You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 4)

For the last three weeks we’ve been discussing reading the Bible as story. 70% of the Bible’s text is narrative (story) and the other 30% is communication between the characters in that story. We looked at Scot McKnight’s description of Scripture:

“There is not just one and only one story in the Bible. But there are two nonnegotiables (sic) in the Bible’s Story. First, there is a general plot from the creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1-2 to the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 20-22. Second, there are redemptive benefits for those who participate in that ‘general plot’ by declaring allegiance to the God of that plot.”

The Blue Parakeet, 2nd Ed., pg 68

McKnight goes further to suggest that there are three “chapters,” or clearly defined sections to the Bible’s overarching story. Last week we explored theocracy, which is found from Genesis 1 through 1 Samuel 8. Today we look at the next section of the Bible, monarchy.

Most people are familiar with the term monarchy. It’s a form of government where one person, usually a king or queen, rules over a people.  Here’s how the text sets this up in 1 Samuel 8:

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

1 Samuel 8:6-9 NIV

God gave the people what they wanted, even though it meant rejecting him. There were good times under some of the kings, but when you have a human running things there will always be failures. Israel’s history under the kings is full of failures. And a parallel can be extended to our lives as well. When we reject God’s lead in our lives we too will fail. Perhaps not every moment of every day will be a failure, but we will suffer the effects of rejecting God.

Just browse through your Old Testament from 1 Samuel 8 to the end of Malachi. What do you see? What do the title headings (added by editors of your translation as aides for understanding) show you about the narrative of the story? I just did a quick flip through and came across the following on each page I turned to: Judgement on Jerusalem and Judah, The Covenant is Broken, The Fall of Jerusalem, Idolatry in the Temple, Judgement on the Idolaters, Israel to be Destroyed. These are the kinds of things the rejection of God brings upon people. But this is not the end of the story.

You will also find headings such as A Promised Messiah from Bethlehem, Israel will Rise, Restoration of Israel’s Remnant. Even through the people’s rejection of God as their King, he was preparing to send another King that would undo that rejection. That section begins in Matthew 1. But for now, answer this question:

How have I rejected God as my King, and how has it affected my life?

You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 3)

For the last two weeks we’ve been discussing reading the Bible as story. 70% of the Bible’s text is narrative (story) and the other 30% is communication between the characters in that story. We looked at Scot McKnight’s description of Scripture:

“There is not just one and only one story in the Bible. But there are two nonnegotiables (sic) in the Bible’s Story. First, there is a general plot from the creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1-2 to the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 20-22. Second, there are redemptive benefits for those who participate in that ‘general plot’ by declaring allegiance to the God of that plot.”

McKnight goes further to suggest that there are three “chapters,” or clearly defined sections to the Bible’s overarching story. We’ll look at each of these “chapters” individually over the next few articles. The first of these is theocracy.

According to the dictionary, theocracy is a political system governed by a deity (or by officials thought to be divinely guided). In other words, when the Bible begins we see the center of everything is God Yahweh. From Genesis 1 until 1 Samuel 8, it is God and only God who has the authority to rule. God makes everything, therefore everything is under his authority, and from the beginning he yields some of that authority to other beings, including humans (we’ll talk more about the other beings later). We see this clearly in Genesis 1:28-31. God expected humans to have authority over the created earth while remaining subject to him.

During this time there is no earthly king, no earthly political leader. God is the center of everything. Yet we see a common problem throughout this time as well: humans constantly go against the will of God. From Adam and Eve in the garden story to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, all of these episodes show that Israel is truly an appropriate name for God’s people (Israel means “struggles with God”)

Theocracy was the ideal in the Garden. God giving a direct set of limited rules to the people (in this case Adam and Eve) by which to live, but ultimately God himself led them. The problem? The people rebelled. Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden and so there’s distance between God and man, but God himself is still the direct leader of the people. The problem? The people rebelled (just read Genesis 6!) God ultimately deals with unbridled violence through rescuing Noah and his family through the flood. The problem? The people rebelled again (Gen. 11). God now begins to speak to some individuals directly, and relays his message through some of these  human beings. These people are variously referred to as prophets, or judges, and some have no special title at all. All the way through this section of Scripture, God is the one who directly deals with the people, and the people continually rebel. Story after story in this section fits into this narrative style.

So where does the story of the Bible go after theocracy? We’ll look at that next time, but if you want to get a head start in thinking about the next section of Scripture, look at 1 Samuel 8. In the meantime, ask yourself this question:

Have I fully submitted my life to God and his will, or do I “Israel,” that is struggle and rebel against God’s will for me?

Faith, Hope, & Love: Being the Church

This week at East Side we looked at being a Faith, Hope, & Love kind of Church. These three are so intertwined in Scripture, and are key elements of being a Jesus follower. Below is a link to the text of the sermon, and a link to the audio recording. I pray it’s a blessing to you.

You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 2)

In my last article I mentioned that followers of Christ need the entirety of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) in order to really understand God’s Word revealed to humans. Many will try to say we only need the New Testament, but this is not what the writers of the New Testament believed. They knew the entire Word of God was important (see my last article for further explanation.)

70% of the Bible is story. It’s narrative description of what has happened to humans seeking to honor God (or not) with their lives, and God’s interactions with those people. The other 30% of the Bible is messages back and forth between members of the story…letters written between the characters of the story. We need all of this to see the story of the Bible, as well as to properly understand Scripture in its own context.

Scot McKnight puts it this way in his book, The Blue Parakeet:

“There is not just one and only one story in the Bible. But there are two nonnegotiables (sic) in the Bible’s Story. First, there is a general plot from the creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1-2 to the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 20-22. Second, there are redemptive benefits for those who participate in that ‘general plot’ by declaring allegiance to the God of that plot.”

The Garden was perfect. God’s creation was good and not marred by sin. The Garden represents the ideal relationship between God and his people. Here they are physically present with one another (Gen. 3:8). When will this type of relationship happen again?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5 NIV

Notice that we are once again in a garden setting in the physical presence of God himself and his radiance is all the light we will need.

God is about the work of restoring all things. He is working to make all things new again. Perhaps this is what Paul means when he tells us we are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15).

Next week we’ll look at the three main sections of the overarching story of the Bible, but for today I would encourage you to seek the answer to this question:

Does who I used to be still haunt me, or am I truly living like a new creation in Christ?

Do I Have To?

I remember asking that question when I was a kid. Do I have to clean my room? Do I have to take my medicine? Do I have to do my homework?

Sounds a bit childish doesn’t it?

Yet it seems many questions are wrestling with a similar type of question.

According to a recent Barna Research poll, “…a growing number of Christians don’t see sharing the good news as a personal responsibility.”

According to the study, only 64% of professed Christians saw any need in sharing their faith with others. Is this really what followers of Christ believe?

And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Luke 24:47 ESV

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. 

Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:5-6 ESV

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

1 Peter 3:15 ESV

It would seem those polled would do better reading their Bibles than answering poll questions.


How often do you share your faith with others?

You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 1)

You’re probably reading the Bible the wrong way. I did this for years and missed a lot of what God was saying through various parts of the Bible. Parts of it really resonated with me, and parts of it, frankly, I could do without. Then I learned how to look at the Bible as a whole, not little parts put together that were unrelated, but as a complete work. When I did this things began to make far more sense. If this sounds familiar, you may not understand what the Bible is intended to do.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture. Every bit of it. You realize Paul was writing the New Testament as he said this, right? When Jude said that the faith has been delivered “once for all” that the New Testament wasn’t completed? Paul reminds Timothy that from “infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” You realize he’s talking about the Old Testament, right?

So what are we to make of the Bible as a whole? Famed pastor Andy Stanley has recently said Christians need to “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament, and that the Ten Commandments don’t apply to Christians. I’ve known many Christians over the years who would say something similar, that the Old Testament has no bearing on us today, citing arguments based on a misreading of Colossians 2:14 and arguments based on the names Old Testament and New Testament, terms which Scripture itself never applies to itself.

I’ve always liked the description that the Bible Project uses when describing the Bible: “Our mission is to show how the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.” Scot McKnight summarizes it this way, “…there is an overarching plot to the Bible–God’s creating the heavens and earth to completing his creation work in the new heavens and new earth.

Over the next few weeks we are going to discuss how we should approach reading and understanding the Bible. It’s a collection of 66 writings – letters, sermons, history, songs, prayers, complaints, warnings and prophecies –  written by over 40 people over a span of 1600 years in three languages on three continents and has a unifying theme that can only be explained by a God behind its writing. And we completely miss it when we try to pick apart the Bible into little nuggets of information rather than viewing Scripture in context of the entirety of God’s Word.

As we approach this study, let us look at the Word with fresh eyes to discover the ancient truths perhaps for the first time, and let us remember that God’s Word never returns empty (Isa. 55:11). When we study the Word, we are blessed in doing so.

Follow Me

Our final Gospel reading for the year comes from the end of John’s Gospel, chapters 20 & 21. I have always loved the personal touches John includes in this section, including the fact that he was a faster runner than Peter (20:4).

One of the interesting debates surrounding this portion of Scripture has to do with the occasion of the writing of chapter 21. It certainly appears that 20:30-31 is the ending of the Gospel. And yet there’s chapter 21. I could bore you with all of the scholarly arguments back and forth, but the truth of the matter is that all early manuscripts of John contain chapter 21. What does this mean? Chapter 21 was written by John as well. It appears that John completed his Gospel with chapter 20, and was then moved by the Spirit to include one more episode in the life of Jesus, likely for the reason given in 21:22-23. It’s an important story with a message we need today!

If you remember in John 18, we see Peter deny Christ three times around a charcoal fire (see 18:18). This so devastated Peter that it appears he had given up on his ability to follow Christ and had returned to fishing (21:3). Jesus performs yet another fishing miracle among them, a clear signal to Peter about who was talking to him, and the disciples come to shore where they find Jesus cooking breakfast, once again around a charcoal fire (21:9). In a way, Jesus has once again placed Peter at a charcoal fire in an effort to give him another chance. Three times Jesus asks Peter to confirm his love for the Savior. Each time Peter does, and each time Jesus invites Peter to feed his sheep, an expression basically telling Peter to act like the pastor he has been called to be. But Jesus also gives Peter an ominous prediction.

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” – John 21:17-19

Did you notice what just happened? Peter returned to Christ. He has been reinstated, and called to shepherd the flock of believers. As Jesus is calling Peter he basically tells him that the pain and suffering he himself had just endured would also be endured by Peter. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Peter, you too will be crucified. Now follow me.” And the shocking thing is Peter did. Peter followed him! And in case you are wondering, church history tells us that Peter was crucified, but differently than Jesus. Peter claimed he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, so Peter was crucified hanging upside down from the cross.

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow him. He calls us to die to ourselves and follow him. He calls us to give up everything, including our own lives to follow him. It’s radical. It’s extreme. It’s Jesus. My question is this: What is Jesus calling you to do that you have not done? Is he calling you to change something in your life? Is he calling you to share the Gospel with a friend? What is he calling you to do that you haven’t done?  Just like Peter, if you have denied him or ignored his call, it’s not to late. He will welcome you back, with open arms. But the call remains: Follow me!

What Jesus Knew and When

The Gospel reading for this week is John chapters 18 & 19. We have one more week to go before we have completed 50 weeks of study on the life and ministry of Jesus. Today we focus on his crucifixion.

John reminds us of several key points as we read his account. Jesus is in complete control the entire time he goes through being arrested, his trials, and his death. Even his surrender to the authorities shows his power (18:6). He is fully aware that all this was happening to fulfill prophecy (18:9). Jesus also knew what he was facing. He predicted the betrayal of Judas (13:21), the denial by Peter (13:38), the manner of his death (12:32-33), and his resurrection (2:21-22).

John also includes a detailed listing of everything that Jesus suffered during this time. He was bound (18:12), he was put on trial in the middle of the night (18:13), he was interrogated (18:19), he was struck in the face (18:22), they kept him awake all night (18:28), they called him a criminal (18:30), they detained him and released Barabbas as well (18:40). They flogged him (19:1), the crowned him with thorns and put a purple robe on his shredded back (19:2), they mocked him and struck him again in the face (19:3), they forced him to carry his cross (19:17), they crucified him (19:18), they killed him (19:30), and they pierced his side with a spear (19:34).

Now, put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. If you knew what was coming, would you have gone through this? Knowing everything that was about to unfold, would you have allowed yourself to be treated this way by the very creation that you yourself created? (John 1:1-3) Would you have deemed the human race worthy of saving? Would you willingly humble yourself so much and allow your creation to pummel the life out of your earthly body all the while you have the power to wipe out all creation and start over with just a word?

Jesus did.

Jesus felt you and I were worth the unbearable pain and agony of the cross. If that doesn’t move you to follow him, I don’t know what will. The Creator of all things gave up everything for you. How will you live in light of that? How will you serve him knowing his servant heart through this process? That is the Christian life in a nutshell. We live each day seeking to serve him because of what he did for us on that cross.

As we enter the Christmas celebrations, keep in mind that he willingly came into this world. But that’s not the end of the story. The story of the cross is key to understanding why we follow him. But we must also remember that the story didn’t end at the cross. It continues each day in the lives of his followers until the day he returns. How will you live in light of that?


This week’s reading comes from John 15:26 through the end of chapter 17. Jesus teaches many things during this time concerning his sacrifice, what will happen after he returns to heaven, and how the disciples should live in light of all that is going on. But I’d like to focus on a part of this message that I believe often gets misunderstood. And it’s only one word. Kosmos.

Kosmos is a Greek word that means “world” or “universe.” The word appears 185 times in the New Testament, and 105 of those times are in the writings of John. And Christians have thrown this word (world) around quite a bit when discussing their lives following Christ. In some circles this means if there is something that didn’t originate in the church, then we’re not supposed to be involved with it. “We’re not supposed to be of this world,” or “Have nothing to do with this evil world,” are statements that I have heard in the past. But is that what the Gospels are really calling us to do? To have nothing to do with the lost people we live around?

Kosmos as universe is used by John (1:3, 10, 3:17), but the most significant part of the universe is the place where we humans live, earth (John 16:33). So the word kosmos mainly refers to the persons inhabiting the earth (John 12:19). As you read John’s Gospel  you will notice that the majority of people Jesus encounters oppose his ministry and teaching, so kosmos comes to be associated with those who reject or oppose Jesus. This view of “world” equaling opposition to Christ is unique to the New Testament use of the word (John 1:10, 7:7, 14:17, 17:25, etc.)

When you read passages that say the “world” hates Jesus and his disciples (15:18), and that the followers of Christ are not to “belong to this world,” realize that John is referring to the people that reject Jesus, not the ones who simply don’t know about the truth. Think about these statements: “…the Prince of this world” (12:31, 16:11) = Satan. Christians are not to love “the world” (1 John 2:15-17) = love the lifestyle or actions of those who intentionally reject Christ.

Some will use this misunderstanding of the word “world” to try to tell you not to celebrate Christmas, stating that it’s “worldly” and originated as a “worldy, pagan holiday.” Some research points to a pagan origin for Christmas, other research points to Christmas pre-dating the pagan use of the date. But that really doesn’t matter. Christ came to redeem the world (Titus 2:14, 1 Tim. 2:4). He came to redeem our hearts, our souls, and our actions. Yes Christmas may have some elements that we do not accept (mainly gross commercial consumerism), but God has given us a wonderful opportunity to engage our kosmos.

For one time a year the world is more open to discussing the origins of the Christmas celebration, Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, the Savior of the Kosmos. Don’t miss this opportunity that God has given you! Invite your friends and neighbors to worship times. Speak with them openly about your faith. In doing so you will participate in overcoming the Kosmos. (John 16:33).

Serve Faithfully

This week’s Gospel reading comes from John 13-15:25. This reading is full of huge theological concepts, but I want to focus on one that is seemingly simple, yet so often left undone; serving others. “Serve Faithfully” is one of our Firstfruits (we’ll discuss this on Sunday), and it’s one that is extremely important. Jesus never teaches us to do something that he hasn’t done, so he gives us an example of service.

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (Jn 13:3–5)

Jesus already knew that Judas was going to betray him, yet he dined with him and then washes his feet. In our cultural context this is quite strange, and misunderstood. But in first century Palestine, foot washing was common practice as sandals were the common footwear, and roads were rarely paved. The custom is found all throughout the Old Testament, yet we see very few examples of someone washing someone else’s feet (see 1 Sam. 25:41, Luke 7:44, 1 Tim.5:10). The custom was to provide water for people to wash their own feet, but Jesus goes far beyond that custom and serves his disciples humbly by washing their filthy feet.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (Jn 13:12–17)

Jesus is very clear that his followers should continue this practice of serving one another. It seems that the early church continued the literal practice of washing each others feet (1 Tim. 5:10), but I believe Jesus is using this extreme example to show us just how far he expects us to go in serving one another.

What does foot washing look like in our society? What is a practice so humbling, yet so significant in our culture that Christians ought to be doing for one another to show a Christ-like heart? I honestly don’t know, but I’m not going to stop looking. Followers of Christ should seek to serve one another in humility. We should look for ways to be “washing the feet of the Lord’s people.” This will look different for everyone, but everyone should be doing something.

Bottom line: We are called to live like Christ. He set us an example of humble service to follow. So what are you doing to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ? If you aren’t doing anything, then it’s time to follow your Lord’s example and serve one another.