Lessons in Definition

A lot has happened since last I wrote here, so first let me fill you in.  We moved to Switzerland!  I could go into all the details of how we got here, but for now know that a long time dream to move our family of six abroad came to fruition in what was undoubtedly the hardest and most exciting process we’ve ever been through (and are still going through). I may have a few more posts like this one as I digest all that God is teaching me.

Blindspots.  They’re those things we don’t see because we can’t see them, they’re hiding, we don’t even know we should be looking for them.   Picture that place between the field of view in your side mirror and your rearview mirror, you know the reason your drivers ed instructor told you to a head check before changing lanes.   And then we change positions, do the head check, and suddenly the hidden car comes into view.  I guess you could say it surprises us because we’re shocked we couldn’t see it before.  But that’s exactly what this refining, sanctifying, growing us more into His likeness stuff is like, isn’t it?  God gently, and maybe sometimes abruptly, pulling us into a different position so we can more clearly see the sin that so easily entangles us.  Not to squash us under guilt and condemnation, but as His adopted children, to show us His glorious strength in our weakness, to show us more of the abundant life, characterised by freedom, that He intends for us.

Let’s call our move to Switzerland a rather large “head” or should I say “heart check”.  I’m certain God has a whole slew of things to grow me up in during our time here, but one of the most obvious right now has been about self definition.  Whether we realize it or not, we all define ourselves by, or get our self worth from certain things.  I think most of us as Christians know that our definition, our self worth, should come from Christ alone.  We’re good at the Sunday school answer, but in truth we still struggle don’t we? This world is full of lies and false promises.  For women, there are countless things that lure us into thinking they will make us valuable, from the opinions of others to career success, the list goes on and I think each of us are prone to believing different ones for different reasons.  It all boils down to definition doesn’t it?  I am Sarah, that’s my name, but if I were a word in a dictionary, what would follow, or what would I like to follow?  We like to think of ourselves as unique, but at the same time just like everyone else.  We have an ideal image of ourselves that we aspire to, but where does this ideal image come from?  Perhaps, and I’m just throwing it out there, we are self-obsessed?  I certainly think the messages we hear in current culture would have us be, but that’s another topic.

So back to our move, let me count blessings to lead into my point.  I don’t have to cook here.  Yes, you heard right, I don’t HAVE to cook.  As part of Travis’s position, we get to eat at the cafeteria for nearly every meal if we so choose (He works for  an international boarding school).  I am thankful for this break, even when the meals aren’t our favorite, it’s wonderful to have the option.  Next blessing, no mortgage.  We are renting out our house in the US and living in staff/faculty housing here in Switzerland as part of the job, it’s an apartment on the forth floor. A great opportunity to beef up our savings! Next up, we don’t have a car… yet.  We are getting lots of exercise in our little Alpine village and learning to slow down a bit because we have to, plus we’re getting a break from the car bickering, all good things right?!

But now we can insert definition crisis.  As a full time homemaker/mother/wife for the past 9.5 years, there are certain ways I have always, unknowingly, defined myself, made myself feel good about my role and calling, measures I have used to decide I’m doing a pretty good job.  A big one is cooking for our family.  No matter how many times I really didn’t feel like doing it, it has always felt like a labor of love to plan and prepare meals  for my people.  To get the “mmms!” and “more please” does wonders to boost my self esteem, definition confirmation so to speak.  Owning a home also felt like a big extension of being a homemaker.  From the decorations and furniture to the veggie and flower garden and the way my front porch looked.  Being away from these things has pulled me into a position to see that I, in many ways, defined myself by striving to do these things well.  And the car.  As crazy as it may seem, the freedom to go where I wanted when I wanted for what I needed gave me this sense of empowerment in my roles and relationships.  Well hello there blind spot, so good to finally see you!

So who is this woman Sarah, who doesn’t cook very often anymore because she doesn’t have to, who doesn’t have a house with a yard and gardens to care for, who doesn’t have a car at her disposal to conquer the world in a day?  And He whispers, “the very same Sarah I love and died for, the one whose life I  bought at the ultimate price and that I will continue to use for my glory and love for her blessing until her last breath”.  And I am left in awe and adoration…

The seven year old me, who lay on my twin bed in my blue bedroom  experiencing the overwhelming joy of being adopted into God’s family because of His great love for me through Jesus, she wasn’t cooking gourmet meals or owning houses or driving cars.  And the 80 year old me (if I get to live that long), hunched over in my favorite chair with the same simple daily routines, she probably won’t be doing those things either.  But who I am, my value as God’s daughter, will never diminish.  Because my value and use by the One who made me is not based on what I do, my roles and successes, but based on who HE is and the work He is doing in and through my life for HIS glory.  And this will keep happening at all the various stages, during all the peaks and valleys, trials and joys, of my life.  And my value to my children as their mother, and to Travis as his wife, does it diminish when I’m laid up sick  with the flu and can’t do all the doing I usually do?  Of course not!

Perhaps defining ourselves by all our doing is hiding from and preventing the real joy of  being defined by our being.  What if realising this truth is discovering the fuel for the doing He has for us rather than the doing we’ve decided for ourselves?

I am Sarah, a sinner pursued and saved by the Maker of all that is, by His grace and for His glory.  I am nothing without Jesus, and with Him I am completely new and whole and filled, I have been defined and marked for eternity!  There is nothing I can do or not do to add to or take away from that fact.




The Making of a House of Love


I see you girls there making something special for our Valentines Day dinner. Your cutting heart biscuits and I’m thinking about how the whole muck of us makes a house of love.


How we are so broken and there are days when love feels like its just picked itself up and walked right out the door. And I’m sorry. Those are the days to fall on our knees harder and sometimes we do and sometimes we fall to pride, but I see that in our brokenness our house is being made into a house of love, one fall after another.

There may be short tempers, tears falling, and voices rising. Patience may be in short supply.

Hearts might want to close themselves right up.

Days we all want to run our separate ways and I wonder just how in the world are we building a house of love in the midst of all of this broken and then I see it…

The grace everywhere, the love that comes slowly, stronger, year after year.


The kind word spoken or sweet deed done. Working together, the compassion for a sister, the closing of mouths, holding of tongues. Saying were sorry.

The flowers for no reason or making breakfast for the brood. We lend a hand, spell a word, or read a book. Our voices lower, our hearts soften and we slowly become a house of love.

DSC_0184This building takes work. This building is Jesus’ work.

It takes dyeing to self and seeking the light and it is becoming lighter even on the darker days.

We set the table. Make the meals. Share the bread. Write love notes to give and come back to the year through.



This, this is what making a house of love is and I am grateful that His grace is growing here and the hope of love will burn deeper and brighter as He makes His way with us.

We pray for this.

All of us the broken, making our way towards true Love, so we can love… well.



A Week of Thanks


The moon has been hanging low outside my kitchen window this week. It has hovered, peaking in my window as if it wants a friend or better, be a friend. It has taken me by surprise, with a smile, each time I go to do the dishes or turn out the lights at night. You would think by day three I would expect it to be there, but in the busyness of the days I forget and then am reminded each evening as we go about our life in the kitchen. By the end of the week it has become a friend that I know won’t be able to stay, at least out my kitchen window. Until next time friend, thank you for your daily company. DSC_0175DSC_0185DSC_0155DSC_0154DSC_0192DSC_0176major smoothie action this week!

DSC_0182Tall girl making dinner! Scallop potatoes.

DSC_0177Next day’s dinner ready to go!

IMG_2303Chillin’ with the crew at Chili’s!

~ Wild snow fall making way for a major wind storm

~ Quiet house

~Si reading tractor magazines

~ Kids playing outside for hours

It’s been a week much like many others, but there is always so much to be thankful for especially when your looking…

Have a good weekend friends,




The Path to Freedom

So, it’s that time again, time to take stock of all that has been and make plans for what lies ahead. Can I let you in on a little secret? So much of me used to (and still does a bit) dread this time of year. So much of me used to shrink back from goal setting and New Years resolutions, plans to change and become better. There was a time in my life when all of this talk of resolutions and plans screamed failure and hopelessness.

It is going on 7 years now that I found myself in what felt like a comical dream. I sat in a room full of women of all ages, from all walks of life, one by one introducing themselves by first name followed by “and I am a food addict.” It was a bit of an out of body experience where you see yourself and you want to laugh or cry but really the core of your being just found itself at home and you actually heave a big sigh of relief. This may just be the answer to all of the prayers, all of the failed New Year’s resolutions, all of the best-laid plans that eventually fell away to patterns that felt almost beyond my control.

For most of my childhood and young adult hood I battled with weight and food. It was the elephant that was always on my back. Hoping it would turn into a mouse only made things worse and after my second child was born I found myself in the pit of despair.

This had gone from a massive failed New Year’s resolution year after year to something that had completely debilitated my daily life. It was defining me and my days. It was clear that I couldn’t continue on in this way… Follow me @ Itakejoy


New Year’s Slow Dawn


This week the New Year feels like it’s taking its time to dawn here as we usher family and friends out the door. I have been anticipating for a number of days the “machine” that will begin again soon. We have taken a little break over the holidays from formal schooling and it’s time to get back at it. The activities start up again, and our CC community will start meeting again.

It feels like the pressure has been building a little as I have longed to stay in the moment but also look towards starting our regular life again. I am anxious for our rhythms to resume. There comes a time after Christmas when it’s just time to dive back into the everyday normal.

Can you tell I have some expectations weighing in on the days to come?

But the reality is we are battling sick. Sick kids, sick farmer, new baby, so the week ahead won’t be quite what I had envisioned.

See, I had visions of productivity. Notebooks being filled, pages being read, math being divided. Rooms being cleaned, laundry catching up. Some of this will happen but it’s better to know going into it that it won’t happen as per my visions!

DSC_0181 DSC_0186

I love making plans, having ideals, but if I have learned one thing from this season of Advent it is that God came humbly, quietly. He took time to play out His plan for Jesus from birth to the cross and there is much to learn from that part of the story.

To plow ahead with my agenda would only undermined the power of Advent. God is with us, in the beginning, as a newborn child.

DSC_0278 DSC_0200DSC_0134

When I want to pack up the last pieces of the Christmas decorations, and put away the Christmas dishes to make way for a New Year, a new plan; I have an urge to not look back but plow ahead to implement the expectations of a new year. It is then that I have to remind myself that He took time to unfold his plan and maybe there is just something to that.


to evaluate my expectations.


to make room for the sick child, the putting life back together after much undoing from the holiday celebrating. The piles of laundry…

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day and I have a feeling that neither will my ‘new year’ and all of its new ideas and back to work mantras. Yes, their needs to be rhythm and work and learning but I’m pretty sure its not all going to happen on Monday by 3:00.

Slowing to set the rhythm with consideration of life’s circumstances helps me to not be disappointed by my unmet expectations.

Knowing God is with me reminds me that this life is not for striving and pushing and racing. The ones that get tossed around in that kind of ‘machine’ are my kids and my heart and it hurts.

Expectations can rob the joy that is set before me.

Ideals and values lived into day after day by God’s grace make for a new year, a new plan that hopefully moves with the rhythm of advent, the rhythm of grace and humility; the rhythm of a baby.

Part of me longs to accomplish, but part of me knows there is much to be had when I hang back and let the rhythm take shape from the giver of this New Year.


The ‘machine’ will pick up again, the books with get opened and the rhythm will find its way back to chores and discipline and laundry getting done but hopefully I will be able to remember Advents rhythm of quiet humility as it looks like this New Year will take a little time to get going.




Nature Themed Stamped Muslin Favor Bags




I know we have a lot of readers that are here for the 31 Days Bible series, so sorry if children’s party favors are not your penchant! ;-) I’m hoping to get another post in the series up sometime this week.

I LOVE play based learning, children’s parties, gift giving, and nature. So last year, for my daughter’s birthday, I thought it would be fun to give some fun and educational party favors to her sweet friends (yes, I’ve been meaning to write this post for a year now). Favors that (hopefully) wouldn’t get tossed in the trash after a couple of days, but that would inspire their curiosities and/or be used again and again. I decided to order muslin bags and personalize them with stamps for each of the kids. We’ve had a couple of these muslin bags for a while and my kids use them to collect nature finds or for nature treasure hunts.

Inside each favor bag we included:

  • A cookie-cutter bird feeder (wrapped in wax paper bags that I had on hand). Directions for the bird feeders are here.
  • A magnifying glass. We used these ones.
  • A bird warbler whistle, like these.
  • A granola bar, bubble gum, and fruit leather.

Other fun additions would be a card-stock or laminated nature treasure hunt card, a mini hand-made flower press (like the one seen here), or mini hand-made bird watching journal.

Here are the bags, alphabet stamps (similar), butterfly stamp, feather stamp, and ink we used, but you could use any nature themed stamp you already own.



How to Do a Character Study :: 31 Days to Better Understanding the Bible Day 20




I love doing character studies. Some of the most valuable and personal life lessons I’ve learned came as I read the Word and studied closely, meditating on the lives of Jesus, John, Moses, Joseph, and Jeremiah (to name my personal favorites). Studying Jeremiah’s life taught me that success is not defined by results, outcomes, numbers, people’s approval, and all the outward things the world uses to measure success. Success in God’s eyes is simply when we live in obedience to Him, and many times that might actually mean disapproval from the world around us or not seeing any tangible, immediate, or favorable results. From John I learned that I am Christ’s Beloved. Not because of what I do or don’t do, not because of my own faithfulness or lack there of. He loves me simply because it is in His nature to love me, I’m His favorite… and you are too. John helped me place my identity in being the “Beloved” alone. By meditating on Jesus’ life I came to know and relate to Him more intimately as I realized that He identifies with all of my hurts and struggles in life. I learned that I am called first and foremost to BE with him, that ministry flows out of being rooted in God’s acceptance and love— it is never meant to be done for acceptance or love. I’ve learned that I am to lay aside my own agenda to serve others and to listen for what the Father is saying and doing and to be about that instead of my own plans. To walk and live, to parent, pray, and serve, as the Spirit leads. I’ve learned that I am to give others the benefit of the doubt and call out who they really are— as God sees them— instead of focusing on their shortcomings. I’ve learned that my role in life is simply to pour myself out for the benefit of and to build up others. From Moses I learned what a selfless leader looks like… willing to pour oneself out in prayer, identifying with and caring for the people in your care so much that you’re willing to die in their place.  I learn from Moses that we are not to use opportunities or authority to make ourselves more powerful or to lord it over/dominate others. A good leader is a humble leader who cares more about others than him/herself. I found comfort as I studied Joseph. Life was not fair to him but he never complained and always trusted that God was working and sovereign and good… in the midst of so much uncertainty and wrong that had been done to him.

All these things I’ve learned and I so ask and depend on God daily… that He would work in me and enable me to live out these truths.

Character studies can be powerful.


When doing a character study, we zoom in on a particular person, and piece together a more complete picture of who they were, why they made certain choices, what their consequences were, and what we can learn from their lives.

Here are some ideas for how to do a character study:

  • First, you’ll want to find all of the passages and verses where the character is found. You can either do this as you’re reading through a book— (if you do it this way it might be helpful to have a special color-code to mark wherever the person is mentioned), or you can use a concordance to get a list of all the places the person is found (just look up their name in a concordance and it will have the list).
  • Read all of the verses.
  • Write down what you know about them (based on the verses you read):  where they were from, when they lived, what their name meant, what you know about their family, culture, country, or any other contextual information.
  • Look them up in a Bible dictionary to help fill in any missing pieces about their background.
  • Go back through and read all of the passages where the character is found. Make any observations (use the list in the observation post), and also look for any of the following additional things (you can come up with a color code for each of these to help you track them). (Remember, observing is simply noticing what is stated in the text.)
    • Any information about their calling
    • What they do/don’t do
    • What happens to them
    • How do they respond or what choices do they make
    • What results from their choices and actions
    • Their attitude towards people
    • Their attitude towards God
    • What do others say about them
    • Observe their spiritual life:
      • What is their prayer life like?
      • Obedience or disobedience to God?
      • Their attitude toward Scripture/God’s word?
      • What kinds of tests does the character face (physical conflict, relational conflict, moral test/conflict, mental conflict (inner struggle), test of faith/trust in God?
      • What kind of transformation takes place in their life? How does it happen?
  • Write down these observations as you read, and next to each observation move into interpretation. Remember, interpretation is where you ask questions like:  Why is this significant? What does this reveal about God? What does this reveal about the character being studied? Why/how did this happen? What is implied?
  • Meditate on your observations and interpretations. Keep asking questions and thinking through the stories of the character’s life from different angles.
  • The goal of bible study is always application: what did you learn from studying their life that you can apply to your life? What is God saying to you/showing you? What are the timeless truths?

Here is an example of what part of a character study might look like. To do a complete character study you’d do this with all of your passages:

Passage: Ruth 1:19-21

Context: Takes place during the days of the Judges (dark days in Israel’s history). Naomi and Ruth have just returned to Bethlehem after the death of their husbands.

Observations and interpretations:

  • Observation: There is a Question/Answer in verses 19-20.
    • Who is asking the question? “The women of Bethlehem” (verse 19).
    • Naomi’s answer: “Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara” (verse 20).
  • Observation: There is a Connective in verse 20, the word “for”.
    • What is being connected? Naomi’s new name “Mara” with the Almighty dealing bitterly with her (verse 20).
  • Interpretation: Why is Naomi changing her name? Because she is changing her identity. No longer do any of the things that formerly made her identity exist.
  • Interpretation: What is significant about Naomi expressing her anger against God? Because everything that Naomi and her husband did— moving to Moab, giving their sons to Moabite wives— was against God’s orders (it was sin against him), so the consequences were brought on themselves.
  • What does this all reveal about Naomi? She didn’t understand the character of God.
  • Interpretation: Why doesn’t the author change her name in the rest of the book? Perhaps because in the end, Naomi is redeemed so there is no need because she is no longer bitter.

Summary: Naomi is bitter about how her life turned out and doesn’t recognize that her disobedience affected her life and situation. She wants to change her name and thus change her identity. God redeems the situation in the end.

Application points:

  • Our choices have consequences— for good or bad. It is always in our best interest to obey God.
  • Even when we make mistakes or when circumstances are hard, God is at work in our lives. We can choose to worship and trust him or choose to be bitter and angry. Either way, he is good and is about working out redemption.


Hope that helps! If you decide to do a character study I’d love to hear who you are studying and what God teaches you along the way. Or if you’ve done one before, I’d love to hear what you learned.





By Faith Not by Sight


The phone call came on one of those days when I woke up behind schedule. Combines were running hard, The Farmer was running early, his lunch still in the recesses of my brain… we would figure out a way to get it to him later. Some days just seem to scream, “Why can’t you handle your life” and this was one of them.

I had just sat down to try to find a little peace to eat my lunch while my toddler slept; the lunch aftermath awaiting me in the kitchen and my older girls playing outside. It had been a morning that didn’t make me feel on top of the world as a mother. The machine wasn’t moving very smoothly if you know what I mean, which can easily bring my focus off of God’s true purpose for my days and onto my unrealistic expectations instead.

Timely then to get “The” (frankly) unexpected phone call that a Birth Mother in Florida had chosen us to be the forever family for her sweet thing, due in about two, weeks give or a take a few days…

Finish the rest of the story at I take Joy.


The Steps of Inductive Bible Study— Step 3: Application (31 Days to Better Understanding the Bible Day 19)




In previous posts I have defined Inductive Bible Study, and talked about the first two steps — observation and interpretation. The 3rd and final step, and the reason we study the Bible, is application. Application is the “so what” of Bible study. After observing and interpreting, we ask ourselves (with the Spirit prompting us): so what am I going to do as a result of what I have learned? It is here that we move knowledge and what we’ve studied from our heads to our hearts and act upon it. As we immerse ourselves in Scripture, we develop within ourselves the mind and heart of God. We want to be able to think and to respond to every situation the way God himself would. Application IS  both theoretical and practical— and how we live (the practical) will flow out of what we believe (the theoretical).

The heart, then, behind this series is not simply to pass on knowledge, though loving God with our minds is something we are commanded to do. We study the Bible to come to know God better, hear his voice, and to be transformed in thinking and deeds as He works in our lives. James 1:22-25 says “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.” Application is looking into the mirror of Scripture and walking away a changed person. This change occurs supernaturally as we come to know God— as we choose to conform our lives to obedience to Him, through the out working of the Spirit in our lives.

So how do we make the jump from the original audience (2000+ years ago) to today? First, we need to understand the original situation. This is uncovered through the first two steps of observation and interpretation and as you work through the BRI (Basic Required Information). These are some summarizing tips/ideas to keep in mind as we move into application:

  • God’s Word is Timely. God spoke to specific situations, problems, and questions. Throughout Scripture, God becomes personally involved in people’s lives, speaking directly to their needs in ways that are appropriate to their situations. This is good because we are given examples which are concrete rather than abstract. However, the concrete nature of Scripture can create a problem: our situations, problems, and questions are not always directly related to those of the Bible. Therefore, God’s Word to the Original Audience does not always seem immediately relevant to us.
  • Timely, Yet Timeless. Just as God spoke to the Original Audience, so He still speaks to us throughout the pages of Scripture. Because we share a common humanity with the people of the Bible, we discover a universal dimension in the problems they faced and the solutions God gave them. When, on the surface, a passage seems to have little application to our situation today, we need to look beneath the surface for a general principle.
  • We Need to Become Time Travelers: Crossing the Barriers.
    • Crossing the Time Barrier. We often lack important information regarding the historical context into which the events of the Bible took place. Unless we understand this, we might hear what the author is saying, but we don’t know why he is saying it.
    •  Crossing the Cultural Barrier. The events of the Bible took place in many different cultures: Egyptian, Canaanite, Babylonian, Jewish, Greek, and Roman (to name a few). It is not uncommon, therefore, to read about customs or beliefs that seem strange to us since they are so far removed from our own culture today.
    • Crossing the Geographical Barrier. As we learn about Biblical geography, many Bible passages take on new meaning. We can become familiar with biblical geography by utilizing maps printed in our Bibles, Bible atlases, and Bible dictionaries.
    • Crossing the Reading Barrier. One aspect of learning how to study the Bible is to develop our reading skills— the kind of skills that will help us whether we are reading the Bible, a novel, newspaper, or magazine. Some guidelines: identify the type of literature, get an overview of the book, study it passage by passage, and be sensitive to the mood of the book.

As we begin to move into the application step, we find that some passages directly and specifically state principles and timeless truths we are to live by (like the 10 commandments), while other passages seem to have little application to us today. In the latter case, we need to look beneath the surface for a general principle. For example, Romans 16:16 says “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” A kiss was a typical and culturally appropriate way in which Christians of that time and place would greet each other (this is the type of information you might uncover as you work through the first two steps of inductive Bible study— observation and interpretation, as well as the BRI). This command had specific cultural application for the original audience but it may seem irrelevant to us today. Yet the timeless truth beneath the surface, and the general principle that Paul is communicating, is that believers are to greet each other warmly, in a way that demonstrates brotherly love. So a cultural statement is an expression that can be understood only within a certain cultural context and/or period of time, like the above command in Romans. A timeless truth is one of God’s principles that stands true regardless of differing times and cultures— like the 10 commandments or the general principle in Romans 16:16— to greet other believers in love.

Here are some guidelines for finding timeless truths:

Old Testament Commands

Right or wrong, many often assume that some OT commandments no longer apply to us, while on the other hand, we feel certain that others are valid for today. To properly determine which are valid we need to understand some basic facts about the OT:

  1. The OT contains over 600 different commands (mostly in the Pentateuch).
  2. The OT is the record of God’s covenant with Israel.

Guidelines for Applying OT commands:

    1. Is the command restated in the NT?
    2. Is the command revoked in the NT?
    3. What is the principle behind the OT command?

Although we are no longer under the Old Covenant, we need to remember that the laws of the Old Covenant reflect God’s character. Therefore, the principles behind these laws should still be valid, even though some specific expressions of the laws may be obsolete.

New Testament Commands

Much of the teaching of the NT can be applied directly to us today, but sometimes a biblical teaching is directed so specifically to the culture of the ancient world, that another culture cannot understand it. So, as I mentioned above, we need to evaluate whether specific statements are cultural and temporary, or timeless— spanning across all ages. We should understand that every cultural expression in the Bible is a result of some timeless principle. And even though a cultural expression cannot be carried over directly to another culture, the timeless truth behind it can. Just because it is cultural does not mean it can be ignored.

Applying Biblical Examples

There are many excellent examples in the Bible. The difficulty, however, is knowing which examples we are to follow and which we should avoid. The method used for applying a biblical example will depend on what kind of information the author gives us about the example. We will come across:

  • Explicit Examples: In which the biblical author tells us explicitly whether a person or group is a good or bad example.
  • Implicit Examples: In which there are no explicit statements about whether the actions of the example are right or wrong, but the author gives implicit approval or disapproval of what is done. In order to evaluate this, we need a basic knowledge of Scripture so that we can interpret it based on principles taught elsewhere in Scripture. As I mentioned in my post on Historical Narratives, such books often simply state what happened— not intending to imply that we should follow their examples.

Applying Biblical Promises

Because we are no longer under the Old Covenant, we cannot assume that promises of that covenant directly apply to us. Such promises are usually associated with the blessings God promised the people of Israel if they obeyed His law. Before applying a promise, we must identify the person or group to whom the promise was originally given. Most prophetic books were written directly to Israel and Judah. We cannot ignore the original audience and historical context of these books without serious danger of misapplying what we read.

Categories of Promises Directly Intended for Us

    1. Promises that are universal in scope.
    2. Promises given to the church.
    3. Promises given to other groups to which we belong.

Conditional or Unconditional

Once we conclude that a promise applies to us, we must also ask whether the fulfillment is dependent in any way on our actions or attitudes.

Promises vs. Principles

A principle is not the same as a promise. A principle is usually based on who God is— and God never changes. But a promise is based on what God has said He would or would not do. Both the conditions and the recipients of His promise have sometimes changed greatly from the Old to the New Covenant.

Promises vs. Proverbs

In spite of appearance, most proverbs are not promises. They are wise sayings or principles that are generally true of life. Those who follow the advice given in Proverbs will have wisdom for dealing with the practical areas of life.

Finally, here are specific application questions we can ask ourselves as we are considering our observations and interpretations:

  • What are the timeless truths in this book or passage?
  • What am I to believe? Do I need to change anything I have previously believed?
  • In view of these truths, what changes should I make in my life? Are there attitudes or actions that I need to change?
  • How does this truth encourage me?
  • What do I see about the character of God? How does this aspect of God’s character speak or minister to me?
  • What specific steps or actions can I take to carry this application out?

Here is a second list— of broader application questions:

  • What effect could this truth have on the world of business?
  • How would this truth affect the way my church should function?
  • What difference should this truth make to the way we approach education?
  • What difference should this truth make for family life?
  • How does this truth affect the Christian’s relationship with the government?
  • What would this truth mean for the worship life of my church?
  • How should this truth affect the attitude we have for the lost or our approach to missions or other religions?
  • Does this understanding help me deal with any of the complex issues of medical ethics?
  • How does this insight affect the way we look at the future?
  • What can I learn from this about the Christian’s responsibility in the area of social justice, to the poor, homeless, handicapped, refugees, etc?
  • What can I learn about the Christian’s perspective of entertainment?

You can download and print the above questions here.

In upcoming posts I will cover some of the remaining types of literature: parables, epistles, gospels, apocalyptic literature and understanding Revelation, as well as how to do a character study, word study, and more.

Thanks for following along. As you dig into the Word, may you come to know Him more intimately, may you hear Him speak to you, and may the Spirit work in your heart to make you more like Him!


The Steps of Inductive Bible Study— Step 2: Interpretation (31 Days to Better Understanding the Bible Day 18)




I want to apologize for neglecting this space and series for so long! When my life gets crazy, busy, or full this blog is the first thing that gets neglected. I was actually sick for several weeks at the end of the summer. I had all of the symptoms of West Nile except the rash and ended up getting tested for that, among other things. It all came back negative except that my white blood count was off so I was definitely fighting something at the time. At the end of my sickness I ended up running a couple of races that I had trained all summer for, and we are now a couple of months into our home-school year, though I feel like we are still settling in. Anyway, I’ve been feeling convicted that the “31 Days” series title is probably misleading (which was obviously never my intent) and instead should be something like “31 weeks” or just “31 posts”.  So I’m sorry friends, but I’m hoping to push through these last posts more quickly to finish out the series. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Here we go…

Post 16 talked about the first step of inductive Bible study: observation. The second step of inductive Bible study is interpretation.

So what is interpretation? Interpretation is determining what the book or passage meant when it was first written. (That is why the BRI I shared in the last post is a useful tool— we need to figure out things like who the author and/or audience was if we want to understand why a particular book was written.) Interpretation involves understanding the author’s viewpoint, as well as the viewpoint of his audience.

Interpretation BUILDS on the foundation of observation, and thorough observation results in better interpretation. While observation focuses on “what does the text say?”, interpretation builds on that and asks “why is this said?” The bridge between observation and interpretation is the question “why?”

In inductive Bible study, interpretation is NOT what it means to the 21st century reader (that is the last step of inductive Bible study— application). “The reason you must not begin with the here and now is that the only proper control for hermeneutics (the interpretation of Biblical texts) is to be found in the original intent of the biblical text…. Otherwise biblical texts can be made to mean whatever they mean to any given reader. But such hermeneutics becomes total subjectivity, and who then is to say that one person’s interpretation is right and another’s is wrong? Anything goes. In contrast to such subjectivity, we insist that the original meaning of the text— as much as it is in our power to discern it— is the objective point of control.” (from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth).

With interpretation we need to consider:

  • The author.
  • Original reader— the people to whom the book was written. (For example, the book of Matthew was written to Jews, Mark was written to persecuted Christians in Rome, Luke was written to Gentiles, and John was written to Greeks.)
  • Original hearer— the people who were present when the actual events took place and heard the words that were spoken. (For example— the people who heard Jesus teach). There will not be an Original Hearer for each book.
  • Historical and cultural background. What is the situation of the reader/hearer? What events took place that are relevant to the reader’s situation (for example, persecution). What political/geographical/cultural factors need to be considered?
  • Literary context.

Here is a list of interpretation questions. (If you want to print these out click here.) You can use these questions in an overview fashion to the whole book or to specific passages or sections. You can also develop your own questions that are more specific to your passage. The key to interpretation is this: get curious!

  1. What are the author’s concerns, convictions, and emotions? Put yourself in the shoes of the author. Think of questions to ask that help identify why he is writing as he does.
  2. What are the original reader’s/hearer’s concerns, questions, struggles, problems, emotions, strengths, and weaknesses? Put yourself in the shoes of the original reader. Think of questions to ask that help identify what the original reader or hearer may be feeling or experiencing.
  3. Ask what is implied? For example, if you’re reading one of Paul’s letters, look at what he is trying to address in his letter— like in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul teaches on and defines love. This implies that the original readers didn’t know what it looked like to love one another (which reinforces what Paul had stated earlier in 1:10-11). This also shows us one of the reasons Paul was writing the letter.
  4. Ask meaning questions. What does this mean? Meaning to original reader/hearer? Meaning of figure of speech? Meaning of a word, term or concept? (This can be a good time to do a word study. I’ll do a separate post on that.)
  5. Bombard the text with why questions. Why is this said? Why was this Old Testament quote used? Why are these words repeated? Why was this significant? Why are these people mentioned? Why was this command given?

Some other questions/tips:

  • Does the author give his own interpretation? Does he interpret his use of symbols? Does he state why he wrote the book?
  • When the author quotes scripture, look up the quoted passages and observe their context. Why does he use this passage? Does it prove a point, illustrate a truth, support the author’s argument, or contribute to the emotion of the passage?
  • Take into account the type of literature and how it should be interpreted. Is it literal or figurative? Interpret accordingly.
  • Interpret the scripture in a simple fashion. Do not treat the scripture in a mystical fashion. Interpret the Word of God in a natural, normal sense as you would any other book. This means that you make allowances for different types of literature, figures of speech, and elements of composition (the style and structure of the writing).
  • Read the book or passage in a different translation to expand your observations and understanding.
  • It is very important to do thorough observation first. You must gather facts before making conclusions. Use material gained in observation to back up your interpretation. If you’re having difficulty with interpretation, go back and do more observations.
  • Consult Bible dictionaries, atlases, and historical background resource material for unanswered questions or more information.
  • Consult a commentary. Do this last. Use the commentary as a tool, not a crutch. Dialogue with the commentary. What did you learn from the commentary? Do you agree or disagree with the author’s conclusion?

Practically speaking, it might be helpful to get a notebook or journal that you use only for inductive Bible study. You can write down (and even color code to match your Bible) your observations and then follow that up with your interpretation questions. When I do this I switch between a few colors of pen. I write my observations in black, interpretation questions in blue, application (the 3rd step which I will cover soon), in purple. Using different colors helps me to easily see the steps and keep them distinct for easy reference.

I pray that your reading and studying is drawing you closer to Him! I love to hear from readers regarding what you are studying or learning— so do share!