STUDY THE BIBLE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

STUDY THE BIBLE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

I grew up in a church environment where a “Plan of Salvation” was regularly presented. If you prayed the sinner’s prayer, it was generally understood that no matter what happened from there on out, you were saved and good to go.

Bibles were sometimes passed out with little instruction, as though the new believer could automatically make sense of this strange new world of Jewish and Christian history. In the best of environments, my teachers and church leaders cared deeply about and fostered a person’s subsequent growth as a follower of Jesus. But often the emphasis was on conversion instead of the conversations that led to being a life-long disciple of Christ.

This short post, however, is not about salvation per se as much as it’s about a lesson the apostle Philip taught me in Acts 8. A lesson about the richness of the gospel and the relational ways we can share it. And yes, this text includes salvation, but in broader terms then we typically think of.

PHILIP AND THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH

When Philip came upon an Ethiopian high official (Ethiopian eunuch), the Holy Spirit told Philip to go and join this man’s chariot. (The word join here means glue together, cling to, attach oneself.) In other words, it would simply not due for Philip to walk up to this stranger, present a set statement about Jesus, then drop a copy of the Scriptures off, all the while feeling good about having done his duty. (Interestingly enough, this man already had the Scriptures and was reading them!) Philip was to go connect with him and get inside his chariot. This instruction alone is a real paradigm shift when so often we expect the chariots to come to us.

When Philip overheard this high official reading the words of the prophet Isaiah, he asked a most engaging question: “Do you understand what you’re reading?” See, it wasn’t enough that the official was reading the Bible, it mattered that he understood it, and we’ll see in a moment why this is so important. The Ethiopian eunuch’s response was as straightforward as it was humble: “‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone guides me?’” We can miss the point of this question if we’re not careful: we need teachers to help us understand the Bible!

I stopped to think about all the awkward times I’ve tried to condense the good news about Jesus into a step-by-step presentation when the person I was speaking to had no context for what I was talking about.

Or the times I’ve handed someone a New Testament, hoping they would somehow “get it” on their own. While this most certainly happens, when we don’t take the time to teach the Bible to others we dilute the complexity, historicity, and beauty of its story, and our listeners miss significant facets of the good news about Jesus. The Ethiopian official needed a teacher, as do we. He needed someone to explain to him what Isaiah 53:7-8 meant. To relationally unfold it for him in a way that made sense.

We must be willing to step into some chariots and sit alongside people who can’t make sense of life, much less the Bible.Click To Tweet

One of the most moving parts of the scene is when this high official invited Philip to “come up” and “sit with him”. In this side-by-side setting, the Ethiopian eunuch was comfortable asking questions of Philip, and Philip was excited to respond. There was dialogue. Perhaps most significantly, Philip sat in the Ethiopian’s chariot, not the other way around.

Now here’s the part that I hope will shape my teaching for the rest of my life (and my learning from other teachers). “Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.” (Acts 8:35, emphasis mine.) Can you imagine beginning in Isaiah to explain the good news about Jesus to someone? How about beginning in Genesis, 2 Samuel, or Jonah? The point here, of course, is not that we have to begin in a particular book, but that all of the Bible is important to the story of Jesus.

SHARING THE BIBLE WITH OTHERS

I want to be someone who is so fully acquainted with the Bible that I could start with any Scripture and teach someone all the way to Jesus. (I’m not that well acquainted yet, but my hope is to be more like Philip.)

So here are the two challenges this passage confronts us with: First, we must be willing to step into some chariots and sit alongside people who can’t make sense of life, much less the Bible (assuming we’ve been invited in). Second, we must be studying God’s Word diligently, learning from good teachers about His whole counsel, so that when we do have opportunities with those seeking to understand, we can engage them with the whole story instead of leaving them with a presentation.

It was essential that Philip understood Isaiah because it foretold good news about Jesus. Since we can only teach others what we’ve learned ourselves, consider studying a book of the Bible this summer. Yes, for your own sake, but also for the sake of someone who might just be looking for the good news.

This post originally appeared on lifewayvoices.com.

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WHY WE NEED A RESURRECTION

WHY WE NEED A RESURRECTION

Easter has come and gone. The hams, chocolate bunnies, and deviled eggs have been consumed and enjoyed, and the colorful Easter dresses and plaid bow ties have been hung on the hangers and tucked in drawers.

But the resurrection of Jesus Christ will not, and cannot, be shelved until next Easter. We will need our resurrected Savior every day until then and beyond.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ will not, and cannot, be shelved until next Easter. We will need our resurrected Savior every day until then and beyond.Click To Tweet

REFLECTIONS FROM MOLDOVA

A few days ago I returned from the country of Moldova with Justice & Mercy International. Europe’s poorest country, and a small one at that, with an orphan population the size of a continent. I wrapped my arms around orphan girls whose journey, I beg the Lord, will not be one of being sex trafficked. I met a young teenager whose eye had been punched out by a drunken stepdad. I laid my trembling hand on a 3-year-old baby girl with hydrocephalus who is living in a two-bedroom hut with her single mom and 5 siblings. I heard stories of corruption and abuse. I visited a special needs shelter and consciously wondered over and over again whether I had one single meaningful scrap to offer anyone. Hang in there with me, I’m getting to the Easter reflections part.

One might think that returning home from a trip like this would bring fulfilling thoughts of having helped the “less fortunate”. That I’d really played my part in giving back and visiting the poor and orphaned. But as I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, my flight home was filled with thoughts of inadequacy, overwhelmed-ness, and strikingly above all, thoughts of my sinfulness. I was oddly aware not just of my sins, but my actual sin nature. Strange, it seemed to me. All while doing “good”.

Yet perhaps this is exactly one of the reasons that God—from Old Testament to New—has told us to take care of the poor.

Not only to bring help and hope to each image-bearer, but also as a reminder of our own total powerlessness before Christ. Being with the poor and powerless reveals to me that we all lay bare before Him, on equal footing, every one of us in need of resurrection.

I will never get over the reason God gave Israel for why they should take care of the foreigner, fatherless, and widow. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. Therefore I am commanding you to do this.” (Deut 23:22) Every time an Israelite left sheaves on the ground, olives on the branches, grapes on the vine for someone who needed it, they were reminded of their own pasts as slaves. Sounds familiar to us who, before Christ, were held fast to our own selfish desires, addictions, and destructive behaviors? Who, even when we were doing the right things, couldn’t shake our inherent guilt?

Every time an Israelite left sheaves on the ground, olives on the branches, grapes on the vine for someone who needed it, they were reminded of their own pasts as slaves. Click To Tweet

THE KIND OF SAVIOR WE NEED

While in Moldova I was poignantly reminded that I don’t need a savior in the sole form of a moral teacher. I don’t need a great role model, spiritual guru, sage, or genie in a bottle. And—heaven help me—if all I need is to look deeper into myself, find my truth, trust my heart to lead me, or be more vulnerable so everyone can know that not being okay is okay, I’m in profound trouble. What I need, what we all desperately need, is a Savior, perfectly holy and righteous, who conquered death through His own death and resurrection, so that we can be made new. Not improved with mere better behavior. Rather a new heart and new life. “[God] made [Jesus] who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

One of the interesting facts about Moldova is despite its poverty its soil is some of the richest and most arable in the world. The lilies and tulips, sunflower and lavender fields, cherry and apple orchards, raspberry brambles and tomato vines are just about to start their show. New life is springing forth after a cold, hard winter. As I consider those sprawling fields, I’m reminded that in the bleakness of Israel’s winter God said through the prophet Ezekiel that a day was coming when, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Jesus’s death and resurrection is the fulfillment of this prophecy, what has made it possible for my heart of stone to become a heart of flesh, for His Spirit to live within me. It’s the message of Easter we’ll need all year long. Until next year when the azaleas explode with blooms and remind us that we don’t need mere polishing, improvement or a new Easter dress, but a new heart. And we’ll celebrate all over again, that this newness is exactly what Jesus’s resurrection accomplished for us.

This post originally appeared on lifewayvoices.com

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