Deeper Bible Reading

It is no secret that I am a big advocate of Bible reading. If you believe, really believe that the Bible is the word of God, then you want to engage the Bible as much as possible. Hearing the Bible taught and preached is very important, but you need more. You need to read the Bible. Many people have a Bible reading plan, but not everybody sticks to it consistently. Each person needs to find a personal Bible reading plan that is right for them, one that will help them stick with their reading and not give up. But even if we do all that, there’s something else we need. I think it’s a proper goal not only to read the Bible more, but read it better. How do we read our Bibles better? One way is to follow some guidelines that we may already be doing intuitively and partially, but need to do intentionally and fully.

The first guideline is to discover the biblical writer’s intended meaning. God moved every biblical writer to write what they wrote to the people they wrote it to for a specific purpose. The book they wrote has a message and every part of the book has a purpose that works to communicate that message. It often takes some mental work to grasp the writer’s meaning. Discovering the writer’s meaning is to discover God’s meaning. If we desire to hear from God in the Bible, it is imperative that we grapple with the writer’s meaning within the scope of the whole Bible. Discovering the Bible’s meaning is a lifelong process as we grow in our understanding of specific passages and the Bible as a whole.

The second guideline is that texts must be understood by their common meaning, which includes literary devices like metaphor and symbolism. The Bible is beautifully written and is replete with figurative language. Figurative language is usually, but not always obvious. So, we understand the Bible according to the literary devices used. That being said, we must resist spiritualizing or moralizing a passage beyond its basic literal meaning. We do not want to read into the text what is not there, but read out of the text what is actually there. We must always grapple with how to best understand the meaning of every passage.

The third guideline is that context is critical to discovering a text’s meaning. There are three kinds of context: literary, historical and cultural. While all three are important, the literary context is most important. You can find the historical and cultural context in study Bibles or Bible dictionaries. The literary context is the sentences, paragraphs and sections surrounding the passage you’re reading. If you are reading straight through a book, you already have a sense of the context. Failing to consider the context is one of the biggest reasons people misunderstand and therefore miss apply the Bible.

The fourth guideline is that texts must be interpreted according to their literary genre or type. All literature, whether in the Bible or outside the Bible are written according to the conventions of a specific literary genre or type. We cannot interpret law, history, poetry and prophecy exactly the same. Each kind of literature has its own way of communicating its message. Understanding what kind of passage we’re reading goes a long way towards a good understanding that passage. A good study Bible will help you sort out and understand what kind of passage you’re reading.

The fifth guideline is that the progress of revelation is important to keep in mind. God reveals his plan of redemption progressively throughout the Bible. We cannot give a text an interpretation that has not yet been revealed in the flow of redemptive-history. As we seek to understand the unfolding plan of God in Scripture, we must discover who the passage we’re reading is addressed to and how that impacts the meaning. If a passage is written to the Children of Israel, it may have a different application to the Church.

The sixth guideline is that our interpretation must be Christ-centered without forcing Christ into passages in a way he is not being revealed. Jesus himself said that all the Bible is about him and the salvation he brings (Luke 24:25-32; John 5:37-40). Understanding how God is revealing Christ in any given passage throughout the Bible takes careful work. We want our Bible reading to be meaningful but also truthful.

We can be confident in the insight, wisdom and encouragement we find from Bible reading as we read thoughtfully according to these guidelines. As we engage the Bible in a deeper way we will inevitably come across passages that challenge our preconceived notions about what the Bible says. We always go with the Bible. In this way we can be assured that God is speaking to us and that we are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

What Is God Like?

One often hears that the God of the Old Testament is angry and cruel, while the God of the New Testament is loving and kind. But a through rather than a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that both testaments present the same God, one who is loving, merciful and gracious, as well as holy, righteous and just. The seminal passage on the character of God in the Old Testament (OT) is Exodus 34:6-7:

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.'”

The first thing we notice about the character of God here is that he is merciful and gracious. These two words are often found together in the OT. The mercy of God means that he is compassionate and has pity on people for the terrible mess in which they often find themselves. God is also gracious, meaning he freely gives what a person needs without pay back or merit on the part of the one receiving his grace.

We then see two very important attributes of God’s character, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. These two attributes are also often found together (Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:7; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). God is slow to anger, he does not have a short fuse. God is patient when people act against his will. What this much repeated phrase means is that anger is not an attribute of God’s character. God becomes angry when people refuse to repent of their sins. The fact that God is slow to become angry is his way of calling people to repent and turn to him (Romans 2:1-5). Those who wake up to the patience and kindness of God and repent, find God’s forgiveness and love in abundance.

God’s forgiveness and love flow to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ. God’s righteous and just attitude towards sin is judgment. God’s love, on the other hand, motivates him to send Jesus to rescue us through the cross. It is not as though the justice and love of God work against each other, but his love and justice work together to provide us salvation. When we repent and trust in Jesus the floodgates of God’s steadfast love flows into our souls and lives. We are changed by the encounter with God. We have a new direction.

For believers in Jesus Christ the fact that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love is precious indeed! It is the ground of our salvation in God’s very character. It also can give believers peace and joy as they daily battle sin in their lives. Sin is very serious, but God is not angry at us. His steadfast love flows to us in abundance because of the cross of Christ. We are forgiven. We are his children. This grace is not a license to sin, God knows how to deal with his wayward children, but the liberty to know him more and experience his presence in a greater way.

Defeating the Dragon of Anxiety

In the C. S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia book, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” the naughty boy Eustace took on the form of a dragon. The dragon form expressed his inner nature of selfishness. Try as he may, he could not extract the dragon skin from his body. It was only with the help of Aslan (the massive lion Christ-Figure) that he was able to painfully free himself from the dragon. We all suffer from dragons in our own lives and we need the help of Christ to be free of them. One such dragon many suffer with is anxiety. Anxiety in all its forms can control a person’s life. We’ve all been under its control, at least temporarily, and for many it is an ongoing struggle. Jesus offers help in his word for those who suffer. It involves a three step process I call, relax – release – rejoice.

Relax

When anxiety gets a grip on a person’s heart it creates a stormy sea of tension, desire and nervousness. It can seem uncontrollable, which fuels the flames of greater anxiety. What we need is calm and peace. We need to relax. But growing anxiety creates an environment that makes relaxing almost impossible. We can find the calm we need by claiming certain promises of God. We can use Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Jesus can calm the stormy sea of our hearts as we claim this promise. When we meditate on the reality that God is God, and all he is doing in the world and our lives is for his glory, we can find the peace we need.

Another promise to add to this is Romans 8:31-32, “What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Paul asks a series of questions. He doesn’t answer them because the answer comes in the asking of these questions. We know that God is for us because he gave Jesus to save us. If he did the greatest thing for us by meeting our greatest need, he will certainly meed any other great but lesser need. He will calm our anxiety as we trust him.

Release

Once we begin to relax, we can release this anxiety to God or it will quickly return. Once again we need promises from God’s word to help us. Here we can claim 1 Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” God is at work in our lives no matter what happens. He cares for us. We can release our anxiety to him. The picture here is that we have this huge burden on our backs; we are buckling under the weight and about to fall when we roll the burden onto the back of Jesus. He is strong enough to easily take it if we turn it loose, if we release it. We do that by prayer (Philippians 4:6-7), “Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Rejoice

As we find the calm and release we need we can rejoice in God’s power and love. Rejoicing itself helps dissipate anxiety. Paul commands us in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.” We are to rejoice in the Lord. We rejoice in who he is and all he’s done for us. He is the object of our joy. We can rejoice in the Lord even if the anxiety is not lifting as much or as rapidly as we desire. We read in James 1: 2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance have its full work, that you may be mature and complete lacking nothing.”

Conclusion

Anxiety can cripple our lives and make us miserable. It can render us ineffective in the work of God. God has help for us though. We claim his promises by praying them. I encourage you to commit to memory the promises I have given to you. Claim and pray the promises of God to relax, release and rejoice. As you make your way through this process it make take time for the anxiety to lift, but if you stick with it, the Lord will come to you in your need.

The Bible as Story

The Bible is filled with so many stories. Most of us are familiar with many of the stories, but maybe we’re a little confused about the main message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is communicated through the overarching story of the whole Bible. It may come as a surprise to some that the Bible is one large mega-story, but it is. The overarching message of the Bible is seen so clearly through its overarching story. The burden of this blog is to unpack the story of the Bible in such a way that it becomes clear to the Bible reader. 

Since the Bible is a story, it has a story line. Almost half the Bible is comprised of narrative stories. These stories are not independent units, but work together to present a unified story, a metanarrative, with a central message. Each book in the Bible communicates its particular story that fits into the storyline of the whole Bible. If one fails to see the bigger picture of the overarching story, then one will more than likely misunderstand the smaller stories. The individual stories are only properly understood in the larger context of the central story of the Bible.  

The story is about God’s beautiful creation that is ruined by the first people he creates. The sons and daughters of the first couple are corrupted as well as all their descendants. Things go from bad to worse until God intervenes by calling a pagan man from a pagan land to enter a relationship with him. God makes promises to this man. Through many struggles of faith the man begins to see the promises of God materialize in embryonic form. God’s relationship with the man becomes a relationship with his family, then the twelve tribes of his family. The tribes become a nation. The relationship is strained many times throughout the years by the rebellion of God’s people. God disciplines his unruly people, but never totally forsakes them. Finally, the nation is focused again on one man through whom all the promises to God’s people are fulfilled. This man is faithful where many others were unfaithful, and expands the promises to the whole world. This epic story becomes everybody’s story. That is, anybody who will enter the story by faith. The story is a true story that is rich and complex. But we can begin to understand the story by seeing the basic storyline in the Bible. It helps to understand that the basic storyline of the Bible consists of four main parts that are easy to remember.

The story begins with creation in Genesis chapters one and two. God creates the world good, but it doesn’t remain so long. The second part of the Bible storyline is the fall in Genesis chapter three. God creates the first man and woman good with the capacity to obey or disobey his one command. They disobey the command of God when they are tempted by an intruder and deceiver. Their sin plunges the world into ruin and corruption. The world is sinful, fallen and broken. It has no capacity to fix itself. This is clearly and painfully seen in Genesis chapter four through eleven. The world spirals down into chaos. It looks like God is impotent to change things.

The third part of the story is God’s plan of redemption. This is the largest part and the central part of the story. It runs from Genesis four through Revelation twenty. This redemption part of the Bible story unfolds through four redemptive covenants, or relationships God make with people. The four redemptive covenants are: (1) The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12-50). (2) The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus through Ruth). (3) The Davidic Covenant (1 Samuel through Malachi). (4) The New Covenant (Matthew through Revelation 20). The New Covenant is the fulfillment of all the previous covenants in Jesus Christ. He is the central message and story of the Bible. If you miss him you miss the whole story.

The fourth part of the Bible story is restoration (Revelation 21-22). This is the reality to which the whole Bible is moving. God restores his creation to a better place. A new heaven and a new earth, a place of goodness, righteousness, love and truth. A place of no more sorrow, no more pain, no more sin and no more death. A place where God lives with his people.

Knowing the storyline of the Bible helps us read the Bible with greater understanding. We can better grasp its message and apply its truths to our lives. The Bible is a story. We must enter that story as we read it so that the story can enter us and be our story too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.