Four Truths About the Minor Prophets

This summer we begin a series that walks through the books of the Bible known as the minor prophets. The Teaching Team won’t go through every verse in every book. We will do more of an overview. Our hope is to uncover the essential message of each minor prophet as it relates to one of its major themes: the love of God.

Some believers have gone their entire lives without reading these books. Maybe it’s because the minor prophets feel confusing, obscure, or simply too far removed from the New Testament. Others who have read them often have done so in a piecemeal format – reading a verse here or a brief passage there. Still, there are others who think these books are full of prophecies for the modern world and thus, must be read with a newspaper in hand. As far as the minor prophets go, misconceptions can easily abound.

So, in order to reduce some confusion and help us maximize our time in this series, here are four truths about the minor prophets that you might not have known.

 

They’re not called the minor prophets because they’re insignificant. 

There are four major prophets in the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. They are called major because of their length. Fun fact: these books are also ordered together in our English Bibles with only Lamentations stuck in the middle. Thus, the minor prophets, twelve books in all, are named so because they are comparatively short, not because they are of lesser importance.

The major and minor prophets are collectively known in the Hebrew Bible as the Latter Prophets (or Writing Prophets, because they authored their own works). This is because they came later in Israel’s history, as opposed to the earlier books of Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings. These books are referred to as the Former Prophets.

 

The prophetic books aren’t all prophecy.

To read any of the minor prophets is to find books composed of different genres of literature in addition to prophetic material. These writings also contain genres such as narrative, apocalyptic, wisdom, poetry, songs, and even sermons. This means that in interpreting these books well we must have different rules for reading different styles of writing. That may sound challenging but it’s worth it because it allows us to better understand the books as they were originally given.

For the record, if this kind of thing stresses you out, I highly recommend taking Clear Creek’s class “How To Study the Bible” in the fall. It will give you the tools and training to engage and interpret the different literary genres that we encounter in studying the Bible.

 

The prophecies in the minor prophets aren’t always about our future.

One of the most common misconceptions about the prophetic books is that the prophecies therein are entirely about the days and times still awaiting modern folks. We need to remember that those prophecies were meant for the original audience thousands of years ago. Many of those prophecies, while yet to be fulfilled in the future for them, actually came to pass centuries ago for us. Scholars Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart point out in their co-authored book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (page 166),that less than 2 percent of Old Testament prophecy has to do with Jesus, less than 5 percent deal with the New Covenant age (e.g., the age we currently reside), and less than 1 percent concerns events yet to come.

 

 

Prophets didn’t just spend time foretelling the future.

It is true that part of a prophet’s role was to foretell the future. The most popular Hebrew name for prophets was nabi which meant “called” and very likely was tied to the fact that these individuals were “called” by God and also “called out” to the people on God’s behalf. But prophets had additional functions central to their role. One helpful way to see this is in the difference between forthtelling and foretelling.

We rightfully think of the prophets as foretellers of the future. However, the prophets spent a lot of their time forthtelling. As scholar Sidney Greidanus notes, the prophets “uncover and point out the idolatry, the corruption, the injustice that exists under the veneer of religiosity, and they call for a radical change” in God’s people (The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 230). Essentially, the prophets are God’s covenant enforcement mediators for ancient Israel. Much of reading the minor prophets is to see text after text not of a prophet predicting the future but calling Israel to be faithful to God’s ways in the present.

 

When you better understand the role of the prophets and the messages they gave in Scripture, the minor prophets can take on a whole new meaning for followers of Jesus. We just have to take the initiative to study these books. Many Christians are amazed at how texts written to God’s original covenant people can feel so timely and appropriate for for Christ’s New Covenant family today.

Not only is that my hope as we begin our series in the minor prophets but that we would be awash in amazement and gratitude for a God who not only redeems his people but cares how they live and love in the world in which he has placed them.


 

 

George Floyd, Racism, and Grieving with Those Who Grieve

Last Tuesday afternoon, one of Clear Creek Community Church’s pastors informed our Executive Team of the developing news concerning a man named George Floyd. According to a bystander video, Mr. Floyd, a native Houstonian, died as a result of treatment by some Minnesota police officers. The next day gave way to further details of the tragedy. I was heartbroken and posted to my social media accounts:

Grieving with our fellow black Americans who feel like this is the same horrible, deflating, despairing song that’s still stuck on repeat. Grateful for a better kingdom that comes. Come quickly. #GeorgeFloyd

In 2017, Clear Creek did a sermon series on race and racism where, on one of those Sundays, we spent time listening to a panel of four black pastors who shared their experiences of racism in America. It was an eye-opening, sobering, and needed conversation for the people of our church to be a part of. Since then we have preached other messages with applications addressing the sin of racism, but nothing has stood out to me as much as listening to those friends share their stories of heartbreak, despair, and disenfranchisement (as well as their hopes for the future).

I needed those voices.

Their experiences of racism, which they confirmed were generally the rule instead of the exception, are ones for which I have no personal context. I have never had rocks hurled into the windows of my childhood home with messages of hate attached to them. I have never been detained by authorities with weapons drawn as I was simply retrieving something from my car trunk. I never had families quickly scatter to the other side of the street when they saw me walking toward them going to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant.

Once again, my black friends patiently remind me that this is par for the course for those in the black community.[1]

That’s why when the recent events of Ahmaud Aubrey and now George Floyd occur, the emotional dam breaks and all the pain and sorrow flows once again from people of color. It’s not just about the details of one event or another but what they represent: the relentless injustice of what daily life in America feels like for the black community.

My social media feed was a cascade from my black friends of sorrow, anger, and cries of “How long, O Lord? How long?”

How long will a people endure injustice? How long can followers of Jesus outside the black community be inattentive to the cries of their Christian brothers and sisters of color within it? How long will it be until believers live out the kingdom of the gospel as it respects race regardless of what it costs them politically, relationally, socially, or financially? 

There are many places to learn how followers of Jesus can better live out the gospel as it concerns race. I encourage you to figure out which steps the Spirit might lead you to better love your neighbor in this endeavor. A good place to start is by simply grieving with those who grieve (Rom. 12:15). Add your voice of support to the despairing masses who feel the crushing sorrow of what feels like another brutal, gut-wrenching reminder that things are not the way they are supposed to be. It could be as simple as dialoging with your friends of color about how they are doing and how you can love them well.

We, the leadership of Clear Creek Community Church, grieve with our black brothers and sisters within our church and also our black friends outside it. We hope that swiftly there comes a day where the stories of hatred and brutality come to an end, and we also hope Clear Creek Community Church can be a partner toward that end as it glorifies the kingdom and King Jesus who brings it.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

– Matthew 5:14-16

[1] I use the term “Black community” instead of “African American community” because of some conversations with my black friends who believe the former term to be an inaccurate descriptor of the origins for many black Americans today.

*I wanted to write this because Clear Creek recorded the elements for the May 31st service before the events of George Floyd had come to the surface nationally. Because of this, we intentionally addressed the racial tensions of the nation in our pre-service “lobby time” Sunday morning. However, those who didn’t participate in that time would likely think we went the entire day without addressing this important, national issue. We did not, have not and, God-willing, will not.


 

A Study of Joel: The Serious Love of God

In the summer 2020 message series “For the Love,” the Clear Creek Community Church Teaching Team will examine one of the least known sections of the Bible, the books known as the Minor Prophets, to better understand the great love of God and our faithful response to that love. Join with us in reading each book along the way! Each Sunday afternoon we will post an introductory video by The Bible Project and a 5-day reading plan with reflection questions to prepare you to hear the following Sunday’s message.


DAY 1—Read Joel 1:1-12

The book of Joel begins with the recounting of devastating tragedy. What natural disaster has affected the nation (v. 4-7)? What difficulties and disappointments are they facing?

In an agricultural society, the loss of crops was equivalent to a loss of life. What poetic comparison does Joel make in v. 8 in order to describe their mourning?

 

APPLY—As the locusts destroy their land, Joel’s countrymen watch their hopes disappear as “gladness dries up from the children of man” (v. 12). When have you faced this kind of loss? What does a godly grief look like when gladness feels impossible to find?

 

 

DAY 2—Read Joel 1:13-20

The second half of Chapter 1 begins by addressing Israel’s priests. How would the locust swarm have affected their responsibilities? How does he expect them to respond?

It seems that the locusts have been followed by more disaster. What difficulties have afflicted the land next (v. 17-20)?

 

APPLY—Joel ends the chapter with a description of the creation itself longing for God to meet their needs, for his judgment of Israel’s sin has affected the land as well as the people (v. 20). What sin do you need to turn away from today? What difference might that transformation make in the lives of your family and neighbors?

 

 

 

 

DAY 3—Read Joel 2:1-17

In Chapter 2, Joel connects an impending judgment to the destructive locusts and fire in the previous chapter. What is threatening the nation now? How will the land and people be affected?

“The day of the Lord” is a phrase frequently used by the biblical prophets to speak of a coming time of both judgment of evil and salvation for the righteous (v. 1, 11). Who is facing judgment in this passage? How does the Lord want them to respond, and what will happen if they do (v. 12-17)?

 

APPLY—Joel 2:13 contains a description of God’s character, using the same words that he proclaimed after the Israelites worshipped a golden calf at the base of Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:6). The Lord is recalling his past mercies, reminding them that he always responds to repentance with grace. How have you experienced his forgiveness in your own life? How can a reminder of his compassion for you affect your willingness to turn back to him today (Hebrews 4:16)?

 

 

DAY 4—Read Joel 2:18-32

In today’s reading, we see the Lord’s compassionate reversal of the judgments of the first half of the book—not because of their righteousness, but simply as a gift of grace. In the chart below, identify the judgments found in the previous passages and the promises of renewal in Chapter 2.

 

God’s Judgment   Judgment Reversed
1:1-7 The locust swarm 2:24-26
1:10-12 2:23
1:19-20 2:21-22
2:1-11 2:20

Verse 27 promises that God will dwell among his people during this future renewal, both reminding them of his past presence in their midst and anticipating a greater fulfillment to come. What does John 1:14 reveal about how Joel’s prophecy has come to pass?

 

APPLY—On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the apostle Peter preached from Joel 2:28-32 in order to explain the day’s events to the crowd. The Holy Spirit had come in power to everyone who believed: young and old, rich and poor, slave and free. God was no longer simply dwelling amonghis people, but withinthem. What encouragement can you take from God’s promise to send his Spirit to live within you? How might his presence shape your daily choices, actions, and attitudes?

 

 

 

DAY 5—Read Joel 3

The final chapter of Joel begins with a reminder that God’s mercy is not universal. Who will be judged on the day of the Lord (v. 1-12)? In contrast, who will find a refuge in the Lord (v. 16)?

In verses 15-16, Joel describes the creation’s response to the Lord’s judgment. How do we see these same phenomena take place in Matthew 27:45-54? Who is receiving the wrath of God at the crucifixion, and who will receive salvation (Romans 5:6-9)?

 

APPLY—Joel concludes with a description of the Lord dwelling again in Jerusalem on Mt. Zion, in the midst of his people. In Revelation 21-22, John describes the New Jerusalem that we will inhabit following Christ’s return, using images that relate back to Joel’s writing. What do these images of peace and flourishing stir in your heart? How can a longing for eternity shape the way we walk with God and love others today?

 


 

Carried by God

When my daughter was young, I would often carry her in a baby wrap, snug and warm and safe. She would calm almost instantly as I pressed her close to myself. My slow and steady movements would lull her to sleep with the assurance that she was safe in my embrace.

But no child remains an infant forever. My oldest daughter is too grown up to let me carry her any longer, wanting instead to prove her capability. She insists on independence, often telling me, “I know what I’m doing, Mom.”

As you might guess, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I also often resist the help of others. I like to be in control, and being helped often means losing some control. This attitude especially emerges in times of stress and uncertainty.

This season of COVID-19 is rife with fear, worry, and anxiety for many of us. Grappling for control over each new situation, I have caught myself slipping into old mindsets that take me away from reliance on the Lord. Our resistance to receive help may seem harmless, initially, but it always attacks our relationships with God first. When we rely on ourselves too much, we fail to rely on him. If this continues, we miss out on the source of peace and comfort we need most in times of uncertainty.

Most children eventually outgrow their need for their earthly parents, but we never outgrow our need for God.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God shepherding the nation of Israel, his chosen people. As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land after wandering the desert for forty years, Moses recounted the mistakes of the previous generation. God had brought them to the land he had provided, commanding them to take it without fear of the enemies who lived there.

Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’

Deuteronomy 1:29-31

The Israelites had seen the mighty works of God: their deliverance from Pharaoh’s slavery, the parting of the Red Sea, and his provision of manna in the desert, among other things. Moses reminded them that God carried them all the way, providing every need while they walked through the unknown, as a good Father should. But despite all they had seen, their despair over their circumstances was greater than their faith in their Father’s care. Convinced that the difficulty was just too much, that generation missed out on entering the land God had promised them. And we are just as susceptible to reliance on ourselves.

Like an infant, I become restless in uncertainty. Eyes blinded by fear. Mind clouded by a lack of understanding. Hands clenched onto any control I can grasp. Convinced of my own competence and oblivious to my need for the Father who carries me.

We’re all walking through many unknowns right now. And though we may desire to trust God, we often resist his help and rely on our own competence. When we catch ourselves falling into that mindset, let’s turn back toward God.

Even in times of great difficulty, we can trust our Good Father.

He is always near, fighting for us in our most desperate situations and carrying us through seasons of fear and uncertainty. The Israelites lived with God’s presence among them yet did not truly see him for what he was. Because of Christ’s work on our behalf, we can walk in the light of his love, set free from sin’s power and relying on his rescue.

Let’s relinquish some of our self-reliance and control. Holding the circumstances of our lives with an open hand, instead of a tight grip, enables us to relax into God’s capable arms. And when we allow ourselves to be carried by God, our eyes will be opened to the work he is doing.

Exchange your self-reliance for faith in our ever-reliable God—the only one fully capable of handling our burdens. When we lean in, our good Father presses us closer to himself.

He will carry us all the way.


 

A Study of Hosea: The Scandalous Love of God

In the summer 2020 message series “For the Love,” the Clear Creek Community Church Teaching Team will examine one of the least known sections of the Bible, the books known as the Minor Prophets, to better understand the great love of God and our faithful response to that love. Join with us in reading each book along the way! Each Sunday afternoon we will post an introductory video by The Bible Project and a 5-day reading plan with reflection questions to prepare you to hear the following Sunday’s message.


DAY 1—Read Hosea 1-3

In Chapter 1, Hosea is told to marry Gomer, a “wife of whoredom”—language that can feel shocking to us. She then abandons Hosea to pursue a life of sexual immorality. How is Gomer’s behavior representative of the nation of Israel? (1:2)

Chapter 2 gives us a poetic extension of the metaphor depicted by Hosea’s family. Who is the husband that Israel has spurned? Who are the lovers that Israel is pursuing? What does she believe that her lovers provide for her? Who is her true provider?

 

APPLY—Although the nation had forfeited many blessings because of their idolatry, Hosea still shares a hope of future restoration. How do we see this depicted in Chapter 3, both in Hosea’s marriage and in the nation of Israel? What hope can this give to followers of Jesus when we stray from obedience and intimacy with God?

 

 

 

DAY 2—Read Hosea 4-6

The remainder of the book contains the prophecies, or oracles, of Hosea—the messages he received from God to deliver to the nation of Israel. There are three types of oracles found throughout the books of the Prophets: warnings of judgment, calls to repentance, and promises of salvation. Which of these is most evident in the chapters you read today? What actions of his people have resulted in God’s response?

There are only a few verses in this chapter that provide a glimpse of hope to Hosea’s audience. Hosea 6:1-3 calls the Israelites to repentance with the promise of God’s mercy in return. When does the Lord promise to raise them to new life? How do we see this promise fulfilled in the New Testament? (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

 

APPLY—Hosea’s promise that God “will raise us up, that we may live before him” is no longer just a future promise. Though we have not yet experienced bodily resurrection, believers have already been rescued from spiritual death through God’s mercy.  Read Ephesians 2:1-7. In what ways did our lives before Christ resemble the idolatrous behavior of the Israelites? How can God’s grace to us in Christ, despite our sin, give us a hope that will ultimately transform our lives?

 

 

 

DAY 3—Read Hosea 7-9

In Chapter 7, Hosea uses several examples of metaphorical language to describe the nation of Israel (also frequently referred to as Ephraim)? To what four things does Hosea compare them, and what characteristics does each seem to illustrate? The first has been completed for you.

Object of Comparison Characteristics of the People
v. 4-7 A heated oven Angry and rebellious
v. 8-9
v. 11-13
v. 16

 

In Chapter 8, Hosea reminds his listeners that this is not the first time that Israel has violated their covenant with the Lord. To what past rebellions is he referring in verses 4-6? (Check out Exodus 32:1-14 and 1 Kings 12:25-33.) Is God’s coming judgment an impulsive lashing-out or evidence of his patience and compassion?

 

APPLY—Chapter 9 continues the description of both the Israelites’ failure to honor God and the coming judgment that their behavior deserves. Why is it difficult at times for us to appreciate the Lord’s commitment to justice in the same way as his love or grace? What difference can it make when we attempt to know God in allthe ways he reveals himself?

 

 

 

DAY 4—Read Hosea 10-11

Chapter 10 continues Hosea’s indictment of Israel’s lack of faith. Where are they placing their faith instead? In what circumstances are you tempted to trust in your own way rather than God’s plan?

Hosea creates an extended analogy in Chapter 11, describing God as a loving father. Who is his child? What has the father done to care for his child? How has the child responded to the father’s care?

 

APPLY—Chapter 11 ends with a glimpse of hope that Israel will not be destroyed completely and permanently. Is this because Israel has changed their behavior (v. 12) or simply because of God’s love (v. 8)? In what ways have you experienced God’s grace in your own life, extending his compassion and blessings to you when you least deserve it?

 

 

 

DAY 5—Read Hosea 12-14

Hosea connects his nation to their historical context in Chapter 12 by retelling the story of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel by the Lord. Jacob was known as a deceiver from his earliest years (Genesis 25 & 27), yet he received a vision of God’s greatness and a promise of future blessing from the Lord (Genesis 28:10-22). Hosea argues that just as Jacob had to leave his home as a consequence of his behavior, so would the people of Israel be sent away from their land (v. 9). But hope can still be found in the commands given to Israel in verses 4-6. What are they commanded to do, and by whose help will they obey?

The history lesson doesn’t end with Jacob, for Hosea then gives more evidence of Israel’s record of disbelief. At the end of Chapter 12, he references the nation’s wandering in the wilderness (v. 9, 13), where they were forced to spend forty years after doubting God’s promise to bring them into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:19-2:15). This continues in Chapter 13—though God had provided for their needs in the wilderness, the nation failed to trust him even after they were brought into the land (v. 4-6). In what ways can comfort and complacency lead us into disbelief? How might we avoid this pitfall and continue in faith instead?

 

APPLY—In chapter 14, Hosea again pleads for Israel’s repentance, with a beautiful description of the blessings of a life lived under the mercy of God. Repentance always involves both turning fromsin and turning tothe Lord. What does Israel need to turn from? Why should repentance be a regular pattern in our lives, rather than a one-time event?


 

5 Ways to Help Your Marriage Thrive During COVID-19

Over the past several weeks, most married couples have spent more time together than any time since their honeymoon. Though this constant close proximity has the potential for irritation, it also creates ample opportunity for growth and fun. Spending more time together this summer is a gift that we should embrace and utilize to grow in love for each other. 

But, how can we use this unique season to strengthen our marriage? To answer this question, we went to the experts — Clear Creek Navigators with decades of experience leading groups of married couples to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. A few of their strategies for growing your relationship together are compiled below. Which of these ideas will you implement today?

 

 

1. Plan a Date Night

We have a date night each week. We order pizza for the kids at 5 p.m., have them take showers, and then they are upstairs for the rest of the night, watching TV or playing video games. I actually put on something other than yoga pants and even some makeup. Shaun and I then order takeout or grill something, and we sit outside and relax with music on the speaker and adult conversations. We get the boys to bed at 8:30 and then watch a movie and relax with popcorn and movie theater snacks. I seriously look forward to it! 

Shaun & Elizabeth Hauser
Egret Bay

 

On Friday evenings, we order from local restaurants to have our date night dinner at home. We’ve even hung curtains near the entrance to our dining room for privacy from the kids. We listen to music while we dine together.

Scott & Tami Bishop
Clear Lake
 

Friday night dance dates! We found an online dance program that teaches us step by step. Once our daughters go to bed, we move the coffee table out of the way, throw on some socks, and try to dance the night away! It has provided some great laughs and moments of connection during this stressful season.

Ryan & Tasha Thomas
Egret Bay

 

2. Get Outside

We take late afternoon walks. It gives us a chance to get some fresh air, exercise, and time to chat about life. It has been good for us to take that pause in the day while getting out of the house together. We plan to keep this going long after COVID-19!

Travis & Cari Hicks
Clear Lake

We have been motivating each other to get moving! We either walk, ride our bikes, or do some other outdoor activity. As long as we are moving together, we are moving in the right direction!

Jaime & Nina Valverde
Clear Lake

 

Sarah and I go on walks almost every day with the kids. It gives us a chance to get out of the house, avoid distractions like TV and phones, and enjoy the kids on their bike or in the stroller. It also gives us time together as a family and as a couple. Being able to walk and talk to one another has been very important to our marriage during this time. 

Nathan & Sarah Southard
Egret Bay

 

3. Make Time to Talk

We make it a point to put the kids down early so that we have time and enough energy at the end of the day to talk about what went well that day, what could’ve gone better, and any changes to our plan of attack for the upcoming days. It’s also a great time to just relax and spend time together without kids interrupting.

Derek & Abby Willis
East 96

 

We take a walk most evenings so Doug can get an ICEE at Buc-ees. We use this time to catch up with each other and talk through ideas, plans, frustrations, etc.

Doug & Kara Dawson
Egret Bay

 

We both have been working since the stay-at-home orders started, but our working hours have been different so we are not rushing out the door at 6:30 each morning to get to work. We have been able to enjoy a morning cup of coffee together, with unrushed conversation and prayer before starting the day. 

Michael & Clara Springer
Clear Lake

 

4. Think about the Future

We love to travel and do projects in our backyard and around the house, so right now we enjoy talking almost daily about future trips and projects. Our talks vary from camping trips to sketches about closet shelves and garage organization. It’s fun to sit, plan, and dream a little together. 

Brad & Allison Swenson
West

 

We have started to dream together! We have been sharing with each other and our kids what we want to do post-quarantine, from planning vacations to new family norms. We aren’t dreaming out of current discontentment, but with great hope that the Lord will see us through and we will forever be changed.

Aaron & Nicole Daniel
West

 

5. Grow and Serve Together

Our small group had each person write down one thing about their spouse on each day of the week (M-F) that they like, are grateful for, are impressed by, appreciate, etc. Then on Saturday morning they would give their spouse the list. This was very well received and neat to see how something really simple could impact one of the people you love most in this world.

Dan & Danielle Mellen
Egret Bay

 

We actually have been more intentional about doing our couples devotional. It really jogs the mind to think about how we are growing spiritually through our family relationships and especially with one another. It asks hard questions and provides prayer suggestions. It is fun, but difficult at times. However, it does seem to reignite our communication with each other and relationship with God.

Darren & Alecia Whitmarsh
East 96

 

One of the things we struggled with before COVID-19 was slowing down and taking the time to get to know our neighbors. Lately, our new favorite thing to do once we put our child to bed is sit out in the driveway and eat our dinner. It’s a nice change of scenery, and we love to wave or talk to people as they walk by.

Matthew & Victoria Horne
East 96


 

Studying the Bible

As a 19-year-old, I moved miles away from my parents’ faith-filled home into my very own Ikea furniture-filled apartment.

Relying on my own beliefs for the first time proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated. My faith, which once felt simple and clear, grew murky against the backdrop of popular quotes from sermons circulating the internet and common but unbiblical phrases like, “God helps those who help themselves,” or “He won’t give you anything you can’t handle.”

My confusion and uncertainty in why I believed what I believed sent me on a mission to find out for myself exactly what my Bible said. Along the way, I learned how to study the Bible in three steps: observation, interpretation, and application.

 

Observation–What does this say?

Growing up in the Church meant that I had heard a lot of Bible stories throughout my childhood. I was familiar with Biblical characters (who were usually painted as heroes that taught some kind of moral lesson) and general concepts, but I had a false confidence that I knew more about the Bible than I actually did.

When I started taking the time to observe the text, it forced me to ask questions beyond the words on a page.

Why would he say it that way? This story reminds me of that story, is there some kind of connection between them? What’s up with these pharisees and why are they hating on Jesus so much?

The more questions I asked, the more intrigued I became with the text. The more intrigued I became, the more questions I would ask. It was an endless cycle that felt more like an adventure than a box to check on my to-do list of spiritual disciplines.

In learning to observe text, I grew confident that asking questions wasn’t a symptom of doubt like I had grown up believing. It wasn’t an indication of a weak or small faith, either. Inquisition was an essential tool to grow and sharpen it; it was the first step to standing firmly on my own faith and knowing exactly why I could rely on its foundation.

 

Interpretation–What does this mean?

Doing the hard work of interpretation showed me that I had a strong tendency to make the Bible about me.

I had a propensity to approach Scripture with egocentric expectations. I wanted immediate solutions to my problems, direction for my life, and to know how significant was to God.

Before I knew better, I thought the Bible could mean one thing to me, another thing to you, and we could both have our cake and eat it, too.

What I didn’t know then is that the Bible isn’t actually about either of us. The Bible is a book about God written forus, not tous. Interpreting the Bible means uncovering the author’s intended meaning for his original audience. That meaning is objective, not subjective, so it will be equally true for those original hearers as it is for us today.

Interpretation is hard work. But I’ve found it gets a lot easier when I remove myself from a throne on which I do not belong and demand my self-esteem be spoken to. When I approach Scripture in worship with a bowed head and bent knee, I’m far more inclined to let God teach me through a text than to manipulate it to say something I want to hear.

 

Application–Why does it matter?

Hebrews 4:12 says, “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.”

I’ve found the accuracy of that verse to be most palpable when tasked with applying the truth of the Bible to my own life. The same verse that comforts a hurting friend convicts me. The same passage I studied last year, challenges me in a new way this year.

Applying the Bible to my life is a protection that prevents me from only engaging with the Bible intellectually. To examine my heart and my life in raw honesty before God and welcome his conviction is to cooperate in my sanctification.

 

Studying the Bible takes time. In the midst of a global pandemic, most of us have a lot more than usual. As we search Scripture for answers and hope in the face of uncertainty, we can find the satisfaction and peace our souls long for when we learn to handle the Word rightly.

It’s true: there are certainly no shortcuts when it comes to learning about the God of the universe. But when we try – when we commit to growing in our knowledge of God – we’ll find there’s also no pursuit more worthy.

My prayer as we engage with God through his word, is that we would pursue him with all of our hearts, souls, and minds.

As you begin your journey to gain a better understanding of the Bible, you may find these resources helpful:

BlueLetterBible.org

BibleProject.com

BestCommentaries.com

The ESV Study Bible

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee

God’s Big Picture, Vaughn Roberts

Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin

Clear Creek Classes

Imago Dei: Beyond Dignity

Throughout history, the church has been called to be the champion of the vulnerable, the weak, and the persecuted.

This call for justice — whether to fight racial discrimination, defend the lives of the unborn, or end human trafficking — is an appeal to see every human being through the eyes of the Christian narrative which proclaims mankind’s creation in the image of God, or imago dei.

This truth is the foundation for all human rights.

All people have inherent dignity (i.e. are valuable) not because of any aspect of their lives or circumstance, but because they bear the image of God. Although human dignity found within the imago dei is often enough to convince people to avoid harming others, it does not always move us towards active love. In order to move towards the empathy, sacrifice, and desire for justice we are called to as God’s people, we have to understand the depth of what it means to be made in God’s image. It can be easy to downplay the significance of the imago dei, but it isn’t merely a reason to value others. The Bible tells us:

“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

In the beginning, men and women were created by God to reflect his character and represent him in this world, but because of the Fall, this image was corrupted. Humans no longer reflected the character of God to each other as intended. Instead, men and women set up their own rules and ways of life, harming one another and persecuting the vulnerable, no longer loving and ruling as God had ordained.

Even the nation of Israel, the Old Testament people of God, did not reflect the love of God toward each other, despite continual commands from God to seek justice and protect the weak. We just cannot live and love as God created us to on our own.

But, a Savior has come in whom we see the true and perfect imago dei.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)

Jesus, fully God and fully man, shows us what the image of God really looks like: loving the lost, protecting the vulnerable, and sacrificing for others — even unto death. And, because of Jesus, by the grace of God, we can now walk in newness of life. Through faith in Christ, we are freed from the power of sin and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, to reflect the image of God, loving and living as Jesus.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28)

Imago dei requires us to view all people as having inherent value and dignity. However, the imago dei is not only descriptive, it is prescriptive.

Image-bearing is not just a title, it is a calling.

We — those walking in the footsteps of Jesus — defend the rights of the unborn because every life is valuable. We should also care for orphans because we are representatives of God in his kingdom. We — the church — refuse to persecute the vulnerable because every person bears God’s image and has inherent dignity. We should also protect and love the persecuted, because as we are conformed into the image of the Son, we reflect his compassion and sacrifice.

One day, Jesus will return and make all things new: a restored world and perfect justice for all.

He will.

We rest in this certainty.

Until then, we live in the already and not yet, where there is uncertainty, injustice, and suffering.

Let’s remember that we were created in the image of God – a description of all people, and a call to Christians to be conformed into the likeness and love of our Savior,

Let’s spend less time creating our own rules and ways of life, and focus on reflecting to others a glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like: peace, love, unity, and justice.

Let’s cling to Jesus.

Who to Trust

I remember the way I felt some years ago, the first time I watched our teenage son drive away on his own. Part of me was jumping for joy at getting out of the transportation business, but part of me wanted to scream, “I’m sorry world! Everyone look out!” It was a clarifying moment because as I watched him drive away I realized I had zero control of how he was going to do as a driver. Maybe even worse was the realization that I would still be responsible for how well he drove because I was paying for the auto insurance. It was a helpless feeling. The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering because I knew I had to give up control and I had to trust.

But, who to trust?

Trust Josh or trust God?

It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I was going to trust Josh, which I had no real choice but to do, I had to first and foremost trust God. That’s the way life always has to work, if it is going to work. We live our lives with people. All day, every day. And so, our trust in God is inescapably reflected in how we relate to the people around us. If we are not very careful to trust God first then our only option is to pin our hopes on other people, and the only way we can get other people to do what we (think we) need them to do is to control them. Running around trying to control others is a bad way to live.

The need to control is a one-way road with two lanes. One lane is filled with fear, the other is filled with selfishness. I’m going to control people to keep them from taking something from me I am afraid to lose. Or, I am going to control people to try and get what I want from them. The lane of fear is filled with the potholes of shame and guilt that come from treating other people as threats. The lane of selfishness is riddled with the potholes of frustration and despair because people are hopelessly unreliable when it comes to satisfying your soul.

The only way to exit the one-way road of fear and selfishness is to trust God first. When you do, you release yourself from the need to depend on people or protect yourself from people, you actually free yourself to serve other people. This truth is at the heart of texts like “Blessed are the meek…” “Blessed are the pure in heart…” “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:1-11). People who trust God first can be the kind of people Jesus calls leaders, “But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave…” (Matthew 20:25-27).

Jesus proclaims those who trust God first don’t have to dominate, don’t need ulterior motives, and are willing to endure some injustice to restore relationships. Jesus said people who trust God first are the kind of people who are his followers and the kind of people his followers follow.

This is always an essential truth for us, but particularly so right now, because this virus is like one of those watching your teenager drive away moments. It’s a flashing traffic light telling you “you are NOT in control!”

You are not in control of the measures government agencies and employers take to control the spread. You’re not in control of how responsible the people who pick and deliver your groceries are. You’re not in control of the people who bought up every roll of toilet paper in the universe.

I know you know all that.

But, whether you trust God first or trust people first is determining how you respond to it all.

If you are first depending on people to protect your job, your health, your savings, your vacation plans then you should be afraid. You need those people to protect what is most important to you. If you are depending first on people to address the specific impacts on your first, the way you want them to, you are going to be frustrated to the point of despair.

It isn’t that those things don’t matter. And, it is true that all of us have endured some degree of loss. For many it’s been mostly inconvenience, but for some it has been truly catastrophic. The question is, who are you looking to for restoration? Who do you believe knows what is in everyone’s best interest and has the power to bring it about? Whose goodness will allow your heart to rest enough that you can humbly obey those who administer our government and our employment? Whose power and presence can sustain you through grief and financial strain?

God first, or people first?

Who will present themselves as a servant to their neighbor? Who will rejoice in and redeem unprecedented time to be present with spouse and children? Who will regularly offer prayer for healing, wisdom, relief? The one who trusts God first, or people first?

I’ve been trying to figure out what my actions and emotions in response to the virus and its affects are teaching me about who I trust first. I’m trying to capture the moments of frustration and self-pity and figure out why I expect some other person to provide what no person can provide for me. Then figure out how I should respond that those people differently when I get my trusts in order.

I want to refuse to be gripped by fear, selfishness, or COVID-19 angst. I refuse to be a victim or a wet rag waiting for the next negative shoe to drop. I want God to make me pure in heart, to use me to be a peacemaker, to be someone Jesus would call a leader.

If nothing else, I know this much: I need to trust God first.


 

(Mom) Guilt and the Gospel

It started a few weeks after my oldest son was born.

I had dreamed of being a mom. Read all the books. Attended the classes. Developed and implemented a plan experts guaranteed would have my child sleeping on a schedule and through the night by six weeks old.

Except it didn’t work.

I was a wreck. I wasn’t even three months into this mom gig, and already I had failed my child in some significant way. I was experiencing my first bout of mom guilt.

I have a feeling most moms can share their own stories of times they felt they were not up to the task of motherhood, that somehow, they too failed their children. It’s almost universal. Studies say more than 90 percent of mothers experience this unique kind of distress, and 75 percent of parents as a whole feel pressure to be “perfect” for their children. Did you read that? Perfect. No wonder we feel guilty. Perfect is a pretty high standard.

For moms who are followers of Christ, what are we to do with mom guilt?  Actually, let’s first ask the question: what are Christians to do with guilt period?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas world grief produces death.” Said another way, our grief before salvation leads us to repent and accept Jesus’ gift of grace on our behalf. Once we’ve become followers of Jesus, Christians shouldn’t feel guilt. Conviction of the Spirit for sin? Yes! But guilt? No. The penalty for our sin has been paid by Jesus.

Bryan Chapell expands on this truth in his book, Holiness by Grace:

Remorse prior to approaching the cross is of God, but after true repentance beneath the cross such self-reproach is of Satan. Our Adversary wants us to believe that Christ’s blood is not sufficient to cleanse confessed sin. We become susceptible to his lie when we begin to doubt the power of the cross full to cancel our guilt, for then we will begin to live (and fall) in the strength of our own efforts.

If you listened to the Clear Creek Resources podcast episode Rachel Chester, Mandy Turner, and I did on mom guilt, we made the distinction between good and bad guilt. Good guilt is better called conviction. It’s one of the roles the Holy Spirit plays in the life of the Christian. It is a mark of true belief (see John 16:8). As followers of Jesus we should be broken over sin. As believing moms we should repent when we sin against our children. Certainly this happens: angry words, rash discipline, selfish motives. These are clearly times we should ask for forgiveness from the Lord and our children.

However, far too often we experience anguish and shame when no sin was involved. This is because somewhere along the way we exchanged the idea of what we might do to be a good mom with what we must do to be a good mom. I experienced mom guilt when I didn’t plan the perfect birthday party, or couldn’t have lunch at school with my boys because of work, or a thousand other things that made me feel like a bad mom. But, I had turned mommy possibilities into mommy imperatives. This is bad guilt.

Sometimes mom guilt has nothing to do with our actions. We may feel guilty because our child made a poor choice and is experiencing a natural consequence like the loss of a friendship. That is enough to send some into the mom guilt spiral of self-doubt, heartache, and despair. And you should know, this also is bad guilt.

Mom guilt is bad guilt.

We need a gospel pathway to walk in order to deal with it.

In my opening story about how I couldn’t get my son to sleep, my friend Amanda heard about my despair. She called and gave me words of grace. Gratefully, over the years, many other women have shepherded my heart similarly in other times of mom guilt. I want to leave you with four steps that have helped me get back on track, and I hope, might help you as well:

1. Remove the standard of perfection.
Get rid of the burden you’ve placed on yourself from wherever it may have arisen (e.g., family of origin, social media, friends). Realize there is one who has been perfect for you (2 Cor. 5:21). Like Paul, we certainly all have weaknesses. And if the apostle, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, can claim that because of his weaknesses he can rest in Jesus, certainly we should as well (2 Cor. 12: 9-10).

2. Fix your eyes on Jesus.
I think my mom guilt has often surfaced when my focus has been too much on me. Jesus frees me from needing to constantly evaluate myself against my “perfect mom” standard. Instead of my feeling being anchored to my accomplishments which fluctuate daily (sometimes I’m happy at the day’s end, and other times I’m discouraged), my affections are bound up in Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). His love for me is steadfast (Rom. 8:38-39) because of what he accomplished for me 2,000 years ago.

3. Call out to God.
Let’s be real. Being a mom is hard. Really hard. Go to Jesus in prayer when you feel the waves of self-doubt and despair begin to wash over you (Heb. 4:16). Don’t skip this! Prayer is one of the most effective ways to combat mom guilt.

4. Be involved in community.
Every mom needs two (or, maybe ten?) Amandas in her life. You need women who can speak gospel truths to your heart. You need friends who will not tell you what you want to hear but need to hear. This is authentic community. It is where can know and be known. It is where you can be vulnerable and find encouragement that you are not alone in your dealings with mom guilt…or any other endeavor (Heb. 10:24-25).