I shared this devotional at a Christmas Eve Service last night:
Over the past month both our churches have been celebrating the season of Christmas by using Advent candles. They are a wonderful tool to remind us that the story of Christmas doesn’t just surround the baby in the manger, but encompasses the whole gospel.
I’ve been preaching a sermon series where each week we’ve gone over a different theme that the candle represents. Today we lit the Christ candle at the centre of the wreath. The outside candles, which represent Hope, Love, Peace and Joy, surround the Christ Candle to remind us that all of those things are ultimately and perfectly found in Christ. Without Him at the centre, none of those things are truly possible.
The Advent Tradition
The church has kept the season of Advent for hundreds of years. The idea is that instead of jumping straight into Christmas, the forefathers of the church put together four weeks where everyone could take some time to practice two important things that we don’t normally do unless we have to: Waiting and Preparing. To hone these disciplines so we can learn more about God, His Son and ourselves.
As a culture we aren’t very good at waiting, are we? In fact, we’ve almost turned waiting into a dirty word. Consider how the commercial industry begins the Christmas season. While the church is saying it’s time to reflect, pause and prepare ourselves for celebrating the amazing story of Jesus Christ… to take a month to get ready… to meditate over one aspect of the gospel for an entire week… everywhere else seems to be ramping us up with as much commercialism, noise, and craziness they can. The inaugurating the season is called“ Black Friday” which is an all night shopping spree.
“Don’t wait… get it now. In fact, don’t even wait until the store opens! Go ahead and camp outside and we’ll open extra early so you can stampede over people to be first to get what you want. Then you can stay up all night on Sunday night so you can be there at midnight for the beginning of Cyber Monday, another sale to begin the season.” Most people aren’t even buying presents for others, but are actually buying for themselves!
Not exactly the “true meaning of Christmas”, is it? Jesus teaches us that being first, getting the most, and filling up our homes and credit cards isn’t what life’s all about. Instead Jesus calls us to stop, listen and prioritize what really matters: our relationship with Him and with each other. And that can’t be done at the pace this world wants us to move – it requires time and patience.
So, I hope you’ve had a chance to practice waiting lately–that you’ve embraced not getting what you want when you want it, but having to wait for it. I know my kids are learning this… as they look at the presents under the tree… they know Christmas is coming… counting down the days. We let the kids open one present on Christmas Eve, so we’ve been getting the countdown for a long time now… 30 more days until we get to open a present… 10 more days… 3 more days…
That’s good practice for building our relationship with God because He doesn’t work on our schedule… but instead invites us to step outside of our agendas and live by His timetable instead.
So I hope you’ve been able to slow down, evaluate your priorities, and reawaken the lost art of waiting. And if you haven’t then let me encourage you to do that tonight. Instead of ramping up for tomorrow, just relax tonight and embrace the concept of Christmas EVE… the day before the day. Why did you come here tonight? What is at the heart of your celebration? Consider those around you and how you’ve been caring for them over the past days. Have you been pressuring them to live by your agenda or have you been able to take this “holiday season” and actually have it be just that… a “holiday”. A holy-day, set aside to be different and special. It’s never too late to learn to wait.
The other thing Advent asks of us is to Prepare. Each week we have a different candle to light, and a different theme to ponder.
The first candle was Hope and for 7 days we were invited to ask some big questions. Where does my hope lie? When things around me and inside me are falling apart, what do I look to in order to gain strength, and does it work? What do I think about the life-path I’m on right now? Where is it leading me? Is the path that I’ve chosen going to lead to a better place, or have I settled for that I know in my heart will ultimately reduce me to rubble?
And where is God in all of this? The week of Hope is meant to help us prepare our hearts to realize that if our hope is built on anything other than the foundation of the person and work of Jesus Christ, then it will fail us. To not have our hope in something temporary, but in a living hope that is assured because of a living Christ As 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
The second candle was the Love candle. We are invited to prepare our hearts by pondering our need for Love, what our desire for love leads us to do, and where our love comes from. Many here today have a love deficit in their hearts. You don’t feel loved. You can’t remember the last time your heart was bursting with the knowledge that you are loved… not because of what you can produce, or a gift you’ve given, or something you’ve done… but just because of who you are.
To those people, let me tell you this: You’re right. You don’t get the love you deserve from the people around you. You are worth more and should be valued for who you are… not just for what you can do for people. But people can never do that for you. Maybe temporarily, but there is no human who can give you the kind of love you need.
That’s why it’s so important to know that God loves you. There’s nothing you can give Him that He doesn’t already have. There’s nothing you can do for Him that He can’t do better. There’s nothing He needs from you because He is perfectly sufficient. And so, His love for you is a matter of choice, not self-interest.
He designed you before you were born, wrote out your future, gave you experiences that shaped you into who you are, and has promised to walk with you throughout your life. He wants to be with you because He loves you. He loves you so much that He couldn’t leave you stuck in your sin, but traded His life for yours, and now invites you into a relationship with Him so that you can know Him even more. In Him is where love is truly and completely found.
In the third candle was Peace – something we all desperately want, but none of us can find. That’s because peace isn’t found in our circumstances… but in a person. You may think that you can do something today to have peace tomorrow, but it won’t work. You can save and plan for years… enough money to buy your own island, move there, and bring only your favourite people… or go all by yourself… and you still won’t find perfect peace there.
Jesus came into the world during a very difficult time in Jewish history. His life never got easier, but only harder, busier and more complicated. And yet, He had throughout it a supernatural peace because of His relationship with His Father. He now invites you and I to share that peace. So that no matter where we are, or what we’re doing, we can know peace. Isaiah 9:6, a prophecy about the coming of Jesus says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He is the only one qualified to bring us true peace.
And finally, when we lit the final candle we pondered the theme of Joy. We sing about it in many songs! Joy to the world, the Lord is Come. That’s the whole message of Christmas! We say Merry Christmas because it means “Have a Joyful Christmas”! Because there is no better news than that because of the coming of Jesus Christ, the blind can see, the lame can walk, the captives can be set free, and anyone who believes in Jesus Christ can spend eternity in the presence of God. This is a season of Joy!
Jesus gives to us the greatest joy, and in turn we give that joy to others. I hope that’s what you’re feeling tonight. Joy because of a relationship with God where you know He loves you… because of the Hope that He has given you… all because of His Son, the Prince of Peace.
That’s a cool video. The reason I like it so much is because it expands our understanding of Christmas. It gives meaning to the simple Christmas story we have just seen acted out for us. It takes us far beyond the nativity scene, the baby in the manger, the shepherds and the wise men… far beyond the trappings of our modern season, with the lights, and bows, and carols… the family, food, friends, shopping, hustle and bustle… and reminds us that the season of Christmas is about so much more.
The Meaning of Christmas / Life
If someone were to ask you “What is the “true meaning of Christmas?” what would you say? Or how about the bigger question, “What is the meaning of life?” Or more personally – what is the meaning of your life? That’s a tough one, isn’t it? The answer seems to be almost ethereal… unreachable… like trying to grasp a handful of steam. A lot of people have tried to answer that… everyone has tried to answer that.
People are thirsty for meaning. They want to know why things happen. Some people call it the metanarrative, the story, of this world – and not just the story of the world, but the meaning, the “why” of their individual lives. And it seems that this is the time of year that people think more and more about the idea of meaning. And I believe that the true meaning of Christmas helps us find the meaning of our lives.
We’ve heard the phrase a million times in every movie, TV show and newspaper article about Christmas… everyone is looking for the “true meaning of Christmas.” It usually has something to do with generosity, or family, or reconciliation of relationships… and as great as those things are… that’s not it. And we all have an answer to the question of the “true meaning of Christmas”, even if we can’t put it into words.
For some, the “true meaning of Christmas” is getting presents… not the noblest of sentiments, but at least their honest.
For some, the “true meaning of Christmas” is to get time off work. For others, it’s an excuse to shop and spend money. Others would say that it’s all about getting together with family. Still others believe that the “true meaning of Christmas” is found in all of the Christmas rituals and traditions that get brought out… baking cookies, turkey dinner, skating on the ice, decorating the tree, and remembering Christmases as a kid.
For Christians the “True meaning of Christmas” is the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The reason we celebrate Christmas is to celebrate Jesus. Who, I can say without overstatement, is most influential person in all of human history. In fact, I’ve heard it said that human history revolves around Jesus. It is by knowing and understanding Jesus that we find meaning for what is going on around us. He gives meaning to all that happens, and it is through a personal relationship with Him that things start to make sense.
An Innkeeper named Wally
I want to tell you a story about a little boy named “Wally”. Wally was big for his age–seven years old. Everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him in the annual Christmas play. Especially considering the fact that he was also a slow learner. Perhaps he could pull the curtain or light the lights. To everyone’s surprise the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper. The boy of course was delighted. After all, all he had to learn was one line: “There is no room in the inn.” He had that down in no time.
Then came the night of the program. The parents took their places. Every seat was filled. The children entered singing “Oh come all ye faithful.” The lights dimmed. A hush moved over the audience. The curtain opened. Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the inn. “Please sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night?”
Wally was ready for his line. He had rehearsed it all night. He began, “there is…” and he hesitated. He started over again. “There is…” and again his mind went completely blank. Everyone was embarrassed for him and poor Wally just didn’t know what to do. Joseph thought he would improvise and started walking away toward the stable on stage left. Seeing him walking away Wally in desperation called out: “Look, there’s no room in the inn… but there’s plenty of room at my house, so just come on home with me.”
Isn’t that a nice little twist on the familiar story? Over the years the characters in the Christmas story have become very clearly defined for us. King Herod was a villain and the wise men were heroes. The shepherds were heroes and the Innkeeper–well, how do you see the innkeeper? In our minds eye, we envision him as a crotchety old man with a night cap on his head sticking his head out a second story window and tersely shouting: “Take the stable and leave me alone”.
But maybe the innkeeper has just gotten some bad press. Was it his fault that the inn was built with twelve rooms instead of thirteen? Was it his fault that Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that the entire world should be taxed, and that they would all come banging on his door? Was it his fault that Mary and Joseph were so late in arriving? If they would have come a couple days earlier… then maybe he would have had a room and he could have been a hero too!
I want to redeem our poor innkeeper tonight. Consider that on that crazy, busy night in Bethlehem, when the entire Roman world was astir, and everyone was clambering for a room… the Innkeeper made room for a very tired man and his young, frazzled, uncomfortable, very-pregnant wife. He made room – he found space – he figured out how it could work.
I believe that discovering the meaning of Christmas, and the meaning of life, comes down that same thing: making room. If the birth of Jesus is the true meaning of Christmas… and ultimately the one who gives meaning to life… then are we prepared to make room for Him in our lives?
And as we make room, Jesus comes in to the place we give Him – however small… however dirty… however humble… and He blesses it, and miracles occur. Just like in the innkeeper’s stable, God took the room, as small as it was, as dirty and humble as it was, and made miracles happen. He brought the Saviour into the world.
Perhaps you are looking for a miracle in your life. Perhaps there are things in your life that you want to see fixed. Maybe there are broken relationships, economic problems, addictions, fears, stresses and anxieties that are overwhelming you. Maybe you have been seeking comfort in places that have been only making you feel worse. Maybe your heart is so full of hurt or pain or anger that you don’t know how to deal with it, and though no one sees it, every day is a struggle not to collapse under the weight of it… to lash out and hurt others… or to give up.
Maybe you are searching to find out the meaning of all of the things that have happened to you in your life. Maybe you don’t feel an urgency, but when you take all the pieces of your life so far, you just don’t know how they fit together. What is your purpose? Where is your life headed? Are you seeking hope, joy, peace, love, and meaning this evening?
To you I give the example of the Innkeeper: he made room. Make room for Jesus. Yes, He wants the whole of your life. He wants to change every part of you. He wants to completely forgive you and renew you, and promises to do so, but He’s willing to start with whatever place you want to make room. He will bring miracles there. He will shine light there. He will show you meaning there.
Make room for Jesus today by talking to Him in prayer. Make room tomorrow by opening the Bible and reading the Christmas story. Make room this season by remembering and reflecting on why He came and what He has done for you. Keep making room, and giving Him a little more room when He asks for it.
I promise that if you make room for Him, He will work miracles there and show you the peace, love, joy, hope and meaning that you long to see.
Hello and Merry Christmas!
I’ve been having too wonderful of a time with my family and church and haven’t been posting much, so I wanted to point you to where you can read some of my sermons. (I know you’ve been sitting in front of your computer, just waiting for someone to send you some sermons to read over the Christmas season!)
Here’s the link to my Sermon Archive. On it you will find my current series on the Advent Candles, and past series like Resolving Everyday Conflict, The Spiritual Disciplines, and others.
While you’re there, check out My Creative Side to see other fun things I’ve been up to!
I preached this sermon on Sunday and wanted to share it with you.
Do you ever feel lost? I suppose there are lots of ways to get lost.
You can get geographically lost. Like whenever you go to a new mall, or a big store, and are trying to find your way around. I get lost all the time in the car because I’m what you call “directionally challenged”. I’m sure you know how that feels.
You can get personally lost. A person can lose their way in life by making a series of choices that has them wind up somewhere they don’t want to be. They feel pressured to do something, then that choices has consequences, and they make other choices that have consequences, and before long they look around and say to themselves, “how did I get here?”. I’m sure many of you know how that feels.
Maybe it’s not about being lost, but actually having lost something. We have all felt the sting of loss as we lost family members and friends to death. We feel regret for making foolish decisions that result in us losing – or giving away – something that is dear to us. We think back into our past and remember something that was important to us – a stuffed bear, a car, a picture, a hockey card, an instrument – and we think, “Where did that ever go? How could I lose something so special?”. And it makes us feel sad that we don’t have it.
We’ve all played games where we’ve lost. We try hard, and it’s not enough because the other person is better. Or we play a game of chance and the dice doesn’t roll high enough, or the spinner doesn’t go to the right place, and we lose the game. We have been cheated against and even though we should have won, we still lost. Or we were part of a contest with judges, and we lost the contest based on a judge’s opinion. When we lose in that way we feel a sting in our hearts.
I think there’s another category of loss. We can feel spiritually lost. We can know where we are going, what we are doing, have important things surrounding us, be winning in life, successful in our career, have a bright future, and know we are secure… and yet we still feel as though our souls have been cast upon the winds and the bearings of our life are not set. There is a spiritual lostness that we feel even when everything else is going well. And when things are not going well – our relationships are stressed, our work is uncertain, our friends are distant, our future is unclear, our knowledge isn’t enough – that spiritual lostness is amplified exponentially.
I found a quote by Walter Truett Anderson (who I learned from Wikipedia is a famous author who writes about postmodernism) who says, “I belong to the Blank Generation. I have no beliefs. I belong to no community, tradition, or anything like that. I’m lost in this vast, vast world. I belong nowhere. I have absolutely no identity.” That is spiritual lostness.
Have you ever met someone who is spiritually grounded – they are not spiritually lost – but have a firm spiritual foundation that they have built their lives on? It’s an amazing thing to see – and an amazing thing to experience. It is my belief – and the belief of the Christian church, the testimony of scripture, and I believe the most important thing we can share with one another in this world – that a spiritually lost person will never feel security and peace… and that a person who is spiritually found, and eternally secure, can face and walk through any form of pain and uncertainty in this life. It is when we are spiritually found – spiritually secure – that we have true strength, not because of what we have, but because of the firm foundation we stand on and are rooted in.
3 Stories of Lostness
In Luke chapter 15 Jesus gives three different parables that explain the Kingdom of God, the salvation of our souls, and our relationship with Him, by relating what it means to go from lost to found. Turn to Luke 15.
“Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.””
This is the context of these stories. Jesus uses these parables to show why lost people. – hurt people, sinful people, broken people, are those who will inhabit the kingdom – not those who believe they have it all put together and can make it on their own, but those who know they are spiritually lost, and want to be found.
These three parables show three different spiritual journeys. I had a conversation this week with someone who asked me “What does it mean when people say they’ve ‘found God’? It’s not like He’s lost? I’ve known God since I was little and I know He’s always around.”
I told this person that that was how their spiritual journey went. They had grown up in a Christian family and knew about God from the beginning. I explained that not everyone has the same spiritual journey, and that people meet God in different ways. That’s what these three parables teach us.
The Lost Sheep
The first parable is the story of the lost sheep, which we covered last week. The big idea of which is that God doesn’t want us to be lost and will come and find us, even in dark, difficult, frustrating, sinful places that we’ve gotten ourselves into… He will come and save us, rescue us, bring us back to His flock on His shoulders, and then rejoice that we are there.
That’s one aspect that we need to understand about spiritual lostness. God doesn’t want us to be lost, and God shows His grace to some people by going into the mess they are in and then dragging them out of it. I’m sure you’ve heard this testimony before. Someone who doesn’t know Jesus, doesn’t want Jesus, isn’t religious, has no spiritual background… all of a sudden meets Jesus in a miraculous way and their life is turned completely around. That’s this story: the God who comes into our mess and gets us and then rejoices at our being found.
The Lost Coin
The second story in Luke 15 is about the lost coin.
“8″Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.””
This is another way that we come out of our spiritual lostness – we desperately search for an answer. In the parable of the lost sheep we have someone who wanders off and is lost, has no way of getting home, but God searches the dark places to find.
In this we have someone who knows what they want – the coin – and does everything they possibly can to find it. This is how other people come out of their spiritual lostness – they go on a journey. They try this, and that, and anything else to try to fill the spiritual void, to find some kind of spiritual anchor for their lives – it is a pursuit. Like the woman that turns her house upside down to find the one coin out of nine, this person feels like they have a lot – they have 9 coins, but something is missing. Their life is uneven. Their treasure is incomplete.
This silver coin, called a drachma, was about the equivalent of a days wages for a labourer. Imagine working a twelve hour day, getting your pay, putting the cheque in your wallet, and then when you get to the bank to deposit it, it’s not there. That’s a big deal.
This is the story of the man or woman who feels their spiritual lostness and is taking matters into their own hands. For them, God does not come searching, but makes Himself able to be found. And when they find it, if you’ve heard them speak, it’s an amazing story! They really do call their friends and neighbours and tell them. “I looked everywhere. I was spiritually lost. I tried different religions, different pleasures, different lifestyles, different jobs, and was never satisfied. I always felt something was missing… until I found Jesus. And when I found Jesus I became satisfied. I feel grounded. I was lost, but now am found.”
Maybe that’s your story. The story not so much of what you did, but the story of the God who let Himself be found even when you were looking everywhere else, tried everything else, profaned and denied Him in multiple ways, and tried to replace Him with sin, and yet He still made Himself known to you by letting you feel like you found Him. He was there all along. He was moving your heart. But He was doing it in a way that would bring you to Him in a unique and special way.
The Lost Son The Welcoming Father
The third story is perhaps the most known of the parables Jesus taught. It’s often called the story of the Prodigal Son, or the Lost Son, but it could also be called the Parable of the Welcoming Father. It is not the story of the person who doesn’t know what they have and wanders off like a fool, but is found by God in the dark place and brought back – like the lost sheep. It is not the story of the person who is desperately searching for God and God makes Himself able to be found – like the parable of the lost coin. This is the story of the person who knows God, knows what they have, is surrounded by blessing, is living in their father’s house, has a relationship with their father, is among the fold, has all ten coins – and walks away from God. This is the story of the one who has been found, the one who has gotten the answer, and leaves anyway. This is the story of all of us.
“”There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.”
Just to be clear, this was a big deal. This was him saying that he wishes his father was dead so he could finally get his money and run. He said to his dad, “I wish you were dead.”
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31″‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found'””
It’s been said many times, and I’ll say it again, the whole point of this story is not the actions of the Prodigal Son, or of the Older Brother. This is the story of the Father. Both sons have the same problem; their hearts are far from their father. They both want to use the father to get riches, but don’t want to obey. Both wishes their father was dead and that they could finally have everything they’ve always wanted – it’s just that one brother is more patient. Neither brother knows what’s going on in the father’s heart. The brothers are one in the same – the only differences are their location and the types of sin they commit.
We Were All Lost Once
The big idea today that I want you to know is this: You are going to wander away, get lost, and tell God to get lost. You are going to want to try something, and take off and get lost and in over your head – like the lost sheep. You are going to slip from the hand and feel desperate to be found. Like the prodigal son, you are going to look into the eyes of your heavenly Father and say, “I don’t care what you say, or what you want, I’m going to do this my way because I want to”, and then run away from home. Like the Older Brother you are going to refuse to sit and eat with your heavenly Father when He asks for your company. You will whine to Him that you don’t have enough, that you are hard-done-by, and that you deserve more.
Like the Prodigal Son, you will make choices that get you enslaved — wallowing in the muck – making you unclean and impure – and you will show over and over that you trust yourself, or some other being or thing more than you trust God.
You will be like the Older brother and take God for granted. Take the gospel for granted. Lose your passion for Him, His Kingdom, His people, His worship, His discipline, His word, and His mission in your life. You will be apathetic to His voice, preferring entertainment and distraction to the King of Glory and the Great Treasure of the Universe.
We will all look into the face of God and say, “I wish you were dead.” That’s what it means to sin.
Whenever we sin we are saying “In this instance, at this time, I wish I was God. I wish I was in the place of my Father. I wish God wasn’t around so I could do whatever I want. I know His wishes, I can feel His Spirit convicting me, and yet I don’t care. I want to be in charge. I want what I’m due. I can do a better job of ruling my life. I wish there was no God so I could do whatever I want, without consequence.”
Does that sound too harsh? It’s not. That is the testimony of scripture.
God is the good shepherd who comes and gets us when we are in the dark place. God is the one who makes Himself found when we are desperately seeking answers to our deepest questions. God is the one who reminds us, when we are in the muck of sin, wallowing with the pigs, that there is a better home and a better place to be. God is the one who comes running towards us when we come back to Him. God is the one who takes you from being naked and filthy to having the best robe in the house. From being a slave to sin, to having His signet ring on your finger to show you are an honoured member of His family with rights and position. He is the one who puts sandals on your feet… the feet who walked away from Him when He had been nothing but good to you… to show you are not one of many, but are one of the few… one of His sons, one of His daughters. He is the one who kills the fattened calf, throws a party, calls His friends, writes music for the angels to sing over you!
Did you know that God sings over you? We hear about angels singing, but did you know that when you are saved, and when you repent and turn from your sin, that God Himself sings over you? Listen to Zephaniah 3:15-17,
“15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
The Lord sings over you!
Why? Because He wants to forgive you. He loves to forgive you. He has done everything possible, through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, so that you could be forgiven, clean, blessed, made holy, bought back from Hell and be with Him forever. He did it all. You did nothing. You deserve none of it. He wanted to do it because He loves you!
That is the essence of the gospel, and the most foundational point in this whole study of Resolving Everyday Conflict. You are the offender in a thousand ways – and you have been forgiven.
You were lost. You had a deep spiritual lostness and you were found.
When you look at lost people… When you look at brothers and sisters who are getting lost, walking away, moving into spiritual losteness… When it comes to looking at other’s sins against you… When it comes to how you view the sins of others… When it comes to that bitterness in your heart about what happened… When it comes to that person you can’t forgive, won’t forgive…. When it comes to hard-hearted decisions, the resentment, the anger, the hostility that you have for another person…
WHAT RIGHT DO YOU HAVE TO IT?
You who have been forgiven so much. You who has been brought back from the brink. You who have experienced peace with God because of the blood that was spilt from the blood of the perfect Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, upon the shameful, excruciating cross. You who has done nothing to save yourself, but have been ransomed from hell by the one who died for you. You who has been given such immeasurable grace.
What right do you have to not forgive others? What right do you have not to share that grace with others? How could you possibly not forgive if you can comprehend the amount you have been forgiven? How can you hold yourself in such high esteem when you have come face to face with your own depravity? How can the same mind understand the need to ask God to forgive your sins, but then not grant forgiveness to others? How can the same person, who knows how profoundly lost they were, look at someone else who is lost, and not show mercy?
I recently began a sermon series called Plug In: The Spiritual Disciplines, where I plan on going through 10 weeks of study on different ways we can meet God, know more about Him, understand our faith, and grow closer to Jesus. This was given as the first sermon in the series. I realized after the service that it was too much to take in all at once (especially after a few people came up to me, breathing heavily, and told me so!). Many people requested a copy, so what I’m going to do over the next few days is chop it up into more bite size pieces so folks can review it and, hopefully, learn more.
What is Bible Study?
I came up with my own definition that we can take apart.
Bible Study is “making the choice, under God’s direction, to methodologically spend time, energy and concentration to better understand God’s Word.”
“Making the choice”
Getting to know the bible better is a choice. Anything we do that is challenging requires us to make a choice. It does not happen merely by chance, or by osmosis. Sitting through sermon after sermon, and going to various groups does not make you a student of the bible. You need to make the choice to engage your mind, heart and hands in the process. One must say, “I see value in knowing the scriptures, and therefore I choose to invest my time and energy into studying them.”
“Under God’s direction”
We cannot really understand the bible without God’s help. Yes, we can learn about the people and places the bible speaks about, but we cannot truly be impacted by the full worth of God’s Word unless He works within us to help us understand it. It is His letter to us, and when He is not involved in the reading of it, it becomes stale and fruitless. If we don’t come to God before we study it, the bible will be foolishness to our ears, and produce nothing but guilt, showing us all the ways we don’t measure up. But if we seek God when we come to His world, then inside of it we will not only find conviction, but also wisdom and freedom.
Like any other study, Bible study requires a plan. This is a huge stumbling block to some people. They don’t like being told what to do, or that they need someone else to teach them about the bible, so they try to make it up all by themselves. But we need a guide to help us, a plan to complete the task, and a system by which we gather the knowledge. If we come to the bible without techniques and tools, then we cannot say we are studying it, any more than a scientist can say they are studying something if they have no equipment, system, process, reports, or methodology.
“Time, Energy and Concentration”
Bible study will take your time. This is probably the greatest expense to us, because our time is very valuable. It seems that we would much rather spend any other resource we have than time. Bible study will also take energy. It’s not something we can do very well when we are tired at the end of the day, but it will require some dedicated energy. And it will require concentration. We have to choose… there’s that word again… to put our concentration into the study. Anyone who has ever taken a class knows that you can sit through class, take notes, and even do the assignments, and not learn a thing because you’re just going through the motions to get the grade! To get anything out of bible study you will be required to concentrate and invest.
“to better understand God’s Word.”
Our goal is to understand it, not to read into it, manipulate it or use it for our own purpose. This is the Word of God that He has given to us. Our agenda is to have God speak to us through it, and to bring us to an understanding of what God has said, and is saying, through it.
“Why is Bible Study important?”
People see the bible in different ways. Some see it as an emotional antacid that you read only when your life has your stomach tied in knots. As a sleeping pill that you read to cure insomnia. Or, as an insurance policy where you may not have read the fine print but are hoping that by owning one you can get some help in the event of trouble. Some see it as a holy book reserved for monks and gurus. Or, as a story book filled with fables and fairytales. Some perhaps see the Bible as ancient wisdom literature pertinent to a bygone culture, but not relevant for today.
What is your view of the bible? Write down on your sheet… “The Bible is…what?” Now let’s ask a second question: How do you treat the bible? Do you treat the bible in the same way that you view it? Does your use of the Bible… how much time you spend in it, the effort you make to understand it, and the authority level you give the words… correspond to your view of it?
Why is it important that we know this book, and become a people grounded in this book? The answer is because this book contains the very words of God, given through human agents, to all of humanity, to guide us in this world, and ultimately lead us to salvation from hell and into eternal life. If you believe that, then you need to study it that way. It’s a very important book. Now, if you don’t believe that, then you should study this book and determine for yourself whether these claims are true or not. It’s still a very important book.
I came up with 5 reasons why Christians need to study the bible, but I’m sure that there are many more.
First, without bible study we soon forget God’s promises.
If we are not in the word regularly, we can forget what God has done for us, and is doing through us. We can get bitter, afraid, confused, or prideful if we are not reminding ourselves of the presence and promises of God regularly. We need these kind of reminders often. And it’s amazing how when we are going through a devotional guide, or a bible study, how often God will use the content to remind us of His goodness, greatness, love for us, and tell us what we need to hear that day.
Second, we become an easy target for the devil’s schemes.
When the banks, or tellers, or the RCMP study counterfeit money, they don’t spend time memorizing all the ways that a 20 dollar bill can be counterfeited, they spend their time memorizing what the real thinglooks like. That way anything that differs from the authentic note, must be a counterfeit.
Think of the Garden of Eden. What was Satan’s opening line there? The first line he ever spoke to humanity in Genesis 3:1 “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” He challenged God’s word. And Eve fell for the trap of dialoguing with Him. Then she modifies what God says, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” She changes the word of God ever so slightly…
And then Satan says, “You will not surely die… For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.””
The whole conversation was based on God’s word. Can you trust God’s word? What did God really say? Can God’s word be modified for this situation? When Jesus was facing the same temptations in the desert, He didn’t even speak His own words, or dialogue with the tempter at all. He merely quoted the truth of the bible and shut down the conversation. Most of us don’t know our bibles enough to shut down the conversation, and so we get drawn into the dialogue, and ultimately fall. If we don’t know our bibles… if we don’t know the truth… then we are open to being deceived.
Third, we become closed-minded.
We get stuck on one or two verses or ideas that define how we conduct our lives, our church, our families, and our friendships. Some people learn Matthew 7:1, “judge not lest ye be judged”, and never get past it. And therefore never speak to anyone about anything they are doing wrong. They never pull aside a brother or sister in Christ and tell them to get right with God.
And that’s because they’ve never gotten as far as Hebrews 10:24 which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” The words “spur on” literally mean “irritate, provoke and incite”. Or what about Proverbs 27:17 which says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Or, Matthew15:15where Jesus says, “If your brother sins go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” We are commanded in scripture to figure out how we can lovingly challenge and confront one another until we are caring for each other properly and doing the right thing.
We need the whole counsel of scripture to have a greater picture of what it means to be a Christian, not just picking and choosing a few favourites that fit with what we want to believe.
Fourth, we won’t be able to, as 1 Peter3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
I’m convinced that this is a big reason why people don’t share their faith. It’s because at some point they were told the truth, and they believed it, but they never locked away that truth inside of them to share with others. They are afraid that questions will come up that they won’t have answers for, so they don’t start the conversation at all. But if we are good students of the bible, then we will have the answers to many (not all, but many) of those questions, and have more confidence when we tell the story of what Jesus has been doing in our lives, and in this world.
And fifth, without diligent study we can be led, and lead others into heresy.
The word heresy literally means, “to choose other beliefs.” It is the opposite of the word “orthodoxy” which means “same thinking”. If God’s word is a revealed word, then it was revealed for a purpose, with a meaning in mind. There is a right way to read it.
2 Peter talks about the importance of reading what the Bible says and taking meaning from it, rather than putting meaning into it. Turn to, and listen to the words of 2 Peter 1:16-18, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Peter says, “Listen, we didn’t make this stuff up. And the prophets of the Old Testament didn’t make it up either. They weren’t interpreting things the way they saw them, or putting down their own ideas. They were simply writing what God told them to write.” That’s makes the bible a very special book.
We can’t say that these people wrote and taught this stuff to be popular or to make money. Most of the people who wrote the books of the bible lived difficult lives and were brutally murdered for what they believed.
And because of this, we need to remember that when we read the bible, we are not reading opinion, but we are reading the words of God, and we let them speak to us. If we stop reading the bible, or start reading into the bible, we will begin to introduce heresies… or “other beliefs”, that can lead us and others away from the truth.
Listen to how serious God takes heresy as I continue to read 2 Peter 2:1-3, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
We need to have good bible study habits and consistent accountability or we run the risk of promoting heresy, and what we think about a subject, rather than what God thinks.
So let’s get practical.
What are some methods we can use to study the bible to make sure we get it right? We need two things: Techniques and Tools. I only have time here to talk about the techniques. I brought some tools this week for you to see later.
There are 4 basic kinds of bible study that we can do: Topical, Exegetical, Biographical, Favourites.
Topical basically means that we pick a subject like salvation, heaven, hell, joy, judgement, prophecy, love, sacrifice, or grace and we see what the bible says about that topic. We find verses about that topic, and look up those words in a concordance to see what comes up. We read topical helps that talk about that subject.
Exegetical study means that we go verse by verse through the bible. We pick a book and study it chapter by chapter, verse by verse, word by word. This is generally how I preach when I go through a book. We go verse by verse, finding the key ideas, seeking out the context, and learning what the individual words meant then, and what they mean today.
A Biographical study is the study of a person. Moses, Ruth, Nehemiah, David, Solomon, Jesus, Paul. Pick a person and read all the books, verses and topics about them. Identify with them in your own life. Read their ups and downs. Study where they lived, and what their life was like. How did they live? How did they die?
And the fourth is a junk-drawer word I’m just calling Favourites – just picking and choosing a favourite passage. This would be studying the Lord’s Prayer, or Psalm 23 or 51, or all the definitions of love from 1 Corinthians 13. It’s mostly exegetical, and a little bit topical, and a little bit biographical.
How To Do A Bible Study
But what do you need to do? No matter what kind of study you’ve chosen, whether it’s topical, exegetical, biographical or a favourite, you’re going to come at it in the same way. Rick Warren has a great book called “Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods” and it has lots of different ways to go about doing a bible study. But it all boils down to three things you need to do:
Observe, Interpret, Apply.
First we Observe.
This is where we build our foundation of understanding the content. This is where we ask the “5W’s and an H” – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Here are some questions you can ask when looking and observing a passage:
1. What does it say?
What is the most obvious thing that this verse says. First impressions. Most basic, obvious observation. Let’s grab a difficult verse like John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” First impressions. Well, the NIV has the word “Word”capitalized, so it must be a proper name. And that proper name is probably a person who… wasn’t a human… but then became a human… and then lived among other humans. Ok.
2. What are some key words that I need to understand?
This requires a word study. What did the word mean back then and what does it mean today? Well, a few obvious words we need to understand are “Word”, “Flesh” and “Dwelling”. Let’s pick the word “Dwelling”. I went to www.blueletterbible.org and found the original text and learned that it is the Greek word SKENOO which means “Tabernacle” or “Tent”, and occurs 5 times in the bible. Once in John and 4 times in Revelation. I also remember that the Old Testament had a “Tabernacle”… I wonder if there’s a connection…
3. What’s the literal context?
What words are surrounding it? Who’s talking? Who is being spoken to? Well, we’d have to read the whole chapter and find out. What is the main idea that the author is trying to get across in this book, and in this paragraph, and in this sentence. And if God inspired the writing, then each word is important. Why did He choose that word, and what did that word, and sentence, and paragraph mean to the people then?
And what kind of literature is this? Knowing what kind of literature this is will help me interpret it. If you’re reading a poem, and you treat it like an encyclopaedia, you’re going to mess up the meaning. In the bible there are many kinds of literature. There are teaching sections, Legal writing, Narrative stories, Allegorical stories, Poetry and Prophecy. It’s important to figure out what kind of style you are reading before you interpret it.
4. What is the cultural context?
Where was the person when he wrote this? Who was he writing to? What were the political, social, economic, religious conditions during that time? Was there persecution? Famine? Was the author in prison like Paul? Or the leader of a country like Nehemiah? Or on the run like David? Was it being written to a church in a rich city, or a person who was a slave owner, or is this a chronicle of events to be kept in a library for reference? Cultural context is critically important for understanding the bible. What did it mean then?
My study bible says that John was a Jewish man, who wrote his book to both Jews and Gentiles. So he must have used the word “Tabernacle” to bring up something important in the minds of the Jewish and gentile readers, who understood about the tent that moved around with the people of God in the wilderness as they searched out the Promised Land.
And John uses that word to describe what Jesus did for us! The presence of God, in a fleshly tent, just like in the days of Moses.
5. What cross references apply?
Now we leave the verse we are studying and look around the bible for other verses or ideas like the one we are looking at. We always study difficult to understand verses in the light of verses that are easier to understand. If we can’t get it, then find another place in the bible that is more clear. The Bible will never contradict itself, but will always interpret itself rightly. Now, if we have learned that “the Word”, which we understand to be referring to Jesus, “became Flesh”… then does that mean that He was no longer God? Does that mean that he was sinful like other humans? We need to look at other passages to see.
- Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
- 1 John 3:5, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
Ok, now we’ve covered that part a bit. Cross references are very necessary in figuring out what’s going on, and a good study bible will help you find these cross references.
Now it’s time to Interpret.
In other words, ask the question, “What does it mean?” Based on your observation and all that you know about the context, meaning, words, cross-references, author and the rest: What did it mean then, and what does it mean now? What’s the main point God is getting across?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Is this passage teaching me doctrine? Is this passage rebuking me and telling me of a sin I have in my life, or that is in the world, that needs to be avoided and repented of? Is this verse correcting me and straightening out something that I’ve gotten wrong, or that others have gotten wrong? Or is this verse training me to do something like help someone, fix something, serve someone, or encourage someone? What does it mean?
Well, the main point of our verse seems to be that Jesus is God in the flesh, and chose to become one of us. Jesus, “The Word”, became human, and took on a “tent” of flesh, and decided and chose to live among us.
If we kept studying this we’d discover things like Jesus existed from eternity past, and was never created, but chose in love to become a human, for our sake, to take our penalty, because only a human could take the punishment for another human. And only a perfect human could take on Himself the wrath of God against sin for all humanity. And we would learn to identify the “Words” of God with the power of creation. Calling Jesus “the Word” represents Him as having the full power and majesty of God, the very power to create the universe.
We would also learn that in Greek culture “The Word” was considered to be an abstract, impersonal force, like the principle of reason or knowledge that gave order to the universe… but Jesus was not an impersonal “Word”, but was a very personal God who had the power to give order to all things through His very words. It is by His hand all things are sustained. That’s a powerful truth.
Now, interpreters have been studying this passage for 2000 years, so we’ve only just scratched the surface of what it means. But already we’ve learned something powerful. But so what?
Now we Apply what we’ve learned.
This is why we don’t end with Observation and Interpretation. It’s great to know what it says and what it means, but… what does it mean to me? This is God’s book. It is not written just to others, but to you and me as well. We need to ask “What does this passage really mean?” and then follow it up with, “And now what must I do?”
What do I need to change? What encouragement can I take from this? Who do I need to tell this to? What plan can I make to learn this lesson, and open my heart to God helping me to live more like Jesus. I’ll leave this part up to you today. What does God want you to do with this?
Observe, Interpret, Apply.
Bible Study is a rich and wonderful exercise, and I want each of us to be a person of the word. We need to work alone on this, and together in our groups.