What God Gives Generously

At no time of year is God’s generosity more evident than Christmas and the New Year. He gave His Son, an event we’ve commemorated for over 2000 years now, and He has just given us another year of life and blessings. It is fitting, therefore, to also consider some of God’s other generously-given gifts as we close out this year of focus on generosity. (Conclusion coming next week.)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  –James 1:17 Continue reading

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It’s Okay If You Don’t Understand

It’s the night before Jesus will be crucified. He provides a place for the Passover meal. He washes the disciples’ feet. He points out the one who will betray Him. He challenges the one who will deny Him (John 13).

Then He starts talking. In my Bible, the next four chapters (John 14-17) are almost all red print. This is Jesus’ conclusion to the sermon His life has preached for the last three years. Continue reading

Obedience is Not My Goal

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time had a particular way of doing almost everything. They had taken the Old Testament laws and dissected them, working out the best methods and restrictions to ensure they obeyed those laws. Their work led to piles and piles of instructions, details, stipulations, and exceptions. They even had a formula for getting dressed in the morning. If, in your morning ministrations, you skipped one of the prayers or started with the wrong foot, you had to go back and start over. There’s a mindfulness to such deliberateness, but it would have been exhausting—always worrying about prescriptive rules and working to remember every. single. thing. Continue reading

5 Ways God Speaks Through His Word

The prospect of opening your Bible to “hear from the Lord” may be daunting. Or frustrating. Or just a little too mystical for your 21st-century mind. If you’re not used to reading anything (including the Bible) for the purpose of life change, you may wonder how this works. How does God use the Bible to communicate with believers?

Well, let me demystify it for you.

  • There are no audible voices.
  • There are no typographical changes depending on my current situation.
  • There is no verse in which I read, “You, sitting there reading this, go and…”

Instead, the histories, narratives, poems, and letters of advice in the Bible lay down a consistent standard of living. From that, the Holy Spirit guides us to personal changes in habit, thought, words, etc. Here are a few of the ways that might work.

Example

The Holy Spirit highlights certain
aspects of a story in a way that’s
meaningful for each reader.

A certain person in the Bible behaved in a certain way, and as I read about him or her, I realize that I should act similarly…or, like that person, I should choose not to act in a certain way. This “act” might be as simple as a change in perspective that no one will even notice, or it may be something major. Don’t expect everyone who reads the same story to come to the same personal application here. (This means “what God wants me to do about what I’ve read.” It doesn’t mean, “what the Bible says here.”) The Holy Spirit highlights certain aspects of a character or situation in a way that’s meaningful for each reader. This is why we can return to the same stories over and over yet discover fresh Truth every time!

For example, when David pours out his heart to the Lord in confession (Psalm 51), we have a model for real contrition, and we are called to similar sorrow over our own sins. In a more specific example, some people have read Isaiah’s “Here am I. Send me,” (Isaiah 6:8) and understood God to be calling them to serve overseas.

Encouragement

Sometimes, the Biblical author urges his audience toward something. This happens often in the epistles (that’s the letters in the New Testament). Most of the time, that urging applies to us in a general way as well. It’s not that we’re doing something wrong, just that we could do it better. We may also read the Scriptures and realize we’re doing well in a certain area. (There’s always room for improvement, but you know what I mean.)

For example, Paul instructs Christian women to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9). While the details will certainly differ from first-century clothing standards, the encouragement to live in this way applies to Christian women throughout history and up to the present day. At times, we may test our present-day habits against this sort of encouragement and come away confident that our modesty fits the standards given in the Bible.

Conviction

Sometimes we read the Bible, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and realize we have sin in our lives, either active sins or negative (not doing something) sins. But if we’re not open to the Holy Spirit’s prompting as we read, we’ll skim over this parallel.

The conviction may be explicit, as in “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25) when we are prone to worry. It may instead be implicit; at a time when we haven’t been generous with our time or possessions, we may be convicted by this: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45) .

Principle

Look for big picture ideas
and small details as you read
God’s Word.

As we continue in Bible reading, we begin to see “big picture” ideas—the principles of Scripture that inhabit full stories, books, or testaments. The theme of a passage may lead us to fresh understanding. The consistency of a person over time—or God Himself—may reveal something new.

For example, the gospel writers describe many of Jesus’ interactions with oppressed people such as women, tax collectors, and children. Invariably, He is kind and respectful. That principle informs my own attitude toward oppressed people today such as immigrants and the differently-abled.

Connection

God creates us with interests and personal values that are different from other people’s. As we read the Bible, we discover those unique traits described in the text. What a joy to find this thing that is important to me and see how God cares about it too!

As a simple example, perhaps your heart burns for social justice in our modern culture. The Old Testament prophets felt the same way, which means God felt the same way. Amos said,

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.

Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph. -Amos 5:12b, 15

I hope it’s clear to you that the guiding principle of Bible reading for life change is the Holy Spirit’s interaction. The Spirit of God guides us through the Word of God to know the heart and mind of God. As Paul said,

For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. -1 Corinthians 2:11

When we open our Bibles with a willing heart, the Spirit will show us more of God and more of our ourselves. This is the truest and best way to “hear” God and know Him better.

5 ways God “speaks” to us through His Word. (click to tweet)

These are only a few of the ways God “speaks” to us through the Bible. In what other ways has the Spirit of God used the Word of God to transform your life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Maybe I’ll write a follow-up piece!

 

 

 

 

The Cast of Christmas: Simeon

The days after Christmas are some of my favorite days in the year. If the weeks leading up to Christmas are a continual intake of air, culminating in an explosion of wrapping paper, cookies, and candle-lit Silent Nights, the days after Christmas are a long, slow exhale filled with reflection on the closing year and anticipation of the year to come. Maybe that’s why I like to ruminate on Simeon and Anna (although she’s not in this post), those ancient players in the closing scene of our Christmas tableau.

Luke 2:22-35.

Identifying with I AM

We know so little about Simeon. We don’t know what tribe he claimed, what sort of family he had, or how old he was. But what we do know is the most important thing about him. He was righteous and devout. His identity (at least from this distance) is wrapped up in his relationship with God.

Story Break: What is the first thing people say about you? I pray that people say of me, “She loves Jesus” before they say anything about my career, my family, or my status in society.

Living with Expectancy

Simeon’s faithfulness over the years had created an enviable intimacy with God. Here we are, thirty-three years before Jesus sends the Comforter (a.k.a. the Holy Spirit; John 14:16-17, 26), and Luke says the Holy Spirit was already on Simeon. That means he operated in God’s will on a daily basis as he heard from the Holy Spirit and obeyed. As a result (and maybe as a reward), God promised him that he would see the Messiah before he died. In faith, Simeon believed the Lord before it ever happened and, like Abraham, God credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

Mary wasn’t the only expectant one
in the Christmas story.

When Simeon got the impression that he should go to the temple that particular day (2:27), he knew something was going on. Perhaps it wasn’t the first time God had called him there. Perhaps on other days he had ministered to the needy, counseled the hurting, or just spent the day in worship. Regardless, he knew there was a purpose in the calling, and he entered with expectancy.

Story Break: I used to think such a relationship with God/the Holy Spirit was a New Testament thing, some remarkable outpouring of the Spirit meant for that time. As I’ve grown in understanding how God works in the world, however, I have personally experienced that kind of leading…that urge to go to a certain place or speak to a certain person. It’s not mysticism or mental instability. It’s a clear impulse of the Holy Spirit that’s distinguishable from your own good ideas. There’s no “ought to” guilt or “have to” compulsion, just an impression or an implanted knowledge which results in obedience. When that happens (which is not as often as I would like), I automatically start looking around for what God is doing in that place or with that person. The prayer is, “Okay God, you brought me here. What now?” I expect something to happen because God is clearly at work.

Proof of the Promise

When Simeon saw the Baby Jesus, the Holy Spirit worked in his heart so that he recognized Jesus as the Messiah. In Him, Simeon held proof of the long-ago promise: the personal promise to him that he would see the Messiah before he died, and the universal promise that all nations will be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 12:1-2).

Simeon’s statement of praise gives us further evidence of this. He was expectant on a universal, for-all-time scale, saying, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel (2:32). He was also expectant on a personal, daily scale; my eyes have seen your salvation (2:30).

As a Christ-follower repeatedly obeys, he or she comes to see more and more of God’s plan unfolded on both scales, and that person begins to expect to see God working.

Obedience generates expectancy.