Getting the most from the Word

In his excellent book Unlocking the Scriptures, Hans Finszel explains that there are three essential questions we should be asking each time we open the Word of God and study it for ourselves.  Finzel’s questions are built around three key words: observation, interpretation, and application. His three questions are: What do I see? What does it mean?  How should I respond? I include his thoughts in today’s blog.

Observation asks, “What do I see?”Observation is simply the gathering of all the facts of who, what, where, and when. Careful examination of the facts is the foundation upon which we build accurate interpretation and application of the Scripture. The more time spent looking at the text itself, reading and rereading it, the more fruitful our study will be…

Interpretation asks, “What does it mean?”  Drawing conclusions based on your study of the facts is the process of interpretation. During this stage we seek to understand the meaning that the author had in mind when he wrote the text…

Application asks, “How should I respond?”Application is the goal of Bible Study. It is not enough for us to understand (interpret) Scripture; God wants us to be changed by it. The Scriptures were given “for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NRSV). In this final step of the inductive process, we move from the original context to our contemporary one, seeking to know how our interpretation can affect our attitudes and behavior.

Pride and humility

The book of Esther in the Bible is fascinating reading.  Although the story took place thousands of years ago, and in a geographical setting far from here, its intrigue and espionage could have been ripped from yesterday’s headlines. To understand the story one simply needs to know a few characters. Ahasuerus is the Persian King, Esther is his queen, and she is of Jewish descent. Mordecai is her older cousin, and he is a wise and brave counselor. And Haman is the man bent on destroying the Jewish people.

 However, God sought the protection of that group of people and this time he did it without the parting of the Red Sea or a host of plagues. He did it though the hands of common people with uncommon courage. Rereading the story points out again that courage. Mordecai learns of an overthrow attempt of the king, and courageously reveals this overthrow. He goes virtually unnoticed for that favor, for who knows how long, and never voices a complaint. He encourages his cousin Esther to talk to the king about the plot to destroy the Jewish nation. A task that would take a great amount of courage. For in those days and in that culture, to approach the king without being requested was an execution sentence. Esther knew this when she decided to go (Est. 4:16).

 Not only do we see uncommon courage in the hearts of God’s servants, but we see the basest form of pride in Haman’s life. Throughout the entire story he is consumed with himself. He talks of his accomplishments (Est. 5:11). He presumptuously assumes (Est. 6:6) the king would desire to honor him. His pride led to his destruction (Est. 7:10). The differences in the characters are obvious.  Courage requires a complete dependence on God. Pride is simply overconfidence in self and an independence of God. Which quality marks your life?

What Moses learned at the burning bush

The calling of Moses in Exodus 3 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Because the conversation between God and Moses is so lengthy it gives us a look into the Lord’s heart, and it’s easy for us to see our own insecurities in the life of Moses.

As you read this chapter remember that Moses, like each of us, was interpreting life through his past, present, and future. We are so familiar with the story, that we forget Moses didn’t know what was coming. For instance, we know that when Moses lifts his staff things will happen. Plagues will fall upon Egypt. The Red Sea will part. Water will come from a rock. But remember, at the burning bush those events are a part of Moses’ future. He still has to believe God and step out. From Moses’ perspective his future is uncertain.

Moses also had a past. He had been scooped from his river basket by Pharaoh’s daughter. He had grown up as a member of Pharaoh’s household. He was culturally Egyptian, but his DNA was Jewish. He would have seemed like the ideal candidate to ease the suffering on his people. But there was that issue of killing the Egyptian. He had tried to bury that part of his past, but one’s past sins don’t stay buried for long. As it became apparent that others knew, Moses fled. When Moses looked to his past I’m sure he had regrets. He had tried to take matters into his own hands, and was now an outcast in the desert. As he chased sheep and goats in the desert for 40 years, he must have replayed his past in his head a hundred times. But he couldn’t change his past. Two words described it: squandered opportunities.

So Moses had a past (that he’d squandered), and he had a future (that was uncertain), but he (like each of us) was living in the present. That’s where the burning bush comes in. The great thing about present time is that it is the place where our choices are active. Moses stood before the burning bush with God calling to him. He would have to choose to trust God, and go back to Egypt.

Most of us don’t serve God well in the present, because we are too busy blaming others for our past or worrying about our future.

Here are the lessons Moses teaches each of us about our past, present, and future.  (1) Through your past trust God that everything had a purpose. (2)  In your present ask God what he would have you do. (3)  With your future believe God that he will do great things.

Because He will.

The Big Picture in your Bible Reading-Era 2: The Patriarchs

As you continue reading in the book of Genesis you leave the four events (creation, fall, flood, and nations) of the first 11 chapters behind. The remainder of Genesis comprises the stories of four people (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph). We call them the Patriarchs. The word patriarch means father. We attach this word to the second part of Genesis (chapters 12-50) because these men were the founding fathers of the nation of Israel. While Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob exercised faith you will not find them to have been blameless.

Abraham lied, as did Isaac and Jacob. Their deceit left an impact on their families. Twice Abraham encouraged Sarah to lie for him at her expense (Genesis 12, 20). Abraham’s son, Isaac would do the same (Genesis 26). Jacob also struggled with deception (Genesis 27). Jacob’s sons did lying on a grand scale. Allowing their father Jacob to mourn over the death of his son Joseph for years, while Joseph was still alive and living in Egypt (Genesis 37).

Yet God’s grace is not intimidated by such blatant sin. The patriarchs may have deceived others, but they did not deceive God. The writer of Hebrews said, “For no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:12). So over and over again in the Genesis record God reveals their sin that he may bring redemption to their willfully wrong choices.

  • God not only protected Sarah, but also her womb (in spite of  Abraham’s lie) so that she might carry the child of promise, Isaac.
  • God revealed Isaac’s lie, and then blessed him a hundred fold (Gen. 26:12).
  • God took the lie of Jacob’s sons, and saved an entire nation from starving to death (Gen. 50:20).

Here’s the picture: God revealed the sin, and then redeemed.

As you read through these chapters of Genesis pay special attention to the way a sovereign God keeps working. He was actively involved in the lives of these Old Testament believers, and he desires to work that same way in our lives as well.

Special note: Throughout the year I will occasionally return to these introductory comments on Biblical eras as you draw nearer to those historical periods in your daily Bible readings. For six different plans on reading through the Bible this year visit: https://philmoser.com/2011/12/29/reading-through-the-bible-in-a-year/

The Big Picture in your Bible Reading–Era 1: Creation

Perhaps you’ve heard it said, “I can’t see the forest for the trees.” Simply put it means that it is easy to get lost in the details of a project and not see the big picture. When it comes to reading a book, that goes back in history some 3,500 years, it is beneficial to keep the big picture in view.

If you started reading the Bible at the beginning of this year there’s a good chance you’re in the book of Genesis. Before you get too far into the forest, lets zoom that lens back to see the big picture. The following chart should be helpful. I have divided the Old Testament into 9 eras. Keeping the time eras in perspective is a means of keeping the big picture in view as you’re reading your Bible through.

Era 1: Creation (Genesis 1-11). Genesis is a book of beginnings.  Gene Getz writes,

As its name implies, it records the history of the beginning-the beginning of the universe, the beginning of life, the beginning of marriage and family, the beginning of the nation of Israel, and the beginning of the plan of salvation (Life Essentials Study Bible, p. 1)

There are four key events covered in the opening chapters of Genesis. I remember them with the following words: (1) Creation, (2) Fall, (3) Flood, (4) Nations.

The Creation Story is told in the first two chapters of Genesis. An excellent resource for further study and additional articles can be found at http://www.answersingenesis.org/

The Fall of Man is the next event in the book of GenesisAdam and Eve sin, and are cast from the garden. I find that I do more relational counseling out of Genesis chapters 3-4 than any other passage of the Bible. As you’re reading pay special attention to “how” the serpent tempts Eve (Gen. 3:1-6). Note Adam’s passive role and failure to protect his wife from the dangers of sin and the serpent (Gen. 3:6). See how quickly Adam and Eve throw “each other under the bus” when it comes to their blameshifting, and failure to take responsibility for their own sinful choices (Gen. 3:8-13). Finally, notice the consequence that comes to all of mankind as a result of their sinful choices (Gen. 3:14-24).

The World-Wide Flood is the result of increasing sin upon the earth (Genesis 6-10). God wonderfully protects Noah, his family and a hosts of animals in the ark as they survive a flood that brings devastation to the world as we know it.  Two excellent short videos can be retrieved from this blog at https://philmoser.com/2011/11/16/how-big-was-noahs-ark-2/ and https://philmoser.com/2011/11/17/facing-the-storms-of-life/

The Nations develop their separate identities when God confuses the people’s language (Genesis 11). He purposefully does this because of their growing independence (Gen.  11:6). It is not difficult to imagine the people milling around until they find people who speak and understand their language. Over time their unique ethnicity, culture, and even physiological differences develop.

Era 2: The  Patriarchs (Genesis 12-50)… Come back tomorrow as we continue to discuss the big picture…

Starting the year with personal Bible study

Imagine that you sensed your physical health was failing. You lacked the stamina that you once had. Your energy level was way down, and you found yourself susceptible to nearly every sickness that crossed your path. Concerned, you visited your family doctor, and he began his exam with some questions. “Are you sleeping well?” “Yes,” you reply, “I’m sleeping nearly all the time.” The doctor ponders your answer, and asks the next question. “How is your appetite? Are you eating regularly?” “O yes doctor, I’m eating one good meal a week, occasionally I’ll grab a snack Monday through Friday if my schedule allows it.”

The doctor looks up from his notepad. “I believe I misunderstood you. I thought you said you were eating one good meal a week. No one can survive on that diet! No wonder you’re susceptible to so many diseases. It’s easy to see you why you have no energy. Your body needs more food than one good meal a week. I’m recommending three good meals a day.”

You look up from the examination table troubled, “But doctor, I don’t have time to eat that often, and besides it is so hard, that would mean I’d have to prepare some of my own meals. . .”

Most Christians would never do to their physical bodies what they do to their souls. Come to church for one square meal a week from the Word, and snack a little on Christian radio Monday through Friday. If we are to feed our soul regularly from the Word, it means that we will have to prepare our own meals. We will have to spend time studying the Word for ourselves. Discovering Bible truths and living by them. Time with God every day is a necessity if we are to grow in Christ (Col. 1:28). Paul wrote to Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed (2 Tim. 2:15).

Time with God: The right heart, time, place, and plan

When having an effective quiet time, it’s important to have the right heart, time, place and plan.  If your time with the Lord is lacking, consider which of these four elements could stand a little improvement. Several years ago now I came upon an excellent article by pastor Zach Schlegel on the importance of all four elements. He granted me permission to share it with our church family then, and I’m certain you will benefit as well.

The Right Heart…. Expectant – The writer of Hebrews reminds us that those who in faith seek after God can expect the reward of God Himself (Hebrews 11:6; also Jeremiah 29:12-13). Willingness to Obey – If we come listening not for what God has to say to us, but what we want; chances are we won’t hear Him. In John’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that coming with a willing heart is important (John 7:17). Teachable and Humble – When coming before the King of kings, the proper attitude is humility, not pride; being teachable, not a know it all (James 1:19-21; 4:6; Psalm 119:33-34).

The Right Time…Morning, afternoon or evening?  In deciding when to have your quiet time, choose the time that you are at your best: alert, focused, and fresh.  Jesus’ custom was to meet with the Father early in the morning (Mark 1:35), and for many people, that’s the best way to start the day.  But whatever you decide, make sure to be consistent with it and to schedule it in your calendar as you would any other important meeting! How long will your quiet time be?  If having a quiet time is new to you, start with a shorter amount of time and then build up as your appetite increases.  Everyone is different, just be sure to give yourself ample time to slow down, read, pray, and reflect.  If beforehand we decide and schedule how long (at a minimum) our quiet time will be, it not only frees up our schedule, but cultivates the discipline of slowing down and giving God our best time.

The Right Place…Comfortable and quiet; Good lighting. Free of distractions: Turn off your TV, phone, or internet – anything that would distract. Have a pen and notebook handy to write down the “To do” list that comes to your mind; if you’ve written it down, you can forget it and come back to it later. 

The Right Plan… Why a plan?  Why is discipline so important?  For some type “A” personalities, these may seem like silly questions; but others cringe at the idea of having a plan and being disciplined with it – why not just be free and ‘let it happen’?  Having a plan is not meant to be a rigid set of rules; but many times we don’t spend time with God because we have no plan. 

Elton Trueblood explains the relationship between discipline and freedom saying, “We have not advanced very far in our spiritual lives if we have not encountered the basic paradox of freedom…that we are most free when we are bound.  But not just any way of being bound will suffice; what matters is the character of our binding.  The one who would be an athlete, but who is unwilling to discipline his body by regular exercise and abstinence, is not free to excel on the field or the track. His failure to train rigorously denies him the freedom to run with the desired speed and endurance.  With one concerted voice, the giants of the devotional life apply the same principle to the whole of life: Discipline is the price of freedom.”  —-Zach Schlegel, blog 11.11.2009