Part 8: Making the Head to Heart Connection

Even as a champion for reading and understanding the Bible, I understand that without absorbing today’s topic, everything else I’ve written these past weeks is meaningless. When we approach the Bible, we must come with an open, humble heart that allows the cerebral information to penetrate into our hearts. Without that, we’re reduced to academic scholars, pushers of religious dogma, even to Pharisees. 

Let’s look at this quote from a Seminary Professor, C.L. Blomberg: 

“If we wanted to be brutally honest…one would have to say that the conservative, evangelical Christian…is probably the closest parallel to the ancient Pharisees.”

What terms or adjectives come to mind when you hear Pharisee? Does that statement seem a bit extreme? Did it strike a chord? Seem a little offensive to your Christian sphere? 

Before walking off in a huff, hold onto your panties, take a deep breath, and hear me out. Let me remind you that the man who made that statement is not anti-Christian. He is a Bible professor, teaching pastors and ministry students who will go on and teach more people. So why would he say such a thing? 

Jesus actually had a lot to say on this topic. 

In Matthew 23, Jesus spends the entire chapter rebuking the Pharisees and teachers of the law. 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." - Matthew 23: 25-28

Yikes! Jesus compares them to whitewashed tombs, calling them dead on the inside. Clearly he takes it very seriously that they care more about following the rules and looking good on the outside than they do about cleaning their hearts. 

Again, in John 5: 38-39, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “nor does God’s word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Of the religious groups of the day, the Pharisees knew the scriptures better than anyone, adhered to the rules better than anyone, yet they were missing the main point! Jesus was making it clear that their strict rule following wouldn’t save them. Jesus’ message was about coming to Him for salvation.  

In the process of trying to more carefully understand the context and absorb Biblical knowledge, we cannot forget to make that head to heart connection.

In the process of trying to more carefully understand the context and absorb Biblical knowledge, we cannot forget to make that head to heart connection. If all we ever do is store up a wealth of knowledge, a list of dos and don’ts, we become too much like the Pharisaic Jew or the legalistic evangelical, and forget what is at the center of Christianity: a transformative relationship with Jesus. 

The trouble is, we humans tend to go to extremes. If you remember the introduction (An Intro: Why It’s Not Just For Your Pastor), I spoke about being informed in the Scriptures for ourselves so that we are not like lemmings and easily led astray. However, on the opposite side is an equal challenge of not becoming the hypocritical, white-washed Pharisee. We should neither have a faith that is led merely on warm fuzzies and our emotion of the day any more than we should claim a faith in Jesus that is reduced to academic knowledge of the Bible while ignoring its purpose to shape us into the reflection of the one we claim to follow.

We need balance. 

I will make this very clear: dogmatic reading of the Bible or a precise following of the rules will not save you. Only a relationship with our Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is what saves. “For it is by grace you have been saved…not by works, so that no man may boast” (Ephesians 2). Repenting from our sin and accepting the gracious gift of Jesus that has been given us is the only thing that saves. However, if we don’t build on that foundation, if we ignore the opportunity to come to know our Creator God and Savior more through his Holy Scriptures, we miss out. We pass by on the chance to better understand the heart of God and to allow it to transform our lives. 

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

So if there’s anything with which I can leave you regarding the need to read your Bible, perhaps it is this:

Reading the Bible is not a “you have to,”
it is a “you get to!” 

Therefore, as we conclude this series, my prayer for you is that you can let this notion be your framework as you grow your knowledge of God’s beautiful, holy Scriptures. Let His word be your sustaining daily bread. Let it guide you and provide you with a discerning voice. Celebrate the unending richness you will uncover as you peel back the layers of its goodness. And then sit back and ask our gracious God to use all of that to work inside you so that you never resemble the Pharisees, who quoted the holy Scriptures yet failed to recognize when He stared them in the face. Rather possess a heart that is so transformed, it begins to reflect the heart of the Savior.

May our God bless you and keep you, and make his face shine upon you. 

~Renee

Part 7: Practice Makes Perfect

I have to be honest that after teaching Bible study this way for several years, I thought it would be simple to convert into a blog. However, taking what I’d normally discuss with a group over the course of an hour and trying to reduce it down into a concise blog format proved to be much harder than anticipated.

For the sake of what we can cover here today, I zoomed in on one passage from Ephesians. I would recommend, however, for your own study, that you read the surrounding chapters (or even the whole book) to grasp the larger picture. As we read from Ephesians 2, we are going to journey through the Inductive Guide so you can practice alongside me. For each section of the guide, I will explain what I do and then provide bullet-point information of the notes I would take in my journal. This is meant to give you ideas; it is not the only way to think about the passage and/or study scripture. The more you practice, the more you’ll find a rhythm that works for you. If you can, grab your Bible and turn to the book of Ephesians. Otherwise, I will also have the verses here. A printable version of today’s practice will be available at the bottom.

Ephesians 2:11-22

JEW AND GENTILE RECONCILED THROUGH CHRIST

Genre:

Here, I think about where the book of the Bible is located, use the Genre Guide, or look at the intro in a study Bible to help me determine what genre I’m reading.

  • Letter: sometimes referred to as Epistles.
    • Written in response to a specific need or circumstance.

Context:

For today’s purpose, or when I’m preparing a lesson plan for Bible study, I do dig into the context a bit deeper than for daily reading by utilizing some of the Tools I mentioned. But even knowing general context helps unveil new layers of the text. This where it’s helpful to use that study Bible introduction and think about where the book is located in the Biblical Timeline. In this case, Ephesians is written after Christ’s death and resurrection, when the new churches of Christian believers are being formed and undergoing heavy persecution.

  • Author: Written by Paul, the apostle, around 60 AD. One of the 4 letters written while in prison in Rome.
  • Original Audience: new Gentile Christian believers in Ephesus and the general Mediterranean area. Written to encourage them in their new faith and to encourage unity. (Gentile simply means “not Jewish”)
    • Listeners would have known that Paul was currently imprisoned in Rome after being accused by Jewish leaders that he brought an Ephesian Gentile beyond the temple’s outer court (see Acts 21:27-29)
  • Ethnic and cultural differences between the Jewish and Gentile believers had become an area of contention in the Ephesian church. This brand new church was in danger of becoming 2 separate churches.
  • When we enter the scene, this new church is fragmented, and Gentile Christians are being made to feel lesser than because they’re not Jewish (and not circumcised). Paul comes in and makes it very clear about their worth in the kingdom of God.

Observe: What does the passage say?

At this point, I begin reading and make notes along the way about significant points, themes, etc. I pause every couple or few verses to write down what I want to remember. I may also jot down other verses of which I’m reminded.


11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
  • Vs 11 & 12: Remember what life was like before Christ!
    • Before Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Jews did not realize that salvation would ever be extended to the world, to people outside of themselves. This was a big deal for Gentiles! (word for a non-Jew)
    • Without hope
  • Vs 13: Jesus dying on the cross changed everything. Jesus allowed them to be part of the family.
    • Ephesians 1:5- “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
  • Vs 14/15- Jesus is our peace. He destroyed the barrier, between people and with God. Jesus brought reconciliation/atonement for our sins.
    • 1 John 2: 1-2 “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father– Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
  • Vs 15/16- Create a new humanity from the two = means to reconcile the two sides.
  • Vs 17- Christ’s message of salvation was for everyone; Jew and Gentile.
  • Vs 18- Both have access to the Father because of Jesus.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
  • Vs 19- All part of God’s family; citizens.
  • Vs 20-22- Jesus holds it all together; the cornerstone; he’s the unifier. Everything is built off of Jesus.

Interpret: What does the passage mean?

Here, I look back over what I observed the text to be saying, along with what I know of the context. I try and pull a couple of main points or themes I am seeing from the text.

  • Jesus’ atoning work was and is a big deal! It changed a lot of things!
    • We tend to take this for granted in our era, but this was and is life-changing. Jesus’ death and resurrection ushered in a new era of relationship with God; the turning point in God’s rescue plan.
    • We are Gentiles. We would have been excluded prior to Jesus.
  • Theme: remember who you were, so you can remember who you are.
    • Remember what you’ve been saved from.
    • Those who receive Jesus are called members of God’s family; adopted, heirs; no second-rate citizens.
  • Theme of unity:
    • The body of Christ should not be at war with itself anymore.
      • The church, reconciled to God through Christ, is to live in a way that exemplifies the ultimate restoration
    • Jesus is our peace; the one who holds things together. But that also means we need him to hold things together; can’t do it on our own.

Application: What does it mean for me?

At this point, I can’t do it for you. This is where you apply what you’ve learned personally, not merely as a universal principle. What from the reading and interpretation is speaking to your heart? What is God challenging you to do or pray?

Personally, God was moving my heart about the theme of unity, and about how Jesus is our source for peace. We are in a time of extreme division, even within the church body. This reminds me not only of Christ’s call for unity, but the fact that he is the root of it. When our focus becomes ourselves, or when we try and do things in our own strength, everything falls apart, just as a foundation would if you pulled out the chief cornerstone. This past week it has caused me to reflect on how I can present Christ’s peace in my own sphere. It has also reminded me to see fellow believers as children of God, as part of the family. We may have moments of disagreement, but I should never be looking at others as second-rate citizens of the kingdom of God. We’re in this together, and it’s only through Jesus that we can remain in or come back to a place of unity.


I pray that God not only spoke to your heart about today’s reading, but you were able to learn something to grow your excitement and confidence in studying God’s word. In closing, I wanted to pray the same prayer Paul said to the Ephesian church:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3: 17-19

Blessings as you go about your week. Next week we’ll visit the last part in this series, an important component to our studying of the scriptures.

~Renee

Part 6: Helpful Tools

Today I wanted to share some of the tools I have found helpful along the way for my own study and for preparing Bible studies. This isn’t going to be an all-inclusive list of every resource out there; these are simply the go-to tools I utilize regularly.


  • 1. Read different translations for comparison. Different translations serve different purposes. Some have been more closely translated word-for-word from the Hebrew and Greek texts into English to produce the most literal translations. However, as we discussed with context, this is where the actual meaning can sometimes be “lost in translation” without careful reading. In the middle of the spectrum are thought-for-thought translations. And on the opposite side are paraphrase translations, which offer a more devotional style reading. Below I’ve listed several popular Bible translations in descending order, from most literal to the least. A really great option is using www.Biblegateway.com to compare different translations side by side.
    • ESV- The English Standard Version is the most literal translation, attempting to translate word for word from the original text.
    • KJV- The King James Version is an English translation of the Bible commissioned for the Church of English in the early 1600s. They have also made the more updated New KJV with more updated language. It can have a poetic flow, naturally from the older way of speaking. 
    • NIV- The New International Version is more of a meaning-for-meaning translation of the Bible. It was translated into English directly from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts, but attempts to convey the original contextual meaning through its translation. It was initially published to meet the need for an updated English language translation.
    • NLT- The New Living Translation is more focused on translating meaning and entire thoughts, as opposed to translating word for word. It intends to make the translation into modern, everyday English, such that its meaning will have the same effect as the original audience.
    • AMP- The Amplified Bible’s goal is to “amplify” the meaning by blending word meaning and context to translate the original. It uses additional words to help make the meaning more clear. Since it sometimes takes multiple English words to fully interpret a Hebrew or Greek word, this is a more lengthy translation.
    • The Message- A paraphrase translation written by Pastor Eugene Peterson. It was his attempt to bring the original heart and emotion into this translation. Written directly from the Greek/Hebrew texts.

  • 2. Study Bible. If I could only recommend one thing for you, this would be it. It provides so much great information in one package. There are many versions out there. Here are three I can recommend from personal experience.
    • Life Application Study Bible This This is a great option if you want some contextual info mixed in with devotional-style thoughts.
    • NIV Study Bible- This study Bible provides more historical & contextual info than the above version, along with more maps and photos.
    • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. I would recommend this for those most interested in deeper historical and contextual information. On a continuum, The Life Application version supplies basic information, the Study Bible supplies plenty of info for most readers, where this version is going to provide a wealth of information for the reader wanting a lot of detail and knowledge. I find this to be a great Bible for preparing lesson plans when I lead Bible studies.  
  • 3. Utilize Cross-References. In many Bibles, you can find cross-references to other verses in the Bible (often using a letter system in the margin). This is a great way to read the Old Testament verses that New Testament passages are referencing, or vice versa.
  • 4. Use a Concordance. This is a way to help you locate verses containing certain words or topics. Some Bibles have one located in the back, but you can also buy expansive ones, like Strong’s Bible Concordance. You can also utilize Biblegateway.com for the same purpose.
Study Bible Concordance
  • 5. Use a Greek/Hebrew Dictionary. This can be really great for exploring the meaning of a word more deeply. Because the English language is more limited, you can often learn a much deeper meaning of what the original Hebrew or Greek meant to convey.
  • 6. Commentaries. There are many Bible commentaries out there. A couple I have used and found helpful are Halleys Bible Handbook and the Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

  • 8. N.T. Wright. If I had to pick just one author to read user-friendly, trusted Bible commentaries by, this is the guy. A brilliant, British Bible scholar, N.T. Wright has a great series of commentaries that are written for everyday people like us, as opposed to writing for other theologians. He explains contextual background but also uses anecdotes to make passages even more relatable. You can look for his series Titled “For Everyone.”

  • 9. Listen to the Bible. I’ve been there. With 3 kids, work, and extracurriculars, I am still there. Certain seasons of life are crazier than others. In those stretches, I’ve found it easier to listen to the Bible while I’m driving, exercising, doing dishes, etc. The Bible App by YouVersion is great for this option.

I hope you find these help. Like I said, this is not an exhaustive list, but these are the regular tools and devices I find myself using. I do also want to note that I do not access all of these every day or even every week and month. They’re simply great tools I go to when needed. Some days I have more time to study scripture than other days. Some topics I want to dig into more than others. So please do not look at this as a to-do list of your daily devotional time. That would be quite the accomplishment! They are tools to put in the toolbelt to help us as we explore God’s word.

Keep at it! For Part 7 we’ll practice walking through the Inductive Study Guide to give you the confidence to do it on your own.

I’m praying God will give you his wisdom and discernment as you open his precious Holy Scripture.

~Renee

Part 5: On the Topic of Application

Today we’re going to discuss why the order of application matters. Why can’t we just read a verse from the Bible and immediately apply it to our lives? There’s no one-size-fits-all with the variety of verses contained in the Bible. So there will of course be instances where that may work out and a verse means just what it sounds like, even after seeing the larger framework. However, with many other verses and passages, if we skip ahead of noting genre and context, we can skew the original meaning altogether. 

Let’s use another well-known verse as an example: 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11 is often perceived as this notion that God will not let harm befall us; nothing bad will ever happen; God has good and prosperous things planned for me; and God is going to rescue you quickly from any troublesome situations. Again, a sort of motivational verse. 

Read in isolation, that does seem to be the case. God knows the plans he has for us and it sounds like he wants to give us prosperity and a hopeful future. Golly, if I’m going through a hard circumstance, it would sure seem like God is going to come to my rescue, for surely he doesn’t wish anything bad on me?

Right? 

Well, sort of. That idea isn’t all fallacy, but there are holes in that theology. 

If we put on the brakes and use the Inductive Method we’ll discover several important points to understand what God is saying here and why he is saying it. Jeremiah 29:11 is written at the point in history where the last of the Israelites’ land has been conquered by the Babylonians and they have just been taken into Babylonian Exile (see Part 4 for a Timeline and major Biblical events ). After ignoring Jeremiah’s warnings and pleadings for 23 years for them to repent, Israel is facing the consequences of breaking their Covenant relationship with God. 

At the beginning of Chapter 29, titled A Letter to the Exiles, God begins by letting the exiles know they will be in captivity for 70 years. He instructs them to ignore the false prophets who are spreading ideas that God will come to their immediate rescue and destroy Babylon. Instead, God tells them to build houses and settle down, plant gardens, and marry. He is making it very clear that they better get comfortable because they’re going to be there for a while. 

At that point, we approach verse 11 within its full paragraph: 

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

So what is God’s point here? He tells them to hunker down because exile will last 70 years. But then he says he will come to them and free them from captivity after that 70 years because he knows the plan he has for them. There is light at the end of the tunnel. He knows the journey through the dark tunnel may appear daunting, but ultimately, he has a plan; a plan that will result in a much better ending than if he’d merely taken away their immediate discomfort. He is encouraging them to hold on, have faith in him. There is hope and a future, it just may not involve squelching the discomfort today brings. It is meant to instill hope in the midst of their exile, not to provide news that exile will be short-lived.  

“It is meant to instill hope in the midst of their exile”


Now that you have the larger context of Jeremiah 29 and what it meant to the original listeners, take a moment to reflect and see how it applies to your life, to situations you may be facing.

How would you apply Jeremiah 29:11 to your life now? Does it still seem to fit within the Prosperity Gospel belief that if you follow God, no harm will come upon you? Does it still leave you with the assumption that immediate rescue is imminent? Or does it enable you to reflect on that verse differently? Does it teach you something new about the character of God? Does it cause you to reflect on your own trials in a new light? Does it provide a fresh lens with which to see a God in whom we can trust for ultimate purpose and intention, even when we at times have to experience pain in this life? 

I hope and pray this example has helped you gain insight as to why we should be cautious to apply scripture too hastily. Briefly pausing to understand the greater scope really can open the doors to a deeper understanding of God’s character and heart, and thus, how that pertains to our daily lives.


And in case you were curious about the end of the story, Babylonian Exile does end in 539 BC when Cyrus, king of Persia (who had since captured Babylon), allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. See the book of Ezra to read that story. All of that, combined with the world events that occur over the 400 Years of Silence (period between Old & New Testaments), set the stage for the perfect timing of the arrival of the Son of God, Jesus, who brought about the incomparable hope and future for mankind….but those details we’ll save for another time. 

Keep practicing and don’t get discouraged if the process still feels messy. Later this week, we’ll take a look at tools I’ve found helpful for studying the Bible.  

~Renee

Part 4: It’s Really ONE BIG Story!

As I referenced in the Intro, somehow I came away from my adolescent years of church and Sunday school with a very fragmented view of the Bible. I am embarrassed to say it was closer to my mid 20s when, through studying on my own accord, I began to connect some of the dots, particularly of the Old Testament of the Bible. 

I figured I would start by making myself vulnerable so that no one need feel inferior. Wherever you’re at in your Biblical knowledge, you have nothing to be ashamed about. 

For example, I was definitely older before I ever connected that the story of Joseph directly connected to the story of Moses. As in, the Israelites end up in Egypt in the first place because Joseph brings his family there to save them from a famine. Then the Israelites become enslaved later on and Moses is the man God chooses to help free them. I think the first time I pieced that one together, my mind was blown. Likewise, it was most certainly only in the past 5 years that I realized the kingdom of Israel, God’s chosen people, actually split in two at one point! It became two nations, mad at each other! I’ve led Bible studies for 15 years and it still took time to figure some of those things out– and hey, no judgment! It’s a big Bible, ha!

Now, some of you may be laughing at me wondering, how did you not learn that earlier? As I said to my husband, I will now say to you: we didn’t all have the privilege of attending Christian school growing up. So seriously, count that a blessing and don’t take it for granted if you did. But I will also assume that there were others of you, like myself, who went “OOOOOHHHH! Now I get it!”

As I prepared this, there were so many MORE things I wanted to include, but it was just too much for an already lengthy topic. So we’ll dive into more overarching Biblical themes and important events in the future. Today, the purpose is to lay the groundwork and understand the larger picture.


The Bible is really one big love story about a Creator God wanting to restore relationship with his people and creation. Everything in the Old Testament points to Jesus, and at least ⅔ of the New Testament references the OT, so it is so important to understand both. They do not exist within a vacuum. Each informs the other. 

In the beginning, God created this world and mankind, all operating under his shalom (peace). Then man rebelled and broke that peace, bringing about suffering and chaos. But almost right away, in the book of Genesis, God already kickstarts his rescue plan. It begins with a man named Abraham. God establishes a Covenant with Abraham and says “I will be your God and all nations will be blessed through you.” 

Descended from Abraham comes the people of Israel. When they first make their exodus out of slavery from Egypt, they no longer know Yahweh God, whom their descents followed. So God again establishes his Covenant with them and says “I will be your God, you will be my people, all nations will be blessed through you.” God promises to be their God and secure blessing upon them, but Israel is supposed to live in a way that reflects the heart of God. For their side of the Covenant, they are to be a beacon to the nations around them, displaying the generous and compassionate heart of their Lord. 

The rest of the OT is waiting to see if Israel can hold up their end of the Covenant relationship. Can they be ambassadors of Creator God to the surrounding nations? Can they bring redemptive living to the world? We, of course, know they fail in this mission. They abandon Yahweh and live in the most detestable of ways, and the Covenant relationship is broken. Yet even in the bleakest of moments, when impending Babylonian conquest is upon the Israelite people, God already speaks of his continued rescue plan, of sending a Redeemer and establishing a new covenant, which will not be written on tablets of stone but on their minds and hearts. 

When we open the book of the New Testament, the rescue story comes to a pinnacle. The Creator God, knowing his creation cannot rescue and atone itself, humbles himself and comes to the very world he created as God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus, fully God, but also descended from the line of Abraham and the Israelite nation, is for all people what they could never be for themselves, never able to fulfill the Old Covenant. He presents a New Exodus, where now all peoples of the world are invited to come out of slavery from sin and into freedom under a New Law, a New Covenant. For the first time since the fall of Adam and Eve, Jesus restores right relationship between God and man by becoming their sacrifice, the final slaughtered Lamb,the last atonement needed. He dismantles the Old Law and establishes a New Covenant. 

The most central part of the story has occurred, but it is not over. Jesus’ death and resurrection was the bridge to restoring the relationship between people and their Father God, but the final restoration of the world has not yet come. We will not be swept off to heaven someday and this world destroyed in a final judgement. One day, Jesus will return, and this world that God so lovingly created, he will make new. Heaven will come down to meet earth, and our Lord will dwell among us. And the ultimate peace, the beautiful and orderly shalom that God always desired for this world and for his relationship with his children, will be restored. 

In the waiting, Jesus makes it very clear in the Gospels that we do not have to wait for God’s Final Restoration. When Jesus came, he ushered in the Kingdom of God. He displayed and taught what it means to live in a such a way that reflects the heart of the Father. And so in the meantime, while we wait, we can bring the Kingdom of God to this world each and every day by choosing to display God’s shalom, by choosing to reflect his love and mercy and compassion. In the same way the Israelites were supposed to be a light to the nations around them, but failed without access to relationship with their Heavenly Father, we are invited to partake in God’s story by being ambassadors of King Jesus to the world around us. 


Now that we have the plot of the story and ultimately know the ending, where God restored relationship at great cost to himself and where God’s love and peace will prevail, we can begin to fill in some of the details along the way. 

Below you will find a bullet-point, cliff-notes version of the major events in the Bible. It’s like reading it in fast forward and it can make it easier to see how the pieces fit together. This isn’t all-inclusive, but it provides anchor points. A downloadable pdf of this will be at the end. Following that, there will also be a printable Timeline. I find it to be handy to reference, because even the best of us can forget things along the way. 

Major Events of the Bible:

  1. Creation (Genesis 1-2)
  2. People repeatedly sinning against God (Genesis 3-11)
    1. Fall of Adam and Eve, and decline of descendants 
  3. The Flood
    1. God spares Noah and the animals as a remnant
    2. Makes a Covenant with creation to never again destroy it (rainbow)
  4. Man again turns corrupt; the Tower of Babel- God confuses the languages and people scatter (Gen 11)
  5. God’s solution: God makes a Covenant Promise with Abraham (Genesis 12-17)
    1. Promises to make him into a great nation and to give him land
    2. Millions of descendants 
    3. All nations will be blessed through him 
  6. Patriarchs of God’s people (Gen 21-50)
    1. Abraham→ Isaac → Jacob 
      1. Jacob’s other name- Israel, which means “wrestles with God”
      2. Jacob’s 12 sons become the 12 tribes of Israel
      3. Jacob’s son, Joseph, is sold into slavery in Egypt, which leads to his eventual position of power in Egypt
      4. Joseph saves his family, Israelites, during a great famine→ family moves to Egypt
  7. Israelite population rapidly grows in Egypt. When the old generation dies and new pharaoh no longer remembers Joseph, Israelites are made into slaves as a means to subdue them (Exodus)
    1. Moses’ life is spared, raised by Pharaoh’s daughter
  8. God delivers his people out of Egypt in Exodus and enters Covenant relationship with them (the Mosaic Covenant) (Exodus 19 & 24)
    1. I will be your God, you will be my people; I will dwell in your midst
    2. Israelites are meant to be God’s image bearers, to represent God to the world, to be set apart
    3. Israelites know little about Yahweh before this point; they have to learn how to live as people set apart (hence, The Law)
  9. Deuteronomy (just prior to entering the Promised Land)
    1. God restates their covenant relationship and details their blessings if they obey him and worship him alone, as well as the terrible judgments if they do not (see Deut 28)
    2. Israel vows to keep the Covenant, but of course they do not
  10. Joshua through 2 Kings follows the Israelite’s story of entering the Promised Land and seeing if they keep that agreement (clearly they do not)
    1. They gradually conquest the land and then lose pieces again as they fall into sin
  11. Time of the Judges
    1. Israel’s attempt to have a leader; someone representing God, to guide the people
    2. Judges were political military leaders but also a judicial role (like a Supreme Court)
    3. It goes horribly and by the end, it’s written, “in those days Israel had no king: everyone did as they saw fit.” (Judges 21:25)
    4. Outrageous moral decline- rape, murder, neglect of widows/orphans/poor, worshipping pagan gods
    5. Samuel is the last judge
  12. The Cycle of Judgment: they do this all through the OT
    1. the people are faithful and enjoy peace→ People get complacent and rebel→ God gives them into the hands of their enemies→ People turn back to God and cry out in their oppression→ God rescues them and people are faithful under that leader→ Until that leader is gone and the people rebel again
  13. Israel enters monarchy- a new strategy of trying to lead the people via a king (1 Samuel)
    1. Saul is the first king- starts okay but can’t remain faithful to God
    2. Samuel is instructed to go to Bethlehem and anoints David as the next king
    3. David is the one who takes Jerusalem and establishes it as the capitol
      1. David finishes conquering the Promised Land
      2. Israel’s land being established; wants to build a permanent temple for God
    4. Solomon is the last king of Israel in its entirety– cursed because of his unfaithfulness (1 Kings)
  14. The Division of the Kingdom (1 & 2 Kings)
    1. The Northern Kingdom- referred to as Israel
      1. There are no good kings here in its history; they turn to idol worship
    2. The Southern Kingdom- referred to as Judah
      1. Where Jerusalem is located
      2. Where we get the term “The Jews”
      3. Has a few good kings mixed in with the bad
    3. On-going civil war between the kingdoms
  15. The destruction of the northern kingdom, Israel, by the Assyrians (722 BC) – 2Kings 17
  16. The destruction of Solomon’s temple and the southern kingdom, Judah, by the Babylonians (587 BC)- 2Kings 24 & 25
  17. Exile in Babylonia and Egypt (550-450 BC)
  18. Return to the land- Ezra & Nehemiah
    1. Persian age (538 BC)- In his first year of rule, King Cyrus frees the Israelites
    2. Rebuilding of the temple- Nehemiah
  19. Intertestamental period (also referred to as the “400 Years of Silence”)
    1. Greek empire from 336-165 BC
      1. Brings the Greek language (common trading language), making for one common language
      2. Greek cultural influence
      3. Greek preference for aesthetics over content
    2. Roman Empire in rule by the time Jesus is born
  20. Jesus’ Birth, Life, Death & Resurrection (The Gospels)
    1. Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of God and establishes a New Covenant
    2. Jesus becomes the final sacrificial Lamb of atonement for sins
    3. Jesus’ death & resurrection restores right relationship with God
  21. The formation of the early church (Acts)
    1. Jesus’ disciples become the first missionaries
    2. The Holy Spirit arrives at Pentecost
    3. The invitation to be God’s people is opened up to non-Jews (referred to as “Gentiles”)
    4. Saul is converted on the road to Damascus and renamed “Paul”
  22. Nero comes to power in the 60s AD
    1. Intense persecution- causes Christians to spread out and ultimately spread Christianity to other parts of the world
  23. Revelation: One day Christ will return and restore all things; the earth will be made new and heaven will meet earth, and God will dwell among his people. 
  24. ….Until then, we eagerly wait and see what role we’ll play in God’s story.

I know this was a lot of information today. So take this week and simply familiarize yourself with it all.

~Renee

Part 3: Why Context Matters

What comes to mind if you hear: “It’s brick outside.”? 

What about: “Can I get those fries animal style?” 

Or perhaps: “that’s sick!”

Well, the way you interpret those words will largely be dependent on where you live and the generation in which you were born. If you live on the East Coast, you know it to mean, “it’s freezing out, like a brick of ice.” If you’re from the West Coast, you can assume someone is ordering fries with cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and grilled onions. And again, depending on where you live or your social circle, “that’s sick,” could mean something is really gross, or it’s totally awesome. 

Those examples confuse you? Let’s try again.

Tell someone who doesn’t live in Michigan that you need to “run into Meijers and grab some Faygo pop,” or that your sister is a “troll,” and they may look at you cross-eyed. But locals here all know precisely that Michiganders love adding an “S” to everything, “Meijer” is a Michigan-based grocery store, and that Faygo is a local carbonated beverage called “pop”, never “soda.” You also aren’t using an offensive slur toward your kin, you’re merely saying your sister lives in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, under the Mackinac Bridge, hence from which the term “troll” is derived. 😉 

Putting that into perspective, if there can be that much contextual difference within the same time period, just from region to region, how much more would we need to be mindful of contextual differences with Biblical accounts written thousands of years ago on the other side of the world? Jesus was not preaching in Mid-Western America. He was speaking to Jewish audiences in the Middle-East over 2,000 year ago. 

We want to be mindful of the cultural context we are bringing to the table when we open our Bibles. We can very quickly interpret scripture incorrectly when we view it through 21st Century Western culture. Our natural tendency will be to view things through our own cultural lens. So before reading a passage or chapter, take a moment to stop and think about the original context first. 

Let’s look at some examples from the Bible. In the NIV translation of the Bible, Jesus addresses his mother in John Chapter 2 as “Woman!” Understandably, I’ve witnessed people react to that as Jesus being disrespectful and misogynistic. Well, gee, when we read it within our cultural context, it does appear that way. But while the NIV often provides a literal translation, the cultural equivalent of what Jesus said would actually be like saying “Madame.” Do you see the difference in the level of respect by understanding just one word within its original context?!  

Now let’s address an oh, so popular verse: 

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13 

This is a classic verse taken out of context. Our Western, 21st Century culture loves this verse. It fits in perfectly with the cultural notion that 

“You can do anything!”

“She believed she could and she did!” 

“Work hard enough and you can achieve your dreams!”

Philippians, most likely written while Paul sat in a prison cell in Rome, was written to encourage the church of Philippi as they may face further persecution. 

Let’s look at verse 13 in full context of the paragraph: 

“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” 

Interesting. When read all together, what is the main subject Paul is addressing? Is he talking about climbing the corporate ladder or killing it at a presentation or stashing away enough money to build that dream house? Paul is talking about contentment here! Not quite what is typically associated with that verse, now is it? 

I love that the NIV has actually updated the wording of verse 13 to read as “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” By merely changing “things” to “this”, it directs your mind back to the aforementioned verses, as opposed to reducing Paul’s words into a motivational chant. 

Begin to practice pausing before you read scripture to consider that the original context was not 21st Century Western culture, and therefore, how would the original context have impacted its meaning? Below are some ideas for what to ask or pay attention to regarding context.  

Some study Bibles offer contextual info at the beginning of a book. Utilize that!

You absolutely do not need to answer every single one of these every time. They are merely meant to guide and assist, to provide you with some direction, not to bog you down. Again, don’t expect perfection from yourself pertaining to context, and certainly don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. This coming Sunday we’ll return for Part 4 about the Bible as one big story and that will really help create some anchor points. 

Have a great weekend and I hope to see you here in a few days for Part 4!

~Renee

Part 2: Why Genre Matters

Now it’s time to look at why paying attention to the genre you are reading is helpful. Genre is another way of saying the category or classification, characterized by the same form, style, or subject matter. Genre is one of the first things I make sure to pay attention to because it can shape your entire reading of a verse, chapter, or book. 

For example, if I read a parable of Jesus but forget what a parable means, we could have a big problem on our hands when I interpret Jesus’ words of “I am the vine, you are the branches” to mean that literally. Jesus is not actually some weird anthropomorphic grape vine. Likewise when Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grew and became a tree, it isn’t really a mustard seed. There are lessons embedded in his words there. 

On the flip side, if I fail to see the book of 1 Samuel as an historical account that happened to the Israelite nation, I may only regard David’s life as a nice story with a lesson. It becomes easy to take for granted that these were real people, at a real point in time. 

We know that in all literature, the genre affects our reading of it. Reading a poem by Dr. Maya Angelou is going to be absorbed much differently than reading the Diary of Anne Frank. Knowing one is poetry and one is historical informs our interpretation. 

As for the Bible, some people will break them into even more specific categories, but there are certain overarching genres that are typically agreed upon: 

  1. Law: The first 5 books of the Bible are typically considered books of Law, also referred to as “The Torah” and “The Pentateuch”. They include the story of how the Israelites became God’s people and the laws that were given them. These laws were meant to be the standard by which they lived under the Covenant made with God; a display that God’s people did not live like the rest of the world. The laws also served to show that no one was capable of earning God’s love. The Moral Laws (such as the 10 Commandments) are what most people are familiar with, but these books also include the Civil and Ceremonial Laws put in place to govern the Israelite nation. The Civil and Ceremonial Laws were very specific to their people, place, and time within history.
  1. Narrative: This tells a story or provides an historical account. This is found throughout the Bible, as entire books or as chapters within books. 
  1. Poetry: These use imagery and figurative language. They often express emotion and repeat phrases for poetic flare. The books of Psalms and Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon) are included here. However, poems and songs are found in many books throughout the Bible. 
  1. Wisdom: A collection of wise sayings, meant to influence the moral code of its readers.
  1. Prophets (Major and Minor): Written by prophets living in a specific period of Israel’s history, these were written as reminders and warnings to the Israelites. These need to be read with an understanding of the Covenant relationship between God and his people. 
  1. Gospels: The term literally means “good news.” They were a proclamation of the new king, Jesus. These include the life of Jesus. A sub-genre, Parable, is found here. 
  1. Letters: Written about a specific circumstance to a specific group of Christians in the Early Church. It is crucial to understand those things first in order to reach appropriate conclusions regarding application. 
  1. Apocalyptic/Prophecy: Revelation and parts of Daniel are included in this genre. These are urgent messages meant to warn and/or comfort the original audience. Apocalyptic literature uses a lot of symbolic language that must be understood through the lens of similar preceding Biblical texts. They are meant to evoke emotion; not necessarily to speak to the cerebral side. 

For a handy visual, download and print the Genre Guide. As with the Inductive Bible Study Guide, this can be helpful as you get started. Keep in mind that multiple genres can be found within a book of the Bible.

This week, keep practicing! I’d love to hear from those who are giving it a try. What have you learned? What seems challenging? What questions have you run into?

Later this week, we’ll take a look at Context.

~Renee

An Intro: Why It’s Not Just For Your Pastor

I wrote my first rough draft to this series 4 years ago. Four! I was perhaps newly pregnant with our youngest child. But in my typical perfectionist fashion, I tucked it away and sat on it. 

Newly inspired, I polished it and planned to release it last Spring. Then COVID hit and all of our worlds flipped upside down. Just to add insult to injury, my computer crashed this summer, losing all of my documents from the past few years (yes, I know, quite the lesson in backing up files). Instead of picking myself up by the bootstraps and rewriting immediately, I wallowed in the loss of all my creative writings that were gone. 

Well, after a good cry (or, ya know, three), I gave myself a good kick in the rear and started over. So let’s give this a go again:


For the past decade, I’ve had this growing awareness of something crucial; a bit of a crisis in the Christian church that needs remedying. At least from the numerous conversations I’ve had with other believers, I don’t think it’s merely a personal hunch. Many Christians do not read their own Bibles and don’t know what’s really in the Bible. As a culture, we’ve become great at reading Christian self-help books or devotionals that reference a Bible verse, but even finding a “Bible study” that reads the Bible directly can be challenging.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” -Psalm 119:105

Growing up, I went to church every Sunday for worship service and Sunday school, attended Wednesday night services, completed a discipleship class as a teen, along with a mission trip and other volunteer gigs over the years. Needless to say, I wasn’t a Christmas-and-Easter-only sort of a kid. Despite that, I missed how the Bible all connected. I could tell you about individual stories, could explain salvation, and knew a dozen memory verses. But to explain the Bible as a whole, well that was an entirely different level.

Churches became really good at teaching stories like Daniel in the Lion’s Den or Jonah and the Whale, and at teaching topical series that reminded us to “have more faith” or “how to have better relationships.” Maybe I missed something, but I never saw the big picture. I don’t think anyone within my church is to blame. I think I’m simply a product of the generation, of the cultural trend of the time, but suddenly a whole generation doesn’t know the Bible. If you’re reading this and thinking “actually Renee, my church or school really did help me understand it all,” consider yourself fortunate. You seem to be in the minority.

Why does any of this matter anyway? Boy, I’m glad you asked! There are a few significant reasons why reading the Bible shouldn’t be a task reserved for your pastor. 

1. We’re starving ourselves of the lifesource the Bible provides

We were made for fellowship with God. And one of the best and easiest ways to learn about and get to know our Creator God is by opening up the holy Scriptures. We actually cheat ourselves when we don’t take time to read it. Our souls become undernourished when we fail to read and know God’s word. 

Christian authors, speakers, pastors, church leaders, and devotional books are all great tools and resources, but they should remain secondary to our own reading of Scripture. When we rely only on our church leaders and devotional books for all our information about being a Christ-follower, it’s really just second-hand faith. It’s as if we’re gleaning the crumbs off the ground instead of sitting at the table and biting into the very bread of life itself. You get a taste, but you miss out on the full sustenance God has to offer. 

2. We become like lemmings with no discernment of our own. 

I once worked with a middle-aged woman who was quite vocal about her faith. She confidently declared that she didn’t need to read her Bible; her pastor told her everything she needed to know. She was only the first of many I encountered who seemed to hold this same sentiment. 

I wish it were not true, but in this fallen world in which we live, that can be a dangerous notion to live by. I’ve seen some pastors twist scripture in order to yield power, ones who lazily added hodgepodge verses to their preferred topical series, those who’ve taught some weird theology, and one who even referred to the words of Jesus as “Christianese,” as opposed to something which to regard with reverence.  I’m sure we can all picture some televangelist out there who’s had more than suspect teaching.

We don’t need to end this blog feeling a sense of distrust toward our pastors and Christian leaders. Please don’t misunderstand my end goal. There are scores of phenomenal pastors, several of whom I am honored to know personally. But in a day and age where there are so many differing opinions being thrown out there, we need to know God’s word ourselves in order to have a compass with which to distinguish. Furthermore, humans make an awfully unreliable foundation, and it is unfair to put them in that position in the first place. When we raise up individuals on a pedestal, they are bound to fall and to fail us. Be careful not to replace God with false idols. There is nothing wrong with being guided by the teachings of Christian leaders; the problem begins when we elevate them as God instead of remembering they are merely a follower of God, doing their best. 

“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.”- 2 Timothy 3:16 (Msg)

When we don’t know God’s word ourselves, we lack the ability to discern. We may be swayed to follow our political party, our church traditions, or our family’s “way of doing things” without ever considering God’s heart on a matter. We may be tempted to spew hate instead of welcoming and loving our neighbor. We may even one day find ourselves carrying a “Jesus Saves” flag on the steps of the Capitol building, all the while acting in a way that does anything but reflect the heart of God.

3. Finally, and this might be the one I get the MOST excited about, when we fail to read God’s word, we miss out on the unending goodness and richness it has to offer. 

Spoiler alert- some of the traditions I learned as a kid aren’t actually biblical. For instance, things about heaven and Revelation. I learned the cultural trend of the time; not the Biblical text. And before you go throwing stones at me for heresy, just bear with me- it’s actually better than you might think!

A couple of years ago I sat across from a woman who began to share during a small-group discussion in a New Testament Bible class we were attending. All her life she had grown up in the church and even attended Christian school. She fought back tears as she pointed at her Bible and said, “None of this is anything like I learned, but it is so much better!” It was as if her eyes had been opened to the message of the Bible and the extreme depth of God’s love for his people for the first time. It was life changing for her. 

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12-

Guys! That is what I don’t want you to miss out on! The Bible is like an onion: the more you peel back and learn, the more layers you find. It’s incredible! I remember a moment last year in a Bible study on Acts where a passage in Acts 3 meant something so much deeper to me because of something I learned the year prior (that will be an exciting blog to share later!). But we all have to start somewhere. Without understanding the greater context, the small moments and details won’t make sense. We aren’t going to be great theologians overnight. But you’d be amazed at the growth that happens with 10 or 15 consistent minutes a day. Little by little. Or, as a favorite pastor of mine likes to say, growth through “slow and steady faithfulness.” 


I’m not here to slap anyone on the hand or make them feel shame. Quite the opposite! I’m hoping to enrich, educate, and empower. Many people don’t open their Bibles out of pure intimidation. Let’s be honest, it can be confusing, especially if no one ever taught you how to read it. Knowing how to study the Bible shouldn’t be a skill reserved for Bible students and theologians. Yes, there are amazing layers that can be delved into after one studies Greek or travels to the Holy Land themselves, but nothing about Christ’s saving message for all mankind should require a PhD to open up his Word. With a few simple tools, you can confidently read your Bible. 

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to teach you what I can from my humble wheelhouse (remembering that I am merely a servant of God myself; don’t go putting me on that pedestal). 

We will: 

  1. Learn what Inductive Bible study is, what it means, and why it’s useful
  2. Learn why Genre matters
  3. Learn why Context matters
  4. Look at the Bible from a bird’s-eye view to understand the BIG story, one big rescue story; the cliff notes version, if you will 
  5. Talk about using the Inductive method to apply passages to our life, and how to do it in the correct order
  6. Look at tools I find helpful
  7. Practice what we’ve learned and dive into some scripture
  8. Discuss why the head to heart connection matters

If you’ve made it this far- a gold star for you! I hope that you choose to journey with me over the next few weeks to learn and grow as a consumer of God’s holy Word. 

Grace and Peace, 

Renee

Stories of Trust: My Dream Deferred

Growing up, our church had the tradition of reading The Tale of Three Trees every Christmas. If you haven’t read it, you should.

Book Cover- Trees

I was always drawn to the 3rd tree. In the story, the 1st and 2nd trees had more material ambitions. The first tree wanted to hold beautiful treasure; the second wanted to be the strongest ship in the world. Ah, but the 3rd tree, all she wanted was to grow so tall that whenever people looked at her, they’d look up and think of God. My little girl heart wanted so badly to glorify God; to point to God in everything I did.

Sadly, in the story all three trees get axed down and thrown into lumber yards.

I seem to be finding myself sitting in the metaphorical lumberyard as well. Nothing has quite gone as planned so far, at least not in regard to how I thought I’d point to God.

As a girl, I always imagined I’d bring glory to God through singing. I didn’t have any grand aspirations of fame, or even earning an income through music, but I thought I’d always use that gift of voice for Him. A shy little girl who hated speaking in front of people, singing was a platform for me to share my heart for God. I would carefully select songs that conveyed truths I found important to share. During my teen years, God opened so many doors for me to sing at church, school, and in the community, it made sense that I’d continue to serve God in that way.

From the moment I graduated high school, went to college, and began to spread my wings, however, God seemed to frustrate all my attempts. Every time I knocked on that music door, it seemed to slam shut or creak irritatingly. Nothing seemed to work out. I was either too young or not classically trained enough or wasn’t friends with the right crowd or people dragged their feet on promises made….and so on and so on. At one point I was so humiliated by certain feedback regarding my apparent lack of expression on stage, I almost gave up singing altogether.

Then about 10 years ago I felt God tugging at my heart to go into ministry. I can still remember the exact chapter I was reading in a book and the precise spot I was sitting on my couch when I told the Lord, “Okay, I’m in.” So in tandem with being a mother, I directed the energy I had left toward women’s ministry. Zeal in my heart, fire in my soul, I set out on my journey for the Lord. Surely that was how I would bring glory to Him!

Yet a decade later I am lacking any direction.

I’ve read oodles of books by Christian women, many of them in ministry, and I am always amazed at the apparent ease with which their path guides them into teaching, preaching, writing, nonprofit ministries and so on. Two ladies in particular graduate college, decide to start up a blog and next thing they know they’re reaching tens of thousands of women through a bona fide non-profit. Another lady decides to write a book, as if it’s so easy to even get published in the first place, makes friends with a nationally known speaker, and the  next thing she knows, she’s part of another nationally known women’s ministry. I can’t even find a niche in my local church while big things seem to just fall into others’ laps. It’s hard not to be left feeling a little dumbfounded or to question your calling altogether.

“Am I missing something, Lord?” tree 3- confused

Earlier this summer I was having some much needed quiet time with the Lord, perusing through some old journals. Suddenly my heart stopped when I came across a poem I’d entirely forgotten about, written 4 years ago. Somehow it still seemed so relevant to my heart’s current condition:

The 3rd Tree

Girl of eleven wished to be that tree.

Heart pure and sweet, with a zeal for the King.

“May all I do point to you.

May I grow tall and free so they lift their eyes to you.”

 

Then life had its way and cut her down.

They spit, they mocked, they pushed her to the ground.

“Maybe I’m not enough.

Perhaps I heard wrong.

Maybe I’m not called.

Maybe I’m not an appointed one.”

 

Dreams lay dead in the lumberyard.

A broken spirit blackens her soul.

But the King so sweetly raises her head

He dries her tears and comes to make her whole .

“Don’t you know the rest of the story?” he whispers.

“Don’t you remember that tree did bring me glory?”

 

Still your heart, sweet child of mine

Wait on the Lord.

Still your heart, little child of grace

Let the Sovereign One sit on the throne.


You see, as our story of the Three Trees concludes, it does not end with the trees rotting in the lumber yard. The tree who dreamed of holding treasure became the manger in which Christ lays at his birth. The 2nd tree who dreams of being a strong ship becomes the fishing boat who carries Jesus and his disciples through a storm.

And as for the third tree, who lays in that lumber yard the longest, she gets put together only to have the nails of Christ’s crucifixion pounded into her. Sounds real nice, right?

Yet thereafter, every time people looked at her, beams formed into the cross, they would think of the Savior God.

I wish I could say that I have reached that beautiful ending. That I could tell you, “Aha! This is what God had planned all along and why so many things seemed like dead ends along the way.”

But I can’t.

The truth is, I’m still in the part of the story where I’m laying in the lumberyard, wondering what in the world God is thinking. Too often we only hear peoples’ stories once they can be wrapped up nicely with a pretty bow. But I think it’s important to share about the time in-between.  The waiting. The uncertainty. Otherwise we’re left with a false sense of how easily everything is supposed to go.

Only God knew how badly my heart needed to hear the truths I penned in that poem all those years earlier. More than ever, when we’re in the valley, when we’re in the waiting, we need constant reminders of God’s truth. I need only to wait on the Lord and let Him sit on the throne. As for the rest? I guess that’s part of the adventure of life.

“But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.”

Psalm 13: 5

 

Stories of Trust: Disrupted Plans

So far in my faith walk, God seems to present me with themes, or teaching moments, that span over several years. Hopefully that isn’t a sign I’m just a slow learner.

I can remember in high school God poking at all my wounded places until I would fully surrender to Him. Giving over those false idols and footholds that would mar His image. All of me for all of Jesus. But these past few years there has been a running theme of “Trust”. Trusting when everything seems so uncertain. Trusting God to be enough. Trust.

A couple years back, already in my theme of “Trust”, I mentioned to a dear friend that I didn’t understand how things could be so easy for others. Their plans all seemed to align so well in life and they were just where they pictured they’d be. That hadn’t exactly been the case for me. The title of my blog should really be called The Girl Who Runs Into Another Wall; The Girl Who Feels Aimless; The Girl Who Finds Another Roadblock. Take your pick.

My friend was so sweet and shared the story of a woman she greatly admired. This woman had diligently followed God’s tugging at her heart to start a ministry in one of the least reached people groups in the world. For 20 years, she was told “no”, “not yet”, “it’s too dangerous”. She was given discouragement even by other Christians. But she kept trudging forward. Long into the woman’s journey, my friend ended up becoming a missionary on this woman’s team, the first team to be stationed in that part of the world. But before the team was sent abroad, after all those years of preparation and groundbreaking, the mission organization the woman worked with decided to remove her from the team entirely. They wouldn’t even allow her to serve in the same city. My friend wrote, “She never got to serve with us.”

Ouch.

From our perspective that seems like a huge blow. I’m sure it felt that way at first, but my friend made some beautiful points. One, this woman was in God’s will, despite it being a hard fight. The Bible supports anything but a prosperity gospel. More times than not, those champions of faith—Elijah, King David, Jeremiah, Paul— endured awful trials despite their devotion to the Lord. Easy sailing does not equate with faithful living. Secondly, while it is disappointing through our human lens, the vision God gave this woman was accomplished! Regardless of whether or not she gets to see it through to the end, she did help create a ministry team in one of the least reached areas of the world. And only six months after what felt devastating, God used her to start a team and school in another unreached city. From there, she plans to train individuals to go into more unreached towns. So her removal from the team actually led to the Gospel being more widespread.


In 1 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul addresses the church in Corinth regarding quarrels between Christian believers. Apparently, there was conflict over which apostle they followed. In our culture, it would be like people arguing over which pastor they like the most. In verse 5 Paul writes,

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grows. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.”   1 Corinthians 3: 5-8

What a poignant reminder. It’s not all about us. We are mere servants. It is God who moves and changes hearts and lives. We are nothing; at least, we are nothing without Christ. This world tells us we are defined by what we do. But God reminds us our worth is not wrapped up in our actions. Our value lies in who, or whose, we are: children of God. So whether we take part in God’s plan by planting or watering, it really doesn’t matter. Just that we show up and do our part.


Ironically, at the time my friend was encouraging me and shared her story about that woman, life was going pretty well for my friend. She had dreamed of being a missionary since her teens. She was one of those crazy people excited by the idea of going to the remote parts of the world, even if it meant danger and “roughing it.” And here she was doing just that: married, baby on the way, and living overseas to love on these least reached people. She was in her happy place.

But later that year her world was flipped upside down. Due to some health issues, she had to uproot her family from international serving to return stateside. She initially felt utter despair; like the rug had been pulled out from under her. Why did God bring her so far along in her dream just to take it away? Yet with each month that passes, she has begun to see more and more glimpses of the beautiful plan God has for her here. She’s now planting the first church among the same people group, only in the States. Some of the families she met abroad have even had connections to the same immigrants she’s met here. It was never the plan she would have chosen and yet she is still doing the very thing her heart always longed for.

Time after time, we see that God disrupts what we view as our perfect little plan. Only later do we see a glimpse of how He was using us for a greater purpose in His plan.

Now able to look on it with a sense or humor, my friend laughed that she had so badly wanted the experience of living abroad and doing the ministry she had envisioned,  it really would have needed to be something drastic to make her change course. She wrote to me,

“Neither my friend nor myself would have ever willingly chose our present locations, but God moved us in order to spread His gospel around. That reminds me of the ‘Diaspora.’ Acts 8:1-4 talks about a great persecution that broke out against the church in Jerusalem. Because of that, the church was scattered and ‘those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.’ Time after time, we see that God disrupts what we view as our perfect little plan. Only later do we see a glimpse of how He was using us for a greater purpose in His plan.”

We don’t always understand why the Lord wills things in the way he does. But that’s not really our job. We merely need to rest, to trust, and go along for the ride.

“Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor?”- Isaiah 40:13

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” – Isaiah 40:28

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”- Proverbs 3:5-6

When we are in the valleys, the waiting, the unknown, we have a choice about what we will do; about who we will become. The choices we make now affect who we become 20 years from now. Will we grow angry and resentful? Or will we allow our faith and depth of trust to root deeply?

More than ever, when we are in that land of exile, we need to be reminded of God’s truths. We need to remember all the times he has already proved faithful to spur us on and to give us hope of his continued faithfulness. So in this short series, Stories of Trust, I hope to remind you, along with myself, of God’s truth. In this way, we can stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around our waist and finish the race strong.

Grace and Peace,

~Renee

Ephesians 6:13-17

“Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”