Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mother Word?

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
I Peter 1:23

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
James 1:18

We give high regard to mothers in our culture. In fact we have set aside a national holiday annually to celebrate mother's since 1914. Comparatively, it wasn't until 1972 that Father's Day became an official national holiday. There are many reasons why mothers in particular are important and deserve our respect, but pehaps the greatest reasons are that they carried us in their wombs for nine months, birthed us into this world, and then nourished us from their own bodily supplies for many more months afterward. If it weren't for our mothers we wouldn't be here. This theme of motherhood is picked up and applied to other things in our culture as well like Mother Nature, Mother Earth, and even Mother Russia. But have you ever heard anyone refer to the Word of God as a Christians mother? Maybe I'm stretching it a bit, but Scripture does teach that Christians are born again through the Word.

To be born again does not mean (as Nicodemus sarcastically suggested in John 3) that you should enter your mother's womb again to be born a second time. It means that when a person surrenders their life to Jesus they are made new. II Corinthians 5:17 says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come." That verse explains what happens when Christ's blood is applied to you. All of your sin is washed away. You get a clean slate and are, in God's eyes, made new. But being born again is about much more than having your record expunged in heaven. Scripture teaches that the Spirit of God is placed inside of you when we accept Christ and this makes you new in a very real way as well. Your desire to sin is drastically reduced. A love for the things of God and His peole is kindled within you. Your entire perspective on life and on eternity is changed. You are a new person.

This new birth is wrought for you through the living Word of God. No Christian has ever come to saving faith apart from first hearing the gospel. Romans 10:14 says, "How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" Thus, it isn't until the truth of Jesus' love and sacrifice has been preached to you that the Holy Spirit works in your heart to call you to repentance.

This has powerful implications for how you relate to the Word of God. I Peter 2: 2-3 says that now that you have tasted that the Lord is good you ought to crave that Word like newborn babies crave pure spiritual milk so that by it you can grow up. In other words, your salvation has proven to you how powerful and good God's Word is. So in the same way that a baby returns to its mother for nourishment so too you ought to return to the source of your faith to nourish it. So let me ask you, when was the last time you feasted on the Word of God? Take some time right now to nourish your soul.

For further reading...
  • II Timothy 3:16-17- All Scripture is useful.
  • Isaiah 55:8-11- God´s Word always accomplishes what He sends it to do.
  • Psalm 119:97-112- Did you know that the longest chapter in the Bible is an acrostic poem detailing how marvelous God's Word is? Here is a taste.
  • Hebrews 5:11-14- We ought to grow in what parts of the Word we can understand as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Bible Demands Much

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Luke 12:48

"Evangelist Robert L. Sumner, in his book The Wonder of the Word of God, tells of a man in Kansas City who was severely injured in an explosion. His face was badly disfigured, and he lost his eyesight as well as both hands. He had just become a Christian when the accident happened, and one of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible. Then he learned about a lady in England who read braille with her lips. Hoping to do the same, he sent for some books of the Bible in braille. But he discovered that the nerve endings in his lips had been too badly damaged to distinguish characters. One day, as he brought one of the braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters and he could feel them. Like a flash he thought, 'I can read using my tongue.' At the time when Robert Sumner wrote his book, the man had read through the entire Bible four times." (Whitney p.35)* 

Let me ask you a often do you read your Bible? Did you know that it only takes about 74 hours to read through the entire Bible. (My wife and I just bought an ESV Audio Bible to listen to in the car and it is just over 74 hours long). A quick Google search will tell you that the average American watches that much TV in three weeks. Just 15 minutes a day will get you through the entire Bible in less than a year. Even five minutes a day will get you through it in less than three years. Yet, how many of you have been Christians for 5, 10, 15 years or more and have never read the entire Bible?*

I know that last part sounded pretty accusatory, but I am not innocent here. While I have read through the Bible through a number of times, I still do not read it as much as I should. Today's passage of Scripture convicts me of any number of sins, but I feel its sting especially in regard to God's Word today. Not all believers throughout history have had the full Bible. In fact, I would argue that those of us who do are in the minority. I believe that the last book of the Bible was not written until about 96 AD. Even then it wasn't until the printing press that copies were really made widely available so that every Christian could have one. Even now, Christians throughout the world have trouble getting Bibles. There are still countries that Bibles have to be smuggled into because the government does not want them in the hands of its people. Yet, if you are like me, you have the full Bible at your fingertips in any number of translations and in any number of formats whenever you want it. And what do you do with it? Chances are that you ignore it.

One day you will have to stand before your God who took great pains to make this Word, His Word, available to you, and I believe that you will have to give an account for what you have done with that Word. I believe I will have to give an account for what I have done with that Word as well. So I advise you to do as I am doing. Repent of your neglect of God's Word. Ask His forgiveness and ask for His help in changing your heart towards the Bible. Ask the Lord to give you a burning desire to read His Word and then make a plan to read it more. My plan includes quiet times every morning with my wife, an audio Bible for the car, music from Seeds Family Worship, a small notebook for memory verses that I now carry with me wherever I go, and a pocket-size NIV Bible that I keep in my car. Even with a plan as thorough as that it is still a daily struggle for me to carve out time to spend in God's Word. But, with God's help and the help of my wife, I am doing better. I pray you will too.

For further reading...
  • Psalms or Proverbs- A good place to start to get a little more Word into your life. Each psalm and proverb more or less stand on their own, so you can read small chunks at a time.
  • Mark- This fast-paced Gospel is a good way to go as well.
  • John- This Gospel written for Greeks spells out Jesus divinity in a manner that is more clear to today's reader. Never a bad choice.

Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002.
*I owe not only this quote but most of the thoughts in this post to Whitney's book. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Worship

How lovely is your dwelling place,
  LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
  for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
  for the living God. 

Even the sparrow has found a home,
  and the swallow a nest for herself,
  where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
  LORD Almighty, my King and my God. 

Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
  they are ever praising you...

Better is one day in your courts
  than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
  than dwell in the tents of the wicked. 
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
  the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
  from those whose walk is blameless.
LORD Almighty,
 blessed is the one who trusts in you.

(Psalm 84:1-4 & 10-12)

Today I realized that I don't spend much time worshipping God anymore, not outside the sanctuary anyway. So I decided to use my lunch break to see if the Lord couldn't remind me of what true worship is. I knew I could give myself a seminary answer but I wanted more than academic jargon. I wanted to feel it again. So I turned to the book of Psalms and began perusing. I quickly realised that worshipping God first and foremost means to love Him. Our culture fixates on romantic love. You can hardly listen to a song or watch TV or take in a movie without seeing it, but we don't talk much about being in love with God. I am convinced that true, passionate love for God is the greatest love a person can know. When rightly felt, it is stronger than the love we feel for our spouse, children, or even ourselves. This kind of love is the lifeblood of worship.

Christ Himself commands us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). Yet, I don't know many people of whom it could be said that they are truly in love with God. The writer of Psalm 84, however, is head-over-heels, full on silly, in love with God. And people like that are infectious. As I read it, my hand literally covered my mouth at the overwhelming beauty of the love that it describes. It is clear in the opening lines that the psalmist desires to be near God above all else. He even envies the birds who get to nest so closely to the house of the Lord. You will recall that for much of the Old Testament God's Presence literally dwelt in the temple on Zion. For this reason it is right for us to understand this passionate worshipper as not merely wanting to go to church, but desiring to enter into God's very presence. He goes on to say that even working as a doorkeeper in God's presence is better than enjoying the spoils of wickedness.

This is the kind of love for God that I aspire to. I have caught glimpses of this love in others, and maybe occasionally have even experienced it myself. But I long to dwell regularly with this kind of love for God. Lord, stir up this love in our hearts! Speak tenderly to us and return our hearts to their first love (Hosea 2:14 and Revelation 2:4). Grant our hearts a glimpse of Your glory so that we might cling to You and serve You more passionately. 

For further reading...
  • Katie Davis' blog- Katie Davis' writings are one of the places I have glimpsed this kind passionate love for God recently. Check out her post written on January 6, 2012 about something her adopted African daughter did. It will humble you.
  • Psalm 34 & 145- Here are some other Psalms that might get you in the mood to worship.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Wedding Day

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
1 Peter 1:17-19

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” 
Luke 21:34-36

When you are twenty-five you think you know everything. So when I was getting ready to propose to my wife I knew that her having any idea I might be ready to propose was lame. Marriage proposals are better when they are a surprise, or so I thought. I also knew that a marriage proposal isn't one of those things you get a second shot at so I spent a month getting my plan just right. Her sister went ring shopping with me after slyly getting some intel on what type of rings she liked. I had the proposal all scripted out and the decorations ready. I even mislead my wife into thinking I really wasn't ready for marriage. (I didn't find out until later that she almost gave up hope that I would ever be ready.) When I opened that door and she walked into the room all decorated and I started my proposal she was so shocked that she basically started to hyperventilate. She had to sit down on the floor which is where she and I stayed for the majority of the proposal.
After that proposal our lives completely changed. For the next six months everything about our lives revolved around the wedding. We had to book a venue and ask the pastor to marry us. We had to order flowers and pick our colors for the wedding. We also had to plan our honeymoon and figure out where we were going to live after the wedding. Even time was even measured in reference to the wedding. Our whole lives were spent focused on and in preparation for that day. And it is appropriate that this was the case. Our wedding day changed everything for us. Our lives will never be the same because of that day, and if we hadn't focused on it for those six months then we wouldn't have been ready for that day that would change everything. 

Scripture tells us that there is another day coming which will change everything for everyone on earth. It even uses a wedding as a metaphor for this day at times. It is the day when Jesus will return and will be married to His bride, the Church. On this day we Christians will receive our inheritance. We will see God face to face. We will meet our Savior. What a glorious day! But it is important for more than just Christians because the Bible tells us that Jesus will return as more than merely a triumphant Savior. He will also return as a righteous Judge. On that day every man, woman, and child will have to stand before God and give an account for what they have done and what they have left undone. Surely this day will change everything and it is only fitting that, until then, our lives should focus on, revolve around, and be spent in preparation for that day. If they are not, then we may not be ready.

I Peter 1:17 tells us that we should live our lives here in reverent fear of that judgment. Now I know that we do not like to think about fearing God, but Scripture talks about it quite commonly and even says that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). The truth is that just as it would be wrong for us to only fear God and to never think of Him as a loving Father or as a merciful Savior, so too it is wrong for us to only think of Him as a loving Father and merciful Savior and never as a righteous Judge who should be feared. God is all of these things and we relate to Him in all of these ways. Because of His grace we are not in danger of losing our salvation but we are in danger of being ill-prepared for the judgement. I don't know about you, but I don't want to stand before God unprepared. So let me ask you this question: If Christ were to come back today, what would you be ashamed of? Would you be ashamed that you aren't telling others about Jesus? Would you be ashamed of your sexual sin, or your unforgiveness and bitterness towards others? Would you be ashamed that you are not tithing to His church or that you were never obedient to believer's baptism? Whatever it is, whether it is something you are doing or are not doing, surrender that to the Lord today and ask Him to enable you to change.

For further reading...