Being Led by the Holy Spirit

Being led by the Holy Spirit, a Sermon by Robert Williams

This is a critical analysis of Robert William’s sermon: Being Led by the Holy Spirit, specifically, the last portion of the sermon: That’s Not God. How can you tell whether you are hearing the voice of God… or something else?

The Truth about Guilt

God has surrounded us with an important message. With the passing of time and the changing of seasons, that message is told and retold. We live, eat, and breathe it. It is evidenced within our own bodies. The message is renewal. All around us and in us. For example, most people associate the rising of the sun with newness or starting over. The decay of winter stifles the growth of deadly pathogens and ushers in the greenery of spring. We work so we can rest, and we rest so we can work. Our clothes, dishes, houses, and cars get dirty. We clean them and start over. We grow new skin every 2 weeks, a new liver every 3 to 5 hundred days, and a new skeleton every 10 years or so. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, renewal in the New Testament…

…invariably refers to spiritual renewal, e.g. Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:10; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 6:6; all derivatives of kainos, “new.”

Keep these things in mind as you continue reading.

This is post four of four, based on a portion of the sermon, Being Led by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-15), by Robert Williams.

That’s Not God

According to Williams, there are four ways you can tell you are not hearing God’s voice:

  1. God never says anything that contradicts Scripture
  2. God’s voice is not the voice of anxiety, unsettledness or exhaustion
  3. God’s voice is not the voice of obscurity – “Clear trumpet”
  4. God’s corrective voice is not one of guilt or condemnation but loving discipline and conviction of sin

Today, we’ll examine number four: God’s corrective voice is not one of guilt or condemnation but loving discipline and conviction of sin. It is the only one of the four (the 25% truth) I embrace as completely true.

Williams explains,

God is not going to put guilt… he is not going to speak to you in such a way as to make you feel awful and to heap guilt and condemnation on you. He does correct us, though. But His correction is loving. It’s loving discipline and guidance, and He touches our heart to make us feel the conviction of sin in our heart without heaping guilt and condemnation because we failed to do something. That’s not God.

The key concepts are:

  • Guilt
  • Condemnation
  • Discipline
  • Conviction

The word that packs the most punch in this list is “guilt.” Condemnation, discipline and conviction would be rather irrelevant without guilt. The word “guilt,” as it is used by Williams and as it is commonly used by all of us, is a feeling we have when we fail to meet some moral standard. In scripture, guilt has a different sort of meaning.

The Hebrew Old Testament word “asam” means “guilt,” and is used interchangeably with the word “sin,” but it also means “guilt offering.” The first meaning has to do with the sin itself, while the second one has to do with an attempt to make it right. The first meaning is about the relationship between the offender and God, while the second one has to do with the relationship between the offender and the community.

Throughout history, the ritualistic practice of animal sacrifice to ease the human conscience and appease a god or gods can be found in almost every culture, including that of the Hebrews. The meaning of this ritual, as barbaric as it is, is agreed upon by the the community as a way of addressing both guilt and the need to make things right, preserving a sense of order. We may think that we are far too civilized to ever participate in such a system. But consider the death penalty and wars — humans, not animals, are killed as a way of addressing guilt and the need to make things right. We think that by doing such things we are preserving order. Go figure.

There is no Greek New Testament equivalent for the guilt-offering kind of “asam,” which really isn’t that surprising for reasons that will become obvious as you keep reading.

Balancing the Scale

Whenever one person wrongs another person, the offended one usually feels a sense of imbalance, thinking “that’s not right” or “that’s not fair” and “the offender owes me ___.” (Fill in the blank with whatever makes you feel better when someone has done wrong to you.) This is the reason we see lady Justice holding a balancing scale in and around courtrooms and courthouses. The offender may also feel a sense of imbalance, but since that imbalance is in his or her favor, it is not likely to produce the same discomfort as it does for the offended one. Depending on the offense, “making it right” or balancing out the scale could entail something as light as apology or something as heavy as death.

I began this blog post with the concept of renewal. But keep in mind that the need for renewal only arises when its opposite exists. Destruction, debilitation, and corruption are present all around us and in us. God’s plan for dealing with the moral imbalance of the universe is radically different and all-encompassing.

On one side of the scale, we have time, space, matter, and more importantly, things we cannot clearly define, like what makes us “us,” kindness, generosity, acceptance, the joy we feel over the beauty of nature, the awe we experience in the presence of creativity in arts or music, the satisfaction we find in science, the sense of adventure that drives us to go places and do things we never dreamed were possible (followed by a sense victory and accomplishment), and of course, the deep love we feel for our friends, family, and even our pets.

On the other end of the scale we find the dark and gloomy opposites: Death, confinement, deprivation, hatred, greed, rejection, hopelessness, apathy, and as the apostle Paul wrote, oppressive rule and the ordered systems that enable abuse of power and the malicious spiritual opposition that exists outside of the reality we currently know and understand.

The worst part about it is that we all participate, in one way or another, in the behaviors we despise. So as soon as we enter into a mindset of demanding punishment for those who have offended us, we find ourselves among those who ought to be punished. It’s a nasty predicament wherein guilt, condemnation, discipline, and conviction work both for us and against us.

The Divine Response

To understand the divine response to all of this, we can look to Jesus Christ as He arrives back in his home town of Nazareth, after having been away for a while:

…and he went in, according to his custom, on the sabbath-day, to the synagogue, and stood up to read; and there was given over to him a roll of Isaiah the prophet, and having unfolded the roll, he found the place where it hath been written:

“The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because He did anoint me; to proclaim good news to the poor, sent me to heal the broken of heart, to proclaim to captives deliverance, and to blind receiving of sight, to send away the bruised with deliverance, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

And having folded the roll, having given [it] back to the officer, he sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue were gazing on him. And he began to say unto them, “Today hath this writing been fulfilled in your ears.” (Luke 4:16-21)

When Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because He did anoint me,” He basically announces that He is qualified and equipped in every way to accomplish His mission. Each statement thereafter has one common theme, that is, making things that have gone wrong right again. The final statement sums up all the others: “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” But what does this mean? What is the “acceptable year?” How does Jesus’ last statement sum up all the others?

The Year of Jubilee

Jesus’ audience was very familiar with the acceptable year, the Year of Jubilee, when slaves and prisoners were freed, debts were forgiven, and land (leased property) was returned. The idea behind the Year of Jubilee was to restore balance in a world where one’s inheritance could be lost by force, for example, to greed, the abuse of power, corrupt financial practices, etc., lost by misfortunes such as famine or sickness, or lost by bad choices such as laziness or reckless financial decisions. Since the Year of Jubilee only came every 50 years, a relative (kin) could buy back (redeem) the land or debt incurred so that one wouldn’t have to wait decades for brand new life. Those who no longer possessed land entered into indentured servitude, slavery, or crime in order to survive.

The Year of Jubilee was a time of great celebration, a time when people remembered: Ultimately, every person and every thing belongs to God. The sound of a ram’s horn announced liberty for everyone along with and God’s command: “ye do not oppress one another.” The kinsman redeemer is a type of Christ in that He, who was not guilty (did not owe a debt), willingly gave himself over to all the condemnation and penalties associated with guilt (paid the debt).

On one side of the scale of justice is the guilt and sin of every sentient being in the universe and even the universe itself, in its current state of entropy that requires continuous renewal. On the other side of the scale, in a system of oppression and corruption, is the brutal death of Christ, which held such weighty significance that the scales were not only balanced once and for all, but rendered obsolete. One divine act of selfless love changed everything. There is nothing that can undo what Christ has done. There is no person or system or power that can stop what His death and resurrection set into motion.

In this way, the primal human response to injustice, that is, the shedding of blood, is satisfied. However painful and wrong and unfair it was, the flesh and blood Image of God bled out to demonstrate an amazing concept in a language we violent creatures can understand. That concept is, God forgives our “debts,” and He expects us to forgive our “debtors.” This is the righteousness of God, revealed to all those who believe.

He died on behalf of all in order that those who live should not live any longer for themselves but for the one who on their behalf died and was raised. So from now on, we do not look at anyone from a worldly viewpoint. Even if we once regarded the Messiah from a worldly viewpoint, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is united with the Messiah, he is a new creation — the old has passed; look, what has come is fresh and new! And it is all from God, who through the Messiah has reconciled us to himself and has given us the work of that reconciliation, which is that God in the Messiah was reconciling mankind to himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors of the Messiah; in effect, God is making his appeal through us. What we do is appeal on behalf of the Messiah, “Be reconciled to God! God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with him we might fully share in God’s righteousness. (2 Corinthians 5:15-21)

Now back to that pesky guilt and condemnation.

What place do guilt and condemnation have, now that Christ has done away with the balancing scale? That’s where discipline and correction come in. The Greek word “paideia,” translated “discipline,” means “instruction that trains someone to reach full development (maturity).” That instruction can be delightful or painful, depending on our attitude towards it, but its end result is a clearer sense of who we are in Christ (as opposed to who we were in Adam).

For some people, that might sound like Christianese, so let me put it another way: You are who God says you are. Not who other people say or think you are. Not even what you say or think you are. If you continue with the sickening dread of guilt and the hopeless weight of condemnation, you are basically calling God a liar and acting like one who believes Christ did not accomplish His mission.

Think about any intentions, actions, or words that can result in God’s discipline or correction — these are things you need to stop practicing, because this is not who God created you to be. This is not who you really are. Now, think about any intentions, actions, or words that demonstrate selfless love — these are things you need to keep practicing because you are like Christ, because you are in Him and He is in you. This is who you really are. It’s as simple as that.

Some people don’t believe it, though, because they struggle with guilt. Or maybe we are looking at this the wrong way. Maybe some people struggle with guilt because they don’t believe it. In the year of Jubilee, people who had been slaves for decades could suddenly become free. But what if they didn’t believe they were free? What if they said, “That’s good news that is just too good to be true,” and then continued plowing or mending or whatever it was that slaves did.

Jesus came to save the lost. Fortunately, He also came to seek the lost. If you are a slave to guilt, Jesus has already saved you from it. If you continue as a slave to guilt, Jesus will seek (zētéō) you. Zētéō means, “to seek by inquiring; to investigate to reach a binding resolution; to search, ‘getting to the bottom of a matter.'”

 

Read the other blogs in this series here.

25% Truth (Almost There) is post three of four, based on a portion of the sermon, Being Led by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-15), by Robert Williams.
 

That’s Not God

According to Williams, there are four ways you can tell you are not hearing God’s voice:

  1. God never says anything that contradicts Scripture
  2. God’s voice is not the voice of anxiety, unsettledness or exhaustion
  3. God’s voice is not the voice of obscurity – “Clear trumpet”
  4. God’s corrective voice is not one of guilt or condemnation but loving discipline and conviction of sin

Today, we’ll examine number three: God’s voice is not the voice of obscurity – “Clear trumpet”

Williams explains number three, saying,

We preach and teach a lot here about what we call the “Clear trumpet” call. Again, there’s no confusion, there’s no contradiction in the voice of God. When He speaks it will be clear and we will discern and understand and know that it’s the voice of God. If there’s confusion, if there’s a lot of static and a lot of different voices saying different things, that’s not God.

While I don’t necessarily think that number three is wrong, I think it is unclear, no pun intended. I admit ignorance, because I have not heard the specific preaching and teaching about the clear trumpet call to which Williams referred. His listeners likely have a better idea of what he’s talking about. But many readers of this blog have their own ideas about obscurity and clarity and hearing the voice of God. So my aim in this blog post is to clarify and expound on number three.

There are two ideas introduced…

…first, what God’s voice is not (obscurity), and second, what God’s voice is (clear).

obscurity voice of god

clarity voice of god

There’s a paradox in proclaiming clarity.

Intuitively, in order for the statement, “God’s voice is not the voice of obscurity; God’s voice is a clear trumpet” to be true, anyone who hears the statement must possess all the knowledge necessary to conclude its truth. In other words, it must be something that is already apparent to him or her, before he or she hears Williams say so. Williams saying so just affirms what they already know to be true. Think about it. There’s a paradox in proclaiming clarity. If it’s clear, there’s no need to assert that it’s clear, because everyone already knows it’s clear. By proclaiming its clarity, we can assume that for some people (most of us, if we are to be honest with ourselves and with God), God’s voice doesn’t always seem clear as a trumpet.

I’m not saying that Williams is wrong. After all, God spoke, and the universe sprung into existence. Jesus spoke, and deaf people heard. What I am saying is that the clarity of God’s voice and the state of the listener are two entirely different concepts. Ultimately, clarity depends on both the speaker and the audience. With perfect listeners, God’s voice is perfectly clear. And since God’s audience consists of fallible human beings, clarity can and does get lost somewhere between God’s utterance and the audience’s understanding. Variables to consider when God speaks to us include:

  • How receptive are we?
  • How interested are we?
  • How distracted are we?
  • How confused are we?
  • What biases do we have? In other words, how likely are we to discard or embrace what God says before we hear it?
  • How skeptical are we?
  • How hopeful are we?

Something else to consider… if God’s voice is clear as a trumpet, then why should confirmation matter at all? Isn’t confirmation a non-issue to one who has already clearly heard and understood the voice of God? Which leads to a couple more considerations:

  • Do we rely too heavily on confirmation (scripture, preaching, teaching, prophecy, open and closed doors, pastors, teachers, elders, wise counsel, etc.)?
  • Are we likely to assume too much, charging ahead, dismissing confirmation?

Perhaps some would say this blog post does more harm then good, causing readers heads to spin with contradiction and confusion, or leading readers in too many different directions at once. Since my goal is to clear away misconceptions…

Here are a few MISCONCEPTIONS:

  • If you don’t hear God’s voice clear as a trumpet, then it must not be the voice of God.
  • If you hear what you think is God’s voice from an obscure (not mainstream, nonorthodox, somewhat hidden, etc.) source, then it must not be the voice of God.
  • If you experience any confusion after hearing what you believe to be the voice of God, then it’s not the voice of God.
  • If you experience any doubt after hearing what you believe to be the voice of God, then it’s not the voice of God.

If you believe I am mistaken and that these are NOT misconceptions, a cursory reading of Matthew 13 may convince you otherwise.

If you think you are hearing from God, but you aren’t sure, you might want to consider what kind of listener you are during this season of your spiritual journey. There are times when we fully share God’s will, and it is oh-so-easy to accept what God says in the most natural and transparent way. There are times when we accept some social or emotional situation that puts us in oppositional relation to God’s will, and it is oh-so-difficult to understand what God says, so much so, that we think it can’t possibly the voice of God, because it is so unnatural and confusing.

So you think you are hearing from God? Ask yourself, “This thing God is saying to me, does it reflect my own position? Does it fit neatly into my own experiences and interests?” If you answered yes to either of those questions, you might want to ask the Spirit of God to examine your heart and reveal what kind of listener you are. Maybe you are hearing Him clearly, but it should seem a bit suspect if God never ruffles your feathers.

Here are some practical ways to practice being a good listener:

Stop talking.

When you pray, you should be silent sometimes. If you are always talking, then you’re not listening.

Let go of preconceptions.

God might tell you things you don’t expect to hear.

 Ask questions.

If you feel confused, have doubts, don’t understand, or whatever, ask God specific questions. Ask hard questions — the ones you’re afraid to ask. God can handle it.

Write it down.

Keeping a spiritual journal helps you recognize patterns of behavior and thinking that break down communication with God. A spiritual journal also helps you recognize ways that God speaks to you that you never recognized before. A lot of people complain that God doesn’t answer their prayers, but a spiritual journal documents and clarifies God’s answers: yes, no, wait… and the most powerful, life-changing answers He gives are often in the form of questions — invitations to explore the depths and heights and dream bigger. Let Him knock your spiritual socks off.

24/7

Sometimes God communicates, well, inconveniently, and in ways that we least expect. Be receptive. Always. Don’t dismiss His message because it happens to be delivered by someone not in your tribe, for example, a pot-smoking, vegan transvestite.

 

Read the other blogs in this series here.

This is post two of four, based on a portion of the sermon, Being Led by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-15), by Robert Williams.
 

That’s Not God

According to Williams, there are four ways you can tell you are not hearing God’s voice:

  1. God never says anything that contradicts Scripture
  2. God’s voice is not the voice of anxiety, unsettledness or exhaustion
  3. God’s voice is not the voice of obscurity – “Clear trumpet”
  4. God’s corrective voice is not one of guilt or condemnation, but loving discipline and conviction of sin

Today, we’ll examine number two: God’s voice is not the voice of anxiety, unsettledness or exhaustion.

Do the words of God cause anxiety?

If I understand Williams correctly, when one hears what he or she believes to be the voice of God, if the message given by that voice causes anxiety, unsettledness or exhaustion, then he or she must assume it can’t possibly be the voice of God. Given the first point Williams made (God never says anything that contradicts Scripture), I’ll begin by examining Williams’ second point in light of scripture.

When Israel found out their “promised land” was already inhabited, they felt anxiety. Their punishment for their lack of faith was to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until their “carcases [were] consumed in the wilderness.” Sounds exhausting to me. When all was said and done, their offspring obtained the promised land under the leadership of Joshua, that is, once kings were hanged, men, women, and children were slaughtered or enslaved, animals were crippled or killed, and cities were burned. And God said to Joshua, “You are very old, but there is still much land to be taken…” Altogether, the conquest took 40 long, anxiety-ridden, exhausting years of unsettledness. And this is just one example. The Old Testament is absolutely loaded with similar examples.

Now here’s the tricky part.

We must either believe that the Old Testament leaders (and/or writers) were not hearing God’s voice or believe that Williams is wrong. I hope that readers take the time to think this through, but for the sake of argument, put that idea on the back burner for a bit.

Here is the question.

Should we dismiss as NOT-the-voice-of-God any message that causes anxiety, unsettledness, or exhaustion? We can find the answer in Christ.

Just prior to His crucifixion, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” The voice of God brought a message that caused Jesus to fall on His knees in prayer.  Luke describes the scene:

…and having been in agony, he was more earnestly praying, and his sweat became, as it were, great drops of blood falling upon the ground.

Hematohidrosis is “a condition in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood,” and can be caused by emotional stress and acute fear. There are documented cases of people sentenced to death breaking out in a bloody sweat. Had God not strengthened Jesus, perhaps He would have fallen asleep like the disciples did:

And having risen up from the prayer, having come unto the disciples, he found them sleeping from the sorrow

John Gill explains the situation:

…he found them sleeping for sorrow; on his account; for he had signified unto them, how exceeding sorrowful he was; and they might perceive by his looks and gestures, the anxiety and distress of mind he was in, which must needs affect them; and besides, he had given them some intimations of his being to be betrayed by one of them, and of his sufferings and death, and speedy departure from them; and because of these things, sorrow had filled their hearts, and this had induced heaviness and sleep upon them…

If God’s voice is not the voice of anxiety, unsettledness or exhaustion, then why are Jesus and the disciples behaving in this way? Obviously, God’s message to Christ was to drink the cup, however awful it was, because doing so would bring redemption to the world.

My argument is two-fold.

First, God’s voice can and does, at times, produce anxiety, unsettledness, and exhaustion. Second, if we believe God is speaking to us, and the message we hear brings anxiety, unsettledness, and exhaustion, we need to examine the underlying cause or circumstances of our emotions and respond appropriately. I actually wrote a blog about this a while back, which you can read here.

Earlier I wrote:

Now here’s the tricky part. We must either believe that the Old Testament leaders (and/or writers) were not hearing God’s voice or believe that Williams is wrong. I hope that readers take the time to think this through, but for the sake of argument, put that idea on the back burner for a bit.

Off the back burner…

I propose instead of taking an “either/or” approach, we take an “and” approach. Why? Well, let me put it like this. Suppose God tells you He is going to give you and your family a house (we’ll call it the “promised house”), but when you find the promised house, you discover it is currently inhabited by another family. You think God might be telling you to slaughter every living thing in the promised house — the parents, the two-and-a-half kids, the dog named Spot, and a goldfish. You think God might kill you if you don’t obey Him, but your kids will take possession of the house after you are dead, as long as they obey.

That’s not the voice of God.

Read the other blogs in this series here.

The previous blog posts in response to a Sunday morning message I listened to online drew so much web traffic (twice as much as normal), I figured people must be interested in critical sermon analysis. So, I’m giving it another go, and will continue to do so, from time to time in the future. This one is based on a portion of the sermon, Being Led by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-15), by Robert Williams.
 

That’s Not God

According to Williams, there are four ways you can tell you are not hearing God’s voice:

  1. God never says anything that contradicts Scripture
  2. God’s voice is not the voice of anxiety, unsettledness or exhaustion
  3. God’s voice is not the voice of obscurity – “Clear trumpet”
  4. God’s corrective voice is not one of guilt or condemnation, but loving discipline and conviction of sin

Let’s have a look at the first one: God never says anything that contradicts Scripture.

American Experiment: Protestantism in the 1700s and 1800s (an excerpt from The Bible: The Book that Bridges the Millennia) describes how Protestant Christians, believing they were hearing the voice of God, found biblical justification for the Trial of Tears and slavery:

native peoples of North America found themselves forced off their tribal lands as U.S. national boundaries expanded further westward. Under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Eastern tribes of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Creek were force-marched along the “Trail of Tears” to the Oklahoma territory. Eventually most Indian nations were forcibly relocated as the U.S. government broke every treaty it made with native peoples. Millions died from disease and genocidal* war. Survivors were confined to “reservations” on the worst lands.

Protestant Christians used the Bible to defend and justify these realities. Slavery was rationalized because Africans were not Christian, therefore labeled “heathens” and considered sub-human. The Promised Land theology of the book of Joshua with its model of military conquest was used to justify the wars against indigenous peoples, the “Canaanites” of the New World. The Puritans who came to the New World saw themselves as God’s elect, called to establish the New Israel. Frontier individualism and the optimism of progress through expansion and wealth led to the political slogan “Manifest Destiny,” which reflected Christian triumphalism, a biblical interpretation that encouraged an attitude of the moral and economic superiority of white Christians over all others, and justified the taking of land.

The oppressors assumed they heard the voice of God. They turned to scripture to validate that assumption, and they found what they were looking for within the writings. We must either conclude that scripture can contradict the voice of God or that using scripture as a means to test whether one is hearing God is, at best, subjective evidence (an oxymoronic word combination), because the concepts contained within its pages become distorted as they pass through the filters of both translation and interpretation.

I propose that we view scripture the way Jesus (“…the Word became human and made his home among us”) taught us. Take, for example, a conversation Jesus had with an expert in scripture. He doesn’t simply ask the man what is written there. He also asks, “How read you?” Our simple English words don’t fully encompass what Jesus asked, but when one examines the Greek, the full meaning becomes clear. Jesus essentially asked, “What is written in the law? In what manner or by what means do you know with certainty?” After some discussion about loving God and loving your neighbor, Jesus told this story:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”

The reason the priest and Levite treated the injured man like roadkill was that commandments in scripture about ritual contamination made handling a half-dead man a personal risk. Should the man die, then they, having touched the man, would not be permitted to perform temple services. Samaritans, in the eyes of Jews and Levites, were heathens to be compared with pigs or dogs. They rejected all of the Old Testament books except the first five. Yet, in Jesus’ story, the Samaritan is the one who heard and obeyed the voice of God. All three of them saw the man, yet only one acted with compassion. Why?

Perhaps the priest and Levite did as most Christians are doing today, that is, using scripture to decide whether they are hearing God, instead of hearing God to decide whether they should use scripture. Jesus not only drew a clear distinction between the word (message) of God and the scriptures (writings) but also associated Himself with the word (message):

Nor have you His word dwelling within you, for you refuse to believe Him whom He has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you suppose that in them you will find the Life of the Ages; and it is those Scriptures that yield testimony concerning me, and yet you are unwilling to come to me that you may have Life.

When I was a kid, I cheated on a test, and I felt so full of shame and guilt that I vomited. During that time, my understanding of the voice of God was continuously filtered through misinterpreted scripture. I not only felt like the sheep that had wandered off but also like the sheep that was being thrown to the wolves by an angry Shepherd. That overused scripture-filter continued to distort much of what I heard from God into adulthood. I loved Jesus, but I didn’t really trust Him the way a sheep trusts a good shepherd. A few years ago, I realized that sometimes hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd and following Him meant rejecting orthodox interpretations of scripture. What a difference that has made in knowing, really knowing Him, and in realizing how He knows me better than I know myself. Of course, I still wander off, I still say or do things that make me feel ashamed of myself. The difference is that I charge with reckless abandon toward the Good Shepherd to rescue me from myself. And as someone who is secure in the knowledge of His boundless grace and love, not just for me, but for everyone, I spend very little time focusing on my failures and a lot more time rejoicing in His victorious message of hope.

(Numbers 2-4 will be covered in upcoming blog posts.)

Read the other blogs in this series here.