Did God Kill a Man for Gathering Sticks on the Sabbath?

Did God kill a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath?

Isn’t it obvious that the answer is yes?

Numbers 15.32-36 tells us that while Israel was wandering in the wilderness, the people found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath. So, they brought this man to Moses and Aaron and the entire congregation. Because it wasn’t clear if the man had violated the Sabbath, they kept him in custody. Verse 35 says, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.'”

So, there you have it. Right there in black and white it says that God told Moses to have the man killed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Typically then, Christians go on to assume that the fact that God would kill a man for merely picking up sticks on the Sabbath shows how seriously God takes the Sabbath. Therefore, God killed this man to show everyone that they must keep the Sabbath or else.

Because the Sabbath was supposedly so important to God that he would kill a man for gathering sticks on it, Christians are still arguing about Sabbath keeping today. Some denominations shun and look down upon those that work on the Sabbath. Other denominations believe that you will go to hell forever for not keeping the Sabbath. And, Christians regularly argue whether they should keep Saturday or Sunday as the Sabbath. While Christians may not see God literally killing people for breaking the Sabbath today, the belief that God has and will do so is still going strong today.

But, are we really to believe that God is so petty that he would kill a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath?

You can only answer yes to the question “Did God kill a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath?” because the Holy Spirit has not brought light and life to this passage of scripture for you. In fact, when the Holy Spirit breathes life into this particular passage of scripture and others – that is, when the Holy Spirit inspires Numbers 15.32-36 – we come to see that God has not, does not, and never will kill anyone for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

In fact, this story is not about just any man being killed for gathering stick son the Sabbath. The man gathering sticks in this story is a picture of Jesus. Jesus was the one killed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. And, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself when Jesus was crucified. (2 Corinthians 5.19)

Therefore, in an ironic twist, it wasn’t God that killed a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. It was man that killed God for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

Wait. What?

How did I get there?

Well, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to inspire or bring to life Numbers 15.32-36.

How might the Holy Spirit do that?

The Hebrew word for sticks is es. This word is used quite a bit in the Old Testament, but there is one particularly interesting portion of scripture regarding the word es.

“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, take a stick [es] and write on it, “For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him”; then take another stick [es] and write on it, “For Joseph (the stick [es] of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.” And join them one to another into one stick [es], that they may become one in your hand. And when your people say to you, “Will you not tell us what you mean by these?” say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick [es] of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick [es] of Judah, and make them one stick [es], that they may be one in my hand. When the sticks [es] on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer two divided kingdoms.'” (Ezekiel 37.15-22)

So, here we have the Hebrew word for stick, es, used as a picture or symbol of the tribes and people of Israel. These sticks, or tribes of Israel, would be gathered together and made into one nation and would have one king over them.

Clearly, Ezekiel is prophesying about Jesus as the son of man that would gather the tribes of Israel, or sticks, and make them one nation with himself as their one king.

Going back to Numbers 15.32-36 and with the inspiration of the Spirit, we can see that the man found gathering sticks while Israel was in the wilderness is a picture of none other than Jesus. Scripture does indeed picture Israel as in the wilderness, in exile, when Jesus comes. Jesus indeed was gathering sticks, gathering the tribes, to make one nation with himself as the king.

When Jesus was found to be gathering people, or sticks, particularly on the Sabbath by healing and forgiving sins, this enraged the leaders of Israel. In Mark 3.1-6, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Verse 6 says, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

Eventually, Jesus was brought to the chief priests and elders and put into custody until it could be decided what to do with him. While they couldn’t stone Jesus, they decided to have him crucified, which indeed took place outside of the city, or outside of the camp.

John 11.49-53 ties all of Jesus’ story right back to Numbers 15.32-36 and Ezekiel 37.15-22.

“But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.”

Jesus is the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath that was stoned outside the camp. Caiaphas played the part of Moses and Aaron, who was the chief of Israel. While Caiaphas did not know what he was saying, neither did Moses. God did not tell Moses, Aaron, and the congregation to kill a man for gathering sticks. Nor did God kill his own. The New Testament is very clear on this. Man killed Jesus, not God. Moses, Aaron, and the congregation killed the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath, not God.

Therefore, when we read the scripture through the inspiration of the Spirit, letting Jesus interpret it for us (Luke 24), then we see Moses and Aaron and the congregation decided themselves to kill the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Their view of God was veiled. They did not see God clearly. They were blinded by the God of this world. (2 Corinthians 3.12-16, 4.3-4)

Thankfully, Jesus and the Holy Spirit help us to see clearly today.

Are Christians to Defend Themselves and Others?

Jesus was non-violent.

Can we honestly read the New Testament and come to any other conclusion?

Obviously, I can’t.

The cross was the ultimate representation of Jesus’ non-violence. The cross was also the fullest and most complete embodiment of God’s essence – love. Remember, God was in Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5.19)

Jesus willingly was crucified instead of doing violence, as was expected by everyone else, including the Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and his own disciples. He chose love – “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” – over any semblance of violence. (John 15.13)

Christians are to follow Jesus.

Jesus says we should take up our own cross.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(Matthew 16.24-25)

Jesus says we should love one another as he loved us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13.34)

Therefore, Christians should be non-violent like Jesus.

In my experience, I have found that many Christians will philosophically believe this and quote the scriptures above as well as others. Yet, when the discussion turns to living this out in their actual lives, they don’t really believe it and they don’t think it is possible.

Typically, when I profess that Jesus was non-violent (Isaiah 53.9 says “he had done no violence”) and we should do the same, I am almost immediately confronted with questions about self-defense. And, if I say that we should not use violence in self-defense, then I am confronted with the seemingly ultimate question, “What if a rapist broke into your home and attacked your wife?” For, isn’t it clear that everyone would use violence in that situation?

But, what does scripture reveal about Jesus?

And, what does scripture reveal about the followers of Jesus?

He and they never resorted to violence in any situation, even in self-dense.

Have you noticed that?

In every situation where we could expect some sort of violent reaction or self-defense, Jesus and his followers responded without violence and without defending themselves. They did not do nothing, but they responded in a way that did not involved violence or self-defense to express God’s love. And, keep in mind, that God’s love is most fully displayed by one laying down their life, literally in death if necessary, for another.

Here are just a few examples to prove the point.

In Matthew 2, the life of the baby Jesus was threatened by Herod and his edict to kill all the male children. Did God send someone to kill Herod? Did anyone rise up to do any violence to protect Jesus? No. Instead, God sent an angel to Joseph and told him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus.

In Mark 3.1-7, Jesus entered a synagogue and healed a man. This enraged the Pharisees because Jesus healed on the sabbath. The Pharisees went and conspired how to destroy Jesus. “Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.”

In Luke 22.47-53, Judas came with a great crowd with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. The crowd laid hands on Jesus and seized him. Then, one of the disciples took out a sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus said, “No more of this,” and he healed the ear of the servant. In Matthew’s account, Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Jesus neither defended himself nor needed anyone else to defend him. Also in Matthew’s account, Jesus asked if they didn’t realize that he could appeal to his Father and at once have 12 legions of angels to defend him. But, he didn’t do that.

In both Matthew 27.11-14 and Mark 14.53-65, Jesus was on trial. Yet, he said nothing in his defense. He did not answer a single accusation.

In John 8.53-9.11, Jesus defended the woman caught in the act of adultery without any violence.

In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested for preaching Jesus. They were threatened by the authorities to never teach about Jesus again. But, just read their words to the other disciples in response.

“‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4.29-31)

The disciples very lives were being threatened. Yet, they prayed that they would speak about Jesus with boldness. As they spoke, God will heal and do signs and wonders. Jesus had been crucified unjustly. That’s what the disciples were speaking about. It’s what Christians are to be speaking about today. How could they, and we, use violence to defend ourselves when Jesus never did.

The apostles were brought before the chief priest and the council again for preaching about Jesus. They were threatened again. They were beaten and told never to preach about Jesus again. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5.41-42).

They were teaching that the Christ was the one who was crucified, the one who willingly laid down his to life to show God’s love and forgiveness. How could any of them use violence to defend themselves and preach that message with any integrity at all?

Stephen was doing great signs and wonders when men from the synagogue argued with him. They seized him and brought him before the council. Stephen goes on a long speech about Jesus. This enraged the council and they had Stephen stoned to death. Yet, there is no account of any follower of Jesus defending Stephen. There is no record of anyone using any form of violence to stop his arrest or execution. Surely, some of the other apostles and disciples were present at his arrest. Surely, some of them tried to hear and see what was going on at his trial. But, we have no record of them doing any violence to stop it.

Saul approved of his execution. “But, Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8.3) Here is the very example that gets thrown out by Christians in their arguments against being non-violent. Here, Saul, a great persecutor of Christians, is coming into their very homes and dragging off men and women to prison. Yet, we don’t have a single recorded instance of self-defense. There’s no statement of Christians protecting their families or their property.

Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why?

Paul, the converted Saul, went from barging into people’s homes to drag them off to prison to becoming one of those Christians that never defended himself. He was beaten and flogged. He was left for dead outside a city. He was lowered in basket over the city wall to flee his persecutors. Instead of defending himself at trial, he preached the gospel. Ultimately, he was beheaded for his following Jesus.

But, after his conversion, Paul never did any violence. Instead, he said talked about rejoicing and participating in suffering.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1.24)

“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3.10)

Paul routinely and repeatedly cited his sufferings and his willingness to undergo those sufferings as evidence for the veracity of the gospel that he preached. In other words, Paul’s words about Jesus would have had no power if he had remained the violent Saul. Paul could not have spoken truthfully about Jesus if he used violence to defend himself. Paul’s message of a Christ who died for you out of love to forgive you would have carried no weight. For, how would Paul be able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2.20-21)

Just as it was for Paul, so it is for Christians today. If we want to preach Jesus Christ, Christ crucified, then we have to lay down every violent tendency and every need and reason for self-defense. For, it is the willingness to suffer, to even die, for the ones you are preaching Jesus to that lends power to the gospel.

In my opinion, there is why the American church is seemingly so weak. We have lost the understanding of the power of suffering. American Christians negate suffering at every turn. Instead, American Christians seek to defend our families, our property, our rights, our country, and on and on. And, we kill you if necessary.

Yes, this sounds foolish, but “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.18) “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1.25)

Therefore, if Christians today truly want to preach the message of the apostles, the early church, and Paul, we need to lay down all violence and self-defense (even in words). We need to be willing to lose our lives. This is to follow Jesus and pick up our cross daily. This is to have the same mind as Jesus (Philippians 2.1-11).

Am I Supposed to Love Someone Enough to Tell Them the Truth?

“I love them enough to tell them the truth.”

I put these words in quotes because they were spoken by Anita Bryant in a television interview in the 1970s. I had never heard of Ms. Bryant until I saw a clip of her interview in a movie. Ms. Bryant was a Christian political activist known for opposing gay rights.

The “them” that Ms. Bryant loved enough to tell the truth to were homosexuals. The truth she was willing to tell them was that Jesus loved homosexuals, but if they did not repent from sinning, from being homosexual, they were going to hell. Presumably, Ms. Bryant found it tough to say these words, but she loved homosexuals enough to tell homosexuals this truth.

However, I have learned that this statement – “I love them enough to tell them the truth” – is, in reality, the whitewashing of an inner hatred by the one who says them. These words reveal the inner hatred of the speaker because the speaker is willing to cast the hearer into hell if the hearer does not obey whatever law, rule, principle, or moral standard the speaker believes the hearer is violating. The speaker couches these words in love, but in reality the words are accusatory and designed to cast out from the speaker’s presence or community the individual they deem offensive, abominable, repulsive, or reprehensible.

So, after hearing Ms. Bryant say these words, I was not surprised to learn that she also loved homosexuals enough to tell them they were “human garbage.”

But, Anita Bryant is not the only, and likely not the first, Christian to use these words. I have heard quite a few Christians say, “I love them enough to tell them the truth.” And, I have heard these words applied to all sorts of people, not just homosexuals. I have even seen these words directed at people that someone  has never met but simply disagreed with in an online discussion. And, while most Christians may not be so bold as tell others they are “human garbage,” the message is received nonetheless.

After hearing Ms. Bryant say these words, I asked myself if they were true.

As a Christian, am I supposed to love someone enough to tell them the truth?

Having thought about it, my answer is no.

A resounding no, actually.

As a Christian, I am not supposed to love someone enough to tell them truth.

I am not supposed to love someone to tell them the supposedly difficult words that if they do not stop sinning then they are going to die and spend eternity in hell.

First, that is not the truth that Christians are to preach. Christians preach the gospel, which is Jesus, the word of God, was born a man, suffered, was crucified, died, and rose from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is about changing our minds about who God is not who we are. When our mind is changed about who God is, then we know and receive his complete and total forgiveness for being God’s enemy even though God did nothing but love us. That’s good news, gospel.

Second, scripture shows that Jesus placed far more emphasis on loving someone enough to show them the truth. Jesus spent three and a half years telling people the truth about what God is like. But, Jesus showed them the truth on the cross in a far greater way than the truth could ever be told. In fact, Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross was so powerful that “when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!'” (Mark 15.39) Do not gloss over what Mark is telling us. A Roman centurion, the enemy of the Jews,  who Jesus never told the truth to, saw this innocent man unjustly suffering and dying and was recorded as the first to say that Jesus was the son of God.

Luke 24.44-47 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'”

The Christ should suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

That is the truth.

The scripture told the truth.

And, the truth was missed.

Jesus showed the truth.

And, the truth was received.

So, as a Christian, if I am not supposed to love someone enough to tell them the truth, then what I am supposed to do?

I am to love someone, anyone, everyone, enough to show them the truth.

How do I show someone the truth?

The same way Jesus did.



“God is love.” (1 John 4.8)

Love is not just merely an action God does. God is love. God’s very being, his very essence, is love.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4.9-10)

The love of God was manifest. God’s love was made to appear. It was shown.


Because Jesus was sent so that we might live through him. This is the repentance spoken of in Luke 24.47. Seeing Jesus’ suffering and death changes our minds about God so that we can truly live in him. We repent so that we can live through Jesus.

Because Jesus was sent to be the propitiation for our sins. This is the forgiveness of sins spoken of in Luke 24.47. Seeing Jesus’ suffering and death, that was caused by our own hands, yet hearing him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” causes us to be propitiated, which means within ourselves we have regained the favor or goodwill that God has always had toward us.

This is the love that Jesus showed, not told, us on the cross. Therefore, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12.32)

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4.11-12)

If you know that God showed you his love in Christ’s suffering and death, then you should show that love in the same way.


Because no one has ever seen God. But, if you show love, by suffering and dying as Christ did, then God will abide in you. If God abides in you, then others will see God in you through your love.

Therefore Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13.34-35)

You show God’s love not tell it.

You show God’s love by suffering and dying.

This is why Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”(Luke 9.23)

Contemplate 1 Corinthians 13, which is considered by some the greatest statement about love. Notice how the chapter starts.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy going or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13.1)

You can speak in any and every earthly and heavenly language, but if there is not love, if there is not suffering and dying with and for another, then you are just noise, an irritating, grating, annoying, ear-piercing noise.

In reality, this is the very definition of “I love them enough to tell them the truth.” When you say those words, you are heard as a noisy going or a clanging cymbal.

Paul continued, “And If I have prophetic powers…but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13.2)

Prophetic power is a God-given ability to reveal the will of God in heaven by speaking so that things on the earth are changed and conformed to the will of God. But, if that prophetic power, that speaking, is without love, you are nothing.

Then Paul defined love.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13.4-8)

It does not come across well in English, but, in the Greek, all the things that love “is” are actually verbs. Paul is not describing what love is but what love does.

Love doesn’t tell.

Love shows.

And, love shows by suffering and dying with and for another.

Paul stated this clearly in Philippians 2.1-11. We are to be “of the same mind, having the same love” as Jesus. We are to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” This same mind, this same love is “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

As Christians, the love of Christ controls us. Christ’s love controls us when we suffer and die for others just as he did. We show the truth – that God is love – when we enter into another’s suffering. We suffer with them. We bear their burden with them. This is the message and ministry of reconciliation that Christians have been given. But, we don’t count their trespasses against them. In other words, we don’t “love them enough to tell them the truth.” (2 Corinthians 5.11-21)

In Romans 12.9-21, Paul paraphrased the sermon on the mount. “Let love be genuine.” Love should be sincere, without hypocrisy. You can’t tell someone you love them but threaten them with eternal torment in hell if they don’t stop sinning. That type of telling is not love-based but fear-based. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4.18) Paul then wrote that genuine love is shown by living out all that Jesus said in the sermon on the mount. He concluded with “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Enemies are not converted by loving them enough to tell them the truth.

Enemies are converted by showing them love, entering their suffering, meeting their needs. If they are thirsty, then give them a drink. If they are hungry, then feed them. If they are homeless, then house them. If they are broken, then comfort them.

Therefore, the real question, the real test, for a Christian is this – do I love you enough to show you, through my own suffering and death, literal death if necessary, the truth that God loves you?

Why Was Jacob’s Name Changed to Israel and What Is Its Significance?

Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. Perhaps you are familiar with the story. But, in case you are not, I will tell it to you.

God appeared to Jacob as he came from Paddan-aram and blessed him. God said that his name was Jacob, but Jacob should not be his name any longer. From now on, his name should be Israel. God told Jacob that his own name was God Almighty (El Shaddai). God Almighty then commanded Jacob to be fruitful and multiply. He told Jacob that a nation and a company of nations as well as kings would come from him. God Almighty was going to give Jacob and his offspring the land that he gave to Abraham and Isaac. So, Jacob set up a pillar of stone and poured a drink offering and oil on the pillar of stone. Jacob called the place Bethel.

Is that the story you were expecting to hear?

Probably not.

You were probably expecting to me to tell you how Jacob sent his family across the Jabbok stream, but Jacob stayed alone on the other side of the stream. During the night, he wrestled with a man until day broke. The man was not able to prevail against Jacob so he put Jacob’s hip out of joint. The man asked Jacob to let him go, but Jacob said he wouldn’t let the man go until he blessed him. The man asked Jacob his name. When the man was told it was Jacob, the man said that he would no longer be called Jacob but Israel, since he had striven with God and men and prevailed. Jacob asked the man his name, but the man did not tell Jacob. The man merely asked Jacob why he wanted to know. So, Jacob called the place Peniel because he had seen God face to face and lived. The sun came up on Jacob as he passed Penuel. Therefore, the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh on the hip socket.

If you are familiar with the story of Jacob’s name being changed to Israel, then that is most likely the story you are familiar with. But, this story is completely different in every way than the first one I told. The first account in this post is from Genesis 35.9-15. The second account, the more familiar one, is from Genesis 32.22-32.

What is going on here?

Why are there two completely different accounts about the changing of Jacob’s name to Israel in the Bible?

Both accounts are from the book of Genesis. In fact, these accounts are just a few pages apart in the modern Bible.

Did Moses forget what he wrote in the first one when he wrote the second one?

Or, did Moses not write either account?

After reading Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliot Friedman at the end of last year, I have come to believe that Moses did not actually write either account. In fact, Moses most likely did not write any of the first five books of the Bible, at least in the form that we have them.

In Who Wrote the Bible?, Friedman persuasively shows that there were actually four writers of the first five books of the Bible. This is commonly known as the JEPD theory. The letters JEPD stand for the “identity” of the four writers. Based on a combination of textual, linguistic, historical, and archaeological data, scholars have been able to identify four (at least) separate writers of the first five books of the Bible as well as which particular parts of those five books they wrote. I will summarize the identity of the four writers according to Friedman below.

The J stands for Jehovah. This writer only referred to God as Yahweh, or Jehovah, and therefore the letter “J” is used to identify him. This writer was someone particularly concerned with the kingdom of Judah. He focused on the patriarchs, the Abrahamic covenant, and the family of David.

The E stands for Elohim. This writer always referred to God as Elohim. That is, until Moses saw God in the burning bush and God told him that his name was I Am That I Am, or Yahweh. This writer was likely a Levite priest from Shiloh and a descendant of Moses. Unlike the J writer, the E writer emphasized the Mosaic covenant.

The P stands for Priest. Like the E writer, this writer likely was a priest too. However, the P writer most likely descended from Aaron and lived in Jerusalem. The P writer most likely wrote after the J and E writers. The P writer follows the same stories in the same order but retells the stories in a different way to emphasize the Aaronic priesthood in Jerusalem. In fact, the P writer distinguishes between the priests, who were from Aaron, and the Levites.

The D stands for Deuteronomist. The D writer wove the writings of J, E, and P together and wrote the entire book of Deuteronomy. That’s all I will say about the D writer because the D writer does not factor all that much in to Jacob’s name change for the purposes of this post.

In Who Wrote the Bible?, Friedman shows that each of these writers retold the history of Israel from a specific perspective. And, that retelling was crafted in a way to add credibility, weight, gravitas, to the kingdom – the northern or southern, Israel or Judah – they were from or their class of the priesthood.

So, about those two completely different stories of Jacob’s name being changed to Israel…

The account in Genesis 32.22-32, the more familiar account of Jacob wrestling with an unidentified man, was written by the E writer. The less well-known, certainly the less talked about, account in Genesis 35.9-15 was written by the P writer. We know this because of how the stories were told.

The P writer only has priests as the intermediary between God and man. The P writer never mentions angels. He never uses anthropomorphisms, dreams, or talking animals to reveal God. The accounts of the P writer tend to be shorter and more matter of fact. For the P writer, God is more cosmic and distant. This is exactly how the story of Jacob’s name change is told in Genesis 35.9-15.

Yet, the account in Genesis 32.22-32 has a mysterious, unidentified man wrestle with Jacob. Jacob believed this person to be God in some way. The E writer anthropomorphized God in his retelling of the story. God is more personal for the E writer in that Jacob believed he wrestled God in hand-to-hand combat and Jacob declared that he saw God face to face.

But, why two different accounts retold in two different ways?

What was the significance of these stories to these two writers?

Ultimately, these stories were about how Jacob/Israel received not just a blessing from God but the blessing of God. Therefore, the E and P writers were trying to lay claim to the blessing God gave Abraham for their kingdom/priesthood. You know…the blessing where God told Abraham that “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12.2), “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12.3), and “to your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12.7).

Remember, the E writer wrote from the perspective of the northern kingdom, Israel, and the Levites that descended from Moses. But, the P writer wrote from the perspective of the southern kingdom, Judah, and the descendants of Aaron. Hence, the P writer was more focused on Jerusalem, which was ultimately the capital of the southern kingdom, Judah.

Interestingly, the J writer records nothing about Jacob’s name being changed to Israel. But, that doesn’t mean the J writer had nothing to say about how Jacob got the blessing. The J writer told how Jacob got the blessing when Jacob tricked or deceived (some would say stole) Esau out of his birthright (Genesis 25.29-34 and 27.1-45).

Why would the J writer recount Jacob instead of Esau receiving the blessing given originally to Abraham this way?

Why would the J writer portray Jacob in a negative light?

Remember, the J writer wrote from the perspective of the kingdom of Judah and the family of David. Judah sat between Israel and Edom, the kingdom that came from Esau. Israel was to the north while Edom was to the south of Judah. At one time, David had conquered Edom and effectively made it part of the kingdom of Judah. But, Jacob was more associated with the northern kingdom of Israel. John 4.4-6 says, “And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there.” This is why the Samaritan woman (Samaria being synonymous with the northern kingdom of Israel) at the well said to Jesus, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” (John 4.11-12)

In a subtle way, the J writer was saying that the northern kingdom, Israel, which was closely associated with Jacob, could only lay claim to Abraham’s blessing from God because Jacob tricked Esau and deceived Isaac into giving it to him. But, Judah, the kingdom of David, could lay claim to that blessing because David defeated Edom, the kingdom of Esau. Further, David had conquered lands in the northern kingdom too. Therefore, David, and consequently Judah, had a much more legitimate claim to the blessing of Abraham.

However, the E writer was laying claim to the blessing for the northern kingdom, Israel. In the E writer’s account of Jacob’s name change to Israel, Jacob says to the unidentified man, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” (Genesis 32.26) Jacob believed he received that blessing because wrestled and prevailed against this unidentified man. Even though Jacob never gets the man’s name, he calls the name of the place Peniel. “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32.30) Peniel, or Penuel, was in the northern kingdom, almost due east of Shechem. It was in the tribe of Gad, which meant it was on the east side of Jordan. So, the city that the E writer mentions as important was in the northern kingdom.

But, interestingly, it was not a city of religious importance in the northern kingdom. It was not Dan or Bethel, which were the cities Jeroboam set up as religious centers of worship. Nor did the writer mention Shiloh, which was in the northern kingdom and one of the resting places for the tabernacle. Nor was it one of the three cities that Samuel went to on his circuit of judging. Remember, the E writer is writing from the perspective of a Levite priest descended from Moses in the northern kingdom of Israel. This priest likely favored the northern kingdom politically but not religiously. Politically, because the northern kingdom did not have the place of centralized worship (Jerusalem) that the Aaronic priesthood had control over in Judah. Not religiously, because Jeroboam had set up his own priesthood passing over the Levites. Hence, the E writer associated a city that was in the northern kingdom but not a city of worship in that kingdom to the Jacob’s name change.

The E writer’s account also alludes to Moses because Jacob says he saw God face to face. There is only one other person in the first five books of the Bible that saw God face to face and that was Moses. But, unlike Jacob, Moses got the name of God when he encountered God. Therefore, Moses had more importance than Jacob. So, we can see the elements of the E writer’s story of Jacob’s name change to Israel fit with a Levite in the line of Moses in the northern kingdom trying to lay claim to Abraham’s blessing from God.

The elements of the story in the P account try to lay claim to that blessing too. The P writer does it more blatantly though. In his account, Jacob doesn’t ask for a blessing in a subtle allusion to Abraham’s blessing by God. In the P account, God tells Jacob, “Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.” (Genesis 35.11) This story is very much about who really has the blessing God gave Abraham. In fact, God gave Jacob the same commission he gave to Adam and the patriarchs.

For the P writer, who has claim to that blessing has to do with worship, which is why the P writer’s account has “Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he [God] had spoke with him, a pillar of stone. He [Jacob] poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it.” (Genesis 35.14) Jacob called the place Bethel. Yes, Bethel was one of the places Jeroboam put a center of worship in the northern kingdom. But, it was on the border of the kingdom of Israel and Judah. Technically, Bethel was in Benjamin. And, at one point had been conquered by David. Plus, when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, it did not capture Bethel, which became a part of Judah. Hence, the P writer could be seen as laying claim to Bethel for the kingdom of Judah.

Further, in the P writer’s account, Jacob does get the name of God. God identifies himself to Jacob as God Almighty, or El Shaddai. Psalm 91 speaks of the shadow of Shaddai. This shadow was under the wings of the cherubim in the most holy place of the temple. Psalm 91 was written by David, which would please the P writer since David was from Judah. Further, only a priest from the line of Aaron was allowed to enter the most holy place because the high priest always came from the descendants of Aaron. Therefore, the P writer is emphasizing that Jerusalem, Judah, and the Aaronic priesthood have the best claim to the God’s blessing of Abraham because Jerusalem was the place of centralized worship. That is perhaps why the name El Shaddai is mentioned in this account of Jacob’s name change to Israel as an attempt by a priest of Aaron in Jerusalem to lay claim to the the blessing of Abraham.

There is so much more that could be said about the different accounts of how Jacob became the heir of the blessing of Abraham and his name change to Israel. Clearly, it is not what appears to us on the surface thousands of years later. And, we haven’t even spoken of the wrestling (the Hebrew word is used only in this story) between Jacob and the unidentified man or the strange saying about not eating the sinew from the hip because Jacob’s hip was put of socket in the wrestling match.

But, does any of the underlying political and theological intrigue that motivated these writers even matter to us today?

What significance does any of this have for us?

Is it even important to us what this may have meant to the original writers and hearers?

Does the “plain” meaning, if there even is one, matter to us today?

Or, is there an inspired meaning to Jacob’s name change to Israel, a meaning beyond what the original writers intended, that is just as important today as ever?

Ultimately, what matters to us is that Jesus is true Israel – not a certain ethnic group of people or certain small plot of land in the Middle East.

Isaiah 49.3, 5-6 says, “And he said to me, You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’…And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him – for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength – he says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Luke applies this passage to Jesus in Luke 2.29-32. Jesus is the true Israel. Jesus – not some faction of the nation, kingdom, priests, or people of earthly Israel – is the one to whom the promises of Abraham belong.

Paul explicitly says this in Galatians 3.16 – “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offpsrings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”

Or, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1.20, “For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”

Remember those blessings..the blessing where God told Abraham that “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12.2), “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12.3), and “to your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12.7).

They belong to Jesus. Those that find their identity in Jesus, true Israel (Romans 10 and 11), are the great nation God made of Jesus.

They speak of all peoples, nations, tribes, and languages belonging to Jesus and being blessed by him.

They refer to Jesus receiving all the land on the entire earth as his.

Jacob’s name change to Israel is not important so that a country almost 3,000 years later called Israel can lay claim to the blessing God gave Abraham.

The name change is important and has its meaning in Jesus and Jesus alone.

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection

(This post is Part 5, and the last, of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction,  Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy SpiritPart 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, and Part 3 – A Low Whisper, and Part 4 – Seeing Jesus.)

We come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.

In Parts 1 through 4, I shared about some of the suffering I went through – loneliness, my wife’s battle with cancer, and my wife’s death. But, this post is about the fruit, the new life, that was produced from all of that suffering. This is about how I met Samatha, my wife of the last five plus years. If you haven’t read Part 1, then you will want to because the two stories have some interesting similarities.

A few weeks after Dawn passed away I went to Asia for three weeks. The first week was a mission trip to the Philippines that Dawn and Trey, our son, were supposed to go on with me (Trey still ended up going with me). Then, the last two weeks were for work in other parts of Asia.

I had two opportunities to speak on the mission trip. The first was at a conference of more than 1,000 youth and the second was at the church that hosts the youth conference we attended. I had prepared messages for these opportunities. But, on the flight over, the Holy Spirit told me to put away those messages and speak about everything that Dawn and I had been through. The last week of Dawn’s life, Part 4, of this series, was what I spent the most time talking about.

Imagine being in front of more than 1,000 people and sharing all the suffering your wife and you went through together just weeks after she died. It was tough but a real blessing.

Towards the end of part 4, I mentioned that we needed to focus on what God will do – his love for us – and not on all the many things that God could do for us. Focusing on what God will do – his love for us – instead of the things God could do but hasn’t keeps us from becoming bitter and angry. If we don’t become bitter and angry about what God hasn’t done for us, then we open ourselves to untold blessings form God. Even though it was just weeks since my wife had died, this was the thrust of my talk.

For me, the root of this belief was Romans 8.28, which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” More than a decade earlier, this was the first scripture that ever became more than words on a page to me, the first scripture I understood by the Spirit. Not coincidentally, it was during a very dark time in my marriage to Dawn. But, it was a scripture that we (and many other Christians have as well) clung to over the years. In fact, the scripture is quoted on Dawn’s tombstone.

At the end of this three week trip to Asia, I was in Taiwan with two co-workers and our sales representative. It was late in the day before we were going to fly home. We were driving from Taichung to Taipei, which was a several hour drive. I was exhausted and ready to go home.

I was riding in the back of the van with no on paying attention to me. I began to think about Dawn. I started crying. My parents had stayed with Trey and me from the week before Dawn died to the time I was coming home from this trip. But, I knew they were leaving when I got home. It was going to be just Trey and me in the house. The realization that Dawn was dead and I was going to be without another adult in the house was finally sinking in.

Dale, the pastor of church, went to Ghana for two weeks to preach at a funeral just as I was arriving home from Taiwan. We were very close and I had just become an elder at the church at the beginning of the year. Dale told me that even though he wouldn’t have electricity where he was going in Ghana he wanted me to write him while he was gone. Then, we he got to back to the airport in Ghana he could read my emails.

I wrote Dale twice while he was gone. Both times I told him that things were more difficult than I thought they would be. I told him how much I missed Dawn, how I needed to focus on being a parent, and how I didn’t have time to be an elder at the church right now. I cried throughout the writing of both of those emails.

When Dale got to the airport in Ghana he read those emails. He wrote me back and said he had been praying for me and wanted to come see me when he got home. Seemingly, Dale came to my house immediately after he landed in Cincinnati. It was less than two months since Dawn had died.

Dale and I went to the basement of my house to talk. For 10 minutes or so, Dale just kept telling me what a great marriage Dawn and I had, how we touched so many people, how I had handled everything so well, and on and on. I was thinking this can’t be what he came to talk to me about.

So, I told Dale that we were friends. He was the only person in the room with me when Dawn died. That’s how close we were. Whatever he had to say wasn’t going to offend me.

I’m paraphrasing, but Dale said, “You know how I tell people to not go around saying, ‘God told me to tell you…’ right? You know how I warn people against that, right? Well…I was praying for you. And, I felt like the Holy Spirit told me to tell you that it was time to start dreaming about your next wife.”

On the one hand that was not what I was expecting to hear. It was less than two months since Dawn died.

But, on the other hand, unbeknownst to Dale, I had already started doing that. Dawn, had battled cancer for six years. And, since the beginning of the year she would pass away, I knew the end of her life was close. So, I had mentally prepared myself for this possibility. While Dale was in Africa, I actually started to fill out a profile on eHarmony. But, I stopped about half way through. I thought to myself, “What if someone I know sees me on here less than two months after my wife died? They will think I’m a huge jerk.” So, as soon as I heard these words from Dale, I knew I needed to do this. But, I didn’t say anything to Dale. I just kept listening to what he had to say.

Dale continued, “You need to make a list of whatever you want in your next wife. I don’t care what it is. Just make a list and write it down. Then I think you should get on eHarmony. Meeting someone from church, your son’s school, or your office is not a good idea. God works so fast for you. Everything in your life happens just like that.” When Dale said that, he snapped his fingers.

So, the next day, I got up and made a list of everything I wanted in my next wife. The list had 31 things on it. There were serious things, such as she had to be a strong Christian woman and love my son like her own son. There were five such things that I starred because I could not compromise on them. But, then there were some not so serious things. For example, I wrote down the type of diet or food that my next wife should eat. At the time, I was eating a paleo/primal diet. So, I wanted my next wife to eat that way too. At the time, the diet was no where near as popular as it is now. I actually laughed when I wrote that down because I assumed that would never happen.

After I made my list, I got on eHarmony again. Filling out the profile seemed like it took hours. I felt like I was being psychoanalyzed. But, that same night I got my first set of matches. At the time, eHarmony gave you matches in groups of six, probably so you would actually take the time to look through them and not just go by looks. But, the woman in the very first match was beautiful. I thought to myself that I have no shot at her, but I will read her profile anyway.

Her profile was fascinating. She had a list of her favorite books. One particular book caught my attention. Even though I had not read that book, I had just read some others on the same subject.

Now, eHarmony has a system of “guided communication.” When you find a match you are interested in, you can send them a pre-written message. Then, they can send you a pre-written message back. Then, you can send them some pre-written questions. And, they can send you some pre-written answers. I thought this was a complete waste of time. So, I just emailed this woman.

Her name was unusual – Samatha with no “n.” So, I made sure I spelled it right. The email was pretty short. I simply asked her about why this book was one of her favorites because I was intrigued by that. And, I recommended another book on the same subject that I thought she might find interesting.

I sent that email on Saturday night, just one day after Dale told me to start dreaming about my next wife and the same day I made my list. Sunday afternoon I was sitting in a chair in the room that Dawn had died in, thinking about my life. I hadn’t heard anything back from Samatha yet. I said to myself, “This is such a waste of time. I’m never going to meet anyone this way. Why am I bothering with this?” It hadn’t even been 24 hours since I sent the email to the first interesting match I had and I was ready to throw in the towel on the whole process.

When I went in to work on Monday, I had an email from Samatha. The very first thing in the email was a thank you for spelling her name correctly, which is often overlooked. Score! Then, Samatha gave an in-depth reply about why she liked the book so much. She discussed several quotes from the book, too. I thought, “How did she pull quotes from the book like that so fast?”

By the time I finished reading the email, I knew I was going to marry her (just like the first time I met Dawn).

We continued to email each other for the next few days. The emails got very personal very fast. By the fourth day, we decided to shut down our eHarmony accounts and focus on this relationship. Also, we traded phone numbers so we could call each other.

So, just a few days after we met on eHarmony, I called Samatha. We talked on the phone for hours. In fact, we were on the phone until almost 3 a.m., which was really late for me to be up. I told Samatha that I had to go to bed because I needed to get up for work the next day. So, the phone call just sort of ended, awkwardly.

I called Samatha again the next day. Right away I asked her if she thought last night’s phone call had ended awkwardly too. She said yes. I told her that was because I wanted to tell her “I love you,” but I was afraid that would scare her away. She said she felt the same way but was not ready to say it.

So, we kept calling each other for the next six weeks or so. During that time we made plans to finally meet each other in person. Samatha lived about a four drive from me, but she was visiting some friends who were about half way between us. So, she would come down to visit me for a couple of days after she saw her friends.

I can remember the moment I saw her when I picked her up from the hotel. Beautiful! Just like the picture. We went to get sushi. Then, we went to see a play (I had season tickets to the theater).

During those couple of days we met in person for the first time, we actually went shopping for engagement rings. I mentioned in Part 1 that I had no clues about the rules of dating when I met Dawn. Not much had changed in 15 years.

The first person I told about this new relationship was my cousin Melissa. We work together in our family business. At the time, our offices were right next to each other. It was about three months after Dawn died. When I told her about Samatha and that we were likely to get married, Melissa said that she was not surprised. In fact, she had told the rest of my family the week before Dawn died that I would either get married in six months or I would never get married again.

Eventually, Samatha and I got married. It was six months and 12 days since Dawn had died.

Remember, when Dale said God did things for me quickly, in the snap of a finger?

Yeah, pretty much. Samatha was the very first person I was matched with on eHarmony. We shut off our accounts four days later. We went shopping for wedding rings six weeks after we met online. We were married six months after Dawn died.

But, about that list of 31 things?

Over the first few months that I knew Sam, I would go back to the list and check off the things she had that matched what I wrote down. Right away I could tell she had a lot of them. During some emails back and forth, it came out that she even ate the type of food I wrote down. Eventually, I crossed off everything on my list.

Do you know the odds of that?


God is amazing!

So, how did this experience with the life of Jesus – his working in my life – open the Bible for me?

What presuppositions needed to change so I could see God clearly in the Bible?



Suffering and death are everywhere. I, along with many other Christians, viewed God as the cause of them. But, it wasn’t until 2017 that I truly understood that God doesn’t cause suffering and death. Instead, Jesus suffered and died himself. Most of all, he suffered and died at the hands of his own creation.

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things…?” (Luke 24.26)

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer…” (Luke 24.46)

But, that was not the full picture. Jesus did not suffer and die and the story ended.

Luke 24.46 says that the “Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory.”

Luke 24.46 says “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

I began to understand that God does not cause suffering and death. Rather, God enters into suffering and death only to enter his glory, to rise from the dead, to be resurrected, to change minds, and to forgive sins.

I had been through a lot of suffering and death. But, Jesus entered that suffering and death. But, Jesus brought new life out of it because of his love. By focusing upon Jesus’ love and not becoming bitter and angry, I was able to receive the resurrection, the new life, that Jesus wanted to bless me with.

Truly, when Samatha and I met and got married, it felt like a completely new life to me. I really have no way to explain what that feels like. One life was over – not just Dawn’s, but mine. And, a new life had begun.

I know have a better understanding of Philippians 3.10-11, which says, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I mat attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Now, I see this everywhere in the Bible. God did not cause suffering and death. Rather, the stories, the accounts, are witnesses to Jesus’ own suffering and death from which he was resurrected so that he could change our minds about God and our sins could be forgiven. Acts 18.5 says that “Paul was occupied with the word.” Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection was the word Paul was occupied with.

And, it is this same word that I have become occupied with. Once you have seen it, you cannot unsee it. And, once you have seen it, it becomes the thing that you see in scripture.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24.44-48)

The scriptures has been opened to me. They have been revealed in my experiences with the life of Jesus. I am a witness to these things.

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Part 4 – Seeing Jesus

(This post is Part 4 of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction,  Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord AppearedPart 3 – A Low Whisper, and Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection.)

We come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.

In Part 1, I shared how Dawn, my first wife, miraculously came into my life. I challenged God to prove his existence by causing me to meet my wife for my birthday. He answered the challenge. I experienced the life of Jesus for the first time and the Bible was, quite literally, opened to me.

Today, I am going to share how Dawn departed from my life in an even more miraculous fashion. The days leading up to her death were filled with many miracles (at least I consider the events as such). I experienced the life of Jesus like never before. And, from that moment on, I have seen Jesus in the Bible in ways that I would not have fathomed prior to this experience.

Dawn died March 17, 2012.

For six years she had battled cancer. She was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2006.

During her battle, Dawn had a double mastectomy and brain surgery to remove a golf ball sized brain tumor. By the way, she was out of bed less than 24 hours after the brain surgery, and we went home straight from the ICU less than 36 hours after the brain surgery. The nurses said they had never seen anything like it. If Dawn was anything, she was tough and able to endure suffering.

Dawn had years of weekly chemotherapy treatments. It became a part of our life so much that I would lose track of her appointments. One weekend, we took our son to the local bike trail to ride. We rode about 10 miles. At one point I asked Dawn why her and Trey were lagging behind. She reminded me that she had chemotherapy the day before.

Dawn also had lots of radiation. The first round was on her lung for the quarter-sized spot of cancer that never seemed to get any smaller. The second round was on her brain after the tumor was removed. Cancer patients will often joke about “chemo brain” – how chemotherapy causes you to forget things. Imagine what happens after years of chemotherapy and radiation on your brain. Dawn was a very intelligent woman, but despite what the chemotherapy and radiation did to her mind, she never stopped smiling. She never stopped thanking and praising God.

In January 2012, I noticed that Dawn was leaning to the left a lot. It reminded me of the first time she had a brain tumor because she lost the peripheral vision in her left eye. As a result, she would push the food off the left side of her plate without even knowing it. I asked Dawn if she should get a brain scan. But, she was pretty adamant that she didn’t need one.

It didn’t take me long to realize why Dawn didn’t want a brain scan. She knew she had another brain tumor. And, she knew that there wasn’t really anything the doctors could do. Dawn knew her time was drawing to a close. I knew it too.

Eventually, Dawn’s symptoms got to the point where she had to go to the doctor. They did a brain scan, and, as we expected, she had a brain tumor. The radiologist said he would not recommend radiation. Because it would be the second time Dawn had radiation on her brain, the radiologist said her quality of life would drop significantly if she had brain radiation again. It might even result in her living in a vegetative state. But, the radiologist said he would do the radiation if we demanded he do it.

Just a short while later, we met with Dawn’s oncologist. We knew what the conversation was going to be. The doctor said that it was perhaps time to stop all treatments. Prior to the meeting, Dawn and I had already decided this was the route to go.

That meeting with the oncologist was just nine days before Dawn died. On the way home from the meeting, I knew I would have to tell Trey, our son, that night what was happening. The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was telling my 11-year-old son that his mom was going to die.

What do you say?

I sat Trey down on his bed. I told him what was happening. I could hardly get the words out. I cried a lot. Trey told me he had learned a scripture at school that week that he thought was appropriate. He quoted to me 2 Peter 3.9, which says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

It may not seem like much, but for me that was a miracle. My son was consoling me, reminding me that God fulfills his promises.

Six days before Dawn died we went to church together for the last time. Dawn’s sister, Lisa, and her family came up from Nashville to Cincinnati to go with us. And, so did a few of Dawn’s best friends of more than 25 years. None of them came because we knew Dawn was going to die in the next week. In fact, they had planned on coming weeks, if not months, prior.

Dawn, her sister Lisa, and two friends from church (Alisa and her daughter DeLisa) sang my favorite song that Sunday – Thank You by Walter Hawkins. Thankfully, John, the associate pastor of the church, managed to capture the moment on his cell phone. Click here to see the video. 

Dawn is the one seated on the stool. She is smiling throughout the video , but she smiled like that all the time. And, I mean all the time. And, to think she could smile and praise God like that after six years of suffering and just six days before she died.

The lyrics of the song were very appropriate.

Tragedies are common place
All kinds of diseases, people are slipping away
Economies down, people can’t get enough pay
But as for me, all I can say is
Thank you Lord for all You’ve done for me, yeah

Folks without homes, living out in the streets
And the drug habits some say, they just can’t beat
Muggers and robbers, no place seems to be safe
But You’ll be my protection every step of the way
And I want to say
Thank you Lord for all You’ve done for me, yeah

It could have been me (thank you)
Outdoors (thank you)
No food (thank you)
No clothes (thank you)
Or left alone (thank you)
Without a friend (thank you)
Or just another number (thank you)
With a tragic end (thank you)
But you didn’t see fit to let none of these things be (thank you)
‘Cause everyday

In addition to battling cancer, Dawn grew up in the projects and on welfare. She had experienced or seen everything in the lyrics of this song.

At the end of the video, Dawn says thank you to the church for everything they had done for our family. It was like she was saying goodbye to everyone. It is so surreal for me to watch it.

For me, it was a miracle to spend that last Sunday together at church in that way with Dawn.

Four days before Dawn died, she was in bed taking a nap. I went to check on her, and it was obvious something was wrong. She was talking incoherently. She was asking me to put her in the middle of the bed even though she already was. Dawn was asking me to put her left arm next to her even though it already was.

Because I couldn’t calm Dawn down, I called 911. They said there really wasn’t anything they could do, but they could come and take her to the hospital. Even though Dawn told me she didn’t want to go to the hospital anymore (we had just spent 12 of the last 30 days in the hospital), I felt like I had no other choice.

So, the ambulance came to take Dawn to the hospital. Dale, the pastor of our church, met me in the emergency room. As soon as he saw Dawn, he asked me to step outside the room to talk with him for a minute. Dale told me that he had seen this many times before – Dawn was transitioning out of this life. He told me that there was no way to know how long it would be, but I needed to prepare myself that this was it. Also, Dale told me that Dawn was a godly woman and because of that I was going to see things other people don’t get to see. Boy, was he right.

We went back in the room. A little bit later, John, the associate pastor, met us in the room. As we stood there talking, Dawn started smiling like never before. She always had a big smile, but this was different. It looked like the corners of her mouth were back to her ears, almost like someone had put hooks in the corners of her mouth to pull them back. And, Dawn’s eyes were wide open. Her face was radiant.

With that smile and eyes wide open, Dawn turned to the three of us and said, “I see heaven. I see God. And, he is right here with me.”

Dale, John, and I just looked at each other. Another miracle.

The hospital couldn’t really do anything for Dawn, so they sent us home the next day. I had called Dawn’s family and friends and told them to come back up to Cincinnati because this was it.

That night, three days before Dawn died, Shaterial, Dawn’s best friend, said she would stay up that night with Dawn to watch her since I had been up all night the night before at the hospital.

When I came down the next morning, Shaterial said I wouldn’t believe what happened last night. She told me that Dawn saw and talked with her mom, who had died three years prior. Shaterial said that Dawn asked her who all the people were in the room. But, only Shaterial and Dawn were up in the middle of the night. Shaterial told Dawn that there was no one else in room, but Dawn insisted there was.

You might say that Dawn was hallucinating, but Shaterial and I were convinced that Dawn saw her mom and that angels were in the room with them. Shaterial told me what a blessing it was for her to experience that with Dawn. Another miracle.

The next night, two days before Dawn died, I stayed up all night with her. When we came home from the hospital, we had a hospital bed put in the study off the living room. Dawn was sleeping there while I laid on the couch to keep an eye on her.

It was late at night when I noticed Dawn put her leg out of the bed. I went and put her leg back in the bed. This happened several times until I realized Dawn needed to use the bathroom. So, I helped her out of the bed. The bathroom was only about 15 feet away. But, halfway there Dawn said she was too tired to go any further. We were right next to the couch I was sleeping on, and she asked if she could just lay down there.

With Dawn on the couch where I was sleeping, I just knelt on the floor next to her. I held Dawn’s hand and silently prayed for her. Dawn fell back asleep. Then, out of nowhere, Dawn asked me a question.

“Do you want to see Jesus with me?”

Without missing a beat, I said yes.

And, for what seemed like 30 minutes or so, I saw Jesus.

Now, I did not see his physical form, the shape of a man. But, I saw his presence. There was this glow in the room right next to Dawn. There was no doubt that Jesus was in the room with us.

I saw Jesus.

Dawn did everything for Trey as a mother. And, I traveled a lot. I had been dealing with lots of fear about being a single parent. I had no idea how I could do that.

And, then Jesus spoke to me.

The first thing Jesus said was, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4.18) Instantly, all my fear of being a single parent was gone. I never thought about the difficulties of being a single parent again.

Then, Jesus told me about how he “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3.20) He said that I think about that scripture in earthly, physical terms.

I could imagine Dawn being perfectly, physically healed. What’s more than that?

I could imagine being the richest person in the world. What’s more than that?

All of us can imagine quite a few grandiose things. What’s more than all the things we can imagine?

But, Jesus told me that scripture isn’t about any earthly or material thing. He said the one thing that I could not imagine more of was his love. No matter how great and how awesome I imagined his love to be, Jesus’ love for me would always be far more, exceedingly, abundantly more than all I could ever ask or think.

Finally, Jesus told me that I had been praying for a miracle in Dawn’s healing. But, Jesus said the real miracle I was, or should be, praying for was his love. His love was what mattered more than anything else. Another miracle.

“Do you want to see Jesus with me?” were the last words Dawn ever spoke to me. But, they weren’t the last words she ever spoke. She saved those for our son, Trey. One day before she died, Trey came to give his mom a kiss good night. Dawn hadn’t spoke in almost 24 hours. But, after Trey kissed her good night, she said “I love you” to her son. Those were the last words Dawn ever spoke.  Another miracle.

Trey was an excellent piano player. Dawn believed he had talent and really pushed him. He played in a piano competition the morning of the day his mom died. That evening my dad gathered everyone, all of Dawn’s family and friends, around the piano to hear Trey play. He played a piece from the competition and a song he was learning for the mission trip we would go on in about a month.

The piano was in the room next to Dawn. Dale and I were in the room with Dawn, listening to Trey play. Just a few minutes after Trey finished playing those two songs, Dawn died. The last thing Dawn ever heard was her son playing the piano. Another miracle.

The last week of Dawn’s life was filled with so many experiences with the life of Jesus, so many things that I can’t explain, so many things that Jesus seemingly orchestrated so that I would know his love for me. And, at the center of them all was seeing Jesus.

How did this experience with the life of Jesus open the Bible for me?

What presuppositions had I been bringing to the Bible that were changed by this experience?

Prior to this experience I believed God to be 100 percent completely sovereign over everything that happened. I read the events ascribed to God in the Old Testament and took what the Bible said at face value. God must have done all those horrible and wicked things. So, I believed that God would allow sickness, even cancer, despite the damage it did to our family and the difficulties my son would face because of his mom’s untimely death.

Basically, my view of God was undifferentiated. God might do good some times, but he allowed evil at other times. God might love some times, but he hated with a vengeance at other times. God might give life to some, but he would bring death to others.

This was how everyone around me read the Bible. And, I went right along with it. I didn’t know any other way.

Until I saw Jesus.

Until Jesus spoke to me about his love. Nothing else.

This experience with Jesus more than anything else has changed the way I read the Bible.

I had been in the presence of Jesus’ exceedingly abundant love.

There is no way that love would give someone cancer.

There is no way that love would take a mom from her son.

There is no way that love would leave a man a widower before he was 40.

Sure those things happened, but God was not the cause of them.

As I continued to read the Bible, read theology books, and listen to sermons, everything began to shift in my mind. Everything was now being filtered through the lens of Jesus and his love. Now, everything I read and heard was filtered through the following statements.

  • God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
  • God is love and in him there is no fear at all.
  • God is life and in him there is no death at all.

Further, I began to realize that I needed to focus not on what God can do but on what God will do.

I want God to do all sorts of things for me. And, he can do them. The possibilities of what God can do for me are limitless. But, when I focus on what God can do, then I lose sight of God and being transformed and conformed to his image. I found that focusing on what God can do and, consequently, what he has not done for me would make me bitter and angry. For example, why did God heal someone else and not my wife?

Instead, I just needed to focus on what God will do. In other words, I need only focus on who God is in my life – light, love, and life. Jesus said it as he is the way and the truth and the life. He also said it as he is the resurrection and the life.

Seeing Jesus has completely transformed the way I read the Bible.

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Part 3 – A Low Whisper

(This post is Part 3 of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction,  Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, Part 4 – Seeing Jesus, and Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection.)

We come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.

Perhaps you have heard of the B.I.B.L.E. acronym.

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth

Earlier in my Christian life, that was my view of the Bible. The Bible was basically a rule book for me to follow.

Do this.

Don’t do that.

Do these things and you are saved.

Do those things and you are a sinner, not saved.

Memorize what to do and work really hard to do it.

This is how you will leave the earth and get to heaven.

This is what I learned about God from those around me. This was how I heard other Christians talk about the Bible. So, this became my understanding too.

While the B.I.B.L.E. acronym above and summarizes how many Christians have learned to interact with the Bible, it isn’t very helpful. Particularly for someone like me who is a bit of an intellectual that wants to learn a thing inside out and struggles with perfectionism.

Actually, this understanding of the Bible was a disaster. It always left me feeling condemned and worthless for not living up to the dos and don’ts in the Bible. This even showed up in my desire to read the Bible.

I tried to read the Bible all the way through many times so I could learn its basic instructions. But, I failed every time. Something would happen, some distraction or unexpected event, and I would miss a day, or two or three, of reading, and my perfect plan to learn the Bible’s instructions would be thrown off.

So, I’d quit.

And, then I would get down on myself for not even being able to stick to a reading plan.

If I can’t even stick to this reading plan, then how am I ever going to be a “good” Christian?

Finally, in 2009 or 2010, I firmly made up my mind that nothing was going to stop me from reading the Bible all the way through. I created a spreadsheet with what I needed to read each day. I would be able to cross off what I read each day. If I missed a day, then I would double up the following day. I was going to do this. I was determined not to miss a day.

When I started this project, it flowed right out of the do this, don’t do that mindset. It was about the religious obligation to read the Bible. It was what good Christians were supposed to do – read your Bible every day.

But, I hadn’t fully considered why I was supposed to read the Bible every day.

Until I got a few months into this project and hit the book of Psalms.

Three or four years before I started this project, my wife, Dawn, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

For the first year, we tried to treat it with dietary changes. So, we became raw vegans. The cancer stopped growing, but the tumor wasn’t shrinking.

Dawn wasn’t happy with the slow progress, so she switched to more a more traditional treatment plan. She had a double mastectomy. She started chemotherapy. She had radiation. Then, the doctors found a spot of cancer on her lung.

For several years, it seemed like Dawn had a weekly appointment for a chemotherapy or a radiation treatment. She went in for these treatments so often I could no longer keep track of them. It was just a part of our life.

But, none of these treatments phased Dawn. She never stopped smiling. She never lacked energy. She never seem tired. She radiated joy and the love of Christ everywhere she went.

After several years of continuous treatments, Dawn was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This was quite the blow. No matter what treatment she underwent, nothing seemed to stop the cancer from spreading. So, we decided to get a second opinion at a nationally known cancer treatment center.

Of course, we, along with our church, had been praying for a miraculous healing for Dawn. But, we really stepped it up after the brain tumor was diagnosed. Dawn and I were sincerely praying and believing that we were going to get a scan of Dawn’s brain for the second opinion at this nationally known cancer center and they would not be able to find the brain tumor. We were filled with hope as we drove from Cincinnati to Chicago.

I can still picture the little room we waited in to talk with the doctor after the brain scan. He came in to give us the results. And, in what seemed like a split second, he confirmed that Dawn had a golf ball-sized tumor in the back of her brain. The doctor said he would step out so that we could have a moment to talk.

When the doctor stepped out, Dawn started crying. I mean really crying.

I don’t remember the doctor coming back in. I don’t remember us leaving the treatment center.

But, I do remember the car ride back to our hotel. It was 25 minutes. It was dark. It was drizzling. And, Dawn sobbed, I mean sobbed, the entire drive back.

What could I say to my wife who just had her hopes of a miraculously healed brain tumor crushed?

What could I say to my wife who was staring death in the face, knowing that she would not see her son graduate from high school or college, get married, have children, etc.?

I drove in total silence, listening to my wife sob for 25 minutes without stopping.

We finally arrived at the hotel and went up to our room. Dawn curled up on the bed in the fetal position and continued sobbing. Really sobbing.

I sat down in the chair. I had no idea what to do or what to say. I can’t recall another time in my life where I felt so helpless and clueless about what to do next.

Now, remember, I had started this Bible reading project several months ago. And, I had continued it on this trip.

As I sat in the chair, I heard this small voice, a low whisper, say to me, “What did you read this morning?”

This inaudible voice sort of stunned me. It took me a second, but I got my reading sheet out and went back through it.

And, I hit Psalm 13.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

“Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

My mind was blown.

Those opening questions were exactly what Dawn and I were feeling right at that moment.

I read this psalm the morning that our hopes for a miraculous healing were dashed.

Was God even listening to our prayers?

Had God forgotten us?

I had put this reading plan in place months ago. A reading plan that I had failed to stick to several times before. But, on this day, I read psalm 13. On the exact day that my wife and I were wondering if God was listening, if he had forgotten us, I read this psalm.

“What did you read this morning?”

The exact word that Jesus wanted to speak to my wife and me in that situation.

I told Dawn I had something that I wanted to read to her. So, I read psalm 13 out loud to her.

As I read, Dawn stopped crying.

It may have seemed like God had forgotten her, had hidden his face from her. But, Dawn trusted in his steadfast love, and she would rejoice in her salvation.

Those words spoke life to Dawn. They were the exact words what she needed to her in that moment. Words that I just happened to read that morning because I put a reading plan in place several months prior.

After I finished reading Psalm 13, Dawn asked me to read Psalm 23 to her. Then, she asked me to read Psalm 91 to her.

The atmosphere in the room had completely changed.

The circumstances were the same. Dawn still had a brain tumor. But, our hearts had been changed. We had experienced the life of Jesus.

Life had kicked death out of that room, out of our hearts.

Dawn never cried about cancer again.

I had begun my reading project out of a religious duty or obligation. I wanted to know the rules I was to follow. If I could just read the Bible all the way through, then I would have the basic instructions I needed to be a Christian.

But, that night I heard a still, small voice. I heard a low whisper.

“And he said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it…” (1 Kings 19.11-13)

I heard that same “sound of a low whisper.” An alternative translation of that is “a sound, a thin silence.” Not a loud, booming voice. Not a series of cataclysmic events – great winds, earthquakes, fires. “A thin silence” in my heart and mind that subtly prompted me to look into something.

And, that sound, that low whisper, that thin silence, reminded me of what I had read that morning. Psalm 13 didn’t have any rules or instructions in it. There wasn’t anything for us to do or obey. But, it did have a feeling. That night there was a revealing of God’s empathy toward us and solidarity with us in the struggle and the suffering. There was an assurance of his love.

That still, small voice spoke the precise words we needed to hear at the precise moment we needed to hear them.

What if I had started my reading plan a day earlier or a day later?

Was is it actually my decision to start the reading plan? To finally commit to it?

Was God behind it all, keeping me diligent along the way?

How was it that we experienced the life of Jesus, restoring our hope and trust in him, in Psalm 13 that night?

I can’t answer these questions.

But, I do know that God has a mysterious way of working things together for good.

I have continued that reading plan ever since, for seven or eight years. Sometimes I go through the Bible twice in a year. Once I went through the Bible four times in one year. But, no matter the pace, I have kept reading through the Bible day after day.

But, it is no longer a religious duty or obligation. I am no longer seeking rules to perfectly follow. Now, I let the Bible point me to the mysterious of Jesus – his suffering, cross, death, and resurrection – on a daily basis.

I cannot count the number of times that I have read a passage of scripture in the morning that Jesus would bring to life later in the day. Sometimes it is something I need to hear. Sometimes it is something I share with someone else that they need to hear. I can’t recall it ever being about rules and dos and don’ts though.

This is has happened so often now I just joyously laugh.

I had a presupposition that God wanted me to read the Bible for rules and instructions to follow. If I just knew the right rules, then I could follow them.

But, “the letter kills.” It is “the ministry of death.”

God isn’t rules and instructions as I thought prior to this experience with the life of Jesus.

However, when I experienced the life of Jesus as a low whisper, the Bible opened up to me.

“The Spirit gives life.”

Life isn’t rules and instructions to be rigidly applied in every situation.

I needed the veil of rules and instructions to be removed from the Bible.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3.18)

Life is beholding the glory of the Lord. Meditating on it. Gazing at it. Pondering it. Basking in the essence of it.

That still, small voice of Jesus showed me to look for the glory of God, his essence, his life, in the scripture.

Don’t try to capture the glory of God in a rule or an instruction to follow.

Instead, let the Bible lead me to Jesus so as to behold his glory.

Let the Spirit in a low whisper, in a thin silence, lead me to behold God’s glory

Behold God’s glory and be transformed.

This is when the Bible is truly opened to you.

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Part 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared

(This post is Part 2 of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction, Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit, Part 3 – A Low Whisper, Part 4 – Seeing Jesus, and Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection.)

We come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.

In Part 1, I recounted how I experienced the life of Jesus as I was drawn by the Holy Spirit to Jesus and the Father. This changed my presupposition about God’s existence and, quite literally, opened the Bible for me.

Part 1 took place in 1996, during my junior and senior years of college. While I started reading the Bible at this time, it was sporadic at best. I would try to read it, but for the most part it made no sense to me. So, for the most part, I only read the Bible when the pastor was preaching during the Sunday service. Based on my observations and research I have read, I was a pretty typical Christian.

As the years went by, I did start to read the Bible more are more. And, I began to get more out of it. But, my understanding of it was quite literal. I went from being an evolutionist to a creationist. I believed the Old Testament as literal, factual recorded history. God ordered the flood, destroying mankind and the world. God ordered the genocide of those living in Canaan so that Israel could have the land.

Who was I to question these things, when I had such a hard time understanding what I was reading and this was how everyone around me seemed to read and understand the Bible. Therefore, without me knowing it, the thoughts and ideas of others formed my presuppositions of God that I then found support for in the Bible.

Sure, my thinking changed. But, mostly it was my beliefs about the Bible, not God, that changed.

Until I went on my first mission trip to the Philippines.

This trip took place in 2010, 14 years after I was drawn by the Holy Spirit. But, it wasn’t until I started writing this series of posts that I truly began to understand how my experience with the life of Jesus on this trip opened the Bible for me.

During the first part of the trip, our team would be attending a youth conference where we might get the opportunity to speak to the more than 1,000 youth in attendance. While I had done quite a bit of speaking for work the previous three years, this would be my first time speaking in the context of church. I was really excited about this opportunity. Since we had been given the theme of the conference, I dutifully prepared a talk based on the theme and what I felt the Spirit was wanting me to say.

Because I was tying this trip to the Philippines with a work trip to other parts of Asia, I had to book my flights earlier than the rest of the other team members. As a result, I ended up arriving in the Philippines a day later than everyone else.

Door to door, the trip took almost 36 hours and involved four plane flights. If I remember correctly, I left my house on a Sunday afternoon and arrived at the hotel in Davao around 7:00 a.m. Tuesday morning. Between the travel and the 12 hour time change, I was exhausted. But, within 30 minutes of my arriving, the team left for the campsite where the youth conference was taking place.

On the way to the campsite, I was told that I was given the last speaking slot for our team on Friday morning. I remember thinking, “Last? I don’t want to go last. I am pumped up for this and want to go right away.” On the flight to the Philippines, I had listened to the song “What You Say I Say” by Jesus Culture over and over. In fact, I listened to it over and over throughout the trip. I was determined to say whatever God wanted me to say and to do whatever God wanted me to. So, I just said okay and went along with the plan.

The youth conference started Tuesday evening with a service. Then, there were services in the morning and evening the next three days with games and competitions in the afternoon.

On Thursday afternoon, the day before I was scheduled to talk, our mission team played a basketball game against the Filipino pastors to entertain the youth. The game was full court in the middle of the afternoon, and it was very hot and humid. Now, on top of the travel and the time change, I was wiped out from playing full court basketball in the heat and humidity. And, I was supposed to speak the next day.

There was one room at the camp that had air conditioning with a few chairs and a couple of couches that our team was allowed to use to cool off. I decided I better go rest so that I fresh for my talk the next day.

I laid down on one of the couches, put my headphones on, and listened to some worship music. Of course, I listened to “What You Say I Say” several times.

While I was lying down, one of the lead Filipino pastors, Bryan, came into the cool room and laid down on the couch next to me. I didn’t think about it at the time, but later I recalled we were resting in the same position with our heads and feet at the same ends of the couches.

As I laid there, I felt the Holy Spirit put Malachi 3.10 on my heart. It says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” I thought, “That’s a cool scripture,” and went back to my worship music.

This happened several times before I realized that maybe God was trying to get my attention and I should write down what he was telling me. So, I wrote down the scripture and that God was going to open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing that there would not be room enough to receive. I had no idea why I was writing this down, but it was clear that I should.

All the while, Bryan laid on the couch next to me resting. We never talked to each other. And, other than saying hello to each other when I first arrived, we had not really interacted at all on the trip.

A little bit later, our team went back to our hotel to get cleaned up for the evening service. On the ride back to the camp, I was so tired that I was considering not going to the service. I really wanted to go though because the praise and worship had filled me with the Spirit each day and really energized me. But, by the time we got to the camp, I knew that I couldn’t go to the service. I could barely keep my eyes open. I needed to rest some more to be ready for my turn to speak the next morning.

So, instead of going to the service, I went to the cool room. When I got there, I laid down on the same couch that Bryan had laid on when we were resting together earlier in the day. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I even laid in the exact same position that Bryan had laid in. I slept through the entire service and only got up when it was time to eat a very late dinner. 

When we got back to the hotel, I immediately went to bed. During the night, I woke up from a sort of vision or dream. In this vision, the Spirit showed me two buckets and water. The Spirit told me that I needed to pour out the water as a demonstration of how God was going to pour out his blessing. The pouring would start slow and then the flow would get bigger. Then, the Spirit showed me that I needed to pour the water from bucket into the other bucket so that the water could overflow the second bucket.

I thought about pouring the water on my head but was afraid of shorting out the microphone. So, I decided to pour the water from a big bucket into a smaller bucket so that it would overflow and spill everywhere on the ground. Then, Spirit told me that this word was for Bryan and all the churches in their network. 

When our team got to the camp the next morning, I asked for a big bucket filled with water and a small bucket. I got a funny look from the person I asked. But, I told them I really needed it. And, I asked that they try to not let anyone know.

Before going into the service, Bryan asked our team leader and me if someone was going to use a bucket in their message that day. We gave each other and awkward look and said “Yes” without saying anything more about it. I was disappointed that Bryan found out about the buckets and the water because I wanted it to be a surprise. Little did I know that it wasn’t a surprise to him and that God had already spoken to him about a bucket and water.

Finally, it was my turn to talk.

I gave the message I had prepared based on the theme of the conference. I talked about witnessing as Jesus did – by speaking and by doing. Our speaking and doing needed to be powered by the Holy Spirit. I talked about walking in the Spirit and how the Holy Spirit bears witness of what God is doing in us. The Holy Spirit bears fruit that others can see and taste of. That fruit bears witness to them of what God is doing in us. 

At the end of my talk, I told Bryan I had a word for him. I got out the two buckets, the larger one with water in it. When, I got the buckets out, I noticed Bryan lean in, paying close attention to the buckets.

I quoted Malachi 3.10 and told him that God was going to pour a blessing out on him and the churches he was connected to. The blessing was going to be so big that there would no be room to hold it, that it was going to overflow. As I was talking, I had someone from our team pour the water from the big bucket into the smaller bucket. The flow started small and got bigger and bigger. Eventually, the water overflowed the smaller bucket and spilled everywhere.

A simple word. A simple demonstration. The end.


Well…then Bryan got up speak.

He said the night before God told him to preach about water and a bucket. But, he had no idea why he was to preach about water and a bucket or even what the bucket and the water meant. Bryan said he was up all night studying the Bible about a bucket and water. He said his wife kept asking him when he was going to bed, but he told her he had to find out about a bucket and water. But, despite his searching the Bible, he never found what he was looking for.

Then, he said that God told him to put the bucket on his head but that he didn’t want to (remember I thought about doing that but was afraid of shorting out the microphone). When he saw my demonstration, he knew that he was to put the smaller bucket on his head, filling it with water from the big bucket as he ran around the church so that the water spilled everywhere. The spilled water would leave a trail of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The bigger bucket was a symbol the Holy Spirit filling up his smaller bucket, pouring out a blessing that he would not have room to receive. But, the blessing, the spilled water, the Spirit, would be left behind everywhere he went.

Even more amazing, the message that Bryan prepared had all the same scriptures that I used in my original message about how we are to witness. Bryan said he sat to the side during my message crossing off each of the scriptures he had studied as I quoted them because there was no more need for him to say them.

I believe that God began speaking this word to both of us while we laid on the couches together. Our messages were truly an experience with the life of Jesus. We had never met each other before this trip. And, we had a spoken for just a few minutes in the couple of days I was at the camp before we both spoke at the youth conference that Friday morning.

That is quite the experience with the life of Jesus for my first time speaking in a church setting.

How did this experience with the life of Jesus open the Bible for me?

Well, it wasn’t until I thought about that in experience for this blog series, nearly eight years later, that I truly began to understand its significance and its impact on how I read the Bible.

Think about what happened.

During the day, the Spirit gave me a scripture – Malachi 3.10.

That night, I had a vision of the scripture that the Spirit gave me. In other words, the word of the Lord appeared to me. There are several times that this happens in the Bible.

Genesis 15.1 says, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision.” In Galatians, Paul says that it was Abraham’s experience with the the word of the Lord appearing to him in a vision when the scripture preached the gospel to him. Jesus tells us that all scripture witnesses of him.

The word of the Lord also appeared to Samuel. “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision…And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 3.1, 21)

When the word of the Lord appeared to me in the vision, it had nothing to do with the context of Malachi 3.10. First, most people know Malachi 3.10 because of its connection to tithing. But, the meaning of this appearing of the Lord had nothing to do with tithing. In fact, there was no condition placed on the pouring out of the blessing, the Spirit, upon Bryan or the churches he was connected with.

Second, the meaning of the scripture given by the Spirit when the word of the Lord appeared to me really had nothing to do with the context of Malachi 3.10. Sure, there was the connection of a blessing being poured. But, there was no bucket or water in Malachi 3.10. There wasn’t anything that Bryan had spent all night searching the Bible for. And, the blessing being poured out was the Spirit, who would be left behind for the benefit of others. The blessing in Malachi 3.10 has to do with an agricultural blessing because of the tithe. “I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3.11)

Third, through the scripture and the word of the Lord appearing, the Spirit showed me that the meaning and the application at this time was in the context of witnessing for Jesus. The blessing being poured out was the Holy Spirit who would draw people to Jesus. For, this is what the Spirit does. He bears witness to Jesus to draw people to Jesus.

“The Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15.26)

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16.13-14)

“For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19.10)

This experience with the life of Jesus opened the Bible to me by showing me that the meaning of scripture is fluid and dynamic, not inflexible and rigid. Sure, the meaning and application of Malachi 3.10 the Spirit gave to Bryan and me at that conference, at that moment, was completely out of context. But, it was the meaning for that moment, for that hour. Bryan and I knew this without a doubt. And, so did many others at the conference.

The Spirit gives meaning to the scripture for the moment you are in. “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3.6) Life was brought by the Spirit to Malachi 3.10 in an unexpected way.

This was not a literal, inerrant, infallible, set in stone inspiration of scripture. Rather, this was an inspiration that truly brought life and revealed Jesus in a way we had not seen before.

I am not suggesting that the Bible can mean anything and everything. The Bible cannot and does not mean whatever we want it to mean. But, the Bible does mean much more than the literal words in it. The Holy Spirit will always give the Bible life, inspiration, in such a way that it points us to Jesus. This is exactly what happened when Bryan and I experienced the life of Jesus giving new meaning to Malachi 3.10.

As I look back on this experience with the life of Jesus, when the word of the Lord appeared in a vision, I can see the effect it has had on my reading and understanding of the Bible over the last three years in particular. Scripture should give life. Life is fluid and dynamic, ever changing. The Spirit will mold the meaning of the Bible so that we receive what we need from the life of Jesus in that moment.

Why else would we read a book from ancient people in ancient cultures?

Those people and those cultures have no meaning for us, no application to our lives today.

But, the life of Jesus most certainly does.

The meaning of Malachi 3.10 that Bryan and I received at that conference is not the meaning of that particular scripture for everyone, for all time. It was the meaning for that moment. For others in a different time, the meaning and application will be different.

Many Christians fear that the meaning of scripture could dynamically change in this way. Many Christians want scripture to have its meaning set in stone. They want there to be one meaning for everyone at all time. They want to have the right meaning, the right understanding. However, this is what causes so much arguing over the Bible. This is what causes more than 30,000 denominations to form.

And, it’s this fear of a dynamic meaning of the Bible that actually kills the life of Jesus that the Spirit is inspiring and witnessing to.

Instead, we should take joy in how God reveals so much more than the literal meaning of the written words to us through the Bible. It is actually quite amazing that God does this. And, if we took joy in that and if we sought the fresh and different meanings others have received from the Spirit through the Bible about Jesus, then we would all come to a fuller understanding of just who God is and what he is like.

So, when I experienced the life of Jesus through the word of the Lord appearing in a vision, my presupposition about a fixed and literal meaning of God in the Bible was changed. Now instead of my thinking about the Bible changing, it is my thinking about God that has changed. I see him in a whole new light. He didn’t wipe out humanity in the flood. He didn’t destroy whole people groups in the promised land. And on and on. That’s not who God is.

It took a long time for that to happen. But, the end result is that Bible has been opened to me in a way that I never knew was possible. And, because of that, I know more of God than I ever thought possible. It just took an experience with the life of Jesus to make that new understanding possible.

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit

(This post is Part 1 of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, and Part 3 – A Low Whisper, Part 4 – Seeing Jesus, and Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection.)

In the introduction to this series, I noted that we come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.

Therefore, experiencing the life of Jesus Christ opens the Bible to us.

In today’s post, I want to share with you my first experiences with the life of Jesus that, quite literally, opened the Bible to me.

I grew up in a non-religious, non-spiritual home. I vaguely remember attending a Sunday school class one time. However, I can’t recall a single conversation from my childhood that had anything to do with God, religion, faith, or spirituality.

So it might surprise you that I chose to attend a Catholic high school. But, I didn’t choose the school because it was Catholic. In fact, I chose the school in spite of it being Catholic. My reason for picking the school was that it had the best golf team in the city, and I wanted to be a professional golfer. It didn’t hurt that it was an academically challenging school as well.

Attending this Catholic high school was my first confrontation with the world of religion. I had to take religion class all four years of high school. I remember feeling picked on by the teacher in my freshman religion class – not because he was being mean to me but because he seemingly would call on me to answer every question.

We also had to attend mass several times throughout the year. I found the mass to be incredibly boring and pointless. So, I tried to get my mom to let me stay home on those days.

I remember telling classmates that all this religion stuff was not for me. I was an atheist. I didn’t believe in God. I believe in logic, facts, science, math, rational thinking. I don’t think I was ever antagonistic about it. I told my classmates I had no problem with them being religious, but it just wasn’t for me.

My mom’s parents were churchgoers, which is probably why I have that vague Sunday school memory. I remember my grandmother more than once giving me a Bible during my high school years.

One of the Bibles was from the PTL Club and Jim Baker (amazing the things that stick in our minds). That Bible sat on my shelf for years. I never once touched it. I never once opened it. I remember thinking to myself, “My grandmother is crazy. Why does she give me Bibles? Doesn’t she know that I am never going to read this thing?”

Choosing the Catholic high school for its excellent golf team paid off. I ended up going to college on a golf scholarship. A guy on the team a year ahead of me became my best friend. Both us had no problem with silence and did not need a lot of people around us. My best friend and I hung out together quite a bit. But, in my junior year, he got a girlfriend. We stopped hanging out together as much. I started to feel pretty lonely.

One December night I was lying in bed feeling particularly lonely. I wanted someone to hang out with. But, as close as I was to my teammate, I didn’t want another guy friend. I wanted a woman to be close to. However, I was introverted and shy and not comfortable striking up a conversation with anyone, especially a woman I was interested in.

So, I did something I had never done before.

I talked with God.

Well, I didn’t really talk with God. It was more like I threw him a challenge.

“God, if you exist, then I want to meet my wife for my birthday.”

That was the extent of my talk with God.

Come on God. Prove to me that you are real. Do something for me. Otherwise, I will be perfectly free to keep denying your existence.

Shortly thereafter I put a personal ad in the local paper. (Like I said, I was really uncomfortable with the idea of striking up a conversation with a woman I was interested in.) Several women answered the ad. One of the women I went on a couple of dates with. But, there was no spark, no connection.

Then, a couple of weeks before my birthday in late February, I got one last response to my ad. Her name was Dawn. We agreed to meet at the Friday’s for dinner about a block from campus.

I can still picture the table I was sitting at when Dawn walked into the restaurant. As soon as I saw Dawn walk in and I knew she was my blind date, I remember telling myself, “I am going to marry her.”

We stayed at the restaurant for hours talking. Eventually, they had to ask us to leave so they could close.

I left a message for Dawn the very next day, telling her what a great time I had and that I would like to go out again. When we finally got to talk to each other, I remember telling Dawn about that lonely night back in December when I asked God to prove that he existed by giving me my wife for my birthday. (Yes, I did that after one date. No, I have no idea what the dating rules are or how to follow them.)

Dawn responded that she was a Christian and she did not believe in coincidences. Things happened for a reason. I thought to myself that this was the end of the relationship. I want to date her. But, I am not a Christian. So, why would she want to date me?

We went out a second time pretty close to my birthday. We kept talking to each other on the phone. Dawn invited me to come to church with her. I told her that I would do that.

While I was home for spring break, I called Dawn and told her that I wanted to come to church with her that Sunday when I drove back to school. Dawn said that wasn’t a good Sunday. I told her that I really wanted to come that Sunday. She reiterated that it wasn’t a good day to come. Maybe I could come the following Sunday. I finally wore her down. I was going to church with her that Sunday.

Remember, I had basically never been to church in my life. I was from Ohio (the north) but going to school in Tennessee (the south). Dawn was African-American. She went to a Baptist church. So, here was this young white kid from the north going to church for the first time at an all black Baptist church in the south.

As we walked into the church, I noticed people were carrying tambourines with them. I remember thinking that was sort of weird. “What have I gotten myself into?”

Dawn decided that we were going to sit in the front row. The service started, and the choir paraded into the church singing. The music was loud, but really good. All of them women started dancing. Next thing I knew, women were falling to the ground. I sat there stiff as a board. Later, Dawn told me she could see the blood draining from the top of my head down my face as I turned whiter and whiter. And, she didn’t want me to come that Sunday because many of the women were coming back from a T.D. Jakes Woman Thou Art Loosed conference. Dawn knew what was going to happen and was afraid it would scare me away.

The music finally stopped. The pastor started preaching. I don’t remember a single thing he said. But, I can remember saying to myself, “How does he know that about me?” It was like everything he said was directed right at me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was starting to experience the life of Jesus Christ.

I kept going to church every Sunday with Dawn. A few months later at the end of the school year, I wanted to join the church. But, I didn’t want to do it and then not show up for the next three months while I was back home on summer break. So, I told myself I would join the church that fall when I came back to school.

Before I left school for the summer, Dawn and I had already talked of getting married. We continued to talk about getting married after I went home for the summer. When I visited for her birthday in July, she had a pretty good idea I was bringing an engagement ring with me. I proposed and she accepted on Friday.

That Sunday we went to church. It was my first time at church since I went home for the summer. At the end of the service, the pastor did an altar call. As he normally did during the altar call, he wandered around the church singing, inviting people to have a relationship with Jesus.

Now, the pastor and I had never spoke before. So, he knew nothing about me. But, this Sunday, as he walked around the church singing, he stopped and stood right next to me. The pastor was pretty tall, and I felt him towering over me.

I had wanted to join the church several months ago, but I didn’t feel it was the right time. I was determined not to give the my life to Jesus that Sunday morning. It wasn’t the right time. I wanted to wait until fall. So, I turned in my seat so I would not have to look at the pastor.

The pastor just continued to stand there. The whole time he stood there he just kept singing the line, “Is there a better time than now?” I started crying.

He sang that line over and over again.

“Is there a better time than now?”

“Is there a better time than now?”

The more he sang that line, the more I cried.

At last, I felt my shirt lift off of my chest. To this day, I can see a hand grabbing my shirt right in the middle of my chest and pulling me out of my seat. I was determined not to get up, but this hand just lifted me right out of my seat.

I got up and gave my life to Jesus the same weekend that I got engaged to Dawn, the woman that I met just two weeks for before my birthday.

God was answering my challenge – “God, if you exist, then I want to meet my wife for my birthday.”

Dawn and I were married that December, just nine months after we met and about one year after I challenged God.

But, let’s go back to that Sunday morning I was pulled out of me seat. At the time, I did not have the language to express what happened. But, I knew beyond a doubt God had moved in my life.

I had felt the hand of God.

I had experienced God.

I felt God’s hand lift me out of my seat. I felt God’s hand pull me toward him. This was a crucial experience with God for me. Remember, I based everything on logic, facts, science, math, rational thinking. But, I could not explain this experience. Experiencing God’s hand lift me out of my seat…I could not explain away this supernatural thing that I knew had happened to me.

Prior to this experience, I had a presupposition that God was not real. He did not exist. I dared God to prove my presupposition about him wrong. And, God most certainly revealed to me that he existed. He was real. I felt his hand. I experienced him.

After this experience with the life of Jesus Christ, I had a desire to read the Bible.

The Bible.

That same book that my grandmother had given me all those years ago that I swore I would never open.

That same book that sat closed on my shelf for years.

But, I started read the book (sporadically at best). Experiencing the life of Jesus Christ opened the Bible for me. Literally.

I would never have chosen to open the Bible on my own. God did not exist. Therefore, there was no need to read a book about him.

But, my experience with the life of Jesus Christ, changed my presupposition about God. He did exist. He was real. My presupposition about God had changed, and now I went to the Bible to confirm and understand my experience that God did indeed exist. My experience with Jesus opened the Bible to me.

Over time, as I read the Bible, I developed language for my experience with the hand of God that Sunday morning.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6.44-45)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life…This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6.63, 65)

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12.32)

As I read the Bible, my experience with the life of Jesus Christ was confirmed. The Bible bore witness to my experience with Jesus.

From the moment I challenged God to the moment I was lifted out of my seat by his hand, Jesus was being lifted up in my heart and he was drawing me to himself. The Father who sent Jesus was drawing me. He was teaching me. I was hearing and learning from the Father in my spirit even though I was not aware of it in the flesh, in my mind. I was hearing words of spirit and life. And, it is God’s Spirit that gives life.

That Sunday morning, it was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, drawing me out of my seat to come to the Father. His drawing me out of my seat was the culmination of what I had been hearing and learning from the Father in my spirit.

All without ever having opened the Bible.

But, experiencing the life of Jesus Christ through the drawing of the Holy Spirit changed my presuppositions about God. And, that experience with the life of Jesus Christ opened the Bible for me.

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Introduction

(This post is the Introduction to the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, and Part 3 – A Low Whisper, Part 4 – Seeing Jesus, and Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection.)

Do you know Jesus through the Bible or experience?

The Bible is an amazing book. I believe studying the Bible is important. That is why I just spent every day last year reading and writing about the Bible on this blog.

However, we often fail to recognize something very important, which is that we come to the Bible with certain presuppositions about who God is. For the most part, these presuppositions about God formed before we even knew they were forming. Forces that unknowingly form our presuppositions about God include parents, friends, pastors, churches, culture, and society. Of course, there are many more.

As we study the Bible, we think we are discovering truth. But, oftentimes, we are simply finding evidence in an inspired book that strengthens and hardens our presuppositions about God.

Why does that happen?

How do we guard against that?

What do we need to stop that from happening?


Not any experiences.

Not all experiences.

But a certain, specific experience.

Why does the Bible strengthen and harden our presuppositions about God?

Because we have not experienced the life of Jesus Christ.

How do we guard against the Bible strengthening and hardening our presuppositions about God?

By experiencing the life of Jesus Christ.

What do we need at all times to stop the Bible from strengthening and hardening our presuppositions about God?

Experiences with the life of Jesus Christ.

I was inspired to think about this by a comment from Blaine Keller on my post “What Love Is or What Love Does?” Blaine stated how his understanding of the Bible was changing. I mentioned how I had changed by a direct encounter with Jesus. Blaine said he would love to hear about this direct encounter some time.

As I thought about the discussion with Blaine, I realized how much my experiences with the life of Jesus Christ changed my thinking. Further, I realized that in almost every case I experienced the life of Jesus in some specific way and then my thinking, particularly my presuppositions about God that I approached the Bible with, changed as a result.

At roughly the same time I was having this discussion with Blaine, I read the first blog post in a series titled “Our Need for Religious Experience” by Richard Beck. He made the connection that people, particularly younger adults, do not desire to go to church anymore because they were not having religious experiences with God there. Beck argued that the problem was not so much with the church. Rather, the problem was that we have closed ourselves off to religious experiences. I think we can extrapolate Beck’s point to Bible study as well.

People do not want to read the Bible because they have not had an experience with the life of Jesus Christ.

People read the Bible wrongly because they have closed themselves off from experiencing the life of Christ in their daily lives. It has become more or less an intellectual pursuit. Then, there is nothing standing between their presuppositions about God and the Bible. The Bible becomes their presuppositions about God.

People experience the life of Christ in their daily lives, but that experience does not line up with what they are taught about the Bible in church. So, they turn away from the Bible or want to get rid of the Old Testament because they deem it offensive to the life of Christ they are experiencing.

But, instead of not reading the Bible, using the Bible to harden and strengthen our presuppositions about God, or turning our backs on the Bible in whole or in part, we should allow our experience with the life of Christ to change our presuppositions about God that we bring to the Bible. We should allow our experience with the life of Jesus Christ to be the foundation of our belief of who God is and what God is like. When we do this, the Bible becomes an entirely different book, and we see God in the Bible in an entirely different way.

That our experience with the life of Jesus Christ changes our understanding of the Bible is found within the Bible itself.

John 5.36-40 says, “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard and his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

John was the greatest person of the Old Testament. Therefore, he had the greatest testimony of the Old Testament. But, Jesus’ testimony was even greater than John’s. Jesus’ testimony, the works that he was doing, bore witness about himself and that the Father sent him.

Amazingly, Jesus, the most important person in history, didn’t write a book to reveal who God, his Father, was. He did works. He did things that could be experienced. Jesus did things that people could see, hear, and touch. Therefore, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1.1-3)

Why could the Jews Jesus was speaking to in John 5 not receive his testimony?

Because they were locked into a certain way of reading scripture formed by their presuppositions about and traditions of who God was and the messiah, Jesus Christ, would be. But, instead of looking to the scripture for eternal life (a.k.a God), Jesus told these Jews they needed to come to him. They needed to experience him, his testimony, his works. Then, these experiences of the life of Jesus Christ would change their understanding of scripture.

We read something similar in Luke 24. Two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus after Jesus was crucified. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened when a stranger asked them what they were talking about. The two disciples didn’t know it, but the stranger was Jesus.

Jesus went on to tell the two disciples that it was necessary for everything that happened to have happened. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24.27) Even though this stranger, who was Jesus, had just explained all scripture to them in a new and different way, these two disciples still were not getting it.

What caused the stranger to be revealed?

What caused them to see Jesus?

What gave them the full understanding of what Jesus was teaching them about the scriptures?

An experience of the life of Jesus Christ.

“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'” (Luke 24.30-32)

It was when Jesus broke bread with the two disciples that they understood everything. It was then that they realized their hearts were burning within them as Jesus revealed to them the truth of scripture.

Of course, breaking bread is symbolic of the breaking of Jesus’ body, the giving of his life, for us. When we experience Jesus giving his life for us, the breaking of bread, it changes how we perceive and understand scripture. Then, our hearts begin to burn within us as we read scripture.

Burning symbolizes purification throughout the Bible. So, as we experience the life of Jesus Christ, he interprets scripture for us in a way that our hearts are purified. Therefore, the presuppositions about God that we brought to the Bible are burned away and we are left with the pure image of Jesus, and God, as the only thing that the Bible bears witness to.

Study the life of Paul and you will find the same thing. He had an experience with the life of Jesus Christ that radically changed the presuppositions about God that he brought to scripture. Paul wrote about this repeatedly in his letters, perhaps most clearly in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4.

So, over the next few posts, I will share some of my significant experiences with the life of Jesus Christ that changed the way I read and understand the Bible.