We continued our series at Gateway in Austin called “What is the Bible Good For?”
God created us for a relationship. His love letter, his truth, is available to us through the Scriptures. There will be questions and there will be moments of pause, but the Bible can be the foundation on which we build our lives. The Bible is relevant by helping us understand who God is and how to live a new life under His leadership and with His guidance. Transformation comes when we engage God through the Scriptures.
Message Video from Gateway Online:
Our hope is that this series will help you if you are skeptical to trust that the Bible is really from God and still relevant to our lives. This can be true of those of you without faith and even some of you who do have faith in Jesus, but you struggle with the Bible.
Our hope is that this series will also help those of you who follow Jesus and read the Bible all the time. It will help you know how to help those in your life who have doubts and questions.
Let’s be honest: there are some difficult and confusing passages. Perhaps some of you started reading the Bible and then got confused and gave up.
When you come across confusing or difficult passages, just know it may be cultural.
The two best things to do in that moment:
First, look at the context to explain the cultural setting to help it make sense.
Second, let the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures.
Let me give you a quick example: Women in the Church
Now some have used the Bible to oppress women.
There are passages of Scripture where Paul who was a church planter writing to the churches he helped plant seems to indicate that women should be silent, but there are other passages where Paul teaches that in Jesus’ Kingdom there is no difference between women and men. He even mentions women prophesying or proclaiming God’s truth in the church gathering. So which is it?
So here’s the context: in some of those cities where Paul planted churches, they worshiped the goddess Diana and all the priests were priestesses. So he was saying women who are new should remain silent in their church gathering and learn more before they speak. In another place, he specifically points out two women who had been disruptive named Euodia and Syntheche that needed to tone things down.
When you interpret the Scripture with the Scriptures you discover in other passages that the first to proclaim that Jesus was alive were women, and Paul lists women in leadership several times! All the spiritual gifts including teaching and leadership are given to men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile. In God’s Kingdom all are welcome. All have a role!
You can learn to understand the confusing passages with the clear ones.
You can also learn to hold the tension of uncertainty and still trust God.
Don’t throw out everything because you don’t understand one thing.
Things will begin to make sense if you stick with learning instead of judging God and rejecting. It’s important to have a bigger perspective. Remember God’s ways are higher than our ways.
Now sometimes, what you read may seem odd because our culture has gone away from God’s way. Don’t just read the Scriptures, let the Scriptures read you! Remember, the goal of reading the Bible is not just about getting information, it’s about transformation which happens in the context of relationship with God. We read His Word to us and apply it to our lives.
Remember, be sure to start with reading about Jesus and then read everything through the lens of who Jesus is and who He revealed God to be.
If you missed the messages from John Burke or Carlos Ortiz these last two weeks I encourage you to go back and watch them or listen to them.
Just as a quick overview, here’s a description of the Bible and its impact from The Bible Society.
Have you ever had the thought: tf only God would reveal Himself then I would believe!
Well, He has!! We even have His words in the Bible!
Today I want to walk us through a few of the ways the Bible is God’s Word to us.
1. God’s Word Reveals God to Us.
Now some of us grew up with phrase describing the Bible as “The Word of God.” It’s a great phrase, but often we take that phrase for granted or don’t really think of it quite that way.
Think about it for a minute. The Almighty and Invisible Creator God moved in the hearts of men and women so that we have letters, histories, prophecies, and poetries brought together in a way that reveals God to us.
The word “word” is the building block of communication. A word expresses an idea. A word has meaning.
Greek philosophers loved the word for word in their language: it’s “logos.”
In fact, Aristotle described the three ways to persuade others was through pathos (passion), through ethos (moral character), and most effectively through logos (reason).
So here’s what’s beautiful. In order to help the Greek and Roman world in which he was writing understand the Hebrew God, John, one of the eyewitnesses of Jesus wrote about Jesus as the Logos. He was also writing to help the Jews see how Jesus was the ultimate culmination of their story. He writes in John 1:
“In the beginning [This is the same phrase used at the beginning of the Scriptures in Genesis] there was the Word [the Logos]. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him. In him there was life, and that life was the light of all people…. [John is saying Jesus has always existed and always been. The One True God has always been Father, Son, and Spirit]. The Word became a human and lived among us. [“lived among us” is the same phrase as “pitched a tent” among us or ‘tabernacled with us” Just as God revealed His presence to the people of Israel at the tabernacle, now Jesus is the tabernacle!] We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth…. The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But God the only Son is very close to the Father, and he has shown us what God is like.” – John 1:1-18 NCV
We know what God is like by looking at who Jesus is.
In her book, Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, Carmen Joy Imes mentions a study that demonstrates a strong correlation between the picture you of God and your resilience in the face of difficulty. Duane P. Westwood’s research indicates that the three healthy signs of a God image are:
1. The presence of intimacy
2. Movement or growth through the various stages of life
3. A capacity to embrace the mystery and expansiveness of God.
If our picture of God includes these things, we’re far less likely to struggle with anxiety and depression and we’ll be more resilient in the face of difficulty. Life presents us with a wide range of experiences.
She summarizes the findings like this:
“If we see God as distant and full of wrath, we will imagine he is against us, which will make us susceptible to a crippling sense of failure or a drivenness to earn his favor. If we see God as exclusively compassionate, we may struggle with him if we experience injustice. How could a compassionate God allow this? Or how could he let the perpetrators of oppression go free? If we instead conceive of God more holistically, we’ll be able to release our grip on understanding his ways, and we will be able to trust him to ultimately bring justice. This hope makes us resilient.”— Carmen Joy Imes in Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters
Now the Old Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures are pointing towards Jesus, and when we read books from the Old Testament we need to read them in that light. In fact, Jesus explained to His disciples the purpose and meaning of the Old Testament like this:
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. – Luke 24:45-47 (NIV)
Now some of us here may have started reading the Bible in Genesis and got bogged down with The Law in Exodus. And there are some diabolical people in the Bible and some very rated R stories about very broken and messed up people. There are lot of great case studies with examples of what to do but mostly what not to do.
That’s why Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City summarizes the message of the Bible this way:
“The message of the Bible is not that God blesses and saves those who live moral and exemplary lives. The message of the Bible is that God persistently and continuously gives His grace to people who don’t ask or even appreciate it.”– Timothy Keller
Everything in the Old and New Testament makes sense in the context of Jesus. All of the Old Testament points towards Him and all of the New Testament emerges from His story.
What’s at the beginning of the Bible and what’s at the end are the most mysterious and least clear (the beginning of all things and the end of all things), but where the Bible is crystal clear is the last week in the life Jesus where we have 4 witnesses writing an almost hour by hour account of his life.
That last week is called the Passion. You may know that phrase from Mel Gibson’s movie. For many years the number one definition of the word “passion” in webster’s dictionary was “the sufferings and crucifixion of Christ.”
We think of passion as a form of romance or love.
We are passionate about our family, our career, our cause, or Franklin BBQ and anything in between! But really the word passion does not hold enough weight the way we use it.
Passion should be defined as what you love enough to sacrifice your life for.
Jesus was passionate about you and me – so much so that He was willing to give His life – dying on the cross for you and me.
So if you are not sure you believe in God, you should know He believes in you! He created you on purpose and with a purpose. And He wants you to know His love, to experience His presence and His peace. To begin a relationship with God simply means saying: “Yes.” You are saying “yes” that you need what Jesus did on the cross to count for you.
You can begin that relationship right now. Just say it in your heart or if you are watching at home online, you can say it outloud.
“Yes, God, I need your love in my life. Forgive me for going my own way. Lead me in your way.”
Now that is just the beginning of the conversation with God!
So now, learn to listen with your heart as God will whisper to you in your thoughts. You can tell a thought is from God if it is selfless, requires courage, and consistent with His character.
You can discover more about His character through His Word to us – the Bible.
He speaks through a song lyric, through someone sharing their heart in your life group or in the lobby, through a message on Sunday, through a conversation at work at home or with a neighbor.
God is always speaking, we need to learn to listen.
And if we build our life on God’s Word to us through the Scriptures, we will be able to discern from the voices we hear – which are our own, which are from darkness, and which are from God.
There are so many of us here who have been walking with Jesus, and we can tell you story after story after story of the miraculous way God speaks to us through the Bible! If you are new to faith or new to the Bible, ask the people in your Gateway group, network, or team to share some of their stories!
Let me hit a few of my moments to help you with some other key ways God speaks to us through the Scriptures:
2. God’s Word Protects Us
When I was new to my faith, my student pastor connected me with a college student to mentor me. Now I was reluctant because he was going to Texas A&M. Most of my family had gone to the University of Texas, but I Jesus did say to “love your enemies.” Actually, I was a bit nervous because I was so new to really trying to follow Jesus.
After being so patient in answering so many of my questions, he encouraged me to spend time with God through reading the Bible, praying, and journaling. He also encouraged me to do was to memorize passages of Scripture.
Now, I grew up going to church, and I had even participated in what we called Bible Drills. We literally had a competition to see which kid could find the Bible verse first. I even memorized the 66 books of the Bible and could say them in order in under 30 seconds!
Here’s the catch: God is not looking for people who can win a Bible Trivia Contest. He is inviting us into a relationship with Him!
Back to my mentor, the Aggie Jim, one of the verses he encouraged me to memorize was Psalm 119:9, 11.
How can a young person live a pure life? By living according to your word… I have taken your words to heart so I would not sin against you. – Psalm 119:9, 11 (NCV)
Jim was absolutely right about memorizing passages of Scripture. I cannot tell you how many times a verse or a phrase I memorized would come to mind right when I needed it. This one came to mind on dates, at parties with friends, and so many other times that it helped me avoid choices that could have had painful consequences.
In another passage referred to as the Armor of God, we are given ways to protect ourselves from dark spiritual forces.
One of the key pieces of armor is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:17
God’s Word to us can protect us from the evil from within and the evil that attacks.
3. God’s Word Guides Us
This passage is one I go to and point people to alot!
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine…
Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding… – Proverbs 3:5-13 (NIV)
God’s Ways are not our ways, they are better. He knows all, and we can trust Him.
When we were living in Los Angeles, I got home to discover part of the corner of our house laying on the ground. It seemed obvious that our older neighbor must have backed his car into it by the way it had crumbled. I don’t like to confront people. Reluctantly, I went over to talk to him about it, and he apologized. He didn’t want to get the insurance involved but promised to send over his cousin who was a plumber and handyman to fix it.
Problem solved! So I thought. My wife was not happy. For some reason, she didn’t think a plumber/handyman should be responsible to fix our house especially since their was a crack in the ceiling now. Not to mention we lived in a place known for its earthquakes. We went back and forth about it. I did not want to go back and tell my neighbor “no” after I had already told him “yes.” But I love my wife more than my neighbor, so I was trying to figure my way out of this situation.
The next morning I woke up and went to spend time with God. I spent some time praying about life in general and the situation with the neighbor that was looming over me. Now, I happened to be reading through the book of Proverbs, and that day was Proverbs 6. This is what I read the moment I opened my Bible.
My son, if you have made an agreement with your neighbor, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth. So do this, my son, go to him to free yourself… – Proverbs 6:1-3
I threw my Bible away from me as quickly as I could! It surprised and even scared me how spot on it was!
You see, when we come to the Scriptures, we shouldn’t just read it, we should let us read us. We should see our time in the Scriptures as an opportunity to connect with God.
Before reading the Bible, I try to always pray: “God, show me more of who you are and who you want me to be.”
Listen to this description of the Bible.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
Or this one:
The Holy Scriptures… are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [This means they point to a relationship with God through Jesus]
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 3:15-17 (NIV)
Not only does the Bible make us wise for a relationship with God through Jesus, they make us wiser people.
4. God’s Word Brings Us Into His Presence
The Bible is not about getting more information. The Bible is all about transformation that comes in the context of relationship.
It’s through the Bible that we learn to pray, we learn to worship, and we learn who God is. The entire book of Psalms are prayers and worship songs!
As our pastor in Los Angeles would say: “The Bible is a portal into God’s presence.” – Erwin McManus
Let me give you a personal example and analogy of how this works.
When my children became teenagers, all seemed to go quite smoothly. It was about at 13 where they shifted their allegiance from family to friends, it was closer to 14 and 15. It was about that time I started feeling like I was losing that connection with them. One day I was praying, and I had an idea, a thought I think came from God. Many times when I pray, I am driving or walking or writing in a journal. Helps me stay focused. In this instance, the idea came while I was praying by writing in my journal.
I got a journal for each of my kids, and I wrote the following:
“I know sometimes when we talk we can get easily upset with each other. (Basically, I would trigger one of them or more often than not, they would trigger me). I would love to interact about anything you want. It could be struggles at school or in life. It could be about your hopes and dreams. It could be about your doubts and temptations. It could be questions you might have about God. I know for me that my relationship with God has helped me navigate so many challenging seasons and situations. He loves you so much! I know I don’t represent Him very well sometimes, but I would love to help you connect with Him the way I have. So consider this journal our way to discuss the things that are too hard for us to discuss in person…”
I slid one under Caleb’s door, and I slid one under Trevi’s door. And then I waited. Nothing happened for the first 24 hours. Nothing happened the next day. But then as I got into bed that night – 2 days after I sent them their journal. I found one on my pillow.
And wow, was it triggering! It was all the hurt and anger one of my teenagers was feeling towards me and towards God. Worked through the steps to calm myself down. I prayed and went to bed. The next morning, I responded the best I could. I apologized. I tried to explain my reasoning for this or that. I wrote about personal stories, and I found passages of Scriptures that helped address some of my teen’s doubts.
Do you know, we wrote back and forth for the next several years. It was during those years, that my teenager stopped resisting youth group. Eventually my teenager wanted to go to camp for the first time ever and even signed up for a Go Team trip to Puerto Rico. It was during this season, my teenager reconnected with God in a deep and profound way.
I highly recommend this exercise for any of you parents! You end up having more meaningful conversations, going deeper, and understanding each other better than often you do face to face.
Here’s why I share that story. The Scriptures are God’s love letter to us. Our Heavenly Father has slipped His message to you under your door! How are you going to respond?
Join us in reading through the Bible Reading Plan called “Connecting with God (Luke)”. Join the plan and invite others from your life group, network, serving team or even friends or family to join you!
Remember, this is not just about reading but praying, observing, journaling, and ultimately connecting with the God who loves you, who wants to guide you, and have a personal relationship with you.
One last story. I haven’t been at my best lately. I injured my neck which led to a pinched nerve. I was in a great deal of pain for about a month, and it only seemed to be getting worse. I am much much better now after a shot of steroids in the neck plus some acupuncture and physical therapy.
In the midst of that, I have some friends and family members who have been radicalized. You have some too? And it’s on both extremes – far right and far left! It seems like so many “normal people” have been radicalized and have decided to radicalize others using social media. And I have been in conversations with people who think the world is falling apart, and in many ways it is! The pandemic, the debates about masks and vaccines, increasing hate crimes and social injustice, the US Debt and the sinking value of the dollar, military threats in Asia, climate change, and I could go on and on.
I took my worries to the Lord and then prayed for wisdom and guidance just before picking up where I left off in an obscure book called Zephaniah.
At first, that didn’t help. Many of these prophets warn of God’s judgment.
Passages about God’s judgment in the Bible can be scary or overwhelming, but in reality what is referred to as God’s judgment when God gives us what we want. He stops protecting us from the consequences of our actions and allows us to have what we demand. God still loves us, and He loves us so much that He finally gives us what we want (even if He knows it isn’t what best for us).
In the midst of these anxiety producing prophetic warnings, something beautiful happened. In the midst of impending doom and destruction, I read these words from Zephaniah 3:17:
“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
He is with you – even when the world is falling apart all around us. His people who had turned from Him were being offered hope. We can have that hope too.
It was then I discovered something interesting I had forgotten or at least not realized when I was first reading Zephaniah. Zephaniah was a prophet during the time of Josiah.
Josiah is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. The world was falling apart all around him. The generation before Josiah had gone away from God and Josiah and his generation were living in that awful world.
Yet Josiah started seeking the Lord through prayer in spite of how his parents raised Him. And the story in 2 Kings 22-23 tells us then that Josiah re-allocated money to repair the Temple. As a result, they rediscovered God’s Word – or as they called it then “The Book of the Law.”
It was as if God answered Josiah’s prayers to know Him more by then helping some of his workers find the Bible.
The story of Josiah is one of spiritual awakening. It started with him but soon spread to all the people of Judah. They read God’s Word all together and it led them towards repentance – which means turning away from your own way and acknowledging the wrong you have done and your need for forgiveness. The people got rid of their idols (those things we go to instead of God), and they renewed their relationship with God.
By taking my fear of the future to God, I began to sense a closeness to God who is with us no matter what and it renewed my hope in what God wants to do in us.
- What if your rediscovery of God’s Word let to your own spiritual awakening which spread to those you loved?
- What if you and your family and friends turned away from the destructive choices and turned to God?
- What if we stopped going to idols (those things we go to instead of God – it could be alcohol, drugs, TV, food, or even family or friends or career) and instead took our pain, our disappointment, our fears, our regrets, our hopes, and our dreams to God?
- What if we renewed our relationship with God?
If we make Jesus King in our lives, you will see more of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven in your life and through your life to those you love than perhaps you’ve ever experienced before.
God is alive! You can know Him! You can know Him more than you ever have before, no longer how long you have walked with Him. None of us have arrived.
Connect with Him and consider your next step!