God reveals Himself through stories

I love stories. It doesn’t matter what kind of stories they are, though I do prefer stories with happy endings (some people may doubt that if they’ve read my latest novel, Namesake, but I promise it’s true!). Stories entertain us. They make us laugh. They help us dream. They allows us to imagine a different life or different worlds. But that’s not all they do.

The best stories, the ones that stick with us, always contain a morsel of truth. The stories that resonate in our hearts are the ones that God can use to speak to us in ways normal conversation can’t. So, in a way, it’s fitting to see the Bible and one big storybook.

1A0499C042Today’s verses are Romans 4:20-24.

Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’d read the Bible more often if it were more relevant to their lives. On one hand, I can understand that the Bible can be confusing, especially if you’re reading a translation that requires a lot of study. But it’s not that the Bible isn’t relevant. It’s that we aren’t actively applying its lessons to our lives.

It’s the same way we apply the truth of stories in our lives, and that’s not a new thing. Remember Aesop’s Fables? People have been telling stories since language was invented, to entertain and to educate. Oral histories of people and culture are all we have left of some civilizations. And in every story, there’s a lesson.

Not much has changed throughout history, though. Our movies, our television shows, our books–they’re all stories. They’re all lessons.

What’s different about the Bible is that it was written by God for us. It’s His Word, the only truth, and it’s intended to show us the meaning of life, our purpose on earth, and to show us who God is and how much He loves us. What I love is how He does it.

God could have written: “Hey, humans. I made you. I made everything. You screwed me over, but because I love you, I’ve made a way for you to be saved. The End.” But He didn’t. Instead, He moved through dozens of authors over hundreds of years to write a collection of stories about how He shows up in our daily lives. God shows Himself through stories. Those moments where something impossible happens? Those moments where everything works out just perfectly? That’s not coincidence. That’s design. That’s God.

We can relate to stories. So that’s why God tells us stories.

So the next time you’re tempted to think that the Bible is confusing or irrelevant to your life, just stop. Take a moment to actually read one of the stories (use a translation you understand), and don’t see it as some ancient historical document. See it as a story that you’d tell around a campfire. See if the lesson doesn’t jump out at you. You might be surprised what you learn.

What’s great about God’s stories is that there’s always something to learn. And those lessons you learn grow and change with you as you get older, because God is always exactly what you need when you need Him. So a story may mean something to you today, but read it again in ten years, and you’ll get something new out of it. That’s real truth, and that’s who God is.

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Choosing to glorify God clears up the gray areas

I run a publishing company with two very good friends. It’s a little side business we decided to try last year, and it’s growing. It actually might be getting close to becoming a “real” business soon, and while that’s exciting, it also means a lot more challenges. Some I expected and others I didn’t.

The publishing company has a blog that the three of us update weekly, and we wanted to do TV and movie reviews. No big deal, right? Well, a legal situation in the middle of this year prompted us to start looking into the legality of using images we don’t own. Like stills from movies or television shows. It’s a big, confusing mess of legalese, and really all it amounts to is that the whole thing is sort of gray.

So what does that mean? It means you have to make the best, wisest decision you can with the information you have. Sure, you can wing it. You can guess. But that’s a surefire way of making the wrong choice. You need to think, to look at your goals, study the law, and make your decision.

Ever realized that following Jesus is sort of the same in some ways?

OT37RD9KJNToday’s verses are 1 Corinthians 10:31-33.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

The Bible is very clear on the important aspects of following God. Who God is. Who Jesus is. The work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation by grace through faith. Eternal security. And many others. But there are other areas that aren’t as black and white. There are other areas some people call gray. And navigating the gray areas is often the biggest source of conflict between believers.

The law is very clear about some things, and it’s a bit fuzzy on others. Best example? Modesty. Should women only wear skirts? I’m not sure if this is as big a deal today as it was 15+ years ago. When I was in high school, it was the only discussion (or it felt like it was). Jeans and slacks and trousers are considered by some to be immodest when worn by women. But the other side of that coin? What about women who live in states like Kansas where the wind never quits blowing? Have you ever tried to wear a skirt and work outside in Kansas wind? Modest isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind.

But there’s no verse in the Bible that says women shouldn’t wear pants. The Bible just instructs us to be modest. And modesty (to a certain extent) is a matter of preference. And that’s where an understanding of the spirit of the law needs to go into effect. What is the point? What is the truth? Why is modesty important, and what should we do achieve it?

That’s when you need to start studying. You need to start digging and asking questions. You need to look for the answers because they aren’t always obvious. And you might not ever find an obvious answer, and it’s at that point when you need to take what you know about the Bible and about who God is and what He expects and make the best choice you can.

Don’t cheap out on this, folks. That’s a quick way to get yourself in a heap of trouble. If you don’t know what to do, study. Read the Bible. Search for the answer. Get council from someone at your church who you trust. Listen. And pray. Talk to God and ask Him what you’re supposed to do. And then–choose.

It all comes down to glorifying God in everything you do. That’s how you can clear out the gray areas. That’s how you can figure out what you’re supposed to do when the answers aren’t presenting themselves easily. First and foremost, do everything for God’s glory. That means obeying His Word in letter and spirit–in letter for the instructions that are obvious and in spirit for the expectations He has for our lives.

A light in the dark doesn’t help just you

One of the things I love about living in the country is how much you can see at night. That’s ironic because it’s so dark in the country. You can’t see what’s right in front of you, obviously, but when you have a light, you can see it for miles around. Out in the country where I live, you can see the lights of several small towns, and the very large bright glow on the southern horizon is Wichita far in the distance.

In the daylight, lights don’t make much difference. But at nighttime, when there are no other lights around, a light can’t be hidden.

light_in_dark7Today’s verse is John 12:46.

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.

This is something Jesus said to a group of people who had gathered to hear him. It’s a bold claim. I’m not sure if anyone else in the history of the world has ever made such a claim. If someone said this today, very few people would listen, I think.

But the Bible and other historical documents have proven over and over again who Jesus was (and is). And the changed lives of those who follow Him are evidence that He speaks the truth–that He is the light.

We get turned around, though. We get hung up on following other men and their interpretations of Jesus’ words. We prefer this preacher to that preacher. We prefer this church to that church. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with your preferences, as long as your faith is in the right place.

A religion or a denomination has never been the source of light. Jesus has always been and always will be the light that guides us, and if you follow Him, you’ll never be lost. Even when you feel like you’re wandering in circles, you won’t be lost because you’ll be right where He wants you.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means to do what He does, to think how He thinks, to live how He lived, and to see life the way He saw it. And how do you know all that? Well, why do you think we have the Bible?

Following Jesus isn’t a mystery. Everything we need to know about being a Christ-follower is laid out in Scripture. It won’t just occur to you. You have to read it. You have to study it. You have to make the Bible an active part of your life.

Then, when the darkness of the world surrounds you, you’ll be a light in the darkness because you’re holding on to Jesus’ light. And the best thing about a light in the dark? It draws others to it.

If you believe in Jesus, why don’t you follow Him? If you call yourself a Christian, why don’t you pattern your life after Him? No, it’s not easy, but living life isn’t easy. It’s far better to live life for a reason, and when the reason is Christ, your life will accomplish far more than you ever could have without Him.

If God gave you shoes, why don’t you wear them?

To say the last two weeks haven’t exactly gone according to plan would be an understatement of massive proportions. I didn’t plan to need four new tires on my car the day after I left my job. I didn’t plan to get sick. I didn’t plan to have my car battery die the morning we were leaving for Colorado. And I didn’t plan to still be sick after a week of trying to hack up my lungs.

Funny how the little bumps in the road can be really discouraging, isn’t it? In other circumstances, they might just be inconveniences, but when they start piling up, they tend to drag you down.

745989_48427234Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:15.

For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.

I love the passage in Ephesians that talks about the Armor of God. Always have. But even I tend to focus on the other parts of the Armor of God that are mentioned in the passage. The helmet. The shield. The sword. The breastplate.  But–the shoes?

Come on. Who focuses on the shoes? Who even thinks about shoes? I mean, I’ve been told that you can tell a lot about someone by what shoes they wear, but this isn’t talking about fashion. This is armor for battle. And out of all the pieces of armor that someone would wear, why are shoes important?

Shoes protect your feet. Without your feet, you can’t walk. Yeah, you need to protect your head and your chest and your arms, but that’s from the big attacks. You don’t see major attacks aimed at your feet. No. Your feet run into small things. Pebbles. Sticks. Sharp rocks. Sand burrs and goat head stickers. They’re not enough to bring you down, but they are annoying. Especially when they come one after another.

That’s why you wear shoes. See, my default is barefoot. I hate shoes. But I can tell you stories about stepping on things that hurt. Shoes matter. So apply that concept to shoes in God’s Armor.

The struggles we face in our life aren’t physical. Maybe they feel like it, but there’s something bigger at the heart of every difficulty we face. No, that doesn’t mean to see Satan in every paper cut, but it does mean there are little irritations and annoyances that will come at you for no reason other than to distract you. Satan doesn’t just throw fiery darts. He litters your path with pebbles and rocks, and if you aren’t outfitted for them, they’re going to slow you down.

So what do the shoes of God’s Armor look like? Peace. That’s what the verse says. Peace that comes from the Good News. That’s the Bible. There is no greater peace in the world than peace with God, and God Himself made it possible for us to find it through Jesus’ sacrifice.

When we read the Bible and apply it to our lives, when we understand who God is and what He’s done for us, and when we allow Him to transform our minds and our perspectives and our thoughts, we see the world differently. We see our troubles differently.

When we run into those frustrations and little annoyances of life, don’t get angry. Don’t despair. Remember you’re wearing God’s peace. He knows what He’s doing with your life. He knows where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

Maybe you’ll step on a pebble every now and then. Maybe you’ll stub your toe. God gave you the shoes you need, and it’s your job to just keep walking.

Don’t turn your brain off

Ever get home after a long day and sit down in front of the television and zone out? I think everybody has. I know I have, especially on those grueling days when my brain is desperately tired. Giving it a rest is probably good for it.

But have you noticed that the things on television are skewing more and more toward stupid? I don’t really watch much television, honestly, mostly because I just can’t stand the drivel that’s on it. A good percentage of it is trash. Not even good storytelling.

Granted, then you have brilliant shows like Sherlock or Broadchurch or Downton Abbey or Doctor Who that challenge your thinking and feed your wit. (Is it coincidence they’re all British?) Regardless of whether you watch television (British or otherwise) or read books, there’s a difference between letting your mind rest and allowing your mind to be dull.

TV Remote Isolated on White.Today’s verse is 1 Peter 1:13.

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.

How do you prepare your mind for action? What does that even mean? To me, that means making sure you are healthy, so that you can think well. But it also means that your thinking needs to be straight, and that only happens when you align your thinking with what God says.

We don’t have the Bible so that it can act as a paperweight. We don’t have the Bible so we can club people with it. We have the Bible so we can read it, so we can hear God’s Word, so we can learn how to live, so we can know what is right and what is wrong and what God expects of us.

But how can you know what it says if you never open it? If you never read it, you’ll never know what God wants to tell you. Now, it’s true, you can hear God’s word from other people. From your church. From your pastor. From your friends. But God wants to speak to you directly, and He will through the pages of the Bible.

But it’s so much easier just to live life being told what to do, isn’t it? You don’t have to think. You don’t have to reason. You don’t have to choose. But what kind of life is that? It’s not meaningful, I’ll say that much.

Part of preparing your mind for action is taking responsibility for the way you live, for the choices you make, and to do that, you have to understand your options. You have to know what God says is right and what God says is wrong.

So don’t zone out. Don’t let your mind get dull. Get ready for action. Following Christ is an adventure like no other, and you don’t want to miss out because you weren’t paying attention.

Handwritten poster of Psalm 19:8-10 in Kekchi on the wall of a church in Peten, Guatemala

Making life make sense

I love the Bible. I love its stories. I love its characters. I love everything about it. But there’s so much more to Scripture than just stories about God and about people. I’ve always been amazed that when the Bible speaks about history or science, it’s never wrong. And, yes, the Bible does speak about science. It’s ironic how much science is actually in the Bible when so many people consider it to be unscientific. But that’s a post for another time.

The Bible is more than a book; it’s God’s Word. And everything in the Bible was written to help us. So I’m not sure where we got the idea that the Bible isn’t relevant to our culture. I’ve heard more than one person say it, known more than one person who think the Bible is outdated. And I’m not sure if it’s because they’ve only read the King James Version or if they’re just taking other people’s opinions for their own without looking into it themselves.

The truth of the matter is that you can’t make it through this life as a follower of Christ without trusting the Bible.

Handwritten poster of Psalm 19:8-10 in Kekchi on the wall of a church in Peten, Guatemala

Handwritten poster of Psalm 19:8-10 in Kekchi on the wall of a church in Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Romans 15:4.

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

The Bible is our road map, our instruction manual, and our life coach. It answers our questions, gives us insight to who God is, and reminds us what this life is actually all about. And if you want to know how to stay focused on living the right kind of life, knowing the Bible is essential.

The Bible is full of promises. On every page God makes a promise or refers back to a promise He already made that He will keep, and because the Bible reveals who God is, we can trust that God will keep those promises. True, He won’t do it when we expect it. Either He’ll wait “too long” or He’ll move “too fast” for us, but that’s just because God operates on His own timetable (which is superior to ours anyway).

I’m working on staying focused right now because my life is so crazy. With church, work, home, family, and personal things all piling up on top of each other, I feel like I’m treading water under Niagara Falls. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get my head any further out of the water, and if I stop swimming, the force of everything is going to push me underneath the water until I drown.

When life gets that crazy (because I know I’m not the only one facing this sort of overwhelming flood of life right now), it’s easy to lose focus and just look out for yourself. It’s easier to just watch your own back. But God doesn’t allow all these things into our lives without reason, and He doesn’t expect us to face them alone either. He’s right there with us, and all we have to do is ask for His help. That’s what the Bible says. That’s what God has promised.

So, read the Bible. But don’t just read it randomly. Read the Bible with purpose. Read the Bible with expectation. Google verses on certain topics and then instead of just reading the one verse, read the whole chapter. Get books on topical Bible verses. I think a lot of times people just pick up a Bible and go to some random page and start reading and expect that God will provide the answers to their biggest questions. I suppose He could do it that way, but that’s not real seeking. That’s a lazy way of reading the Bible. Just opening to a page and reading and refusing to actually study? I’m not sure if God will honor that the way He would if you put some real effort into looking for your answers.

Get your Bible out today. Or go to a Bible site online. And when you start reading, tell God what you’re looking for. Whether you’re looking for an answer or just encouragement, I promise you’ll find it. God gave us Scripture to help us thrive in this life, to help us get to know Him, to give us the boost we need when life gets too heavy. The Bible is like a pair of glasses that are custom designed for your vision; it brings the world into focus.

Don’t try to make sense of life without it. Without Scripture, the world is fuzzy and blurry.

Stone face at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

If common sense were a gift, everyone would have it.

Some people are born with more common sense than others. That’s something I’ve heard said numerous times, but I’m not so sure it’s true.

Is common sense something that you’re born with? It certainly seems like some people have more of it than others, but does that mean it’s connected to their personality? Or is it something they learn over time? Is it the way they’re raised? Or is it something they are given?

Stone face at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Stone face at Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Proverbs 2:7.

He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.

That sounds pretty clear to me: common sense is a treasure God gives to people who are honest. But what does that mean? And how can that be? Because I know a lot of honest people who have a decided lack of common sense (just being honest myself).

Just for grins I read this verse in the Message, but because the Message has a lot to do with concept and context, you usually have to read more than one verse even if you are just looking for one:

Proverbs 2:6-8 says this:

And here’s why: God gives out Wisdom free,
   is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding.
He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well,
   a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere.
He keeps his eye on all who live honestly,
   and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones.

The context of this verse is talking about God being a mine. In earlier verses, this chapter talks about searching for wisdom like you would search for silver. The Message actually uses the phrase “like a prospector panning for gold.”

Do you find it hard to look at common sense like a treasure? The longer I live, the more I realize how precious wisdom really is.

Common Sense is still valued on some level in our culture, at least in words. But in actions it’s becoming less and less preferred. With movies and television shows that glorify people who make foolish choices, our culture is wrapped up in rejoicing in the misfortunes of others. We are taught that foolish choices are entertaining, and I think in many cases Reality TV has influenced true reality so much that there’s no dividing line anymore.

We revere celebrities who have destroyed their families and their lives. We elevate people who make foolish decisions. We raise people who can’t tell the difference between right and wrong on pedestals and display them as monuments to our great society.

And the people who choose wisdom are regarded as backward. The people with common sense are called stupid and uneducated and mocked. That’s the world we live in.

If Common Sense were a gift, everyone would have it.

Salvation is a gift; Common Sense is something you have to dig for. It isn’t something you obtain when you’re born. And it isn’t something that’s just given to you with no effort on your part. If you want Common Sense, if you want Wisdom, you have to look for it. You have to search for it like you’re searching for treasure. And digging isn’t easy. It takes dedication and work and sweat. You’ll get blisters. You’ll get blisters on your blisters. But it’s worth it because Wisdom is treasure.

And just like any other treasure, you have to know where to start looking. If you want Wisdom, you have to go to the source.

If you want Wisdom, if you want Common Sense, read the Bible. Even if it’s just a little every day, it will make a difference. And if you have questions, keep reading because oftentimes the Bible will interpret itself. You don’t need a scholar. You don’t need a pastor. You don’t need a priest. The Bible isn’t complicated, but it will hurt because it strips away any righteousness we think we deserve.

I’ve posted about the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala before. That’s actually where today’s picture came from. It’s this stone mask just sitting on a chunk of rock on the walking path. One of the amazing things about Tikal is the number of temples that are still unearthed. All throughout Peten, if you go digging around in any random cave in a mountain you have a good chance of finding ancient Mayan artifacts. You don’t have to dig long, and you don’t have to look really hard. It’s a rich mine of history.

The Bible is the same way. God is the same way. We can find wisdom without a lot of effort. We can get common sense without a lot of pain. We just have to be willing to look for it.