Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

How to hear God speak through the Bible

20 Oct

 

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Many people say they do not hear God.  Many others say they do hear God speak.  I believe them.  God speaks through dreams, visions, audible voices, etc.  I’m sometimes jealous of that because I do not believe I have ever heard God speak to me in an audible voice, or in a whisper in my mind, or in an inner impression.  But I have heard God speak extremely clearly through the Bible.  God speaks in many ways, and one is not better than the other.  They are unique and different.  A person who hears God speak one way should not say they are more close to God than a person who hears God speak a different way.  The point is that God does still speak!

All week long we have been talking about Sola Scriptura, trying to understand why it was so important to the Protestant Reformers.

One important misconception about Sola Scriptura is when people say that God speaks only through Scripture.  Is that what Sola Scriptura means?  The Bible’s take on Sola Scriptura is not SOLO Scriptura.  Solo Scriptura means Scripture ONLY, that God would not speak any other way.  Those who hold to Solo Scriptura are reacting quite strongly about the possibility that God might speak through other means, usually because they have seen abuses of power.  The Reformers spoke out strongly against those abuses of power in the Catholic Church during the Medival age.  But is it right to go so far as Solo Scriptura?  Well, let’s take a look ate what Scripture itself says about how God speaks.

God speaks though his creation.

In Isaiah 6:3 we read that the earth of full of his glory.

In Psalm 19:1, we read that the heavens declare the glory of God.

And in Romans 1:19-20 we read this:

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Scripture says that God speaks through Creation.  Of course God speaks a lot more through Scripture, but in Romans 1:19-20 Paul tells us that what God speaks through creation is enough that men are without excuse.  When people stand before God one day, and God says to them, “Why did you not choose to believe and follow me?” those people can’t say, “Well, we never had the Bible in our language.”  There is enough in Creation, in nature, in the universe to point to God so that men are without excuse.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through creation.

God also speaks through his Spirit. 

I’ve already mentioned 1 Corinthians 2:12 where Paul taught that the Spirit of God helps understand the things of God.  I also encourage you to read John chapters 15-17, where Jesus talks a lot about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  There Jesus teaches that the Spirit speaks in many ways.  In fact, Jesus said to his disciples that at some point in the future, government officials would take them into custody, and when questioned, the Spirit would help them know what to say.  Throughout the Bible, God speaks by his Spirit in dreams and visions.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through his Spirit.

God also speaks through his people.

The Bible is loaded with instances where God spoke through prophets and teachers.  Ephesians 4:11-13 is possibly the most important verse that talks about this.  There Paul essentially gives the job description of pastors and teachers.  But it is not just the fivefold gifts listed in Ephesians 4 through whom God speaks.  We all have the opportunity, Paul goes on to teach in Ephesians 4, to speak the truth in love to one another.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through his people.

Look above at the three points.  We see that God speaks through Creation, through his Spirit, through his Church.  That means Scripture is not ONLY.

So if God speaks in ways other than his word, why is Sola Scriptura so important?

Sola Scriptura is important because it reminds us that Scripture is the foundational way we hear God speak.  In scripture alone do we learn the truths of Jesus.  Through Scripture, alone, we learn what the church is to be like.  Not the other way around.  Everything we think or hear must be in line with Scripture.

In other words, “Sola Scriptura,” one scholar says, “is the statement that the church can err.”

Here is another summary of Sola Scriptura that if found so helpful: “Scripture comes into its own when read by God’s people in God’s way for God’s purposes.”

And what are God’s purposes for when we read Scripture?

James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”

Jesus himself said in Luke 6:46-49 that the difference between a wise and foolish person is all about whether or not we do what he says.

We are so, so blessed in our day with access to the Bible, and with access to the many, many tools to understand it.  We can read it, dig deep into its meaning, review what scholars have studied about it.

But our approach to the Bible should not just be academic, not just reading it to learn trivia facts about the Bible. Instead, God wants us to read the Bible to know him, to know his purposes.  We read prayerfully asking God to speak to us through his word.  And then we actually make choices to live his way as taught in his word.  When we read Scripture we should determine ahead of time, humbly, teachably, to do what it says.

This requires a couple important tasks:

First, we actually need to read Scripture.  

How about you?  How often do you read the Bible?  I’m not talking about the Verse of the Day from a Bible app.  That is good and can be very encouraging.  I’m talking about something more.  We need to read more and longer sections of the Bible.  My wife and I love watching Netflix, as do many of you.  Discovering new and great TV and film on Netflix has become a cultural fascination. How many of you have participated in conversations online or in person around the topic “What should I watch next on Netflix?”  I love those conversations!  Discovering hidden gems on Netflix’s vast catalog is so fun.  In other words, many of us sit in front of a screen watching hours and hours of media content.  Is it possible that would could increase the amount of time we give to reading the Bible?

I was listening to a podcast recently where the interviewee noted that those who say the Bible is boring or irrelevant probably haven’t really given themselves to truly read and study it.  Will you?  If so, you will find it to speak powerfully, creatively and decisively to our situation in 2017.  I’ve been reading the account of Saul and David in 1st Samuel, and I feel like I am watching the 11 o’clock news.  It is amazingly relevant.

Second, we need to learn how to read Scripture.  

Let me provide a disclaimer.  You can open up any contemporary English translation of the Bible, and you’ll be able to understand it.  I use the New International Version.  But we also need to remember that the Bible is book written by 40+ authors, 2000+ years ago, in different languages, in a very different cultural setting.  As I said, we can be so thankful that scholars through the ages have studied those languages, that historical/cultural setting, as well as the genre and structure of the many books of the Bible.  What I’m saying is that there are wonderful works by people who love Jesus that can help us read between the lines and understand the Bible much more as God intended it.

Do you want to learn how to read and study it better?  I would be glad to point you to some resources that can help you.

Finally, and most importantly, whenever we read the Bible, let us determine beforehand to do what it says God wants us to do.

As we conclude this week of looking at Sola Scriptura, be encouraged by the words of Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

Is Sola Scriptura broken? (or Can we really read the Bible and hear from God?)

17 Oct

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When you read the Bible, do you think that God will speak to you through it?  How do you know that you will understand it properly?  What if God wants to tell you X and you believe he said Y?

Does Sola Scriptura mean that any Christian can just open up the Scriptures and understand it by the work of the Holy Spirit in their minds?  Do we need the church to interpret Scripture for us, or can we interact with Scripture alone?

We might say, “Yes! We can definitely read the Bible for ourselves and hear from God.”  Take a look at 1 Corinthians 2:12.  Paul says that we have been given the Spirit of God so that we might understand what God has given us.  Seems like that could really apply to understanding the Bible.  Actually, it does apply to the Bible.  When we read Scripture we can and should pray that the Holy Spirit will help us understand it.

But let me push back on this idea a bit.

Anne Hutchinson’s example is a case about how this view of Sola Scriptura didn’t work.  Why?

She felt the Holy Spirit was helping her understand the Bible.

Her Puritan religious community also felt that the Spirit was helping them understand the Bible.

You see the problem yet?  They both claimed the Spirit’s help, and they came to different interpretations.  Now do you see the problem?  If they both had the same Spirit’s help, then shouldn’t they have arrived at the same interpretation?

Would the Holy Spirit give them conflicting interpretations?  No.  So what was going on in Boston in 1636?

The reality is that Christians arrive at conflicting interpretations all the time, and we have done so from nearly day 1 of the church.  So if the Holy Spirit isn’t giving out conflicting interpretations of the Bible, what is going on?

I think there are many possible ways to answer that question:

  • Maybe there are Christians who claim to have the Spirit’s interpretation, but they actually don’t?  I’m sure that happens more than we realize.  But how would we ever know who had the Spirit’s interpretation and who didn’t?
  • And shouldn’t preference be given to church leaders who go to seminary and get ordained, because they have training?
  • Is it possible that the Puritans were not correct in their teaching of Sola Scriptura, or maybe Anne Hutchinson just misunderstood what it meant?

More importantly, what does all this mean for us?

How many of you own a Bible that is printed in English that you can read on your own?  How many of you have the Bible on your electronic device, like the Bible app on your phone?

We believe that we can read those Bibles and understand what God is speaking to us, right?

Are we wrong to believe that?  Perhaps we should be a lot more cautious?  Should we only get our interpretations of the Bible from ordained pastors, from those who have gone to school to learn the Bible?

To answer those questions, it will be very helpful for us to go back to Martin Luther.  His 95 Theses pretty much set things in motion for us to ask all these questions.  So to arrive at some answers, we first need to get an idea of how Martin Luther’s religious culture looked at the Bible.  And that is where we’re headed tomorrow.

Overcoming our fears, Part 2 – God’s role in calming our fears – Luke 12:1-2

16 Nov

People say that their two greatest fears are death and speaking in public.  In Luke 12:1-12 Jesus talked with his disciples about these two fears.  Perhaps what he said will help you overcome those fears!

In Verses 4-7 he refers to the fear of death. Do not be afraid, but do fear God, he loves you. There is a logical flow of thought here.

He says specifically, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body. Don’t be afraid of wicked men.”  In the wake of so many mass shootings and terror attacks, it is really easy to be afraid of wicked men.  What is Jesus getting at?

He goes on to say that we should fear the one who can throw us into hell. Who can do that?  God.  So we should fear God.

Fear God? Like…be scared of him?  Should we be afraid of God like we would be afraid of wicked men?  It would be quite odd for Jesus to say that, wouldn’t it?  So what is he talking about?  Throughout the Bible, especially in the book of Proverbs, we are taught to fear God.  The fear of God is about seeing God with awe, with respect!  When we fear God, we aren’t scared of him like my kids who refused to go up to the really scary house this past Halloween.  Instead we love God, we want to be with him, know him, and follow his ways.

So Jesus is saying that we might lose our life, but that is not as important as the loss of faith.  In other words, we should be more concerned about our saving our soul than about saving our life.

He goes on to illustrate this concept of fearing God as the one who can deal with our soul by referring to one of the most common foods in Israel, sparrows.  They were a dime a dozen, and because many of the people were poor peasants, sparrows were a staple of their diets.  Jesus says that though they are cheap, sparrows are not forgotten by God.  So this God we are to fear loves lowly sparrows.

Then he explains further that God knows us so well, he’s got all the hairs on our head numbered. This shows how thoroughly he cares for you, how well he knows you.  And Jesus concludes, then,  that we need not be afraid, because we are worth more to God than sparrows.

This passage resonates with me because I don’t like the thought of death. Frankly, even though I trust in the hope of eternal life, I don’t want to die. But Jesus reminds us that God loves us. He knows us thoroughly, he cares for us. And we are worth so much to him.

How amazing is that! God considers us to be of great worth. Perhaps you need to spend time reflecting on how much God loves you. How he thinks you are worth his time, his energy, his love!

So we do not need to fear to death.  But maybe public speaking will always be terrifying?

In Verses 11-12 Jesus talks specifically about some help for those who are afraid of speaking in public. Specifically he refers to a time when the disciples might get arrested for being a follower of Jesus.

He says, “Don’t worry about how you will defend yourself because The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say.”

We may or may not have to be in a situation where we are arrested. But we all will get in situations where we are sharing our faith, and we can be assured that the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say. We have the Holy Spirit with us! He will teach us what to say.

One of the reasons why people don’t share their faith with neighbors and friends because they don’t know what to say. But Jesus says we have the Spirit. So we don’t need to be ashamed. We don’t need to be afraid!

This reminds me of the story of Nehemiah in the Old Testament.  He was a Jew who had been exiled, and he heard that his beloved city of Jerusalem was in ruin.  He felt burdened to go back home and rebuild the wall around the city.  As a trusted cupbearer to the foreign king, he decided to ask the king’s permission.  What I love is how often Nehemiah prays in his story.  Sometimes the prayers are really short sentence prayers under his breath, or in his head, as he is about to do something.  As he stands before the king, Nehemiah had a distressed look on his face, a display of emotion that was not acceptable when having an audience with the king.  So we read that Nehemiah prays to God before he dives into his request of the king.  I love that detail.  Nehemiah was a man who knew that he needed God’s help before he spoke in public, in a very tense, nerve-wracking situation.

One time Michael Bay, famed movie director, needed help with a public speech, and he didn’t get it.  Take a look at this video.

Jesus tells his disciples that they do need a teleprompter!  If they don’t know what to say, they can depend on the Holy Spirit for help.  That is an amazing thing to consider.  God’s Spirit who lives with us will help us know what to say when we have the opportunity to speak up for him.

Don’t be afraid to speak up for the Lord. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words to say! Ask him to help you tell your story.

I found a great article where a professor of evangelism talks about his struggles with it!

And if you want to listen to the whole sermon, check it out here.

The Spiritual Gift Game Show! – 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

7 Aug

You’ve got to check out how Phil Bartelt started things out this past Sunday!  It was “Kingdom Life” a Spiritual Gifts Game Show!

Do you know your spiritual gift(s)?  Are you using your gift(s)?

When we had sermon discussion group after the worship service, we had a great time talking about what it means to have spiritual gifts, and yet there were a lot of questions that we weren’t able to answer satisfactorily:

Have certain gifts ceased? Paul will talk about this concept coming up soon in 1st Corinthians 13:8 when he says “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” And yet in chapter 14:39 he tells the church “be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” We know that Paul wasn’t the kind of guy who would contradict himself, but these verses leave us questioning what he meant. This is another big debate in Christian theology around the world. (How many of such debates have we encountered during this 1st Corinthians series???)  At sermon discussion, I asked if we could pause this particular line of discussion until we get further along.  In our sermons on chapter 14 we’ll talk about it more specifically.

When do we receive spiritual gifts?  Growing up, I was always taught that we receive gifts from the Spirit at the moment we become followers of Jesus.  But many times we see people who have natural abilities that they can use for Christ.  Are those natural abilities the same thing as spiritual gifts?  If so, do all people receive spiritual gifts at birth?  And maybe those gifts are only energized by the Spirit at the moment a person begins to follow Christ?  But hold on, what if a person doesn’t remember the specific moment they started following Christ?  While some people have a distinct moment of decision when they chose to start following Christ, for many other people it has been a lifelong process.

As you can see, we didn’t come to a conclusion about that second question because there isn’t a clear answer in Scripture.  What we do know is what Paul says in this chapter, that “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  That’s pretty amazing to think about.  Each follower of Jesus has the manifestation of the Spirit in their life!

Many_Gifts_One_Spirit_wide_t_nvAnd that leads to another question we discussed: what if we don’t feel like we have spiritual gifts?  Paul says that all have gifts, but maybe you don’t feel like you have any?  Maybe you watch people serving the Lord, teaching a class, playing an instrument on the worship team, praying in front of people, or sharing their faith in many ways in their community, and you think “I don’t do those things; I wonder if God skipped over me?”

That led us to look at the various lists outside of 1st Corinthians where Paul mentions other gifts.  Romans 12:3-8 has a bunch, as does Ephesians 4:11.  Some have wondered if these lists are meant to be comprehensive, meaning that if you don’t find a gift in these lists, then it must not be a spiritual gift.  Playing music for example.  It’s never mentioned as a spiritual gift, so it must just be an ability?  I don’t feel it is best to look at the gifts lists in Scripture that strictly.  Paul was likely being illustrative rather than exhaustive, meaning that he listed out a bunch of gifts, not intending to speak about every single possible gift the Spirit might give.  As I say that, I admit that I don’t know for sure.  I am also hesitant to call every ability a gift of the Spirit.  Christians through the ages have done a great job categorizing gifts.  At Faith Church we have used the PLACE materials to help people begin to think about recognizing and using their gifts.  PLACE incorporates personal abilities, passions, experiences and personality types into a much fuller assessment of how God uniquely made each one of us. I encourage people to work through the PLACE materials rather than just take a spiritual gifts inventory.

And no matter how you begin thinking about your giftedness, it is best to bring other people into the process.  Ask people who love you how they see your giftedness.  Then seek out ways to use your gifts in the context of the church.  Some of the best advice I received as a young man headed off to my first year of college was from my mom.  She encouraged me to try a lot of things.  Don’t get stuck in a rut.  I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did.  It gave me a chance to learn a lot about myself and how God uniquely shaped me. People can do the same in the life of the church.  Be willing to serve, even if you are very unsure that you are gifted in a particular area.  Try new things. Put yourself out there!