communion with the King of all Creation. He promises to meet us in His Word and through prayer. Go and read and find yourself in the presence of the King.

 

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.

Categories
All Studying the Bible

Does it Matter What Bible Translation I Read?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

There are over 100 different English translations1 of the Bible. That’s a daunting number if you think about it. That’s 100 different options to choose from – 100 different versions that one group or another thought was so necessary that they would spend years of arduous work producing. So, when you pull out your personal copy of Scripture, why do you have that version and not another. More importantly, why do you have that version, and does it matter that you read that one and not another.

Today’s blog will look into some of these issues and hopefully give you some confidence in your own selection. Let’s begin by talking about why there are so many translations, to begin with. Translations typically fall into one of three categories:

  1. Word-for-Word Translations
  2. Meaning-for-Meaning Translations
  3. Paraphrases

Before you decide what Bible translation to read, you should decide which of these categories will be most helpful to you and your personal study. Each has its own pros and cons.

 

Types of Translations

Word-for-Word

Word-for-Word translations seek to translate the original language into English as accurately as possible. They give great attention to grammar and word choice, ensuring that the English you read is as close as possible to the original words.

Pros: Word-for-Word translations are excellent for deep, intentional study, especially when it comes to word studies, grammatical context, and so on.

Cons: These translations can be difficult to read and understand. They can sometimes obscure the meaning of the text when a word or phrase is translated too literally.

Examples: NASB, ESV

Meaning-for-Meaning

Meaning-for-Meaning translations attempt to deliver in English the meaning of the original text as accurately as possible. In these translations, the words themselves and the grammar are not as important as the meaning.

Pros: These translations can be easier to read than Word-for-Word translations. They can also make the meaning of a passage clear when a more complex translation might make the meaning difficult to grasp.

Cons: The quality of the translation depends far more on the translation team and their understanding of Scripture. When you read one of these, you are reading someone’s interpretation of the meaning of a passage, which may or may not be accurate to the passage itself.

Examples: NIV

Paraphrase Bibles

Paraphrase Bibles are not true translations as they typically seek to restate the message of Scripture in unique ways. The Living Bible, for instance, uses the ‘in other words’ method of paraphrasing and worked from the American Standard Version from 1901 rather than from the original languages. The goal of a paraphrase is to make the message of scripture easier to understand.

Pros: A Paraphrase Bible is very easy to read. It can be considered a commentary on Scripture, which can be helpful for understanding the meaning of a difficult passage in the same way as reading a Bible commentary.

Cons: A Paraphrase is not Scripture and is not typically a translation; it is one person’s (or a group’s) comments on the meaning of Scripture. A Paraphrase should not be read in place of the Bible. It is tempting to read a Paraphrase because it is easy to read, but it should only be read alongside Scripture. A great way to use a Paraphrase is to read the Bible, then read the same passage in a Paraphrase (the same method for studying Scripture with a Bible Commentary).

Examples: The Living Bible, The Message

As you look over all the translations available on the bookstore shelf, you will find that the vast majority of them fall somewhere between Word-for-Word and Meaning-for-Meaning. There is a spectrum, or sliding scale, between the two.

 

Does It Matter?

To answer the question, “Does it matter what Bible translation I read?” – yes, it does matter. You will get a different experience with each version. But at the same time, nearly every major translation available today is excellent. If you are reading the NASB, ESV, NIV, NKJV, or many similar translations, you can have full confidence in what you are reading. In fact, there are benefits to reading multiple translations – doing so can help to highlight things you may not have noticed while reading just one version.

On the other hand, there are certainly translations that you should avoid. Many of the lesser used translations are created by groups that, for various reasons, insert a theological slant into the text. The New World Translation, for example, was created for Jehova’s Witness churches. It makes changes to several key passages that identify Christ as God. Others, such as the Queen James Bible,2 are explicitly designed to promote a certain interpretation.

Any Bible version that claims to represent a specific group, identity, culture, or even denomination should be avoided, while most versions that attempt to accurately represent the original text (regardless of the translator’s personal preferences) will make a fine choice.

In conclusion; yes, it matters what translation you read, but as long as you are reading one of the major translations you should have confidence.

 

1Depending on how you count them, you may come up with nearly 1000 if you count all versions of English translations since the year 1526. If you count only those translations you might find in a bookstore, the number is closer to 60. If you count all English translations in use somewhere in the world today, it’s close to 100.
2The editors of the Queen James Bible state in regard to the eight most notable verses that condemn homosexuality: “We edited those eight verses in a way that makes homophobic interpretations impossible.”

Categories
All Prayer Studying the Bible

Reading the Bible Better: The Importance of Prayer

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

The Bible can be a bit intimidating. It’s huge, it’s ancient, and it’s inspired by the eternal God who made everything. How can we possibly understand it? Well, it is one of the great miracles of history that God has communicated His Word to us in a way that even children can get it. And He has made us a part of His Church, so we are not alone in the effort. So, let’s spend some time trying to understand how we can study Holy Scripture so that we might not only understand it, but be changed by it.

What makes the Bible so intimidating is also what makes it so approachable: it comes from God. This guarantees two things that we should always keep in mind: first, that it is inexhaustibly rich and full of meaning beyond anything we will ever know; but second, that God Himself desires to communicate to us in specific ways—ways we can understand and respond to. This means that, no matter who you are or how intelligent you may be, you will benefit from your study of Scripture, even if you study the same verses every day for the rest of your life. 

Now, if God desires for us to read and study His Word, we must come to it with certain expectations and follow certain rules in order to get the most out of our study. The first and most important rule is described in 1 Corinthians 2:14, where Paul tells us that “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” If we rely solely on our own, natural wisdom to understand God’s Word, which was breathed out by His Spirit according to 2 Timothy 3:16, it will seem to us a very foolish thing. We who are in Christ study Scripture in order to pursue God and deepen our relationship to Him. Therefore, we must rely on His Spirit, active in us, to fully comprehend and engage with His Word.

All of this is to say that, even before you read your Bible, begin your study with prayer. Ask the Spirit of God to do for you exactly what Jesus promised that He would do. Jesus tells us in John 14:26 that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” So, before you sit down to read Scripture, pray and ask God to teach you. Ask Him to help you understand what you read, to see new things that you’ve never seen before, and to understand and obey God as a result of what you read. 

Now, let’s take this understanding and apply it to an effective Bible Study method—inductive Bible Study.

Step 1: Observe the Text

The first step in a good inductive Bible study method is to observe the text. This means that you simply read the passage of Scripture, sometimes more than once, and make note of everything that stands out to you. Make note of what the passage tells you about God—who He is and what He wants. Make note of what it tells you about humanity—who we are, both as children of God and as sinful creatures. Finally, make note of any commands you see in the passage—how we are to respond to God. 

So far, this can all be done easily according to human wisdom, and it doesn’t require a relationship with God to do it. To transform your reading time from a book study to a devotional time of worship, take your observations and pray them back to God. Say anything that you find amazing or praiseworthy about Him. Remember, God loves to hear His own words spoken back to Him in praise and thanksgiving, so pray Scripture back to God. Then, tell God what you see about humanity, and about yourself, in the passage. You may see your own sin and shortcomings in the passage, so take time to confess. And finally, respond to any commands you see, telling God how you will obey, or confessing the difficulty you have with the command. 

When you respond to Scripture in this way, you are engaging with the God who is there; the very real and present God who indwells you by His Spirit if you are a believer, and who is the author of the words you are reading. You are no longer merely reading words printed on paper, you are conversing with your Creator who loves you and wants you to know Him. The next two steps fall in line with this:

Step 2: Interpret the Text 

After you have observed what is in the text, you can interpret its meaning. Sometimes the meaning will be clear, but there is often meaning beyond the surface. Other times you may have no clue what it means. Here, especially, prayer is needed. Ask God to help you understand His Word by His Spirit. God will certainly respond to the humble prayer, as James 1:5 says, “but if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” 

You will not likely experience an immediate flash of understanding. This will involve learning from others in your church community. It may be a long process of reading the Bible, wrestling with its content, and asking for clarity from people you can trust, but the Spirit of God will teach you according to His Word. The goal is not mere understanding. The Word is meant to change us, and that is why we also need step 3:

Step 3: Apply the Text 

Finally, you should look to apply what you have learned from Scripture and heard from God. If there were any direct commands in the passage you studied, this part is easy because it will be quite clear what you need to do. If your observation did not reveal an obvious application, ask God how He would like you to respond to what you’ve read. In either case, you can tell God how you want to obey His Word, what steps you will take, and that you need His help in doing so. And in every case, obedience means sharing what you have learned with others. 

Now, if you approach Scripture in this way, you will begin to see your Bible study time as a divine appointment; a meeting with Almighty God. Rather than sitting down with a boring, confusing book that you know you’re supposed to read, you can see that reading the Bible is like sitting down for a rich and engaging conversation with a friend who loves you, and a teacher who cares for you. This kind of study does not just inform you; it changes you.