The Bible Informs Our Understanding of God

We get to know God better as we read about him in the Bible

The Bible helps us understand God. Read itIs the Bible a book about God or a book about his crazy people? The answer is yes. In combining these two ideas, we can say the Bible is a book that addresses God’s relationship with his creation. Therefore we can better understand God by reading about how he interacts and deals with people.

The Bible mentions God thousands of times. He appears in every one of its books,  (though his presence in the book of Esther is implied). His being permeates every page of the Bible.

To better understand God, we need to set aside the world’s unbiblical view of him. Humanity has a skewed perception of his character. And often they are just plain wrong. Popular culture is not a good source to learn about God. The Bible is.

Love: The prevailing theme I see in the Bible is love. The Bible shows God’s love of us and looks at how people respond to that love.

God loves us and we can love him in return. That’s what he wants. Though he won’t force us to love him, he does desire us to choose to do so. It’s called free will.

In the Old Testament, we see this love for him borne largely out of a healthy fear. In the New Testament, our love comes from the mercy he offers us through Jesus.

Patient: Though the Bible contains a plethora of themes that reveal much about God, I see patience as a key one. God is patient with us. Like a loving parent, he gives us chance after chance. He wants us to learn and to do what is right. Like the father in Jesus’s parable of the wayward son (the Prodigal), God patiently waits for us, scanning the horizon in hopes we will come home to live with him.

Personal: It’s clear God wants to have a relationship with us, so we can be in community with him. He walked with Adam in the garden. He revealed his being to Moses. He affirmed David’s heart toward him. He talked to Paul. He gave visions to many. He guided people to write about him and then compile these writings into the Bible we enjoy today. And, most importantly, he dispatched Jesus to point us to him and provide a means for us to be with God.

Eternal: The Bible shows God as existing outside of the time-space he created. Though beyond comprehension, he is eternal, with no beginning or ending. And he wants us to join him in that.

Though the Bible reveals much more about God, these four traits are a great start: God loves us and patiently waits for us to have a personal connection with him that will last through the rest of eternity. And that’s good news.

Are You Grafted Unto God’s Family Tree?

God removes branches from his tree and adds others to it

God can graft our branches onto His treeIn Romans 11 Paul talks about graft. Not political graft but the biological kind. In this case, grafting takes a branch from one tree and attaches it to the stock of another tree. When done correctly the added branch will grow into the trunk of the other tree and will thrive.

Farmers often do this to combine the fruit produced by one tree with the hardy stock of another. In this way they get a resilient tree that yields desirable fruit.

Paul uses this type of grafting as an analogy to teach us about God’s kingdom and us.

Think of God and his people as a tree, with him as the root and us as the branches. Some branches of the tree are unworthy, and he breaks them off. But he also takes branches from other trees and grafts them on. The result is a beautiful hodgepodge of different branches all growing on one tree, God’s tree.

From this Paul makes several points, implicitly about Jews and Gentiles:

  • When people reject Jesus, as some Jews did, God will remove them from his tree.
  • When people on the outside, Gentiles, accept Jesus, God grafts them onto his tree; he unites with them.
  • Just as God grafted Gentile branches onto his tree, even more so can he reattach the Jewish branches he once removed. This is exciting news.
  • Last, just as God removed some Jewish branches from his tree, so too will he remove some Gentile branches if they don’t produce fruit.

This analogy gives us much to ponder. It provides hope for all people. But along with it comes a serious responsibility to not take our standing with God for granted and to make sure we produce fruit.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 11, and today’s post is on Romans 11:16-24.]

God Deserves Our First, Our Best, and Our Most

How much time we spend on our activities reveals our priorities

God Deserves Our First, Our Best, and Our MostKing David longs to build a temple for God, but God says this is not to be. Another, a descendant of David, will attend to its construction. Instead David must content himself with the temple’s planning and in accumulating its building materials. Then he dies, having never seen the temple he desired to build.

Solomon succeeds his father, David, as king of Israel. Solomon oversees the construction of the temple. A grand edifice, it takes seven years to build, a fitting effort for God’s earthly dwelling and the center of Jewish worship and life.

However, in a telling aside, the Bible indicates that Solomon spends almost twice as much time building his own residence. This seems out of balance: seven years for the house of God and thirteen years for a house for Solomon. What does that say about Solomon’s priorities? The temple is for all the people, as well as for God; the palace is for Solomon. Yes, the palace must be a structure worthy of a king, but spending over a decade on its building may be a bit much, especially given that it consumes almost one third of Solomon’s forty-year reign.

Yet I wonder how often we effectively do the same thing, placing greater emphasis on the things we do for ourselves than the things we do for God, the time we spend with him, and the offerings we give. We need to not only put him first, but he also deserves our best and our most. I fear we too often fall short in those areas.

We must truly make God our priority.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Kings 5-7, and today’s post is on 1 Kings 6:38-7:1.]

Why I Love God But Hate Theology

God wants us to know him and be in a relationship, not to study him or try to explain him

Why I Love God But Hate TheologyWhen people learn of my deep interest in studying the Bible and my passion for God, they often ask me a theological question. I groan when they do. While a few may have a genuine interest in knowing my answer, for most their query is a test of sorts to see if my views align with theirs. If we agree, they accept me; if we disagree, they dismiss me.

Regardless of the question, it usually involves a big theological word or two, a label so they can more easily judge my philosophical perspective and ascertain whether we are kindred believers. It doesn’t matter if I know the meaning of their five-syllable abstraction or not, I usually shrug and say, “I don’t care” or “it doesn’t matter.”

I need a better response because this irritates people. They assume I’m being dismissive. But I’m not; I’m serious. Totally.

At its most basic level, theology is the study of God. I love God, but the idea of turning him into an academic construct with philosophical underpinnings sickens me. I refuse to go there.

I don’t think God wants me to study him; I think he wants me to know him. There’s a difference. I see no value in being able to articulate a systematic theology because God desires a relationship, not a dissertation.

Think of a significant person in your life. For me, that would be my wife. What if I told her, “I’m going to devote the rest of my life to studying you from afar, and then I’ll write a book explaining you in highly philosophical terms to everyone else?” Would that win her heart?

No. She wants me to spend time with her. She desires me to know her. To attempt to turn our relationship into a theoretical abstraction dishonors her – and would make her mad. Rightly so.

The same is true with God. He wants me to spend time with him. He wants me to know him, not on an intellectual basis but on a personal one. To truly know him means to experience him in relationship, not as an academic pursuit.

As I read the Bible and write about the Bible, it’s not to add to the towering mountain of theology about God, it’s so that I can spend time with him and know him through relationship. Anything else dishonors him, and likely makes him mad.

Just as my wife is a mystery I will never fully understand, so is God. And it’s a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Jeremiah Teaches Us About the Lament

Sometimes our laments blame God for our pain, when we are the source of our troubles

Jeremiah Teaches Us About the LamentA lament is an expression of grief, sorrow, pain, regret, despair…you get the picture. Lament occurs when life overwhelms our hearts and steals our tomorrows. Many of the Psalms are laments. Though lamenting is biblical, our church services seldom includes the lament. We need to understand the lament and reclaim it.

Jeremiah’s short book of Lamentations contains six laments. Those who don’t identify with the lament breeze past them or even skip this book. For others these six dirges touch at a heart level and express an unfathomable angst in their souls.

Look at the strong themes of hopelessness in just one verse, Lamentations 1:20:

Distress: We feel anxiety and strain; we suffer in our situation.

Torment: We are harassed; we experience physical pain or mental anguish.

Brokenhearted: We are desolate; we grieve over loss.

Violence: The threat of physical force surrounds us.

Death: The end of life confronts us.

While the source of lament may spring from external sources, it can also result from our own choices. In this particular case, the cause for lament is self-inflicted. It is rebellion. Though the author, Jeremiah, carries this weight on his shoulders, his words serve to reflect the plight of the nation. The entire populace laments, but they are the cause: they rebelled against God.

Sometimes our own actions take us down a wrong path, one where the likely outcome is distress, torment, broken heartedness, violence, and death. We cry out to God in the midst of this, but he is not at fault; our rebellious spirit is the cause.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Lamentations 1-3, and today’s post is on Lamentations 1:20.]

Does God Ever Change?

The God of the Old Testament seems different than in the New

The book of Hebrews says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And since Jesus is God (John 1:1), doesn’t that mean the God never changes? That’s what I’ve been taught. That’s what this verse in Hebrews seems to say.

Yet as I read my Bible the God in the Old Testament comes across as a God of judgement while the God in the New Testament is all about grace. We fear Old Testament God and love New Testament God. Perhaps fear and love are opposite sides of the same coin. Yes, we do see God’s love in the midst of Old Testament fear and have reason to fear God among his New Testament love, yet neither is the prevailing thought.

But I see even more differences than just Old Testament versus New Testament archetypes of God.

Does God Ever Change?In the Garden of Eden God walks with Adam and Eve; they enjoy community with each other. Then Adam and Eve sin: banishment, judgement, separation; God is distant. The God of Abraham and Job seems hard to understand, yet emerges as patient despite his clear sovereignty. To Moses God shows relationship, power, and a grand plan. In the era of Judges God seems mostly uninvolved as his people flounder. After they demand a king, much to God’s dismay, he actually seems more present, more involved in the United Kingdom under the rules of Saul, David, and Solomon. Next is the time of the prophets: warnings, short-term repentance, and eventual judgement; God offers much patience before exacting his punishment. And if we read the Apocrypha we see God as involved but ethereal – compelling, yet a bit aloof.

In the New Testament we see God as love through Jesus in the Gospels. Then we see God as power through the Holy Spirit in Acts through Revelations.

Depending on which section of the Bible I’m reading, God seems different, like he’s evolving over time. Of course I like the New Testament manifestations better and see Holy Spirit power as the most relevant understanding of God for our world and the church today.

Yet the Bible says God doesn’t change; he is the same. I think that’s right: God doesn’t change, but how he relates to us does.

How do you perceive God? What characteristic of God do you like best? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Father, Son, and Holy Bible

BibleMost Christians believe that God is three persons in one; we call this concept the Trinity. Though it never uses the word Trinity, the Bible does portray the godhead as three beings who function as one interconnected entity. Though I believe this and revere this, at times it makes my head spin. The concept of a trinity is hard to grasp: three is one and one is three. It’s so abstract and impossible to quantify.

In practice, some people and especially some churches have trouble with this too. Though they say God is comprised of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they act as though God is Father, Son, and Holy Bible. They dismiss the Holy Spirit because he messes up their nice modern theology and manageable religious practices; they worship the Bible in his stead.

These people elevate the Bible to an unholy height. They study its words with legalistic fervor, using it to attack others and defend themselves. Their faith shifts to one that worships the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible. Some people, I fear, even exalt the Bible above the God who it reveals. For them, the Bible isn’t a means to the end, but the end.

Jesus talks about this, too. He criticizes people who diligently study the Bible because they think it gives them eternal life. With their deep focus on the details in the Bible, they miss the God of the Bible.

While the Bible is critical to our faith, let’s not place our faith in the Bible or expect it to provide us with salvation. The Bible is a tool that points us to God, but it is not God. God is not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible.

Let’s put the Bible in its rightful place and God in his.

[John 5:39-40]

How do you view the Bible? The Trinity? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

A Fresh Start: It’s Time to Plant, Water, Nurture, and Prune

A friend recently shared how much she was enjoying spring, of seeing flowers bloom and once dormant grass turn green. I connected with her joy, warmed by the thought of spring and the new life it represents. I was happy for her, but then I grew somber. I have no green grass in my yard to celebrate: no new life, just the brown of dirt.

A Brown Yard - Ready for TransformationThough this gave me pause, it quickly reminded me of opportunity. My yard represents a blank canvas, a chance to create something new. It offers a fresh start. Soon grass seed will be sown and after that, flowers and bushes and trees will make their appearance. The brown of potential will give way to the color of life. My yard will come alive, and I expect it will one day look delightful.

I wonder if God considers us the same way, as people of potential, as soil awaiting transformation. In God’s eyes our past is forgiven and forgotten, our present offers potential, and our future beckons with the hope of something wonderful and amazing to behold.

However, the outcome is not assured. Just as I need to plant and water to transform my dreary brown yard into a pleasant lawn, so too, we need to let God work in us: to plant and water, to nurture and grow, and, yes, to periodically prune. Then we can grow, becoming much more than who we are today.

God offers us a new beginning. May we open ourselves to his design for us, accepting his plan for our lives. May we allow him to grow us into something new and wonderful to behold.

God offers us a fresh start, beginning today; don’t miss out.

[This is from the April 2015 issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter. Sign up to receive the complete newsletter each month via email.]

Are Cherubim Angels?

Last week we asked if seraphim are the same as angels? We discovered there is no biblical evidence to suggest they are. Now we ask the same question about cherubim. The Bible mentions cherubim much more than seraphim. In fact, there are 69 verses (in the NIV) with either cherubim (the plural form) or cherub (the singular form). All but one of these mentions are in the Old Testament, many relating to the construction of the tabernacle and temple.

Just as with seraphim, none of these 69 verses says that cherubim are angels. The dictionary defines cherubim as “celestial beings,” just as it does for seraphim.

Cherubim have wings and fly, but they also have hands. Their wings make a loud sound and can be heard from far away. Some cherubim are in heaven, around the throne of God. David even writes about God riding them.

Although cherubim are not angels, they are some amazing supernatural beings.

Next Thursday we’ll look at what the Bible teaches us about angels and then archangels.

What Does The Sword of the Spirit Mean?

In the letter Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus he tells them to put on spiritual armor. Included in his list of gear is only one offensive item: “the sword of the Spirit,” which he says is the word of God.

Many people understand this as a reference to the Bible, the written word of God. Until a few years ago, I did, too (even though the Bible as we know it today didn’t exist back when this was written). We are then to use the words of the Bible to combat evil and the evil one; it is our weapon to fend off the attacks of the devil and his minions. Sadly, too many people do use the Bible as a weapon, but against each other. They fling Bible verses like rocks, attempting to advance their point and subdue all disagreement. They forget the real enemy is not in the physical world but in the spiritual one. They forget to listen to each other and to love one another.

Other people see this instruction as a reference to the spoken word of God: the words of the Holy Spirit who directs each of us. Though a bit jarring to many, this understanding seems more consistent with the text, since it says the word of God is the sword of the Spirit, connecting word with Spirit. While I think this is a correct understanding, it’s also a risky one. What if we hear wrong? What if what I hear contradicts with what you hear? Then we have a problem.

However, we must keep in mind that the spoken word of God should align with the written word of God. If the two are in conflict, then what we think we heard must be in error.

With so much at stake, some people bypass the Holy Spirit and go straight to the Bible. While this might be safe, it falls short of God’s intent. Instead, we should listen to the spoken words of the Holy Spirit, confirming them with the written words of the Bible.

This is what the sword of the Spirit means to me.