Why Study the Old Testament?

Does the Old Testament have any authority for the Christian believer today? Why should we even try to study the Old Testament?

This is actually something I have dealt with in a couple of my contexts. Some of the people say they only want to talk about that God is love and this is all you need to know. Others say they are “Red Letter Christians” meaning they only hold to and pay attention to the words of Jesus (red words) and this is what shapes their faith. We do have to pay attention to the “red letters” but we also have to understand the context they are written in.

One of the helpful things I have come to learn is the Old Testament is actually our story. When we read through the Old Testament, even the difficult passages, we can see how God related to the people, which is the same way God would relate to us today. God, especially through Jesus, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, as Christians we have to understand what it looks like to live out our lives in faithfulness.

Jesus says many times, “You have heard it said…but I say…” What does this mean unless we go back to see what he was talking about? Eye for an eye, as an example, is not just a saying in our culture; but it is a phrase that was used, for a specific reason, in the Old Testament. In essence, Jesus is giving more meaning to the words the people have heard and lived by all their lives, and therefore making them go deeper in their meaning to help the people see the seriousness of sin. In other words, Jesus is trying to show we do not have to be legalistic about our faith, just live it out of the heart—this, after all, is where our true motivations come from anyway.

Jesus gave the teachings and writings of the Old Testament authority, because he is God incarnate and therefore said the words. This is the first thing we have to pay attention to. Because of this, we see the apostles and early church give authority back to the Old Testament. Paul said that all scripture is God-breathed, God-inspired and he was talking about the Old Testament. But, without the Old Testament, we miss out on seeing the bigger picture God has in mind for being sent out to all the nations.

Through the Old Testament, we understand that Yahweh is the God who created the universe, and therefore is completely “other” from the universe, yet is also constantly active and personal in all of creation, especially through the lives of the people. We see how Yahweh has been set above the other “gods” of the world Because God is active in the world, we can better understand the mission Jesus sent his followers on by looking back at the calling of Abraham, even look back further to see how the world was set in order and how people were supposed to live with each other from the very beginning.

Back to the Old Testament is our story. Many people say that “our lives are the only Bible people will read.” This is true. I can also see how our lives tell the story the Bible tells. We are created out of love (whether or not this is true from a human perspective, we are created from the love of God). Because we are created out of love, we have been set to live this life in this particular time, this particular culture, with this particular personality, and gifts/talents/motivations, etc. We have been placed here to tend to and cultivate what God has given us, and go into the world. We have been created for a purpose.

We also see how we have been given teacher, preachers, books, other people to guide us and teach us the “rules of life” so we can learn what it means to be a “good/decent person”. The Lord did this with Israel with the Sinai Covenant. God gave the people the law to show what it means to live a holy/set apart people. But, we learn we still have this desire to do what we want and disregard what God said (blessing and curse of free will). This helps us understand there is something in us we cannot take out or get rid of on our own—something that seems to be ingrained in us to do things we know we shouldn’t do. We see this through the continual living faithfully and calling of Israel to repent by the Prophets.

There comes a time when God says the people have done their own thing for so long before stepping in to take over. God has always been present in our lives and there comes a point when we realize we need God to be the One leading us and changing us. We need God to step in to the world/our world, and show us how we are being transformed and make us into something even more than we could have ever imagined. This is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus comes, and we finally realize we need only him, he is the only One who can do what we need. Now, because of the Old Testament, we can better see how God has been working in the world to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. The Savior we have been hoping for has come, is changing our lives, and taking us to a place where we can work with him to change the world and see the world redeemed because of his grace. Because of Jesus (Yahweh in flesh), we can go from the chaos of our world (the world) and move into a life of order, peace, and true faithfulness.

Why study the Old Testament? A scholarly answer would be so we can understand the entire message of the Bible and to understand what is really going on. A theological answer would be so we can understand what the New Testament is actually saying and how it is applied to our lives. A personal answer, at least to me, would be so we can better understand our purpose and how we are supposed to live. More importantly, so we can better understand our lives and see how we sin and fall short of God, we constantly go back and forth from doing what we are supposed to do/not do, we see God (through Jesus Christ) coming to change our lives, and we see us moving toward a future with a hope because God has it already in the palm of his hands and has an ultimate plan for the future.

We study the Old Testament because it is our story. It is the story God tells so we can understand our mission to be in a holy community, and to be lights to the world to take the message of salvation to all the nations. If we can take this time to study and understand the importance of the Old Testament, we can better see how God through Jesus Christ is reshaping the world back the original intent.

Because people, by fallen nature, are self-absorbed, bringing us to a place to see we are also in the story of ancient Israel could make it seem like reading about your own family history and given better understanding to why we live like we live. This could also give people the motivation to learn more, on their own and in groups, to study the complexity, yet simplicity, of the message of the Old Testament and see more clearly how Jesus is really fulfilling (not obliterating) the law and words in the Old Testament which should give greater clarity and purpose to our lives and reason for living as a mission community to the rest of the world so God’s plan is completed.

In the Presence of the King

Click here to read Acts 25.

How nerve wracking it is for people to stand in front of people of power. What do you think your real reaction would be to stand in front of a president? A king or queen? A CEO of a billion dollar company? Your own boss who may not come around that often? I find it interesting that sometimes we will act one way until that person enters the room or we are brought before them.

The Apostle Paul knew who his only King was and is: Jesus Christ. His only goal was to serve Christ by proclaiming Christ risen from the dead. Paul knew that the people he was standing in front of was of no match to the King of kings. He only feared God.

Take time to read through the scripture today. Notice how many “important” people Paul is brought in front of. There was Festus, the angry crowd, King Agrippa, Bernice, and the entourage. I wonder how many people are reading this now and wondering why I placed the angry crowd as important people?

Look at what is being done to Paul. He has been placed in front of Caesar’s court and is giving his testimony and his defense to the highest court in the land. The angry crowd that is present is important because they were the ones to bring Paul to this particular time and place. What is interesting is that even though they did not get their way (Paul being executed), they should still be considered important because they unknowingly followed a plan of God to take the gospel to Rome via Paul. This crowd was the loudest voice and brought a lot of attention to the imprisoned apostle.

But then we have Festus, and King Agrippa. These are people who have great, human, power in this area. They are the ones where final decisions for the area are made, and people try to appease them and flatter them just to get whatever is wanted. I think this is where most of us stand when it comes to being in the presence of power. We want to try to make them like us so nothing bad happens to us and we can get the most comfortable life possible. Most of the time the people in positions of power may not see the real people because everyone will put on a front to act their best.

Paul knows something even more important. He knows the only King to be true to is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the King of all the kings and Lord of all the lords. Paul knows that he doesn’t have to be flattering to the rulers in front of him because the only ruler he answers to is Jesus Christ.

How about you? What or who makes you more nervous? I tend to think we get more nervous in the presence of humans in positions of power than we do for Jesus Christ. We tend to give more accolades to the people rather than the God of the universe. Oh, we go to worship each week; but do we worship God? Or do we really worship what we’re doing? This is a tough question to really think about.

As you go through your day, through your week, journey through life, remember this one thing Jesus Christ is the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. Everyone else we come in contact with is another person either to minister to or join in ministry with.

You have been called to be a witness to Christ to the world. You have been placed where you are “for such a time as this.” The presence of the one true King is with you always.

It’s About Kingdom Building

Click here to read Acts 23.

Paul is in a heap of trouble here. It seems the message of the gospel has touched a raw nerve with everyone he comes in contact with. Everyone, that is, except the Roman centurions watching set to watch over the apostle in chains.

In one of his letters to the Corinthian people, Paul tells them he has become all things to all people so that some may be saved. Paul is one who can learn the area, learn the people, and know what to say and how to say it to strike nerves. That is why he was able to give more defense of his work and insult the high priest (presumably not knowing who the high priest was).

The apostle is respectful of those in positions of authority and he shows it by apologizing and showing he knows, through scripture, how he is supposed to behave. He is masterful at gaining the rulers ears and attention and, at the same time, he is phenomenal at banding people together because of their hatred for him and the message of Christ he proclaims.

Several years ago, I bought the CD audio version of Dale Carnegie’s famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” This is a book I would like to re-read again someday in the future. This is a book I would recommend to you, if you haven’t read it yet.

One of the concepts I derived from listening was making sure people know why you do business with them (i.e. remind them what their good at) and then ask for what you are needing. I have learned that when people know you truly respect, not just use flattery, you can easily “win” people over. No, this is not manipulation. This is using Ephesians 4:29 into practice and applying it to everyday people’s lives.

It really is about finding the right people to talk with, to do business with, and to basically hang around that will help you get what you are needing. I know this can make it sound like this is all one sided; but it’s not because the other person has a chance to build a new relationship, gain business, and live with the joy of knowing they are doing what God has called them to do (as long as what they do helps to build society up and move it towards redemption and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ).

Influencing people is where is gets more challenging. This would mean people have to have some sort of respect for you or what you stand for. Paul was masterful at influencing people to band together against him. Did they respect Paul? I think their respect for the power of God was greater and they were terrified to listen to how their lives were not meshing with the real God. The people were influenced by the fear of repentance that Paul was proclaiming.

Now it’s your turn. Think about who you’re influencing and how. Does your life, and your actions, work towards building people up to be who God created them to be? Remember, it’s not about getting what you want; it is all about allowing the Holy Spirit into our lives to mold us into the image and likeness of God through Jesus Christ.

It’s about building the Kingdom of God with God.

Ephesians 2:8-10 CEB

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith.  This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

God Working Through Our Lives

Click here to read Acts 22.

Have you ever been in a place where you have to defend what you’re doing? Of course you have. We all have. My kids love to give me the reasons why they’re playing the way they are or why the other person is upset. We all love to find ways to defend ourselves.

The question comes into play as to why we are defending ourselves. Do we defend ourselves simply to make ourselves look good? Or do we defend ourselves to show how God has called us and give him the glory for all he has done through us?

Paul has now left Ephesus and was captured by the authorities. He had to give testimony as to who he is; but really he talked about how Jesus called him and has used him. Everything he said was pointing people to the Christ, the One who is, who was, and is to come. Notice how he also shows the people to trained him and his background. He is showing how God has worked in and through his life to bring him to the place he is now.

Now, I want you to look back in your life. Think about everything you have done. How has your past helped you to be where you are today? How has your past helped you become who you are today?

Many times, I hear people talk about how their past was not what they wanted. We can look to the past and see what we have done, or we can look back to see how God was working in and through our lives. It is here, I think of the quote, “We can complain because roses have thorns; or we can rejoice because thorns have roses.”

If you have the time, think through the toughest and best parts of your life. Do you think of those times as something that could have been better? Can you think of them as something you went through to help you get to be who God has created you to be?

Paul could have been discouraged as to how his life was now going. Prison, beatings, humiliations, etc. But he was able to rejoice because he has discovered that he actually has everything he needs, and more. He has the real presence of Jesus Christ with him each and everyday.

Take time to praise God for your past. Praise him for how he has brought you to this particular moment in your life. Praise him he is with you right now.

Now if you are doubting God is with you, I am inviting you to sit down and say something like, “Jesus I want to know you.” Say that over and over. You never know how he will appear and make himself known to you and you can see how he has never left you. God is always working in your life, especially when we don’t know it.

Hey, Why Not?

Click here to read Acts 8:26-40.

I know you have been in this position. Suddenly you feel like you should go to a certain place, or go down a certain trail (road, path, aisle, etc.). You’re not sure why, it’s just a feeling. You go about your business to finish what you came to do when it seems like all of a sudden someone crosses your path and in some form or another seeks your attention.

Now when this happens to me, I know I have some choices. I can look directly at the person and greet them trying to let them know how busy I am. I can pretend not to see them and just move on. Or, I can stop what I’m doing and really notice them and begin to talk. Has my day been interrupted? Yes. Does my anxiety about not finishing what I need to creep in? Yes. In the end is it worth having my day interrupted especially when I find out that particular person needed to talk with me in that moment? Absolutely!

My guess is that happens to us more than we realize. We can get so wrapped up in our day to day tasks and to do lists that we can forget the most important task we should do is to love and serve God which leads us to love and serve other people.

Philip was prompted by the Spirit to go down a certain road to a certain place. Take some time to re-read the scripture above. How was he prompted? It doesn’t say. My personal experience is I have felt a nudging in my spirit to do something or go somewhere. I have also had people come up to me (more than one) and mention the same thing (without them knowing the others said it). I have also read scripture and have come across passages and sense God leading me to do something similar. This also happens when I read other books. The point is to always be open to, and discerning, what God is asking us to do on a daily basis.

While on the path, Philip notices an important official riding a chariot down the road and reading. He could have gave a polite greeting and went on his way; but Philip listened to what the Ethiopian was reading. In my mind, when Philip heard the Ethiopian reading he stopped in his tracks. This caused him to stop the chariot and begin the conversation with Philip.

This is a passage that comes into my mind and heart a lot. We just never know who we will run into or what God will lead us to that day; but we can go with the attitude, “hey, why not!” There are people in our paths that need our particular gifts, our particular past hurts we dealt with or are dealing with, our particular knowledge and skills to encourage, support, and build them up to become more of the person God created them to be. When our hearts are open to God, relationships become more important.

We are given opportunities to interact with other people. Sometimes we get to witness a life change. More often than not we get to people one of several people who help and we do not get to see the results.

If we are open to the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit, we will notice people and situations and go into them knowing that God is working there and is inviting us to be part of it. We just never know what the outcome will be.

Did Philip know how his chance encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch would turn out? No. But he still listened to the Spirit, stopped and listened to the Ethiopian, and professed Christ to him. Then, almost out of no where, baptism was talked about and they spotted water. The eunuch saw the water and basically said, “hey, why not?” He must have sensed that his life was changed because of what he had just heard and then decided the time was right to be baptized.

After baptizing him, Philip left. Did he get to see what happened next? No. Tradition says that the eunuch went back to Ethiopia and began to teach and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, starting and forming the Christian church in Ethiopia.

Listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You just never know who you will cross paths with or what will change because you accepted God’s invitation to work with him.

Filled With The Spirit

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 6:8-15 CEB.

Whenever you are out in public doing great things, doing great work, opposition will come. How we handle this opposition is important.

First of all, I would need to ask if we are bold enough to speak and do good works even when there is a chance for people to oppose or to speak ill? If we were honest, we would most likely not want that to happen because we would want to protect our reputation. So, then we need to ask, “what is more important? Our reputation or doing what God calls us to do?” Either way, we always have people watching whether or not we will stand our ground, or simply give up when the situation becomes challenging.

Now, this is not a license to say whatever we want or do whatever we want and claim God called us to do it. Instead, we learn that when God calls us to a specific task or vocation, it is always to build up the Kingdom of Heaven and will not do anything to cause division in this incredible Kingdom.

Stephen, from our scripture, was doing great works and signs in public and speaking grace. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and this caused an uproar with the religious leaders who were seeking to keep the status quo and their position. But God’s work in us will always come out in powerful and transforming ways which people will take notice of.

Look at what’s going on around you in your community. Where do you see God working? What do you notice? I hope the people of God will be revealed in such a way grace will be shown. Stephen was filled with the Spirit and was shown to be full of grace which caused his face to exude peace.

As you go out into the world, your daily life, pay attention to where God is working and join him in the task. Allow his Spirit to fill you so much that you will show how to handle opposition. The way to handle any opposition is to be filled with the Spirit of peace that comes from God. This is a peace that is beyond understanding; but comes out naturally when the Holy Spirit fill us.

Seek the face and peace of God in all you do and see what incredible works God will perform in and through you.

Community

Click here to read Acts 2:42-47.

Imagine Utopia, a perfect place were there is no conflict and everyone has what they need. Sounds like a great place? John Lennon thought of how the world would be different if we simply “Imagine”[d] doing things out of love rather than doing things out of self-preservation; but doing things for the betterment of society. That song has some good concepts in it; but it also takes away religion and faith and when a community is living out their faith, much good does come from it.

John Wesley was a genius at placing people into small groups to help foster spiritual growth with the new converts. He did this in a way so they could worship, develop relationships, and get accountable with how their life was being lived. We see the model he used as a similar model from how the early Church took care of believers spiritual needs. This is a perfect example to show how we need each other to grow in our faith. Individuals grow more spiritually when connected into a community fostering encouragement, empowerment, and growth through God’s grace.

Take some time to re-read the passage today.

42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

What is one thing that stands out to you? Why? One thing that stands out to me is “the believers devoted themselves…” So one question that brings up for me to ask is, “how devoted are you? How devoted am I?” This is an important question; but we should be careful not to think that if we do all of this “stuff” for God then we are good and stay in his graces and earn salvation. No. This kind of life that is described and lived out is not to earn grace or salvation; rather it is a response to God’s free gift of grace.

So, as the believers devoted themselves, they took time to study the scriptures together, pray as a group, be in fellowship with each other. Unity within a community does not mean that everyone does the same exact thing the same exact way. Unity means that we all unite for a common purpose and goal in order to live together peacefully.

So imagine a world where we devoted ourselves (as a response to God’s grace) to the studying of scripture, meeting together (not just on Sunday mornings); how much would we see the mighty and awe-filled acts of God in our midst because we’re open to them? Be prepared for the work of God in our midst and just see how people flock to a community true to their faith and devoted to God in all aspects of their life.

What does this kind of life look like for you?

Let’s pray for revival and God’s presence to be known all around us so others know and experience the Kingdom of Heaven.