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How Do I Know If I’m Reading the Bible Correctly?

Written By Tyler Edwards, USA

Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.

When I was applying to colleges years ago, I remember waiting to get my acceptance letter. One day, I sorted through stacks of junk mail to find an envelope with a college logo at the top. I tore open the letter and read it carefully. Unlike the other mail, this wasn’t some marketing ad to sell me more stuff I didn’t want. No, this letter was important—it would determine my future.

Isn’t that the way things go? We are barraged with messages through every sort of medium imaginable, but some messages are just more important than others.

The Bible is the most important thing we will ever read. What makes it so important? It’s like a long-distance love letter where God shares His love, His heart and desires with us. Reading it allows us to grow closer to Him and to understand how to love Him until the day that we can be with Him. So, with great anticipation, Christians should be not just looking over the words, but really trying to study and understand what God is saying to us through them.

Even so, reading the Bible can still feel like a daunting task. How do I know I’m reading it correctly? What if I twist God’s words to mean something He isn’t saying? It’s no surprise that many Christians don’t read their Bible regularly because they don’t have the right tools to help them make sense of it. But reading the Bible doesn’t have to be scary.

Here are a few simple tools that can help us fairly and accurately understand what God is saying.

 

Two Rules for Reading the Bible

Rule number one: What is the author’s intended meaning?

Have you ever said something that got taken the wrong way? Like telling a girl, “You look nice today.” But she responds, “Today? Like I don’t look nice most of the time?”

All communication requires interpretation. The listener needs to understand what the speaker is trying to say. This applies to all communication. Don’t just look at it—think about what the author is trying to communicate and why!

Rule number two: Context is king

If we do not consider the information’s context, we are prone to misunderstand it. When we read a passage, the first step is to look at what comes before it, and what comes after it. This can give us a better idea of what God is saying.

Let’s be careful not to take biblical passages out of their historical context. After all, the Bible wasn’t written to us—it was preserved for us. Every book of the Bible had an original audience, real people who lived long before our great-grandparents were even born. To understand what the Bible is saying, to apply God’s truths properly in our modern-day lives, we should first understand what the author was saying to his original audience.

The other day I was sitting next to my wife when she got a call. I didn’t see who it was, but I was curious. I listened. My wife’s tone said it was her mother, and she started talking about baby stuff. Hearing just one half of the conversation, I was able to piece together the context. The only thing I didn’t know was what her mother said. Even that, I could figure out partially based on my wife’s responses.

That’s what we do with Scripture. We fill in the gaps responsibly. There are some great tools that help with that: study Bibles, commentaries, biblical dictionaries. These tools give us a better understanding of the other side of the conversation.

 

Applying the Rules to Philippians 4:13

Let’s look at an example:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13, ESV).

This verse makes for a great motivational poster. I used to quote this to try and pass tests I didn’t want to study for. But it doesn’t really mean what I thought it means. After all, if I went to the gym and loaded 500lbs onto the bench, then quoted this verse, would I suddenly be able to lift 500lbs? No! That weight is going to come crashing down on me, hard. But why? Shouldn’t lifting 500lbs fall under the umbrella of “all things”?

Did I not have enough faith? Did Jesus fail me? . . . or perhaps, did I misunderstand the text?

If we apply our two rules and go back to read the verses leading up to Philippians 4:13, the picture gets a little clearer.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10-13, ESV).

In context, Paul is talking about plenty, hunger, abundance and need—the modern day equivalent to finances (Philippians 4:12, ESV). The earlier verses tell us that Paul has learned to be content in all things. Whether rich and comfortable or poor and hungry, he can endure the hardships and challenges of this life for the sake of the gospel because Jesus gives him the strength to be content regardless of his circumstances. Paul is showing us how to do something incredible. Philippians 4:13 isn’t about turning us into superman. It’s about contentment.

 

Getting to Know God Better

When we don’t read the Word of God in context, we can easily (and sometimes unconsciously) make promises for God that God didn’t make. When those promises don’t come true, we’re tempted to doubt God instead of really seeing who He is. Jesus says that eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). All that we live for, hope for, desire, and pursue in the Christian life should be built on the foundation of our relationship with God.

I’ve learned that when I’m faithful in searching for context and intent, reading the Bible actually helps me know God better because I’m not just hearing His Word, I’m continually learning to understand it. The amazing thing is, the more we know God, the more we recognize His love for us and appreciate the grace He has given us.

So, as challenging as it can be to read the Bible, the best thing we can do is to open that love letter from God, and just start reading what He says to us!

4 Reminders When God Seems Silent in Our Suffering

Written By Deborah Fox, Australia

2019 did not start well. I wept with my New Zealand friends when mosques in Christchurch were attacked and almost 50 people lost their lives. Then I cried in disbelief when my sister nearly lost her home in terrible floods in a province in Papua, Indonesia, where hundreds of people lost their lives and thousands of people were rendered homeless.

My heart continues to break for the persecuted Christians and people of minority religions who face a constant threat of violence, rape, imprisonment and even death all over the world. Their stories are heartbreaking, and the needs seem overwhelming. If thousands of innocent people suffer at the hands of a crazed killer or a sudden change in the earth’s atmosphere, why does God seem to remain silent? How is that right or fair?

C.S. Lewis argued that the issue of suffering does not lie with who God is, but with who we are as beings created in His image. In The Problem of Pain, he explains, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”

The Bible clearly affirms God’s goodness—He is “compassionate and gracious . . . slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6); He “loves righteousness and justice” (Psalm 33:5); there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5). But while God is good, we are not. God gives us choices, and the consequences of those choices can, unfortunately, end up affecting both good and bad people. Our sin has corrupted the world itself, and illness, accidents and natural disasters are consequences that every living creature is susceptible to.

What can we do to overcome the pain? How do we worship God in the storms of life? Here are four things I’ve discovered that help me to focus on God’s unchanging goodness:

 

1. Be real with God

I used to think that I had to come to God in prayer only after I’d figured things out on my own. But God asks us to call on His name when we need help. It’s when I share my anger and pain with Him that I’ve noticed a real change occurring in my heart.

My relationship with my own dad has helped me better understand how I can approach my heavenly father. My dad has always been there for me. When I share my struggles with him it helps draw us closer. This helps me see that if  I can be real with my earthly father, I need to be real with my heavenly Father, too.

The Bible has many examples of people being open with our heavenly Father. In one of his many psalms, King David urges us to pour out our hearts to God in all situations (Psalm 62:8). In 1 Samuel 1:15, Hannah cries to the Lord about the pain of her barrenness. We may not understand why painful things happen, but God wants us to share them with Him. We are His children, and He cares about our pain.

 

2. Recognize that trials can help us grow

It is a precious gift to be able to put our faith in Christ, but the Bible does not promise that our lives would then be easy. Paul even says that we will face greater trials when we follow Jesus, but that we are to count them all a blessing for the sake of the gospel (Romans 8:17). After all, pain and trials can serve to strengthen our character.

In my teenage years, I experienced chronic illness and bullying, and I believe that these experiences helped me develop a deep sense of empathy for others who are vulnerable and weakened. Looking back, I recognize that it was during some of the darkest times in my life that my relationship with Jesus has grown. Recognizing that I can’t do life on my own helped forge a deep sense of trust in God—that I can lean on Him and that He will guide me.

As Paul says, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

 

3. Look beyond our own pain and help others

As Christians, what should our response to acts of violence be? How should we respond to God when bad things happen to good people? Jesus calls us to love one another and to love our neighbors (John 13:34, Mark 12:31). But it doesn’t end there. We are even called to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-46).

Responses to the New Zealand shootings from churches, politicians, and community groups are a good example of love in action. People prayed with their Muslim friends and showed them love regardless of their faith or culture. Similarly, when my sister’s town was flooded, she was brought to tears by the acts of loving-kindness the community showed for one another. Churches, schools, police officers, and community leaders banded together to care for those who needed help. Despite the fact that many of these people lost possessions and homes of their own, they looked beyond their own situation to see how they could be a force for good in someone else’s life.

These beautiful acts of grace challenge me to consider my own heart in greater detail, and to seek ways to love those around me even in times of difficulty.

 

4. Jesus understands and can comfort us in our pain

God understands suffering more than any of us ever will. Jesus was the suffering servant who endured mocking, shame, slander, pain, violence, and the weight of the world’s sins as He died on the cross for our redemption (Isaiah 53:3). It is a great comfort to know that the Creator of the universe not only hears us when we cry to Him, but knows our pain intimately. When we are hurting, He is hurting with us.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us that God comforts us in our troubles so that we can in turn comfort others who are hurting. When I was grieving the loss of two young friends and struggling with my own health scare, I felt like giving up. I had no way to see through the darkness, so all I could do was cry out to God and give Him my pain. It wasn’t an instant fix, but I can honestly say that I felt “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” as I was held in the loving arms of God (Philippians 4:7). This peace enabled me to offer comfort in turn to a friend who had lost someone close to them.

 

Pain and suffering rarely make sense. When we’re in the midst of suffering, it can be easy to blame God or assume He doesn’t care. But don’t lose heart! We can tell God how we’re feeling. We can remember that He is always with us, through the good times and the bad. We can also be there to help others in their pain.

We know that God is good because He loves us so much that He suffered in our place. We may not always understand why some things happen, but it helps to know that God cares, and He is with us in our pain. Suffering will not last forever, and even if our pain stays with us for many years, we can still look forward to the hope of eternal glory with Christ, one that far outweighs any present suffering (2 Corinthians 4:17).

3 Ways to Worship God During Tough Times

Written By Hilary Charlet, USA

Last year was a tough one for me. It started off great—I went to my first-ever Christian conference in February, and it was amazing. Everything I heard and saw at the conference encouraged me, challenged me, and filled my heart with a deeper realization of God’s love for us. The theme of the conference was “Stepping Season.” Little did I know, I was about to enter into my own stepping season that would test everything I learned that weekend.

From the moment I left the conference to the months that followed, it seemed like anything and everything that could go wrong, did. There were weeks of hospital stays for my brother who had a blood clot in his arm and required surgery to remove a rib constraining his vein, strained relationships with people I care deeply about, as well as sleepless nights, heartbreak, tears, rejection, confusion . . . It seemed like it was never going to end.

I was able to smile when I was around others, but when I was on my own, I couldn’t keep it together. I was mad. I had questions. I didn’t understand. I was scared.

I was feeling a lot of emotions, and quite honestly, did not feel like worshipping through it. I just cried a lot at first and prayed that God would heal and comfort me. It was during that time that I learned to worship God in spite of my circumstances.

While I wouldn’t choose to go through it all again, the experiences of the past year taught me the power and faithfulness of God in even the darkest of times. Worship, I realized, was all the more important in difficult times. Here are three things I did that helped me worship Him:

 

1. Dig into His Word

I had spent time doing devotionals in the past, but now it was a daily necessity. Reading about God’s promises and faithfulness in the stories of the Bible gave me hope. Some of the people went through some really rough stuff, sometimes for years. Think of Joseph, for example—sold by his brothers and eventually sent to prison for two years (Genesis 37-41). Think of the seven years of famine (Genesis 41-45). Or the time the flood filled the Earth (Genesis 6-7). Yet God always remained faithful, even when it seemed hopeless. He would certainly remain faithful in my life.

Not only did I encounter God’s Word in my daily quiet time, but it seemed like wherever I turned, the verse Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”, would somehow surface, whether it was in a conversation with someone, reading something random, or even purchasing a t-shirt for a fundraiser.

Even though everything in my own life seemed so out of whack and crazy, this verse assured me that God would somehow use what I was going through for good in the future. Though it hurt at the time, the pain wouldn’t be for no reason at all. God was behind the scenes working, and though it might take time, it will all have a purpose.

Sometimes it’s difficult to open up my Bible and read a story about how good God is, especially when it doesn’t feel like it at the time. However, I am learning to cling tight to His promises. His plans are far greater than any we can imagine. He’s working everything together for our good.

 

2. Turn on your music

Sometimes positive, upbeat music is the last thing we want to hear when we are wallowing in our troubles. It’s worth turning them on anyway. “Mighty Warrior” by David Virgo got me through so many days last year. The lyrics, “Mighty Warrior, You will see that all things work for my good, things work for my good” in particular really spoke to me. It was only months down the road that I realized how the song had helped me declare God’s goodness and faithfulness over my life in spite of what I was going through.

“Walking on Water” by NEEDTOBREATHE was another song that got me through the hard times. During the weeks my brother was in the hospital, my sister-in-law and I heard that song consistently playing on the radio. The lyrics were just what I needed to hear. They reminded me that the Lord was working, and I just had to trust Him through the wind and waves.

Find songs that lift you up, that you can worship through. Put the songs on repeat. Crank it up. Jam out. Look for the truth the song proclaims, and repeat it to yourself until you believe it. Sure, worshipping God might be the last thing we feel like doing. But let’s do it anyway. Worshipping through the hard times brings us new strength and hope. It might be just what we need to get through the day.

 

3. Be honest with God about your emotions

In our hardest times, we need to turn to the Lord. He wants to be there for us, and He wants to listen. Let’s not hide anything from Him. After all, He already knows what we’re feeling, so why not just be raw and real with Him? If we’re angry, we can tell Him. If we’re confused, we can talk to Him about it. We don’t need to have it all together to go to Him. He wants us as we are. Every piece of us. He loves us, and He isn’t going to stop listening just because we’re mad or “yelling” at Him. He can handle it.

David the psalmist is a great example of this. In Psalm 42, for example, he cries out to God, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:9-10). David was discouraged and sad, and He wasn’t afraid to show it. We needn’t be afraid or feel bad about telling God our emotions either.

Let us take our true emotions and feelings to God, and may He fill us with His peace, joy, restoration, healing, and love. This won’t happen overnight—or maybe it will. For me, it’s still a daily process and something I have to choose day after day. Instead of covering up how I feel, I am learning that sharing my true emotions brings me peace unlike anything else.

 

It’s crazy to look back now at all that the ups and downs of last year, and it’s even crazier to say that I am thankful for it. I now call it my year of plowing—plowing deep and digging into a deeper relationship with God. A lot of things I had hoped for and prayed for have turned out differently, but they surpass what I originally had in mind. There are also still things I don’t understand, but I now have a different perspective on them. I have seen God’s faithfulness, and I trust and believe that He always works it for our good (Romans 8:28).

God might not be changing your circumstances how you would like Him to, but don’t lose hope. God is shaping you and molding you into the person He created you to be, and it’s going to be beautiful. No matter how dark things seems right now, hold tight and know that God loves you deeply. Let us keep worshipping Him, trusting that He will bring us through even the most difficult days.

Where Our Love Story Went Wrong

Photo taken by Asher Ong Photography

“What do you find the greatest joy in?”

I paused, thinking about what puts a smile on my face, what keeps me going every day, and what gives me the most happiness.

“I suppose I find the greatest joy . . . in you,” I said softly.

“Me too.”

***

This is the part of the love story where we smile at each other shyly, clasp our hands together, and wrap our arms around each other in love—blissful, romantic, head-in-the-clouds love.

This is the part of the story where it dawns upon us that we are living out The Love Story told and played out in every fable, song, book, and movie, sold to us with every sentence written and lyric sung and scene painted, over and over again until we’ve unknowingly bought into it a hundredfold over.

But this is also the part of our love story where it all goes wrong. Because the real Love Story is not meant to be this way, and the one we’re living out now is not meant to last.

***

I’ve been in a relationship with my fiancé, David, for two years now. And with every passing day, I fall a little deeper in love with him.

Yet there is always a danger of loving him so much that I come to love him more than my first and greatest Love: God. It is a very frightening thing to find myself crossing that line: when I choose to spend evenings out with him over a time of solitude with God, when my heart finds more pleasure in him than the Lord, when I am devoted to his needs and wants but not to knowing and obeying Him.

 

But why is it such a bad thing? What’s wrong with loving my future husband more than God?

It‘s dangerous. It lures me away from worshipping God to idolizing a mere man, full of foibles and flaws (Romans 1:25). Sometimes I find myself so in love with him that I forget that he is, after all, only human. And though he tries his best to love me rightly, he sometimes fails—and so do I. And that’s when we find ourselves disappointed, hurt, and upset with one another.

It’s sinful. It goes against God’s first commandment to us: that we do not have any other gods before God (Exodus 20:3). A god isn’t just a little wooden carving or altar in my house that I worship, but it’s what I elevate to the throne of my life, it’s whom I love, adore, and value more than anything and anyone else in this world.

And it’s grievous. It saddens God when I wander away from Him and into the arms of another lover—a good gift God Himself has given to me—but which I have twisted and abused in my selfishness. Being unfaithful to Him also hurts me in ways I can’t quite understand on an intellectual level, but which I experience on a deeper, instinctual level, when my spirit mourns along with the Holy Spirit.

Time and time again, I’ve been shown how loving him more than Him has consequences. But these consequences are meant to lead me to repentance and to discipline me for my own good (Hebrews 12:5-11). As my friend rightly puts it: “God isn’t going to give you someone just to watch them take the place that only He can.”

Loving my fiancé more than my Father has more often than not led to a mess of tangled hurts and alienating distance. Because when I elevate him to the status of my god, one whom I believe can meet all my needs and wants, to love and understand me unconditionally, and to be unwaveringly present with me in all circumstances—be it physical or emotional—I find that he falls short. It shouldn’t be a surprise, yet I can’t help but feel crestfallen, cheated almost. Because I believed a lie that I had told to myself.

 

Photo taken by Asher Ong Photography

 

How do we love our partner then, without idolizing him or her?

It was a bittersweet moment when the both of us confessed to one another that we found the greatest joy in each other’s arms. Bitter because we knew that our love could so easily stray into sinful and grievous idolatry if we were not careful; yet sweet, because we have found the one whom our soul loves and with whom we will join together in union  (Song of Songs 3:4, Genesis 2:1-24).

It was a bittersweet reminder that this kind of romantic love, as with every other love, is but a shadow of the greatest Love that has and will ever be: one that was embodied on the cross through the Son of God, who took on our sins and died in our place.

I’m learning that the only way for me to love David rightly, and for David to love me rightly, is for us to love God rightly (1 John 4:19). It means asking ourselves who God is to us; and if He is our God, then living a life of total worship to Him in response.

It means acknowledging Him as the King of our hearts, by prioritizing the growth of our relationship with our first Love, both individually and as a couple. Not just when we’re in church listening to sermons, or spending time with our families, but in every other private and intimate moment when we’re alone together too.

And just as how a Christ-centered relationship is based on the building blocks of commitment, interdependence and intimacy, so, too, our relationship with Christ should be based on commitment to Him, dependence on Him, and intimacy with Him. This means intentionally choosing to love God above each other, leaning upon Christ alone as our cornerstone, and drawing near to Him daily, in the everyday choices we make.

Since we came to the realization that we needed to put God first above each other, we’ve been including a portion of time to pray, give thanks, and meditate on His Word together when we meet on dates. We‘re also continuously cultivating the habit of praying for each other daily, asking for each other’s prayer requests, and encouraging each other with His Word.

At the end of the day, our love story is all about experiencing what the psalmist experienced when he wrote: “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you,” and that “in Your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:2, 11). It means prizing Him as my greatest treasure, and therefore enjoying Him as my greatest pleasure (Matthew 6:21). This is how we can, and are, making our love story right by His grace: by finding our greatest joy in Him alone, together.