The Bible is a story about God and His people; about Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the church. It is not about us. Perhaps we can relate to some of the stories or glean guidance from the wisdom in Scriptures. But what we can get real meaning from is seeking God in the stories.
We see God giving His people exactly what they need, over and over. We see His extended patience before delivering justice. We see His compassion while delivering justice. We see His love, mercy, grace and forgiveness as a response to human choices. We see His faithfulness, even when His people are unfaithful. We see His disregard for earthly status as a measure of whether someone has worth or a unique purpose in His plan. In passages such as Leviticus 23 that are full of laws that seem odd to our culture and time, we see God looking out for His people, giving them laws that are in their best interest, that will help them stay close to Him.
There are many places in Scripture that are difficult to explain without extensively studying the historical and cultural context, and that remain hard to explain even after such study. And honestly, it is hard to get excited about daily Bible reading when countless laws or genealogies make up the day’s portion of text. But what if instead of trying to explain or defend every verse of Scripture, we think about what the Scripture means in the context of God’s relationship with His people? The laws become examples of God guiding His people. The genealogies become an example of God caring about individuals, even when to us they seem lost in the larger scheme of things (and if they seem lost in the big picture to us, how much more amazing it is that they don’t seem like that to God!). Instead of reading scriptures for black and white answers and evidence for debates, what would happen if we read scripture for assurance? Assurance that God is still doing for His people today what He has been doing for His people since the beginning of time. Living out scripture would become less like a check list and more like a new perspective for seeing the world and what God is doing in our lives.
I’m in that weird mid-twenties stage where I look and act like an adult, but on the inside I’m still trying to figure out what that means. Watching my friends encounter new experiences in their twenties really hits home. A friend being diagnosed with cancer, a friend starting a family, a friend surviving an armed robbery, a friend surviving a divorce…. The list continues with experiences that make all of the “life” things that I’ve heard about suddenly seem very real. With every life experience I have, story I read and opinion I encounter, I’m constantly trying to form a framework for my perception, beliefs and actions. As a kid, my framework was “good” and “bad”, but it didn’t take long to realize that doesn’t work in the adult world. After much deliberation, my new framework is “healing” and “destructive”. “Healing” is different from “good” because it implies a continuous process, not a one-time declaration of value. “Healing” also makes room for inescapable things like “sadness” and “suffering” that are outside the simple definitions of “good” and “bad”. The idea of healing acknowledges that the world is made of relationships and that people and situations are capable of change.
As I seek to understand this framework for myself, I think about what I would want to convey and teach to the kids I interact with every day. I consider this audience first because kids are the most malleable and are especially sensitive to what adults teach through their actions. I wanted to make a list, a list that can grow through the contributions of others; a list that I can use to set goals for the activities I plan for the kids I work with; a list that I can read often and use to reflect on my own behavior. Here’s the list. Please add to it!
Things that are healing
- Seeking to understand
- Encouraging words
- Meaningful words, actions, purpose
- Treating others like you want to be treated
Things that are destructive
- Judging others
- Attitudes of “us” and “them”
- Thinking of yourself or others as anything more or less than human
- Letting fear cloud your decision making
What would you add to these two lists?
When reading prophecy, I usually get distracted by the description of the visions and give up trying to gain any meaning from them because how can I ever actually know what they mean? But today when I started reading Ezekiel, I had the perspective that it is a memoir written by a regular person. Where does Ezekiel start his story? Not with his birth or a description of himself or his occupation. He starts with the major turning point of his life, with the beginning of the period of his life that matters the most to him. He starts with the day that he saw a vision from God.
The Bible is full of memoirs of people describing the most important points in their life to us. And through these stories we see various ways in which God reveals himself to us. We see different ways that these people serve him and follow his directions. It is comforting to me to see such variety. There is not one pattern we are all supposed to look like. Consider David and Solomon, father and son, whose writings are very different. David’s Psalms are saturated with spiritual language and experiences, while Solomon’s are very much concerned with what happens “under the sun” or delivering very practical advice through proverbs. And yet, David was proclaimed to be a man after God’s own heart and Solomon was the wisest man to ever be. This variety is comforting to me in seeking a church family because I am not afraid that there is something wrong with me if I don’t look like the other members of the church or if they don’t look like me. I don’t have to be distracted with how each of us live but can focus on the more important question of what we are pursuing. It is much easier to gain unity through a common goal than through common actions. Any classroom or team sport is an illustration of this. Some people learn by reading, some by seeing, some by moving, some by listening, yet they are all learning. In the New Testament, the analogy of a human body is used to illustrate this point. I’m excited to read the Bible again while looking for and admiring the different ways God reveals himself. And I’m excited to seek unity in the church without the pressure of having to come to agreements with the “how” questions and instead focus on the “what” questions.
There are three things Paul wants the Ephesians to know that he lists in Chapter 1, verses 15-23. I think these three things (hope, inheritance and God’s power) can shape the reading of the entire letter. But before we get to the list, we need to know how the Gentiles are to gain this knowledge. Verse 17 lets us know that their knowledge of these things will come from God himself. From other scripture, we know that if we ask, seek, and knock, God will provide. Therefore, if we seek after these things, God will reveal them.
The first of the three things is that the Gentiles “may know what is the hope to which He has called you” (v.18, ESV). Verses 11-13 of chapter 2 remind us that Paul is writing to Gentiles, who were previously without Christ, “having no hope and without God in the world (NKJV)”. With Christ, (as beautifully described throughout chapter 2) the Gentiles now have hope– the same promises, the same covenant with God– that the Jews had. Knowing this hope consists of two things: knowing what the promises are and trusting that God will fulfill these promises. The following two things Paul lists include something God has promised and something that encourages trust in Him.
The second in Paul’s list is “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints”. In verses 3-10, Paul describes the Gentile’s adoption as sons by Jesus’s sacrifice and God’s grace. Paul wants them to know what this adoption means, that they are “holy and blameless before him” (vs. 4). How great is God’s grace to the Gentiles and to us! What an incredible promise, that we can be holy and blameless before God, that we can be God’s children.
The third thing Paul lists is “the immeasurable greatness of His power towards us who believe” (vs. 19). In verse 20, Paul reminds us that this immeasurable power is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and placed all authority beneath His feet. Other scripture reminds us it is the same power that created the world and gave us life and breath. It is the same power that performed the miracles of the Old and New Testaments. And this power is directed towards us who believe. This is the power that lets us trust in God. In my daily experiences and Bible reading, I want to constantly be looking for the hope and inheritance we have through Jesus and looking for examples of God’s immeasurable power. Chapter 3 describes how these things have changed Paul’s life and chapters 4-6 describe a lifestyle that encourages the pursuit of knowing our hope, inheritance and trusting in God’s power, rather than the pursuit of things that really just distract us.
Through various metaphors and symbols throughout Ezekiel, God expresses how He feels about Israel’s sins. While there are some details that mention what the sins are, I think the main focus is how God feels about sin and what He’s going to do about it. After reading how God feels when His people are sinning, the opportunities for redemption (see chapters 16, 18 and 20 for examples) seem even more incredible.
The multiple opportunities for repentance and renewal that Israel received in the past are spelled out in chapter 20. The repeated phrase throughout this chapter says of God’s commands and judgements, “if a man does [them], he shall live by them” (NKJV). This seemed odd to me at first. But in vs. 37, God is laying out his promise for restoration and says “…I will bring you into the bond of the covenant…” which seems to me like the covenant is a kind of protection. Protection from what? This question brought me back to the repeated phrase, “if a man does [them], he shall live by them”. A fulfilling life can be found in God’s commands and judgements. God’s covenant protects us from the emptiness of an unfulfilling life. Throughout Ezekiel, we can see how desperately God wants His people to realize that He is God and life at it’s best is only found in Him.
In my Family Studies classes in college, we talked about how the most basic emotional need of every human being is to be accepted. We do lots of crazy things to try to be accepted by other people. But this need is perfectly filled through God’s grace, which accepts and loves us exactly how we are. With this need met, we are free to live a life that is actually meaningful to us. And we can find this meaning in God’s covenant, because it is the source of the power that accepted us and loved us in the first place. We don’t have to read the Bible as a list of do’s and do not’s. We can read the Bible as a way to learn more about God and to discover the covenant He offers to us. The outcome of both of these perspectives isn’t all that different- both would lead to someone who is trying to follow God. However, the inner experience is vastly different. A list of do’s and do not’s creates anxiety, fear and complete despair when we fail, which may lead to harsh judgments of others in efforts to make us feel less bad. But reading to learn more about God creates a joyful discovery that is focused on growth, including failure as part of the process.
In Psalm 63 David is searching for God, in 64 he is relying on God for defense and safety from enemies, and in 65 he sees God in everything. I think there is something to this pattern of seek-trust-find. Jesus commands us to ask, seek, knock. James writes the simple truth that if we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. Once I start looking for this pattern in Scripture (or in life), it emerges everywhere.
I think the way that David finds God in Psalm 65 is another way that we can seek Him, turning seek-trust-find into a never ending cycle. David sees God as an active part of nature, “You visit the earth and water it, You greatly enrich it”. He has such a strong sense of God’s physical prescence that at some point, he decides to build a temple to be a physical home for Him. When Solomon finished the temple, God did occupy it with a physical prescence in the form of a dark cloud (see 1 Kings 8). It must have been life changing to see God’s glory fill the temple with a dark cloud that was so heavy the priests couldn’t continue their work. Even though we can’t see that dark cloud, we can still see God’s prescence in something as common (but still awesome) as water, mountains, pastures and flocks, among many other things (65:5-13). I love reading the Psalms to remind myself of how present God is in our lives.