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).
“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.
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.
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.
My second child was eager to sleep in a “big-girl bed” in her sister’s room. Each night I tucked Britta under the covers, issuing strict instructions to stay in bed, warning her I’d return her to the crib if she didn’t. Night after night, I found her in the hallway and had to escort my discouraged darling back to her crib. Years later I learned her customarily-sweet older sister wasn’t excited about having a roommate and repeatedly told Britta that she’d heard me calling for her. Britta heeded her sister’s words, went to look for me, and thus landed herself back in the crib.
Listening to the wrong voice can have consequences for us all. When God sent a man to Bethel to speak on His behalf, He gave explicit instructions for him to not eat or drink while there, nor return home by the same route (1 Kings 13:9). When King Jeroboam invited him to share a meal, the prophet declined, following God’s command. When an older prophet extended an invitation to dine, the man initially declined, but relented and ate when his elder deceived him, saying an angel told him it was okay. Just as I wanted Britta to enjoy her “big-girl bed”, I imagine God was saddened the man didn’t heed His instructions.
We can trust God completely. His words are our path to life; we are wise to listen and obey.
I’m hard of hearing—“deaf in one ear and can’t hear out of the other,” as my father used to say. So I wear a set of hearing aids.
Most of the time the devices work well, except in environments where there’s a lot of surrounding noise. In those settings, my hearing aids pick up every voice in the room and I cannot hear the person in front of me.
So it is with our culture: a cacophony of sounds can drown out God’s quiet voice. “Where shall the Word be found, where will the Word resound?” poet T.S. Eliot asks. “Not here, there is not enough silence.”
Fortunately, my hearing aids have a setting that cuts out the surrounding sounds and enables me to hear only the voices I want to hear. In the same way, despite the voices around us, if we quiet our souls and listen, we will hear God’s “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11–12
He speaks to us every day, summoning us in our restlessness and our longing. He calls to us in our deepest sorrow and in the incompleteness and dissatisfaction of our greatest joys.
But primarily God speaks to us in His Word (1 Thessalonians 2:13). As you pick up His book and read it, you too will hear His voice. He loves you more than you can ever know, and He wants you to hear what He has to say.
As a toddler, my son Xavier enjoyed giving me flowers. I appreciated every freshly picked weed or store-bought blossom he purchased with his dad. I treasured each gift until it wilted and had to be thrown away.
One day, Xavier gave me a beautiful bouquet of artificial flowers. He grinned as he arranged the silk white calla lily, yellow sunflower,…
Anthropologist Anthony Graesch says that the outside of a refrigerator reveals what’s important to people. During a research study of families in Los Angeles, Graesch and his colleagues noted an average of 52 items posted on the fridge—including school schedules, family photos, children’s drawings and magnets. Graesch calls the refrigerator “a repository of family memory.”
The Lord may use a tangible item like a photo, keepsake, or Scripture verse to remind us of His faithfulness and the call to obey His Word. When Moses addressed the Israelites just before they entered the land of Canaan, he urged them to keep all the commands God had given them. “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road . . . write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut. 6:7, 9).
Giving God’s word a visible place of honor in their homes and lives was a powerful daily reminder to “be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you . . . out of the land of slavery.” (v. 12).
Today the Lord encourages us to remember that as we obey His Word, we can depend on His faithful care for all that lies ahead.
I enjoy visiting museums such as the National Gallery in London and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. While most of the art is breathtaking, some of it confuses me. I look at seemingly random splashes of color on canvas and realize I have no idea what I am seeing—even though the artist is a master at his craft.
Sometimes we can feel the same way about the Scriptures. We wonder, Is it even possible to understand them? Where do I start? Perhaps Paul’s words can give us some help: “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
God has given us the Scriptures for our instruction and encouragement. He has also given us His Spirit to help us to know His mind. Jesus said that He was sending the Spirit to “guide [us] into all the truth” (John 16:13). Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 2:12, saying, “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
With the help of the Spirit, we can approach the Bible with confidence, knowing that through its pages God wants us to know Him and His ways.