Hear the Trumpet Sound

In just a few days, we’re observing Yom Teruah–the Day of Trumpets (you may also know this day as Rosh Hashanah). As the earliest New Testament believers did, Messianic Jews and many other Christians today will gather to blow shofars and celebrate a day that God describes as holy to Him. We’ll do this because we want to honor God and show our love for Him by obeying His commands, yet we don’t know very much about this day or why God wants us to mark it. The most detailed description we have is this:

Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, there shall be a solemn rest for you, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no regular work. You shall offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh.’”

Leviticus 23:23-25, WEB

There are many theories about this day. Some say it pictures the time when “the Lord himself will come back from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (1 Thes. 4:16, NET), like a Jewish bridegroom arriving to marry his betrothed. Others say its a day picturing freedom, release from debts, and joyful shouts. Or perhaps it’s simply a call to prepare for Yom Kippur (JewishLink.com). Some teach that it marks the sixth day of creation and is intended to wake us up, reminding us to turn to the Lord and pray we be inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life (Hebrew4Christians.com).

First and Second Creation

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This idea of a connection between Yom Teruah and the sixth day of creation comes from Jewish mishnah writings rather than scripture, but if that tradition is true it would connect neatly with the second coming. As the author of Hebrew4Christians points out, this reading would mean Yom Teruah “commemorates both the creation of the universe by Adonai as well as the ‘calling up’ of the new creation at the behest of Yeshua, when the sound of the heavenly shofar inaugurates the anticipated End of Days.”

Paul also draws a link between Adam–the first human being God created–and Jesus Christ–the first person raised from the dead in a spirit body. There’s an orderliness to this comparison, “for just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him” (1 Cor. 15:20-25, NET). We’ve born the image of the man made of dust, created by God on the sixth day in Genesis 1, and we will “also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:42-53, NET).

Something marvelous is going to happen in the future. We, who are fleshy like the first created man, will change. We’ll become spirit, like the Firstfruit from the Dead, Jesus Christ who lived as a human being, died, and then rose a spirit being. And that will happen “in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52). We can debate the exact timing of that change (and many have), but it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to associate it, or at least a blasted reminder that this change is coming, with Yom Teruah.

The King is Coming!

The connection between trumpets and Jesus’s second coming is perhaps the simplest explanation for this day’s meaning that we can offer. The spring holy days (Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost) pointed toward and now call us to remember Jesus’s first coming. The fall holy days point to a time in the future when God Himself will dwell with people; when Jesus Himself will return with the sound of trumpets, shofar blasts, and shouts.

The trumpets and shofars used to make the “alarm, signal,” “shout,” or “blast” that’s described by the word teruah figure prominently in scripture (H8643, BDB definition). Often, this word refers to the sound made by a shofar, or ram’s horn (TWOT entry 2449c). The shofar was used when Israel met with God at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16-20). It’s what the priest blew when Jericho fell and Gideon went up against Midian (Josh. 6:4-20; Judg. 7:16-22). The shofar was used for signals in battle and to sound an alarm, and it’s often used figuratively as well as literally (Judg. 3:27; 2 Sam. 18:16; 20:1; Neh. 4:20; Is. 58:1; Jer. 4:19, 21; 6:1, 17; Ezk. 33:3-6; Hos. 5:8; 8:1; Joel 2:1; Amos 3:6). Israel also used shofars when anointing a new king (1 Kings 1:34, 39; 2 Kings 9:13), and it played a key role in praise and covenant making with God (2 Chron. 15:13-14; Ps. 81:3; 98:6; 150:3; Joel 2:15).

Shofar blasts are connected to kingship, to warnings for Israel to return to God, and to proper expression of joy after returning. They serve as a warning and reminder as well as a tool for worship. So let’s keep this holy day with all those meanings in mind. Let the Day of Trumpets wake us up from spiritual sleep, renewing our commitment to wait faithfully for the Bridegroom. Let that day remind us to prepare and use the days between now and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) wisely. And let’s also celebrate joyfully, remembering the goodness of God in creating us and promising to recreate us in His spiritual likeness. This world which is so full of frightening and wicked things will not last forever. Someday, our Lord will return with trumpet blasts and we will be changed, fully born into His spiritual family. And that gives us great reason for joy as we begin another fall holy day season.

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New 30-Day Scripture Writing Plan: “Big Questions”

I’ve been so fascinated by the topic of “big questions” that I’ve added another monthly scripture writing list to the resources on this blog. You can read my other posts on this topic here:

Like the other scripture lists on this blog, “Big Questions” has a list of 30 scriptures that you can write out one per day for a month. At first, I thought about alternating “question-scriptures” with in-Bible answers to those questions, but I ended up just sticking with the questions. Many of them have answers right there in the next few verses, or later in the same books. Others are answered elsewhere in the Bible. For most, though, I have not included the “answer-scriptures” on this list.

I hope that by leaving this scripture writing list more open-ended, it will invite you to search out answers to those questions in the scriptures and/or meditate on how you’ve answered those sorts of questions for yourself. If you want to take the extra time, you might choose to write some of the answer scripturas as well or use this list to inspire a deeper study into one or more of the questions.

Download “Big Questions” scripture writing list here:

Weathering the Storms of Life with Jesus Onboard

As I’ve studied “big questions” over the past couple of weeks, one in particular stuck in my mind. It’s a question the disciples asked Jesus during a big storm while they were crossing the Sea of Galilee in boat.

Now a great windstorm developed and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was nearly swamped. But he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. They woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” So he got up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Be quiet! Calm down!” Then the wind stopped, and it was dead calm. And he said to them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?” They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!”

Mark 4:35-41, NET

There are a few questions in this story. The disciples ask Jesus, “Don’t you care that we are all about to die?” I’m not sure they even expected Him to do anything other than wake up and reassure them. But then He calmed the storm, and had questions for them. He asked, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?” From His perspective, there’d never been anything to worry about. That the disciples were worried showed they didn’t yet fully trust in Him or His power. Then the final question is one the disciples asked among themselves: “Who then is this?” Typical rabbis could not order a storm to stop and have it obey. This teacher they were following was clearly different than the usual prophets or rabbis.

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Commander and Creator

The Jews of Jesus’s day, including His disciples, were typically very familiar with the words of the Old Testament. Some of those words likely came to mind during this storm and miracle. In Job, God describes Himself as the one who “laid the foundations of the earth,” “shut up the sea with doors,” and “made clouds its garment” (Job 38:1-11). Psalms describe Him as the one who “walks on the wings of the wind” and “makes lightnings with the rain” (Psalms 104:3; 135:7). In the prophets, He’s the one who keeps the sea and its waves in check, causes the waves to “stir up and roar,” and “makes storm clouds” (Jer. 5:22; 31:35; Zech, 10:1). Perhaps the scripture most likely to come to the disciples’ minds, though, is in Psalms.

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
who do business in great waters;
These see Yahweh’s deeds,
and his wonders in the deep.
For he commands, and raises the stormy wind,
which lifts up its waves.
They mount up to the sky; they go down again to the depths.
Their soul melts away because of trouble.
They reel back and forth, and stagger like a drunken man,
and are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry to Yahweh in their trouble,
and he brings them out of their distress.
He makes the storm a calm,
so that its waves are still.

Psalm 107:23-29, WEB

No wonder Jesus’s disciples were “overwhelmed by fear” even after He proved they weren’t going to die in a storm. He’d just done something only Yahweh could do. By calming the sea, Jesus illustrated He was God here on earth in the flesh.

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Storm-Maker and Anchor

In scripture, waves and storms are used as metaphors for great trials. God’s anger and judgement on persistently sinful people are linked to storms (Is. 28:2; 29:6; 30:30; Jer. 23:19; 30:23; Ezk. 30:3; Joel 2:2; Nah. 1:3). David speaks of being surrounded by “waves of death” and “floods of ungodliness” (2 Sam. 22:5; Ps. 18:4). Both David (figuratively for despair and possibly depression) and Johan (in a more literal sense) talk about being in the depths of the sea with “waves and billows” passing over them (Ps. 42:7; Jon. 2:3). In all these verses, the storms are representative of great trials or hardships.

The purpose of such tempest and storms is “that they may seek your name, Yahweh” (Ps. 83:15-16). We’re to learn from the storms of life to listen to Yahweh and turn to Him for shelter and safety. Those who don’t learn that lesson may make “a shipwreck concerning the faith” and eventually find that God does not listen to their cries for help during storms (Prov. 1:24-29; Zech. 7:13-14; 1 Tim. 1:19). As the writer of Hebrews said, though, I am “persuaded of better things for you, and things that accompany salvation, even though we speak like this” (Heb. 6:9, WEB). Bible teachers don’t share warnings in order to condemn; we share them as reminders to keep faithfully seeking God. The righteous stand firm in the whirlwind and storm since they are founded on the Rock, and that is what I want for myself, for you, and for all who follow the Lord (Prov. 10:25; Matt. 7:24-27).

Keep Jesus in your boat, and the storms of life have no power over you. You might get tossed around and nearly swamped, as the disciples were when they cried out asking if Jesus cared that they were dying, but ultimately there’s nothing to worry about. Faith and hope anchor our souls (Heb. 6:19; 10:23).

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Hold Fast

With Jesus on board our ships, we can weather the storms of life. Working together in unity, He and His Father are the same God who created the seas and storms, and rule over them (Gen. 1:6-8; Job 28:23-27; Ps. 93:3-4; Eph. 3:8-9). They are the ones who’ve seen faithful people through earth-shaking storms and who still the roaring sea (Ps. 46:2-3; 65:7; 89:9; 107:29-30). Today, He still saves and anchors us so that “we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14, NET).

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Yahweh, you are my God. I will exalt you! I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago, in complete faithfulness and truth. … For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat, when the blast of the dreaded ones is like a storm against the wall.

Isaiah 25:1, 4, WEB

If we’re in the middle of a storm and asking God, “Don’t you care that we are about to die?” the answer is two-fold. First, God tells us we don’t need to worry so much; He’s got this. Second, He assures us that He definitely does care; He cares so much that Jesus came to this world and lived and died as a human being to save those who believe in Him and give them everlasting life.

As we face the storm-like trials of our lives, remember that Jesus is there with us in our boats. Even if it seems like He’s fallen asleep and isn’t paying attention, He still has us in His power and under His protection. Hold fast to Him, and He’ll get us through.

He has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can people do to me?”

Heb. 13:5-6, NET

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Big Questions of the Bible

Since last week’s post, inspired by the big questions Leo Tolstoy asked in his book A Confession, I’ve been thinking about the questions that people in the Bible asked. From the sorts of questions recorded in Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and elsewhere in scripture, it seems clear that God is okay with us asking Him things such as “Why am I here?”, “What is the purpose of suffering?”, and “What ought I do with my life?”

Today, we still have a lot of questions for God. Some of them are specific, such as “Why did that bad thing happen to me?” or “How can I decided what the next step for my life is?” Others are more general, the sorts of things that most thinking people wondered at some point in their lives, such as “What is the meaning of life?” and “Where do I fit into the universe?”

It often seems like these types of questions are too big to answer and so we shouldn’t try to ask them. Or it might seem as if we’re the only ones who haven’t figured this out yet, since everyone else seems like they’re functioning just fine. But we’re all asking questions and we all have things we’re uncertain about, just like people in the Bible. Even the “heroes of faith” like Job and David asked big questions, some of which seem audacious to us. We might expect God to get angry or offended at questions like “Why did you make me like this?” or “What do you think you’re doing, letting this terrible thing happen to me?” But throughout scripture, God shows remarkable patience with His people’s questions and also a willingness to answer. One of the most amazing things about Job’s story, for example, isn’t that Job asked questions about his suffering; it’s that God showed up to give an answer and ask questions of His own.

If you search for question marks in the Bible, you come back with 3,256 results in the WEB translation and 2,990 in the NET. The exact number varies depending on how translators choose to interpret phrases and where they put punctuation marks, but however you figure it up that’s a lot of questions. We can’t cover them all in one post, and not all fit in the “big questions” category. I’ve picked out four types of these questions I want to look at today, and there are plenty more that we could examine. If this inspires you to do a study on questions for yourself, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below or in an email.

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What is the point of anything?

In his darkest trials, Job asked why he’d even been born if this is what was going to happen (Job 3:11-16; 6:11-13; 10:18). It wasn’t a self-destructive thought for him, but it does seem to be one of frustration and despair. Why even live if suffering is the main result? What’s the point of being born, and living, and dying in a world where such terrible things can happen to good people?

Similarly, Solomon in Ecclesiastes wonders what the point is of living and working here on earth (Ecc. 1:3; 3:9; 4:8). Life seems to just go on and on with no real profit or gain, especially if you’re working alone rather than in a community. If there’s no satisfaction, or wealth, or any sort of meaningful profit then it’s all “vanity. Yes, it is a miserable business” (Ecc. 4:8, WEB). Others ask this type of question more specifically, wondering “What is the point of serving God?” (Job 21:15; Mal. 3:13-14).

God counters this sort of thinking with a question of His own: “Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which doesn’t satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in richness” (Is. 55:2, WEB). In other words, if our lives and efforts seems pointless it’s because we’re devoting them to the wrong sorts of things. This reminds me of one of Tolstoy’s observations in A Confession* that I wrote about last week. He realized that just because it felt as if his life wasn’t meaningful that didn’t mean all life had no meaning.

Another answer that God offers to this question is a clearer picture of Himself. He answered Job’s questions about the meaning of life and the purpose of suffering by revealing Himself to Job more fully (for an interesting take on that aspect of Job, see Philip Yancey’s The Bible Jesus Read*). It might seem an oddly indirect answer to us, but it’s one that appeared to satisfy Job. The clearer we can see and understand God, the more meaningful life seems.

*please note that this is an affiliate link, which means I'll earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase this book.
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Does God really care?

Faith in God answers a lot of life’s big questions. But it also brings up new questions. Once you believe that God exists and that He’s all powerful, it often follows that we wonder why He lets certain things happen. Why is there suffering? Why are there wars? How could a loving God allow such terrible things? Doesn’t He care?

The psalms are full of these sorts of questions. “Why do you stand far off, Yahweh?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1, WEB), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1, WEB), and many more questions like these echo through history in the cries of many hurting people today (Ps. 13:1; 43:2; 44:24; 74:1, 11; 89:46; 108:11). We wonder why it seems that God leaves us alone in our times of trouble, and why it seems like He’s ignoring our cries for help (Lam 5:20; Hab. 1:2). Doesn’t He care about us at all?

There’s a story of a time when Jesus and his disciples were on a boat and a storm blew up. Jesus was sleeping through it, but they woke Him with the question, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?” (Mark 4:38, WEB). Jesus hadn’t been worried at all, but at their question He got up and stopped the storm. I suspect there’s a reason Jesus wasn’t worried. With God on our side, the storms of life don’t present a real danger to us. Even if He seems to not be paying attention, He’s still very present and protective. He has the power to stop the storms instantly, and sometimes He does to show us His power and reliability, but things are still going to work together for good in the end even if He decides to let us go through the storms.

Perhaps a better question would be, “Why does God care so much?” There’s tons of evidence that God cares deeply about humanity. The main proof of that is found in Jesus’s sacrifice–God cares enough about us to die in our place. With that perspective in mind, our question may become “What are we that God should even think of us, much less care so much about us?” (Job 7:17; Ps. 8:4; Heb. 2:6). It’s awe-inspiring to think about the creator of the universe wanting us to be part of His family simply because He loves so much.

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Why isn’t God doing things the way I want?

This next question is closely related to the last one. We wonder how long our trials will last, sure it would be better if God stepped in now and took care of things for us. We wonder how long it will be until the end comes, since it seems like the sooner the better for Jesus to return and stop pain, suffering, death, and evil. Similarly, we may question God’s planning and timing in other areas, wondering if He is unfair in the things that He commands or the way He interacts with people.

Even though these questions can sound like a lack of faith or an accusation, they’re still questions that it’s okay to ask. Jesus didn’t get upset when His disciples said, “Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”–He just answered their question (Matt. 24:3, WEB). Yahweh didn’t cut-off Moses for asking, “How long must this suffering last?” (Ps. 90:13, NET). We can ask these things. It only becomes problematic when we decided the answer must be that God is wrong and we’re right.

Tolstoy talks about the insanity of this attitude by comparing “learned and liberal” people who reject God to kids who tear apart a watch without understanding how to put it back together, then complain that it doesn’t work. That’s similar to the analogies found in the Bible. When people accuse God of unfairness or of not knowing what He’s doing, God turns some big questions back on them. He says, “You turn things upside down!” It’s not for the creation to question the Creator and decide that He’s the one who lacks understanding. “Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ House of Israel, aren’t my ways fair? Aren’t your ways unfair?” (Job 8:3; Is. 29:16; Jer. 2:5; Ezk. 18:23-29). God’s not the problem here; our limited understanding and lack of trust are what’s to blame.

What must I do now?

A rich young man once asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” When Jesus replied that this man should keep the commandments, he responded, ““All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?” (Matt. 19:16-20; Mark 10:17-21; Luke 18:18-23). That question is at the top of my list for things I’d like to ask God and get a clear answer on right now. I grew up in the church and didn’t really have a rebellious phase (though that doesn’t mean I haven’t sinned/missed the mark on God’s commandments). But I do sympathize with this young man. I’ve been following God my whole life; what do I still lack?

Whether you’re just starting out your journey as a Christian–like those in Acts whose response to hearing the gospel was, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37; 16:30)– or you’ve been following God for many years, the question of what to do now is a good one. Throughout scripture, people asked questions like, “How can man be just with God?”, “Where does wisdom come from?”, “Where is the good way?”, and “How shall I come before Yahweh?” (Job 9:2; 28:12, 20; Ps. 119:9; Jer. 6:16; Mic. 6:6-8). We treat these questions like they’re very complicated, but God gives us simple answers.

He has shown you, O man, what is good.
What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly,
to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8, WEB

Jesus reiterates the simplicity of this point in the gospels. His answer to “How can we know the way?” is “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:5-6, WEB). His answer to “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” and “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” is to love God and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:35-40; Luke 10:25-29). It’s not that complicated.

God welcomes His people to engage with Him in real, dynamic relationship. Part of that relationship involves asking questions. If we have concerns, we’re invited to take them to God. If we have questions about Him or for Him, we ought to ask and then seek answers from Him through prayer, Bible study, meditation on the Word, and fasting.

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“Why Do I Live?” Finding Answers to Life’s Big Questions

If you’re familiar with Leo Tolstoy, chances are it’s in the context of him being one of the greatest Russian novelists rather than as a Christian writer. He published his two best-known works in the mid-to-late 19th century: War and Peace in 1869 and Anna Karenina in 1878. It was after finishing Anna Karenina early in 1877, and before resuming his literary work in 1885, that he devoted himself to a close study of faith (reference: Aylmer Maude’s introduction to A Confession, The Gospel in Brief, What I Believe, printed by Oxford University Press).

Tolstoy’s essay titled A Confession was mostly written in 1879 and was first circulated in Russia (with a short additional note from the author) in 1882 despite efforts to suppress its publication. In this essay, Tolstoy recounts his own loss of faith, the years of his life spent in dissipation among other “learned and liberal” people, and finally his disillusionment with that sort of life. He describes himself as coming to a seemingly inescapable realization that life is meaningless and that he ought to kill himself. This was a time of mental agony for him. Tolstoy was a highly successful and respected author, with a wife and children whom he loved, yet he had to hide ropes and guns lest he use them against himself.

As he recalls his reasoning in those days, Tolstoy talks about asking questions such as, “What am I with my desires?” and “Why do I live?” As a well-educated man, he naturally turned to science and reason for answers. Yet there, he found that people aren’t so much interested in answering these questions as they are in studying and observing the world. What he found from science indicated that everything happened by chance and you must understand “infinite complexity” and “the laws of those mutations of form” before you could hope to understand why you’re alive. Then Tolstoy turned to philosophy, where he found that philosophers had been asking his same questions for thousands of years. Yet they didn’t have an answer which satisfied him either–they just gave back “the same question, only in a complex form” (Section V).

People in the Bible also asked big questions, and we’re still doing that today as well. The questioner from the Bible whom Tolstoy focused on in his writings was Solomon, and he quotes extensively from Ecclesiastes (which I’ve written about in “Crash Course in Ecclesiastes”). Other Bible people who asked big questions include Job and his three friends. And while Solomon and Job are the first people who come to mind as wrestling with big questions, other questions like “If it is like this, why do I live?” (Gen. 25:22), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1), and “Is there unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 3:5; 9:14) fill the pages of the Bible. We serve a God who invites us to ask big, difficult, and troubling questions and then come to Him for answers.

It’s fitting, then, that Tolstoy found the most satisfying answers for his big questions when he turned to faith. He realizes that just because he’d decided that his life was not meaningful did not mean all life was without meaning. As he looked around him, he realized that people had been acting as if life were meaningful for thousands of years. Perhaps they hadn’t been wrong. Perhaps they–and the people alive now who saw value in living–knew something that he’d missed. And so Tolstoy began seeking answers among those who believe that life is worth living in spite of the hardships, namely, among people of faith. He was not impressed by those Christians among his wealthy, highly educated acquaintances because most professed faith but did not live it out, but Tolstoy did find something to admire in the simple working people. Those people lived with faith that deeply affected their lives and which answered their big questions.

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At this point, Tolstoy describes the highly educated and intelligent people who reject God as those who “have decided that the master is stupid or does not exist, and that we are wise, only we feel that we are quite useless and that we must somehow do away with ourselves” (Section XI). These sorts of people are so impressed with themselves that they’ve missed what gives life meaning. He also says, “Were it not so terrible it would be ludicrous with what pride and self-satisfaction we, like children, pull the watch to pieces, take out the spring, make a toy of it, and are then surprised that the watch does not go” (Section IX). It should be no surprise that if we try to take out God and faith–which make life worth living and reveal the meaning of existence– we’ll feel as if life is worthless and meaningless. Tolstoy found this born out in his own experiences: “I need only be aware of God to live; I need only forget Him, or disbelieve Him, and I died” (Section XII).

A Confession is a fascinating read. Tolstoy speaks frankly about terribly difficult subjects, including his struggles with suicidal thoughts and with finding answers to life’s most important questions. He also touches on his conflicts with church dogma (in this case the doctrines of the Russian Orthodox church), which I understand he develops more fully in writings that I haven’t yet read. In a way that reminds me a little of C.S. Lewis, Tolstoy left his childhood Christian faith and then later came back as a more mature and intelligent adult, concluding that God is the only thing which can give life meaning.

So many people in the modern world like to set up “faith” and “reason” as things that are opposed. I love reading about highly intelligent people like Lewis and Tolstoy who come to the conclusion that faith in God is the only reasonable answer to life’s big questions. It helps encourage me that a life of faith is not a life that’s opposed to reason, logic, and intelligence–that, in fact, the most reasonable use of our intelligence leads to the conclusion that faith in God is right and good.

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Living Jesus Clearly in an World of Darkness

One of the things I often struggle with in settings like work and school is how much of my faith to share. I’m not an evangelist sort of person, and trying to convert people who don’t know Jesus yet is never something I’ve felt a strong calling to do. I’m much more comfortable–and feel I’m using my gifts far more effectively–when working with an audience of people who already have some kind of Christian framework for how they view the world. I also want to be respectful of other people’s time, personal beliefs, and conversational boundaries. Yet at the same time, I’m not ashamed of my faith and I want to live it out boldly the way I see heroes of faith doing in the Bible. At the very least, I want to let others see that faith is a central part of my life.

This struggle is one I think many Christians today can identify with, particularly as pressure to keep your beliefs to yourself increases. Many Christians in the Western world aren’t facing overt, clear, and violent persecution the way our brethren are in other parts of the world; we’re facing a more subtle, seemingly less dangerous pressure to not talk about Jesus in public, or say “God bless you,” or mention anything which may offend those who believe differently. Yet when we look at the examples of people in the New Testament, we see the apostles and other disciples risking ostracization from their communities as well as death, beatings, and imprisonment rather than be quiet about the gospel. At the same time, though, we’re also told to be wise about how we navigate the world around us. How do we balance all that? And what scriptures might help us figure out the answer?

Loving and Obeying

As we approach this question, I think we need to start from the position of seeking, “What does God ask of me?” and “How can I love Him more fully?” Beginning this sort of studying by wondering how low-profile we can be while still meeting the bare minimum requirements for Christianity would mean prioritizing what the world thinks of us over our relationship with God. We certainly don’t want that, so let’s start our search for answers by putting our relationship with God first.

As I wrote about more extensively last year in a post called “Do I Love God Enough To Obey Him?“, it’s impossible to overstate how important it is for us to know and be known by God. Love is a central part of that relationship–both God’s love for us and our love for God and for the people around us. The Apostle John’s writings make it clear that this love must involve obeying Jesus and the Father. Our relationship with God should change the way we live, and the form that change takes can be described as obedience to God’s commandments on a spiritual level. We’re to love God’s law and become righteous in the same way that He is righteous.

Obedience is not our means to righteousness; it is the clearest expression of our devotion to Jesus. … If we truly love Him, as we say we do, what He says will matter to us profoundly. We will not follow the acceptable parts of His teachings and ignore the objectionable parts. We will not approach our relationship with Him as though we are trying to get by with the bare minimum behavioral changes. We will devour His teachings, turning them over in our hearts, meditating on their application, and living them as clearly as we can.

Chris Tiegreen, 365 Pocket Devotions, Day 159

With that background, the question of how to live out our faith in this world becomes secondary to the question of how we ought to live our lives in close alignment with God. It is as a result of our relationship with God that we have “good works” which we can let shine as a light before all people (Matt. 5:14-16; Phil. 2:15; 4:5; 1 Pet 2:12). We’re supposed to be fully-engaged in living for God, and if that is truly our focus it will be obvious to the people around us. We should want others to notice that there’s something different about us so they will realize God deserves all the glory and praise for whatever is good about us.

Wise, Harmless, and Bold

When looking at scriptures that talk about how to share your faith, there are a few key points that stand out to me. The first is how many times the New Testament talks about boldness when preaching. That description is used over and over in the book of Acts, where the disciples kept talking about Jesus even though they faced threats of imprisonment, beatings, excommunication, and even death for sharing the gospel (Acts 4:29, 31; 9:27; 14:3; 18:26; 19:8; 28:31). Paul also writes about speaking boldly. He encourages others to be bold and asks for prayers that he might speak with boldness (2 Cor. 3:12; Eph. 6:19-20; Phil. 1:14, 20; 1 Thes. 2:2; 1 Tim. 3:13). We should not let fear hold us back from talking about Jesus but being bold isn’t always easy; even Paul wanted the support of prayers so that he could keep preaching the gospel.

Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.

Matthew 10:16-20, WEB

While we are supposed to be bold and courageous, not worrying about the possibility that we’ll face resistance or prosecution for our faith, we’re also supposed to be wise. Part of that is knowing when to speak and when not to speak. Peter says we should always be ready to give an answer if someone asks us about our faith (1 Pet. 3:15), but that doesn’t mean always speaking up when you haven’t been asked. The world is not a safe place. That fact should never terrify us, especially since we know God is on our side, but it should make us exercise wisdom. A wise person thinks before they speak. They seek God’s help in figuring out when to “hold their peace” and when silence is not an appropriate option (Est. 7:3-4; Prov. 11:12; Is. 62:1; Acts 11:18). As we seek to live rightly and shine Jesus’s light clearly, we also ought to be “wise serpents” and “innocent doves” who are careful to do no harm.

I know that conclusion doesn’t really give a clear answer to the questions we started with about how much you should talk about your faith as society increasingly pressures Christians to stay quiet about their beliefs. Still, I think Bible studies like this one help us keep our priorities clear. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day-level worries about how people might respond to us or whether or not we said the right thing in a conversation. We ought to take a more big-picture approach, seeking first to honor God and letting all the other things fall into place around that central relationship.