Category Archives: Scripture

Misreading Exodus

I once taught children’s Sunday school and was given a curriculum to use about the Exodus story. The gist of the lesson was that Pharaoh disobeyed God, so God punished Egypt with plagues. Therefore we should obey God unless we really like frogs. I ignored the curriculum and told the class of thirteen kindergarten boys the story of God revealing his glory to the world.

Ancient Egypt was the most powerful kingdom in the world at the time. And Pharaoh was the most powerful man on earth. Egypt had the strongest military and the most wealth. They had enslaved whole people groups, like the Hebrews. It seemed no one could defeat or diminish Egypt.

Enter Yahweh

Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, told Pharaoh through Moses to let his people go. Pharaoh would have scoffed at letting such a large part of his workforce go. Who would make him?

As an answer, God sent a series of plagues to dismantle the image of power Egypt had created for itself. Each plague showed God’s dominion over something the Egyptians worshipped or drew their power from. The Nile, both an object of worship and their source of agriculture, was turned to blood. Their cattle died. Locusts ruined their crops. The sun went dark.

The Lord was shouting to everyone in Egypt, from Pharaoh to the lowliest slave, that He was greater than the gods of the strongest kingdom on Earth.

Anytime Pharaoh seemed to relent, God would harden his heart. He was not done yet. He had more false gods to dethrone.

Salvation Through a Lamb

Then God foretold the tenth plague. The firstborn in every household would die unless they obeyed God’s command to spread lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their house.

Pharaoh lost his son and heard the grief of his people. He relented. He let God’s people go.

But the story did not stop there. Once again, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he regretted what he had done and sent his military to stop them. The strongest military in the world chased down a group of recently freed slaves including elderly people, children and animals. Pharaoh could be assured of his success.

Except God.

Except God had just defeated all of Egypt’s gods. Except God had destroyed Egypt’s crops, and shown His might over and over and over through a stuttering shepherd and his younger brother.

Even so, Pharaoh sent his armies. And God showed the world that he could protect his people from the mightiest army in the world.

God is Mighty to Save

If we make this a story simply about obeying God or else he will destroy you, we miss what the story is teaching about God. Yes, God sent plagues to Egypt in response to Pharaoh’s hardness of heart. But he did it for a reason: to show the world his glory.

His power to save was made known throughout the surrounding nations. Everywhere the Hebrews travelled, kings had heard of what Yahweh had done for his people. They heard that He had rescued His people and believed that He could do it again. The world heard that the God of the Hebrews was mighty to save.

He also did it to fulfill his promise. He had promised that he bring his people out of Egypt and into the promised land. The God of the Israelites is not a capricious God. He does what he says He will do. 

In the middle of showing his glory to the world, God offers salvation through the blood of a lamb. God would continue to use the imagery of blood on wood as a means of salvation until it’s ultimate culmination in Christ’s death on the cross. 

In short, the story of Exodus shows that God is mighty to save.

I Wrote a Lesson for Myself

Most of the time what we teach others is actually what we need to learn ourselves. I wrote a post right before Thanksgiving about slowing down and finding silence in order to focus on God’s word. I was feeling the rush of travel preparations and wrote a post as a meditation on finding God in the silence in the midst of our noisy world. I thought it was a good thought, but not ready to publish, so I published something else that week. I never could have guessed how much I would need to read it just a few weeks later.

From four weeks ago:

For an introvert, I don’t handle quiet well. When the podcasts turn off and my newsfeed darkens, the quiet inside my head grows deafening. As a stay at home mom lacking adult conversation for 40 hours a week, it can be tempting to use the crutch of a good podcast, or social media to feel connected to something outside of myself. But these paper thin props only gloss over the deep-seated need for connection.

I can only hear the need in the deafening silence.

But in the same silence, I can also hear my own anxiety. I still feel the anxiety in the middle of the noise, but it chokes me. In the quiet, I can offer it up to God as too big for me to hold. Then I can breath in the air of trust, knowing God is good and he is for me. I have trouble knowing this truth in the middle of the noise.

In the silence, I can focus. I can follow a train of thought and see where it goes. These rambling thoughts frequently lead to prayers I didn’t know needed to be prayed, or ideas better than anything on my to-do list.

In the quiet, when my thoughts aren’t bombarded with information, I am more myself and more in conversation with God.

This morning while my son napped, instead of hunting down a distraction, which is always tempting, I sat with a few pages of scripture, double spaced, 12 point font, lots of white space on the page for marking and arrow drawing. Armed with colored pens and coffee, I read and re-read. Then I re-read some more. I familiarized myself with the warp and weft of the chapter, its rhythms and patterns.

Peace settled into my soul along with the words on the page. The goodness of God was found in the stillness, in the focused train of thought dwelling on his Word. With the laptop in another room and the cellphone who knows where, I was able to train my mind on the the word of God. In that, I saw the goodness of God for this moment and this day, which would surge at me in the form of a toddler waking ravenous.

We’ll walk to the grocery store. He’ll eat from his stroller tray, drawing adoring looks from passersby. Then we’ll check items off a list and rush home for his afternoon nap. The next ten days will be a whirlwind of travel and friends and family. Silence will be taken over by plane engines and airport announcements and the greeting of old friends, long unseen. Squeals over little blue eyes and walking feet. GPS directions and car horns. Meals cooking, dominoes clinking and cousins playing.

Quietness of soul can be found again even in the midst of a happy holiday by resting in the God’s word. It’s warp and weft, it’s depths to plumb. The felt goodness of God in greetings and meals is anchored in his communicated goodness in Scripture. If only we can quiet our souls to hear.

Now after Thanksgiving, I need to pursue silence even more. But the pull toward noise to deafen my thoughts is even stronger.

The plan was to travel to see friends and family. We did, but the visit was not what we had hoped. Instead, my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My spry, healthy, active Granny.

She died two weeks later.

I never knew cancer could be so sudden. This was not a slow fade to death. She was healthy with some unexplained itching. Then suddenly, she was gone.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t post last week, now you know. Words were hard.

Pursuing silence is harder now. Not the least because our household is sick with a seasonal yuckiness that makes toddlers miserable and toddler’s parents exhausted. And of course, clogged drains needs clearing, and another holiday needs preparing for. Life keeps going in the midst of grief.

Grief makes me want to run from stillness.

In the quiet, I cry for a grief too big for me to hold.

Yet in the same silence, I behold God big enough to hold my grief.

More than at most times, I need to make space to see that God is good, and he is for me. It is where I can know he holds grief. He holds anger at cancer. He holds a whole family under the weather in a week of grief.

He holds the gentle memory of my son playing peekaboo with his great-grandmother and the grief which now colors it. He holds the knowledge that my little boy won’t remember his great-grandmother delighting in him through the pain of her fatal diagnosis.

In meditating on God through his word, I get to know his peace even in the silence.

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Why Every Christian Should Clearly Understand Sola Scriptura

It’s easy to think theology is dry and boring, useless to the life of the average believer. But theology is the most practical thing that we can do because what we think about God shapes the whole of who we are. It carries us through every season of life, and shapes every interaction we have. If we think wrongly about God, then we’re not equipped to follow him well nor to enter into the fullness of joy he offers us. The invitation to know God through the Bible is an invitation into joy.

God sent his word to us so that we can know him. He cares about how we approach it. His word is his mediated presence in our lives, so how we read and understand it is vital. So let’s do a little theology.

During the Reformation the reformers codified their beliefs into five statements that are still useful for us today. These statements are not infallible; they are not scripture. But they are useful for talking about what the scriptures teach us. For now I’ll focus on Sola Scripture, or translated, Scripture Alone.

What is Sola Scriptura?

Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.” (Ligonier Ministries) In other words, Scripture teaches us everything we need to know to follow Jesus. We don’t have to go to teachers, books, sermons, or even historical doctrinal statements of the church — however excellent they might be — to learn what it is to follow Jesus.

Are these things still useful? Yes. We know this because we see sermons, collections of songs of worship, and teachings within the Scripture. We even see church leaders gathered to discuss important doctrinal decisions. All of these things are a part of the life of the church and useful for the Christian, but they all serve to point the Christian to the scripture.

Prone to False Doctrine

Without a clear understanding of Sola Scriptura, we are apt to succumb to the false doctrines that surround us. We don’t live out our faith in a vacuum, but in a culture which has it’s own doctrines that we are steeped in with or without knowing it. If we don’t understand Scripture as authoritative, then we will be knocked around by every wave of doctrine. In the changing norms of our culture, we must be rooted in the Eternal Truth revealed to us by the Eternal God in his Eternal Word. If we understand that scripture alone has the highest authority on any topic on which it speaks then we will necessarily measure all other teachings against it, even the implicit teachings in the culture around us.

In the same way we test the teachings of our culture we should test the teaching of a Church tradition, a favorite pastor or blogger, or our own underlying assumptions. During the Reformation, the reformers made the radical statement that Scripture had a greater authority than the traditions of the Catholic Church (referred to as the magistirum). Luther and his counterparts wanted the Church to submit itself wholly and fully to the word of God. The traditions, while valuable, were not on the same level of scripture.

To the modern day evangelical, this seems obvious. However, if we outsource our theological thinking to the catechism and doctrines of our protestant churches, or to our favorite popular pastors, then we follow the same pattern of the Catholic church in trusting a magisterium over and above Scripture. We must faithfully measure all we are taught according to the standard of Scripture. This requires close study, a skill we must learn to cultivate.

Limits of Sola Scriptura

However, if we don’t understand the limits of the doctrine – that scripture contains everything we need, not everything that is useful — then we can be tempted to discount the value of Scripture when we encounter a question that Scripture does not address. For instance, the Bible does not address voting because democracy was not a form of government in the times and places the Bible was being written. So we can’t go to the Bible for simple answers on how or if to vote.

But we can learn from the scriptures about justice, power, peacemaking, how to treat foreigners, how to treat the poor, what God has to say about racism, wealth accumulation, and war. That insight should shape our voting. But there are other useful things that could shape our voting: an understanding of how our government works, if similar platforms have historically done what the candidates claim they will, a wise counselor’s interpretation of the Scripture and the political season. These things are extra-biblical, and useful, but they are not authoritative and are not to be trusted as being on par with Scripture.

Pursue Consistent Application

A clear understanding calls us to try to have a consistent application of the doctrine. It has been inconsistently applied since the early church fathers, by Luther and throughout the history of the Protestant church. Luther himself appealed to previous theological interpretations when challenged on the way in which the Lord’s Supper was taken. Even denominations like Baptists who say they follow the Bible alone, have strong traditions of interpretation through which the church members tend to view scripture.

We are far from perfect. Each Christian and church will have blind spots in our submission to Scripture’s authority. We will assume it says things it is not saying, and we will miss it’s clear teachings. However, we must pursue excellence in submitting our lives to scripture because through the Bible we get to know and experience God who is our Great Joy.

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What I Learned about Being a Proverbs 31 Woman

I went to a small, private Christian college for a year and lived in the dorm because they made me, so I heard one phrase like a broken record: “I want to be a Proverbs 31 wife”. Usually this statement was followed with some details about staying home and raising a bunch of kids and not working because it’s better for the family, and how could any mom who loves her children send them to the hell-hole that is daycare!

The young woman sharing these thoughts with me didn’t always (usually) have a boyfriend. I thought, “That seems cool, but my mom’s a programmer and as far as I know, my brother and I aren’t ax murderers.”

Being 19 and unable to handle conflict, I wouldn’t say anything. Also the fact that I never really read Proverbs 31 didn’t help in the stating an alternate opinion department. I knew I couldn’t live up to it, so it was too much of a guilt trip to read, so I avoided it. Again with not being able to handle conflict.

New Clarity

It wasn’t until I learned in a literature class (at one of those godless state universities) about the idea of a type character that I was able to read Proverbs 31, or anything else in Proverbs, without the crushing weight of guilt.

Once I had the idea of a literary type in my head, it was so obvious that Proverbs 31 is not describing any single woman, or what any single woman should be, but a type of woman: hardworking, kind, capable, honorable, loving, peaceful. No woman will ever live up to the full description. And we don’t have to. She’s an idealized example.

If I don’t “let my lamp go out at night”, i.e. stay up late working, and also “wake up while it is yet night”, I will not “have the teaching of kindness on my lips”. No amount of coffee could fix the crankiness that would emanate from me.

So with that freedom in mind, let’s take a look at a few verses in Proverbs 31.

“She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” (v 13)

“She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.” (v 14)

“She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” (v 16)

“She perceives that her merchandise is profitable” (v 18)

“She puts her hands to the distaff and her hands hold the spindle” (v 19)

“She makes linen garments and sell them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.” (v 24)

Work to do

This woman works, y’all. She’s making stuff and selling it. She’s buying real estate and using it to produce for her family. She knows that her merchandise is worth money. She’s got a diversified portfolio. And she’s not discounting the value of her work. Instead she’s selling it for a profit.

Now some of these verses are arguably about the work she does directly for the household, but she’s clearly making things for sale as well.

“Yes but all of these things can be done at home. She’s not going to an office for 8 or 9 hours a day.”

Let’s have a little history lesson.

A Unfamiliar Pattern of Work

The economy of the Ancient Near East (or Western Asia, if we’re not being Eurocentric) was different than today’s. People didn’t clock in at jobs and receive a salary for being a warm body that looked busy. That particular annoyance came with the Industrial Revolution.

Instead, people produced something of worth, then sold it. Or they transported things for someone who made something. Or produced food for their own family from the land. There were other types of work, but that was the bulk.

The woman described in Proverbs 31 was engaged in the economy of the time. She was earning by producing goods and managing her assets well.

Was she still the primary caregiver for her children? Maybe. We can’t tell from the passage. But we do know she was fully engaged in the economy.

Principles to Apply

By understanding the idea of a type character, and by thinking about the verses in the context in which they were written, we can understand the principles Proverbs is getting at and apply them to our lives and our context.

A Proverbs 31 woman works hard, manages large and small assets for the benefit of her family, engages in the economy, and knows that the work she does has value.

You can live out these principles whether you are a stay at home mom, a CEO, or a teacher. Whatever your day in and day out employment, you can do work that economically benefits your family.

In our context, this may mean a 9-5 job, which brings it own challenges when raising a family. But Proverbs 31 — far from restricting women in employment choices — gives you some of the guiding principles you need to make a decision regarding the work you do.

Five Things I Learned from Reading Bibliotheca

A few years ago a Kickstarter called Bibliotheca made the rounds on social media: the Bible published in a way that is comfortable to read with beautiful craftsmanship, easy to read font, no distracting numbers or subtitles, quality paper in four volumes each about the size of a novel.

I was hooked immediately. There’s something wonderful about reading a book that’s a well crafted object, not only a well crafted narrative. The Bible deserves the best book craftsmanship. Also, a well designed book is conducive to sinking into the text as you read. Most Bibles with their tiny font, see-through pages, and distracting numbers are the opposite of that.

I’ve been using Bibliotheca for my morning Bible reading. Here’s a few tidbits I’ve been learning.

1) I can read a lot more scripture in one sitting than I realized. When I’m not distracted by constant chapter breaks and difficult to read print, I can read much larger portions of the text before I need a mental break. Since I started reading from Bibliotheca regularly, I’ve made quick and easy progress through the Scripture which has been quite enjoyable.

2) The individual portions of Scripture are far more connected than I had realized. I knew each book had it’s own arc and construction. I knew it wasn’t merely a collection of unrelated stories. But the numbers, subtitles, and chapter breaks —while helpful in certain situations — are not supportive of seeing the connectivity of the text. What has been most striking is that reading through the Pentateuch, sometimes it’s hard to guess where the chapter breaks might be since the narrative flows so smoothly. Which of course, contributes to being able to read more scripture in a sitting.

3) Since the rest of the narrative flows smoothly, the elements of the story that stick out truly stick out. I’ve been more aware of the scene changes, the large gaps in time, the stories that feel like an interjection or an aside. They are more jarring and noteworthy. Which leads to…

4) The purposefulness of the text becomes clear. Although I knew it wasn’t written haphazardly, I hadn’t experienced it’s purposefulness as fully until I read Scripture without the (situationally helpful) reference numbers most Bibles have. Even though I wasn’t aware of being aware of the chapter breaks, I was. They were shaping the way I was reading the Bible. Without those distractions, I can focus on the text and read it as I would any well-written book: enjoying it, noticing details and connections, asking questions, and looking for the answers.

5) Finally, there’s so much more to be learned from Scripture than what I know right now. Technically, I already knew this. But reading out of Bibliotheca has helped me to experience it anew. The different reading experience is like getting your glasses prescription updated. You didn’t know your vision was growing fuzzy until it suddenly becomes clear.

I still use my study Bible and a basic thinline edition that’s handy for church, but reading from Bibliotheca has given me new perspective and profitable perspective on Scripture. If you have not had the pleasure of reading the Bible without the chapter and verse numbers or any headings, I would encourage you to try it. There are several options available:

ESV 6 Volume Set


ESV Reader’s Bible

Why Leper Laws Matter to You

I’ve been reading Leviticus lately, which is not the most thrilling book of scripture. However, each time I read it, I’m struck by how much beauty and foreshadowing of Christ it contains. The laws concerning lepers take more space than one would consider quite necessary until you realize this probably comprises the extent of their medical textbook. In the description of these public health practices, we get a foretaste of Christ’s sacrifice. Continue reading Why Leper Laws Matter to You

Applying Scripture Leads to Spiritual Maturity

It is easy to approach Scripture only looking for knowledge. After all, we spend years in school reading in order to learn, for the primary purpose of passing a test. However, the Bible is not only a way to learn more about God; it is primarily a way to experience God.

We experience God through learning from and obeying His word. In Psalm 119 — a staggeringly long poem about the beauty and value of God’s word — the Psalmist claims more maturity than his elders and teachers because he meditates on and obeys the Lord:

I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
– Ps 119:99-100 (NIV)

If we read the Bible only for knowledge, encouragement, or out of obligation or habit, then we miss the depths of what the Lord has intended for us. We must apply what we see in Scripture.

For years I read the Bible, wanting to grow in maturity. It wasn’t until I learned to find something specific to apply that I began to see my life transformed. While reading scripture, I began to ask myself the question “What specifically can I apply from this passage within 48 hours?” Most of the time, it’s not an earth-shattering act of obedience. One time – I can’t remember the passage – I began to feel convicted that I had neglected important relationships because I prioritized tasks over people, a frequent pitfall of mine. So for my application that day I delayed a few truly unimportant tasks and called my mom. Not earth shattering, but I’m pretty sure my mom’s love language is out-of-the-blue phone calls from her kids. I would not have called her that particular time if I had not read scripture and applied it.

I’ve asked this question while leading Bible studies with Christians and 90% of the time, people answer “read the Bible more”. Let me make it clear to you. If “read the Bible more” is your application most of the time, you’re missing the point. Should you read the Bible more? For most of us, yes. In addition to actually reading it, we must learn to apply it.

Once you get a little practice finding an application, it is not hard. Someone gave me a useful framework for thinking of an application: S.P.E.C.K

  • Sin to confess or avoid
  • Prayer, Praise, Promise
  • Example to follow
  • Command to Obey
  • Knowledge to pursue

I did not come up with this acronym. If anyone knows who came up with it, comment and I’ll gladly give credit.

Let’s do an example. What does this look like while reading the 23rd Psalm?

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff,
They comfort me.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Some possible applications from the passage could be:

  • Sin to avoid: “I struggle with anxiety and fear. Whenever I find myself feeling anxious in the next few days, I’m going to repent and ask God to help me trust him.”
  • Prayer: “I don’t always feel like the Lord is active or interested in my daily life. For the next few days, I am going to ask him to show me how he’s working.”
  • Praise: “I’m reminded of the Lord’s goodness from this Psalm. In the next two days, I am going to write down as many ways as I can think of that he has been good to me as a way to praise him.”
  • Promise: “I’m in a scary/difficult situation right now. Over the next few days, I’m going to remind myself of the promise that the Lord is with me.”
  • Example to follow: “It seems like the Psalmist takes time to contemplate the goodness of God and responds to that goodness through creativity which is then shared with a community. In the next few days, I’m going to find a creative way to express the ways the Lord has been good to me and share it with someone who might be blessed by it.”
  • Command to obey: “It seems like the Lord commands rest at the beginning of this Psalm. I’m not very good at actually resting on the Sabbath. This week on the Sabbath, I’m going to spend some extra time reading the Bible and go on a walk without my cell phone. I’ll stay away from TV and social media for the day too.”
  • Knowledge to Pursue: “I’m not sure what ‘Your rod and your staff, they comfort me’ mean. I’m going to look into that in the next two days and try to apply whatever I learn.

Each of these are 1) specific, 2) have a time attached to them 3) actionable 4) and most importantly are derived from the passage. There’s even one in there about reading the Bible more.

What about you? What is one way you could apply what you’ve learned in Scripture this week?