Category  |  Bible

And in Truth

Years ago, I attended a wedding where two people from different countries got married. Such a blending of cultures can be beautiful, but this ceremony included Christian traditions mixed with rituals from a faith that worshiped many gods.

Zephaniah the prophet pointedly condemned the mixing of other religions with faith in the one true God (sometimes called syncretism). Judah had become a people who bowed in worship to the true God but who also relied on the god Molek (Zephaniah 1:5). Zephaniah described their adoption of pagan culture (v. 8) and warned that as a result God would drive the people of Judah from their homeland.

Yet God never stopped loving His people. His judgment was to show them their need to turn to Him. So Zephaniah encouraged Judah to “Seek righteousness, seek humility” (2:3). Then the Lord gave them tender words promising future restoration: “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home” (3:20).

It’s easy to condemn examples of obvious syncretism like the wedding I attended. But in reality, all of us easily blend God’s truth with the assumptions of our culture. We need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to test our beliefs against the truth of God’s Word and then to stand for that truth confidently and lovingly. Our Father warmly embraces anyone who worships Him in both Spirit and truth (see John 4:23–24). 

Open My Eyes

The first time I went to the gorgeous Chora Church in Istanbul, I was able to figure out some Bible stories from the Byzantine frescos and mosaics on the ceiling. But there was much I missed. The second time, however, I had a guide. He pointed to all the details I had previously missed, and suddenly everything made perfect sense! The first aisle, for instance, depicted the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

Sometimes when we read the Bible we understand the basic stories, but what about the connections—those details that weave Scripture into the one perfect story? We have Bible commentaries and study tools, yes, but we also need a guide—someone to open our eyes and help us see the wonders of God’s written revelation. Our guide is the Holy Spirit who teaches us “all things” (John 14:26). Paul wrote that He explains “spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Corinthians 2:13).

How wonderful to have the Author of the Book to show us the wonders of it! God has not only given us His written Word and His revelation but He also helps us to understand it and learn from it. So let us pray with the psalmist, saying, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18).

Accidental Wisdom

A few years ago, a woman shared with me a story about finding her preteen son watching news coverage of a violent event. Instinctively, she reached for the remote and changed the channel. “You don’t need to be watching that stuff,” she told him rather abruptly. An argument followed, and eventually she shared that he needed to fill his mind with “whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely . . . ,” (Philippians 4:8). After dinner, she and her husband were watching the news when suddenly their five-year-old daughter burst in and turned off the television. “You don’t need to be watching that stuff,” she declared in her best “mom” voice. “Now, think about those Bible things!” 

As adults, we can better absorb and process the news than our children. Still, the couple’s daughter was both amusing and wise when she echoed her mother’s earlier instructions. Even well-adjusted adults can be affected by a steady diet of the darker side of life. Meditating on the kind of things Paul lists in Philippians 4:8 is a powerful antidote to the gloom that sometimes settles on us as we see the condition of our world.

Making careful decisions about what fills our minds is an excellent way to honor God and guard our hearts as well.

Not What It Seems

“Listen!” my wife said to me over the phone. “There’s a monkey in our yard!” She held up the phone so I could hear. And yes, it sounded just like a monkey. Which is weird, because the nearest wild monkey was 2,000 miles away.

Later, my father-in-law burst our bubble. “That’s a barred owl,” he explained. Reality was not what it had seemed.

            When King Sennacherib’s armies had Judah’s King Hezekiah trapped inside Jerusalem’s walls, the Assyrians thought victory was theirs. Reality proved different. Although the Assyrian field commander used smooth words and pretended to speak for God, the Lord had His hand on His people.

“Have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord?” the commander asked (2 Kings 18:25). As he tried to entice Jerusalem to surrender, he even said, “Choose life and not death!” (v. 32).

That sounds like something God would say. But the prophet Isaiah told them the true words of the Lord. “[Sennacherib] will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here,” God said. “I will defend this city and save it” (19:32–34; Isaiah 37:35). That very night “the angel of the Lord” destroyed the Assyrians (v. 35).

From time to time, we’ll encounter smooth-talking people who “advise” us while denying God’s power. That isn’t God’s voice. He speaks to us through His Word. He guides us with His Spirit. His hand is on those who follow Him, and He will never abandon us.

Keeping Close

My mile-long walk home from dropping off my daughter at her school gives me the opportunity to memorize some verses from the Bible—if I’m intentional about doing so. When I take those minutes to turn over God’s Word in my mind, I often find them coming back to me later in the day, bringing me comfort and wisdom.

When Moses prepared the Israelites to enter the Promised Land, he urged them to hold close to God’s commands and decrees (Deuteronomy 6:1–2). Wanting them to flourish, he said they should turn these instructions over in their minds and discuss them with their children (vv. 6–7). He even said to tie them to their wrists and bind them to their foreheads (v. 8). He didn’t want them to forget God’s instructions to live as people who honored the Lord and enjoyed His blessings.

How might you consider God’s words today? One idea is to write out a verse from Scripture, and every time you wash your hands or take a drink, read the words and turn them over in your mind. Or before you go to sleep, consider a short passage from the Bible as the last act of the day. Many are the ways of keeping God’s word close to our hearts!

Wisdom’s Call

Malcolm Muggeridge, the noted British journalist and social critic, came to faith in Christ at the age of 60. On his 75th birthday he offered twenty-five insightful observations about life. One said, “I never met a rich man who was happy, but I have only very occasionally met a poor man who did not want to become a rich man.”

Most of us would agree that money can’t make us happy, but we might like to have more so we can be sure.

King Solomon’s net worth has been estimated at more than two trillion US dollars. Although he was very wealthy, he knew that money had great limitations. Proverbs 8 is based on his experience and offers “Wisdom’s Call” to all people. “I raise my voice to all mankind. . . . My mouth speaks what is true” (vv. 4–7). “Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (vv. 10–11).

Wisdom says, “My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me and making their treasuries full” (vv. 19–20).

These are true riches indeed!

What We Want to Hear

As human beings, we are prone to seek out information that supports the opinions we hold. Research shows that we’re actually twice as likely to look for information that supports our position. When we’re deeply committed to our own way of thinking, we avoid having that thinking challenged by opposing positions.

Such was the case in King Ahab’s rule over Israel. When he and Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, discussed whether to go to war against Ramoth Gilead, Ahab gathered 400 prophets—men he’d appointed to that role himself and would therefore tell him what he wanted to hear—to help them decide. Each replied he should go, saying “God will give it into the king’s hand” (2 Chron. 18:5) Jehoshaphat asked whether there was a prophet who had been chosen by God through whom they could inquire of the Lord. Ahab responded reluctantly because God’s prophet, Micaiah, “never prophesies anything good about [him], but always bad” (v. 7) Indeed, Micaiah indicated they wouldn’t be victorious, and the people would be “scattered on the hills” (v. 16).

In reading their story, I see how I too tend to avoid wise advice if it isn’t what I want to hear. In Ahab’s case, the result of listening to his “yes men”—400 prophets—was disastrous (v. 34). May we be willing to seek and listen to the voice of Truth, God’s words in the Bible, even when it contradicts our personal preferences.

The Power of Demonstration

My attempts at fixing things around the house usually lead to paying someone else to undo the damage I caused while trying to fix the original problem. But recently I successfully repaired a home appliance by watching a YouTube video where a person demonstrated step by step how to do it. 

Paul was a powerful example to his young protégé Timothy who traveled with him and watched him in action. From prison in Rome, Paul wrote, “You . . . know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings” (2 Timothy 3:10–11). In addition, he urged Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures” (vv. 14–15).

Paul’s life demonstrated the necessity of building our lives on the bedrock of God’s Word. He reminded Timothy that the Bible is the powerful, God-given source of what we need to teach and demonstrate to others who want to be Christ-followers.

As we thank the Lord for the people who helped us grow in faith, we are challenged to follow their example of living out the truth as we teach and encourage others.

That’s the power of demonstration.

Letters Home

Far from home and training for World War II, American recruits in basic training turned to humor and correspondence to cope with the challenges they faced. In one letter home a young man described the vaccination process with wonderful exaggeration: “Two medical officers chased us with harpoons. They grabbed us and pinned us to the floor and stuck one in each arm.”

Yet one soldier began to realize that humor could only take him so far. Then he received a Bible. “I enjoy it very much and I read it every night,” he wrote. “I never realized you could learn so much from a Bible.”

Long ago, the Jewish exiles returned home after years of slavery in Babylon to find their problems came with them. As they struggled to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, they faced opposition from enemies, famine, and their own sin. Amid their trouble, they turned to God’s Word. They were surprised at what they learned. When the priests read from the Book of the Law of God, the people were moved to tears (Nehemiah 8:9). But they also found comfort. Nehemiah the governor told them, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10).

We don’t need to wait for trouble to hear from God. The Bible is where we learn about His character, His forgiveness, and His comfort. As we read it, we’ll be surprised at what God’s Spirit will show us in its pages.

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