Browsing Tag

bible

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Bible reading won’t build your faith

March 10, 2017

 

 

 

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
– Matthew 7:24-27

 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
– James 2:14-17

 

Growing up in the evangelical culture there was a constant emphasis on Bible reading, memorization, and study. I’m grateful for the countless hours that I was taught to learn from God’s word, delving into the nuances of sentences and stepping back to see the grandeur of the over-arching storyline. I did (do!) annual Bible read-throughs, 90-day Bible read-throughs (that was intense), and hundreds of studies through various books of scripture.

Evangelicalism has done an excellent job training its adherents that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. According to a recent poll 95% of evangelicals affirm that truth. When I ask young adults who have grown up in evangelical churches what they can do to grow spiritually the answer is invariably some variation of “Read the Bible more.” For many within evangelicalism Bible reading is the path to holiness and increased faith. But there’s a problem with that. Reading the Bible doesn’t build your faith, just like stacking wood doesn’t start a fire. In fact, just reading the Bible (or hearing God’s word in any form) is the equivalent of building a house on quicksand. Jesus himself says so.

How Faith Grows

Jesus says that anyone who hears his words and does them builds their house on a solid foundation. It’s not the hearing that saves – it’s the obeying and acting according to what you’ve heard that is faith. The Apostle James is even more explicit in his Epistle, saying that without action faith is dead (James 2:17).

We need to move away from the idea that reading the Bible more is the primary means of spiritual growth. If it was wouldn’t we have significantly more examples in Jesus’ ministry of him and his disciples reading and discussing the Torah together? Certainly he and the Apostles after him taught people from the scriptures deeply, but I would argue that it was through obedience to the Word that growth came.

Peter walked on the water not because he heard Jesus’ command to “Come,” but because he stepped out of the boat. To reference James again,

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
– James 2:21-25

In each case the individual heard God’s word and obeyed. They acted, and it was in the action that their faith was established.

Gather Fuel

What Bible reading and prayer do is give us the fuel for putting faith into action. As Paul wrote in Romans, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” But, as we’ve already noted, that faith doesn’t become a reality if it isn’t acted out. The Gospel of God starts a fire in our soul and the Word is fuel that stokes that fire, but to gather wood and never place it in the fire is pointless.

There are too many long-time believers sitting in spiritual houses stacked to the roof with well organized, neatly split firewood and a barely flickering flame. Faith looks like taking some of that firewood and throwing it in the fire.

If you’re lacking fuel, spend time in the word and prayer. Make this a daily, frequent practice. Abide in the word and let it abide in you. But you must not stop there. Cords of firewood do no good to anyone in this frigid world of sin and brokenness if they are never lit. Let’s start putting fuel on the flame by obeying Jesus’ commands and following the Spirit’s lead.

Stoke the Fire

Two practical ways you can do this:

  1. Whenever you read a section of scripture, finish by asking God “What do you want me to do in response to this?” Write down what the Spirit prompts you to do and do it.
  2. Don’t move on from a section of Scripture until it’s become a part of your life and you can truly say it’s become a part of how you live, not just another thing you know.

We all want heart change – we want our passions and lives to align with what our Lord calls us to have. Reading words from the page of a book, even if it is inspired by God, is not the way for that to happen. Faith won’t grow simply by reading a book. Additional knowledge can’t create definitive change in the human heart. The only way that happens is if our faith is put into action. Let’s put God’s word to the test. Let’s be people who believe him and act accordingly. As we do so the flame of our faith will grow in ways that those around us won’t be able to ignore.

 

 

 

Book Highlights, Quotations, Theology

Book Highlights: Disarming Scripture

December 9, 2015

Periodically I share some highlights from the books I’ve been reading.  Of late, I’ve been delving into the current literature that is attempting to rewrite how we interpret, understand, and apply scripture. Many of the questions and critiques of Christianity raised by the likes of Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Brian McClaren, and others are important ones. They call out real problems, abuses, and weak spots within evangelicalism and Christianity at large.

My initial impulse was to outright reject the teachings of those who are rejecting the past few thousand years of Christian history. How are we to be so proud as to say that we know better than the tens of thousands who have gone before us? However, I felt like God was challenging me to dig in more deeply and actually hear what’s being said. I started with this book, Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood, because it had been referenced by several people I know and (handily enough) was free for Kindle a month or three ago.

At some point I may write an at-length review of the book, but for now it will suffice to say that even after full, open engagement with what Flood and others with similar viewpoints are saying, I strongly disagree and find – across the board – their reasoning and arguments to be woefully insufficient and based more on a desire to make the gospel ( the small g is intentional) more appealing to popular culture or to remove things that make them personally uncomfortable than on sound logic, evidence, and exegesis.

Below are several quotes that, in my opinion, communicate the key points that Flood makes in Disarming Scripture.

If we as progressives are going to reject violence and instead focus on mercy and social justice, then we need to have a developed hermeneutical rationale for our reading which can stand its ground against a conservative reading that seeks to legitimize violence in God’s name. What we need is an approach that can honestly face and confront violence in the Bible, and do so from the perspective of faith, and as the necessary outgrowth of a developed moral conscience.

The priority of Jesus was not on defending a text, it was on defending people—in particular defending the victims of religious violence and abuse.

In faithfully acting to restore people, the Gospel writers tell us, Jesus continually appeared in the eyes of the religious leaders around him to be breaking God’s laws. Jesus was not particularly concerned with this, and instead was infinitely more concerned with caring for the least, even if this meant his reputation became one of a “blasphemer” and “law breaker” in the eyes of the religious authorities.

The Pharisees’ understanding, as it is presented in the Gospels, is characterized by a rigid observance of laws and rituals. Jesus, in contrast, had a way of interpreting the Bible that put a priority on people over rules and rituals. The way of the Pharisees is focused on fear, and thus insists on strict adherence to all of the commands, even when these commands hurt and shut people out. The way of Jesus in contrast is instead focused on what love requires—even when doing so means breaking rules and commands.

Rather than finding a single narrative throughout the Old Testament, we instead repeatedly encounter these conflicting perspectives within the Hebrew canon: One narrative states that suffering and violence are just and deserved, the other protests and argues against that narrative, calling it unjust.

Paul’s conversion was one away from religious fanaticism. In other words, Paul did not see himself as rejecting his Jewish faith or Israel’s scriptures, but rather as rejecting his former violent interpretation of them.

Looking at the record of dispute found throughout the Old Testament, we can begin to trace the outlines of a people’s slow development away from the primitive view of violent tribal war gods so typical of the worldview of the ancient world. Part of this development involved Judaism moving from polytheism to monotheism.

The New Testament must be regarded as a first step along a trajectory in regards to changing oppressive societal structures which at the time as a persecuted minority group they had little power to change. Finding ourselves in a position to effect those changes in society today, our task is to work out how to apply the spirit of Jesus’ teaching to our time and circumstance.

the way that Jesus read Scripture was shaped by his own direct experience of God in his life. Jesus therefore understands his messianic mission to be radically different from what his fellow Jews were expecting. Jesus’ experience of the Spirit shaped his understanding of Scripture, and not the other way around.

Note that the measure of “right” interpretation here is not based primarily on evaluating whether the text has been properly understood (the question of proper exegesis), but on evaluating the results when it is applied in our lives—observing whether it results in bringing about life or death, flourishing or harm. As we have seen, Jesus saw the primary role and telos of Scripture as leading us to love. If we wish to read the Bible with that same aim, the question we need to ask is therefore not so much “Have I read this right?” but more importantly “Does this reading lead to life?”

In the end, what really matters is how we treat each other. For my part, I am perfectly content to trust God to judge rightly so long as we humans stop hurting each other in God’s name or in the name of justice. The bottom line here is that while we can find disagreement among New Testament authors as to God’s violence, the New Testament is unanimous in its radical rejection of human participation in violence.

Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare

Weird Stuff God Does

July 23, 2015

1. You’re driving your way to church, going about 30 miles an hour and singing along with the latest Hillsong album. A movement to your left catches your eye. You glance over and are amazed to see your pastor running next to the car, looking as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. He smiles, waves, and surges ahead of you. A few minutes later you pull into the church parking lot, walk in, and your pastor greets you, telling you a story about how his car had broken down and God had given him supernatural power to run the 15 miles to the church at an amazing speed. He doesn’t look like he even sweated at all.

Do you believe him? Do you scoff? Did you actually see him running?

 

2. Your small group gets a letter from the pastor of the church you attend. He’s been on a six month sabbatical and promised to write if he felt like God had anything that he should communicate. He writes, saying he’s had a vision of heaven and that Jesus told him to write it down. Your group reads the letter and discovers a wild mix of bug-monsters, dragons, plagues, very specific naming of your (and other) small group’s sins, and detailed descriptions of what heaven will look like. There’s even seems to be specific numbers for how many people will get into that heaven.

Do you take the letter seriously? Does your group discuss it and write it off as a prank?

 

3. You and a few co-workers are biking like you usually do on nice Saturdays when all of a sudden a bright light shines on you, totally freaking you out and surprising you so much that you fall off your bike. You hear a voice, telling you to go to a specific house in the next city over and wait for instructions. None of the people with you hear it, but they see the light.

Do you respond by obeying? Do you ignore the whole situation?

 

4. A friend tells you about how he was in Minneapolis and stopped to talk to a guy who was reading his Bible and looking puzzled. Through their conversation, the guy became a believer and was baptized right there in a pond in the park since he was too excited to wait. Your friend says that as soon as he finished baptizing the guy, God teleported him back to his home in Fargo.

Do you believe him and rejoice in the power of God? Do you question and doubt?

 

 

How would you react if one of these things happened to you? Would you believe it was from God, or would you reason it away to be imagination or something more sinister?

We’ve got a problem in the evangelical culture, and it’s keeping us from encountering God in ways that could radically expand the reach of the Gospel in our world. We’ve started assuming that if something is weird or makes us feel uncomfortable, it can’t be from God. The church has set implicit limits on what is acceptable and what is not.

Each of the events listed above are modernized version of things that happened by the command and power of God. Elijah outran the king’s chariot (King 18:46), John wrote the book of Revelation to the small house churches on the inspiration of visions he had, Paul was converted after seeing a bright light and hearing a voice (Acts 9), Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch and was transported by the Spirit to a nearby town (Acts 8:26-40).

My question is this; Do we have a framework that can encompass a God who sometimes does – and even calls us to do – things that are weird? God isn’t limited by our perspectives. He’s not constrained to function in ways that make sense to us. In fact, judging by Scripture’s records, God tends to do things in very weird ways just so that people realize there’s something beyond the natural at work.

Don’t limit God. Don’t say it’s not God just because it’s weird. Evaluate, prayerfully consider, and be wise, yes. But don’t rule something out just because it doesn’t fit what you think of as normal Christianity. You might be surprised at the glorious things you encounter when you open yourself up to some of the weird stuff God does.

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth

7 Reasons the Bible is a Hard Book

January 18, 2014

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.
-Proverbs 25:2

A few weeks ago I read a post by Trevin Wax on the difficulty of the Bible which got me thinking. Growing up it was always implied that the Bible was a simple book, you just had to sit down and read a little bit of it and you would have access to God at the flip of a page. While that’s true on some level, on another level – the level that most people I talk to operate on – the Bible is a book that is intimidating, often hard to understand, and sometimes just overwhelming.

We’re used to novels, youtube videos, and commercial spots. Our brains are increasingly wired to operate in shallow pools, making connections between tidbits of information rather than digging deep into one field. Studies are showing that reading of scripture is consistently decreasing among Christians in the west. In 2013 the American Bible Society found that, “More than half (57%) of those ages 18-28 report reading the Bible less than three times a year or never.” Almost every Christian I talk to feels like they should read the Bible more and feels ashamed at how little they do it. At the same time we’re not even sure how to begin to climb the mountain of scriptural truth that is there.

The Bible is a hard book. I’m someone who is reading several books at any given time, and sometimes God’s Word seems overwhelming to me in its scope and depth. Don’t get me wrong. I delight in the Scriptures. As the Proverb at the beginning of this post says I believe that God has vast riches available to us. However, he has set it up so that we must “search things out” in order to find them. I think of my brothers and sisters who haven’t read a book other than what’s been assigned to them in school, and I want to encourage you in this – there is no shame in feeling like God’s word is sometimes hard. My goal in this post and the following ones is to inspire you to read God’s word with a fearsome passion, and I believe that one of the first things that needs to be set in place to empower you to do that is to admit at the outset that, on a human level, the Bible is a hard book. It’s not a sin to feel like Deuteronomy is difficult reading or be totally confused at what is going on in the book of Isaiah.

Why is the Bible a hard book? Here’s 7 reasons that I see for it;

1. It’s world is different than ours.

The stories of scripture (most of them) take place on this earth, yes, but the canon of scripture was closed within a couple generations of Jesus’ death and most of the old Testament is from thousands of years before that. The world of Genesis, Exodus, the prophets, and even Jesus and the apostle Paul is a world drastically different than ours. No electricity and no internet. Different languages and different cultures, all poured into one book. When we read scripture, even in our own language, we have to become translators who are able to take the the meaning of passages like the last few chapters in Deuteronomy that are filled with laws and rules about building the temple and translate their meaning into our world.

2. It doesn’t have a clear story line.
We’re used to novels and movies that have a clear narrative arc, where we follow a protagonist through the ups and downs to the ultimate conclusion. Scripture, at first glance, doesn’t have a clear story line. Characters come and go. Nations rise and fall. The scale of time is massive.Seeing the story arc of scripture is hard work if you’re coming to it on your own.

3. It covers a wide range of genres.
I know of very few people who enjoy reading history books, legal documents, poetry, narrative, and apocalyptic literature. I know plenty who enjoy one or two of those categories, but few indeed who enjoy them all. Scripture is composed of a vast array of genres, each one requiring a particular style of reading and interpretation.

4. It’s long. Really long.
Awhile ago I started reading Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. My copy clocks in at 1,001 pages. It’s the only book I own that beats my Bible for sheer length, and I put it on hold after 400 pages. The Bible is a long book. It takes a long time to read from cover to cover. That in and of itself makes it daunting.

5. It’s dense.
Parts of scripture are just all around dense reading. Leviticus and Deuteronomy are infamous for killing the high hopes of people who start on on a through-the-Bible-in-a-year journey. Revelation is a dense layering of images and allusions to the Old Testament books as well as cryptic prophetic declarations. Some sections of the Bible require serious heavy mental lifting to engage.

6. It tells you things you don’t want to hear.
Some subjects are more comfortable to just ignore, but scripture leaves almost no subject untouched. From brutal violence to sexual perversion to God’s seemingly inexplicable wrath towards nations other than Israel in the Old Testament, the Bible is in your face with things that you probably didn’t want to deal with

7. It’s bigger than you.
Most books and movies are things we can engage for a moment and then toss aside. We read the novel and move on with life. We watch the television show and when it’s done it’s done. But the Bible insists on over-reaching itself, digging in to bit of your life that other things don’t, and working on you. You don’t engage it. It engages you.

Seven reasons why the Bible is a hard book. In my next couple posts I’m going to lay out what I believe are some of the most compelling reasons to not let the surface-level difficulty of the Bible daunt you. We serve a good God who loves his people and wants them to know him intimately. He made us and He knows us. There’s a reason that He expressed so much of His identity and will in a written text. In the difficulty there is amazing good for us. But we’ll look at that next time.

Prose

A Land of Unfinished Buildings

November 9, 2009

If we were to look out across the city of the Church with spiritual eyes, from a distance we would see a massive, sprawling metropolis; a place full of people and movement and excitement. However, move but a bit closer and the metropolis is seen to be nothing more than an unfinished city. Here and there there are houses, offices, and skyscrapers that have been only partially built. See, a house with no roof or doorway; another with only three walls and no furnishings; another with only the framework set up, scaffolding abandoned in the yard. Or look to the downtown, where a large office building is full or furniture soaked and rotting due to the lack of siding. Yet still the inhabitants live as if all is well, wondering why they are battered by the storms that pass and why the houses they have built shirt upon their foundations. Occasionally there is a building that collapses and crushes a number of the people living there due to a lack of care in the construction.

In fact, not long past nearly 50 were killed when a cathedral collapsed and they were buried beneath it. It was found that

the supports and beams had been held together by only glue and string rather than screws or nails. The day after that sad event an elderly woman’s doorway collapsed and she has used her window to exit the building for the last several weeks. All of this the people chalk up to the dangers of life and live on, mourning the losses but never heeding the cause.

What would your reaction be to such a city? Would you laugh and mock them for their foolishness in not improving the place? Perhaps weep at their blindness and its cost? Or would your anger flare up at such reckless living? And what if you were a citizen there? What then, oh men and women of the church, for surely that is your city! Here you reside and here you spend your life. What shall you do when you see the estate of your beloved home?

Many of you are the ones in those half-completed homes. Some have barely escaped the collapse of home or church and have come away severely wounded. Others, blessed few, dwell in those rare completed dwellings. What are you to do, who are in this city? You cannot flee it and begin anew somewhere else! All the rest of the earth is a wasteland full with death and darkness.  Oh how many have been lost as they left these walls, crumbling though they are!

But let us step back for a moment and ask how this city was brought to such a low estate.

Once, some time long past, it was nothing more than a small village of a few humble but sturdy cottages in which lived a small group of people who followed the example of their founder. Theirs was a simple yet joyful existence and people were added to their numbers daily, drawn by the love and the fellowship amongst the brothers and sisters who dwelt there.

Over time the village grew and gained popularity as a place to stop by. More and more came as it became a town and eventually a growing city, yet somewhere along the way many things were cast aside and forgotten. Some decided to ignore the rules laid out by the master as to the materials to use when building, thinking that gold and fine jewels to be far too expensive (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Others built on spots that had been previously forbidden due to impurities the master had seen in the earth there. Still others built by their own strength and will, ignoring the edict that no building would be allowed to stand whose construction had not been overseen by the Chief Foreman. Many began to build without planning for the time and cost of the construction, and so were left with only partial shelters. (Luke 14:28-29) At first these practices were frowned upon and a number of people were cast out until they would abide by the law, but eventually prominent people in the communities began to petition their fellow citizens to allow some bending of the rules to enable merchants to set up shops that would sell goods that had previously been unavailable. They succeeded in convincing the majority of the city’s inhabitants that the rules had been meant as general guidelines, and slowly it became a normal thing to see a family constructing a home on the edge of the nearby swampland or a young man building a particularly large home only to run out of resources and be left with a half-constructed and rickety shelter.

Do you understand this analogy, my brothers and sisters? Oh, I pray you do! This is the state of the church today; we are a city made up of half-made buildings built upon shifting foundations and we wonder why it is that we see so many of the church’s leaders falling into terrible sin. We are amazed at how easily people turn from God when trouble enters their lives, we balk at the statistics that say we are no different than the world around us, and  we wonder why it is that there are so many who mock us. Look about you! Do you not see the state the church is in? Christ himself declared, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

It should come as no surprise to hear of churches collapsing or splitting if their foundations are not Christ, their timber not the Gospel, and their walls, roofs, and floors not faith, hope, and love. And how will home or office stand if the Word of God is not the nails which holds it together? What a wretched estate! We have forgotten and scorned the words and commands of him who founded this great city by His very blood. Return, oh church, return! Be as Israel when the scrolls of the law where found and read and the people repented with great weeping and fasting! We may yet restore this city to the glory befitting its king.

Prose

Claimless

August 25, 2009

“The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.”

–          Jesus Christ, John 14:30

These last few weeks it has seemed as if Satan has been battering me full force day in and day out, and I have fallen before those attacks time and time again. It is an amazingly frustrating thing to know the truth – to know exactly what you should do – and yet fail to do it time and time again.  More and more I understand the Apostle Paul’s exclamation, “Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall rescue me from this body of death?” To know failure; to know that no matter how much I attempt I shall fail; to feel as if a captive when you know that you should be free, that seems to be my lot these last weeks.

So there I sat this morning, awaking to a gorgeous dawn and to the reminder that I had failed again the day before. As is my habit, I made myself breakfast and grabbed my Bible to read for as long as time allowed. Permit me here to divert my train of thought. Oh, how essential it is, my Christian brothers and sisters, to begin each day in the Word! It is our life blood; it is the lens through which we must learn to see all things, and how shall we see through it if we do not saturate place it before ourselves? Be ever ready to grasp those hallowed pages and study what is written within. The words found there bring life and health and peace and hope to those who hear them. Begin with them each morning and you shall not fail to see the results. Time and time again I have come to that thirty-something minutes discouraged, angry, or frustrated, only to rise in joy and having a completely different perspective on the day. Never yet has there failed to be a sentence which strikes sharp at the heart of what is present in my life. Whether it be to encourage or convict; give peace or stir up passion, there shall always be something waiting in the Word of God for you. This morning was no different.

As part of my regular reading I’ve been working my way through the Gospels and am currently nearing the end of the Gospel according to John. The above verse, taken from Jesus’ discourse to His disciples during the Last Supper, struck me with great power. In the next few moments I hope to lay out what struck me from those words of our Savior’s in a way that, God willing, will do for you what it has done for me this day.

Note first that Christ new full well that Satan, the “ruler of this world” was coming for him, to bear him away to the cross. How often have we been caught unawares by the devil’s schemes? Yet Christ new that the ruler of this world was coming for him, and accepted it; he did not cower or rail against his coming, he only submitted, not to Satan, but to the will of God the Father. Oh that our hearts would be so firm in their faith that we would not only see the schemes and traps of Satan, but that we would face them as the Father commands! Christian, tremble not at the devil’s greatest attacks! Your shelter and shield is secure. You have been bought and purchased at a price; you have been called with a calling that is irrevocable; you are held in a hand that no demon or angel can bend to their will.

Note secondly how Christ knew that in his position the ruler that was coming had no claim upon him. Herein is the great wonder, the great encouragement to us in times of failure and trouble; we can say with Jesus that the ruler of this world has no claim on us, for we have been united with Christ. As he is, so are we. We have been joined with him in his death and shall also join with him in his resurrection, and as such “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) Satan shall come, oh yes, the ruler of this world shall come, but we who are in Christ may declare with all confidence, “He has no claim on us!” Ours is the resurrection life, we are born of water and Spirit and are freed from the chains of law and sin. Cry with joy when trials and tribulations come, when you are tempted, and when you feel the oppression of the ruler of this world, saying, “You have no claim on me, for I am Christ’s alone!”

Lastly, and lastly only because it is late and I need sleep, note Christ’s action at the end of the passage. His response to the knowledge of Satan’s imminent attack and that Satan has no true claim upon him, though he may cause harm, leads to movement.  Jesus says to His disciples, “Rise, let us go from here.” Let us heed that call. Do not be paralyzed by fear or worry. The combined knowledge of the real danger and our real protection and freedom should lead us to rise from our seats and act. Are you tempted? Do not sit and waver! Rise, go from that place and do the will of the Father! Are you persecuted? Rise and do as Christ did, bear your cross meekly and depending upon the Father for strength. Are you besieged by the devil and his wiles? Rise, oh saint, rise and take up your shield. Ten thousand of his fiery darts shall note scourge you if the Lord is your protector.

Yes, the ruler of this world comes against us in constant battle and our flesh conspires with him as a traitor. Yes, he may do very real harm to us and it may seem as if he has free reign to do as he wills with us. Perhaps at times it will seem as if we are once again under law and not under grace; that the lingering sin in our earthly bodies has gained more power than that Spirit of God which we so much love. Keep faith, oh heart! Neither Satan nor sin have any claim on us if we are in Christ! Heed those truths, hide them within your heart and let them be an anchor and shield to you in times of storm and war. Plant them as seeds within the fertile soil of the soul and trust that God shall cause the growth. Heed them and rise, go from the place of your fear and defeat; rise and follow Christ wherever he may lead. It is there, in the footsteps of God himself, that we shall find joy.

Prose

The Word of God

July 14, 2009

“Most people treat the Bible very politely. They have a small pocket volume, neatly bound; they put a white pocket-handkerchief round it and carry it to their places of worship; when they get home, they lay it up in a drawer till next Sunday morning; then it comes out again for a little bit of a treat, and goes to chapel; that is all the poor Bible gets in the way of airing. That is your style of entertaining this heavenly messenger. There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers. There are some of you who have not turned over your Bibles for a long, long, long while, and what think you? I tell you blunt words, but true words. What will God say at last? When you shall come before Him he shall say, ‘Did you read my Bible?’ ‘No.’ ‘I wrote you a letter of mercy; did you read it? ’ ‘No.’ “Rebel! I have sent thee a letter inviting thee to me; didst thou ever read it?’ ‘Lord, I never broke the seal; I kept it shut up.’ ‘Wretch!’ says God, ‘then, thou deserves Hell, if I sent thee a loving epistle, and thou wouldst not even break the seal, what shall I do unto thee?’ Oh, let it not be so with you. Be Bible-readers; be Bible-searchers.”
– Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. I, sermon II

How is a man to live if he does not eat, or survive if he does not drink? How can a human function without rest or sleep or sustenance? Yet oh how many people who call themselves Christians appear to go day by day in complete comfort and ease without being fed by even one ounce of the food that Christ speaks of when he declares that “man does not live on bread alone, but on the Word of God”? (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4) No one would question that there was something wrong with a person who never had any desire to eat or sleep or drink. Most often, it is a sign of sickness that prevents us from desiring to eat the foods we normally crave.
And, as always, what God has created as a reality in the physical world is simply a picture of what happens in the spiritual realms. If a man claims to be living and has no desire to eat or be filled, then there are only two options; one, that he is not truly living, for dead men need no food; or two, that he is sick and is in need of being fed lest he die. Just like a wise parent will require their child who is sick to the stomach to eat and drink at least bits and pieces of food so as to keep their body functioning, so at times it is necessary to feed and be fed when there is no desire. And just as a person who is dying from a painful disease may often forgo food because of the distraction of pain, so those who are on their way to spiritual death, though they may feel it not at all physically, will feel no need to fill themselves with God.
Fear, oh men and women who claim to be Christians and all of you who have no desire to read the Word of God, fear, for it may be a sign that there is no life in you. It is only the dead and those on their way to death who do not seek food. If you have no desire, I urge you, eat though you do not feel the need. It is only by eating and tasting that your appetite will be awakened. As Spurgeon cried to all who heard his voice over a hundred years ago, so I cry, “Be Bible-readers; be Bible-searchers!” For it is there, in those pages written by the very hand of God, that you will find life and peace and hope and joy. It is there, through those words, that the Lord shall breathe life into your dead body, and give it wings to reach heavenward. May it be so with you, and may you come to feel the delightful sweetness of His Word.

Prose

Jar

June 6, 2009

“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

2 Corinthians 4:7

I was struck by this verse as I was reading this morning. Like so often happens with God’s word, I swear that I’ve read that verse numerous times before, but this morning it struck me in a unique way. It is an unceasing amazement to me how many things can be found in even just one sentence of God’s word. Here are a few of the thoughts sparked by this verse;

Do any feel as if they are weak or inadequate? Do any lack the strength to complete the tasks we set before ourselves? Are there times that we are so tired that it seems as if we cannot go on? Are we not cracked, broken, and unable to put the pieces into place? Anyone who has lived on this earth long enough to be sick, tired, heartbroken, or angry knows what it means to not be all that they hoped they’d be. Oh, how often we fall short of our own hopes and dreams! If, somehow, we could sustain who we are at our best moments, life would be far different.

But no matter how hard we try, we can’t. John Mayer acknowledges this fact in his song Clarity, speaking of a moment when everything became particularly clear to him, saying “I will wait to find / if this will last forever / and I will pay no mind, when it won’t / and it won’t / because it can’t. It just can’t. / It’s not supposed to.” And should that be any wonder? As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, we are simply “jars of clay.” Do not be amazed when you fall short of the thing you aim at, or when, as you age, your body betrays your will. We are simply clay vessels.

On its own that fact seems to be merely an insult, but when combined with the rest of chapter 4 verse 7, there is shown a glorious reason for why God has made us to be so inadequate. The ESV version, which I quoted above, puts it in what I believe is the simplest and most accurate form. Why has God created us in such a way that we fall so short of even our own hopes? “To show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us”!

It is important to here note that this is true of Christians. It is Christians who are the clay vessels that contain the treasure here spoken of, and no others. Unless Christ’s life, sustained and evidenced by His Holy Spirit, are within you, you are merely an empty clay pitcher. My hope for any of you who may read this and do not know Christ is that you would see the sweetness and promise and hope that comes from being filled. Only there, when you fulfill your purpose of holding and exemplifying that treasure, will you find peace.

As Christians, our purpose as “jars of clay” is not to show ourselves to be beautiful or strong or worthy. How foolish would a man be to attempt to draw attention to a battered wooden chest and away from the beautiful gems inside? Such a thing would be ludicrous. Yet that is what so many on this earth attempt day in and day out to do; draw attention to the clay vessel and block people from the sight of the infinite treasure. Instead, my Christian friends, do as we were meant to do. Become less, that Christ might become more visible. Exult in the fact that you have been chosen to hold such treasure, and show the glory of what is within. Do not allow yourself to be caught up in the latest fashion trends, covering yourself in makeup, being in perfect physical shape, owning the finest possessions, or any other thing that will detract from the God who has made you His residence. To do so would be a very foolish thing indeed.

Prose

Men Uncondemned

January 3, 2009

One of the great aims of the Christian life that seems to be somewhat neglected in the church today is the necessity of eliminating sin in our lives (Romans 8:13). This is done not by our own strength, but by the strength of God himself as He works in us through the power of His Holy Spirit. Yet at some level there is a great effort on the part of we small, earthly Christians in this doing away with the flesh. Please note that I say that this elimination of sin is one of the “great aims” and not the main or essential aim. To make it our main goal is to go against the core of Christianity. Our main and essential aim is that of seeking the knowledge of God, thereby glorifying God by becoming more and more conformed to the image of Christ, who is the bodily image of deity (reference). It is in and through this growing in knowledge and conformity that our sin is eliminated. As Ezekiel says, “I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees.” (36:27)

Those are truths that I have known, at least in part, for the majority of my life. Perhaps not as succinctly or blatantly stated, but I have known them. Yet despite that knowledge it seems that the way God has worked out the realization of the elimination of sin is far from how I had expected. I’d always had the idea that as I came to a larger and better understanding of Christ and God, that understanding would transfer into love (for who can truly know God and not love Him?) and out of that love would flow the obedience (1 John 5:3), which is abstaining from sin. But that is quite different than how my Christian walk thus far has gone. Different from, but not contrary to, mind you.

Instead of my knowledge of God transferring to the ability to more and more defeat the sin and temptation that is brought against me, much like the weight lifter who gains more and more strength and as he does so it becomes easier and easier to lift the weight he began with, my gaining that knowledge has resulted in something rather odd. Sin does seem to be becoming less and less of an attraction in my life, but over and above the elimination of sin I am seeing God teach me to cling to His promises by faith, despite the fact that they may not seem like an immediate reality. Take for instance the sins in our lives that we return to time and time again, each time returning sheepishly to repent and wait for God to forgive us. Whatever form that may take in your life, be it over eating, pornography, drugs, gossip, lying, or any other shortcoming, we all find such things in our lives. In my own experience I have found that as I sin over and over I come readily enough before God to beg His forgiveness for the sin itself, but am somewhat loathe to move on from the sin and truly believe that I am and have already been completely and utterly forgiven. There is something in me that demands that I spend perhaps an hour or two sitting in prayer or reading the Word until I feel forgiven; until I feel that I have been accepted into the presence of God and have sufficiently atoned for my sin through my contrition and begging forgiveness.

Over the last month or two I have become more and more convinced, through several avenues, that that mode of sinning and falling down in slavish begging is far from the life that God has called his children (1 John 3:1) to. In Jeremiah 15, God tells his people, “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me.” Note the definitive and immediacy of that declaration. I will restore you. There is no questioning of whether or not the person repenting gains the restoration they seek. It is an absolute restoration into immediate service, and note also the fact that the repentance is so that you may serve. That is a key part of the problem with the way that we tend to seek a feeling of restoration; our seeking restoration keeps us from the service of our Lord. I think of one morning in particular late this past spring with snow deep upon the ground when I awoke feeling the weight of my own sin heavy upon my shoulders and consequently feeling terribly distant from God. I spent what must have been two and a half, perhaps three, hours that morning sitting and pouring over my Bible and asking over and over again that God would “restore to me the joy of salvation” (Psalm 51:12). Eventually other things in the day called me away into the rush of life and shortly after I began going about the things that were on my schedule I began to feel what I had been seeking futile for so long. How often do we waste time, be it much or little, in our own self pity over the sin we commit? God’s call is far higher than having his children be slaves who come before him terrified that they will be cast away because of their sin.

God, our Father and Savior, knows and has always known full well the sins we have and will commit and has long since covered them with the blood of Christ. From where we stand in time it was over two thousand years ago that God declared His children justified in his sight (Romans 3:24, 5:1, 5:9, 8:30). It is at best a lack of understanding that keeps us so doubtful of the promises of God. If Romans 5:1, which declares, “if we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” is true, then it is our faith that brings us into communion and salvation to God. By faith, not by works, or lack thereof.

What, then, is faith? Again, in Romans Paul writes, “hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” After reading that passage a number of weeks ago in connection with several others the idea entered my mind that, as I wrote in my journal, “faith is a believing of God’s promises in the face of the fact that there may be no immediate, tangible realization of them.” If we have died to sin and can live in it no longer and have been united with Christ in His death and it is true that anyone who has died is freed from sin (Romans 6:2-7), yet it is also true that we are slaves to sin in the body and continue to do the evil that we hate to do (Romans 8:14-24). If that is the case, then is not faith believing that we are free from sin despite the fact that it does not seem a reality; taking God at His word when He says we have died to sin and owe it nothing, in the face of the reality that shouts something completely opposite.

Isn’t that what we are called to do? To believe that God and His word is a higher reality than what we can see, touch, or feel? I am convinced so.

Here I must insert a key piece of clarification. It is true that we are decisively, emphatically freed from sin. However, as is easily seen in this world, we Christians still sin time and again. Our freedom from sin, though decisively bought and guaranteed (so much so that we may at the present be completely assed of the promises fulfillment), it is only IN CHRIST that that freedom is here realized. Our bodies are captive to this tendency to sin until the point where we finally lay them down, but Christ, who has already died and risen free from sin, now lives perfectly “to God” (Romans 6:10). We are to take upon ourselves, through faith by grace, the life of Christ and thereby be continually growing in freedom from sin, “putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit” (Romans 8:13). Do not be discouraged, believer, when you sin for the seven thousandth time. Instead, rejoice that you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ and that He is the one who God sees, not you. “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It is through, in, and by Christ that we have faith. It is through Christ’s death and resurrection that we are justified. In Christ’s death and life we are identified by faith and seen as completely pure in Christ by the eyes of the Father. By Christ’s seating at the right hand of God we are also seated in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6).

And that, I suppose, is exactly where I went wrong in my thinking early in my life. I thought that in some way God would free me from sin distinct of Christ; that it was Christ’s death that bought me an entrance into salvation, but sanctification was something separate of Him. Oh, how wrong I was! God has chosen to give all glory and honor to His son (Revelation 5), so from Him and through Him we receive all things that are ours. Sanctification, the loosing sin’s bonds upon our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls, is found only in the workings of Christ upon the cross. All is held in Christ, whether it be justification, sanctification, glorification, or any other good thing, for in Him all the promises of God are “yes and amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20) Sin is not put to death separate of the work of the Son. It is through our connection with and identification in the death, life, and intercession of Christ that we grow in faith and thereby overcome the flesh. There is no other way. As Christ himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). It is not as if we come through Christ in a moment of faith and then walk the rest of that narrow path to heaven on our own or even solely in the power of the Holy Spirit. No! It is a constant and eternal “in Christ alone” that will carry us into complete salvation.

So, brothers and sisters in the faith, do not hesitate to return to God! Detest and mourn your sin, yes, but know full well the fact that we are clothed in Christ and have been “chosen in him from before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Ephesians 1:4) Do not let your sin keep you from doing the works that God has set before you. Do not be crippled by your own inadequacy. Instead, rejoice all the more in Christ’s complete and utter fulfillment of the law on our behalf. It is as we trust more and more in the complete atonement and salvation in our savior that the sin – the fleshliness – that is left in us will be thrown aside. Hold fast to the promises of God by faith, my dear friends, in face of the fact that they seem infinitely distant from being brought to full realization. As His word says, he is faithful to complete the works that He has begun. If God has begun any good work in you, and Christian, in you he most certainly has begun an infinitely wonderful and glorious work, he WILL complete it though it take a lifetime to do. God is faithful to us in Christ. Rejoice and rest in that fact.