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There are two well-meaning questions on most of our minds as we read and apply Scripture: “What does this mean to me?” and, “What does this passage teach about what I am supposed to do?” Yet, if we try to apply the Bible only in these ways, we are missing Scripture’s intended purpose. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture’s design is to reveal our spiritual brokenness and point us to Christ (Hebrews 4:12-16). This redemptive focus isn’t about merely changing our behavior; it’s about changing our heart. The end goal of Bible study is Christ-centered application so that we might become more like Jesus, day by day, little by little.
- How do you practically apply what you’ve read in Scripture to your life?
Some years back, I learned that I’d been reading the Bible with the wrong focus. I thought the point of reading it was mainly to learn what I should believe and how I should behave. I was wrong. Actually, it was that I had the wrong focus: My reading and study centered on me. But the focus of the Bible is on the person and redemptive work of Christ. The word “redemptive” is about rescuing and liberating someone from error or evil. God’s Word shows me all the places where I need this kind of delivering. When I began to read the Bible with a redemptive focus instead of a self-focus, the sometimes-stagnant waters of my faith began to churn.
- Do you think Bible reading is a “have to” or a “should” for the follower of Christ? Why or why not?
- Why do you read the Bible?
Both First and Second Peter center on Christ, our living hope. Peter’s first letter called believers to look to Christ as their example of holy living while enduring persecution. Patient endurance and submission to authorities were ways to shout the gospel to the culture around them. Peter’s second letter warned of false teachers and prophets and those who scoffed at the return of Christ. If believed, these people had the potential to undermine believers’ hope and damage their witness. We face the same trials and threats to our faith today. So, in his second letter, Peter began his letter by grounding them—and us—in godly reminders of God’s power and promises.
- What good can come from being reminded of things you already know?
Time’s Up is the current public battle cry against sexual harassment and discrimination, especially for women. Dovetailing on this is the #MeToo movement, which has been not just an American thing but rather a worldwide phenomenon. It brings to light sexual violence. The cultural shift on these issues has been palpable; it’s something that both Christians and non-Christians can agree is good and right. God is never for oppression. But what are we to do when we come across a biblical passage that our culture says feeds the problem instead of fosters a solution?
- What is your response when current cultural thought seems to clash with God’s Word? Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you find yourself shifting your beliefs?
Under the threat of persecution, Jewish Christians were tempted to retreat to the safety of something other than Christ. By using the example of their Israelite ancestors, the writer taught them there was only one place of true safety, only one real place to find rest. Surprisingly, rest was not the cessation of activity—it wasn’t loafing around the Promised Land with a toe dipped in milk and honey. In the Bible, rest was first the promise and then the place of the land of Canaan. Entering this rest required active faith and obedience. It was about staying strong and courageous. Ultimately, this rest was found in a person.
- To where or what or whom do you retreat when you need rest?
Under the threat of persecution, Hebrew believers were retreating from Christ to the supposed safety of Judaism. The writer had been making a case that Christ was greater than all the aspects of their former religion to which they were clinging. In this passage, the author gave them a history lesson as a warning. He reminded them of an incident that took place when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and didn’t believe God. They heard God’s voice and saw his works yet went astray in their hearts. What did they forfeit because of their hard hearts, and how do we as believers still share in the danger of falling away today?
- Has there ever been a time when you have fallen away, maybe drifted a bit from God? What brought you back?
Know when to choose your battles. This is great advice for marriage, parenting, and really for life in general. The idea is to save “the fight” for something that really matters. For example, when my son came home from elementary school with excessive orange marker “highlighting” his eyebrows, I let it go. In middle school, when he wanted to wear his hair a little longer and shaggier, “like everyone else,” I didn’t put up a fight. But later, in high school, the stakes for fitting in were a little higher. Temptations abounded and not every friend was a great influence. The battle that raged for my son’s character and integrity was one in which my husband and I wholeheartedly engaged; we wanted him to stand firm and we fought for what was at stake.
- How do you decide which battles to choose? What makes you get in the fight?
How often have we heard predictions for the end of the world? Whether it’s a kind of “crazy talk” shouted by someone on a street corner or “religious research” revealed through minor news outlets, we usually don’t give them much credence. “Fake news,” we would scoff. So, what would it take for us to believe a real word from God on “the end”? The prophets faced this dilemma as they relayed God’s messages to his people.
- What portions of God’s Word seem too difficult, too unimaginable, to believe?
The dominant purpose of the Old Testament prophetic books was to teach and warn the nation of Israel to rid their hearts of idols—to spiritually divest themselves of the things they valued over and above God. When we hear the words “prophet” or “prophecy,” we often think of predicting the future. But mostly these books preach about applying what God has already said. The book of Zephaniah is in that smaller percentage of prophetic literature (about 25%) that contains mainly foretelling—learning what God will do. And because the culture of his day was not so different than ours today, Zephaniah still speaks the heart of a holy God to the modern reader in an arresting way.
- Sometime today, skim through the whole of Zephaniah’s vision from God (just three short chapters).
Colleges That Change Lives is an organization we learned about when our daughter was in high school and starting to think about college applications. They publish an educational guide of excellent, but often overlooked, schools which promises “that you will love them for making a new and better you. Your satisfaction will be lifelong.” The founder of this guide understands that a college experience has the potential to change and shape you and your future. In a much more profound way, today’s passage is about a historical event that should continue to shape and impact every single day of our lives.
- What experience or event has had a significant influence on your life? What made it so impactful?