(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, 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 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.