Friday, December 20, 2013

The Power of the Written Word: Why I Will Never Stop Reading Books

My wife can attest to the fact I am a bibliophile, a person who collects and has a great love of books.  I have told her on several occasions that if I ever appear on an episode of "Hoarders" it will be because I have lost all control and filled my home floor-to-ceiling with books.  We recently bought and moved into our first home, and several friends showed up to help us.  After unloading about 15 straight boxes of just books, one of my exhausted friends looked at my wife and told her she really needed to buy me a Kindle. I agree.

A poll taken in October said 28% of Americans did not read a book at all this past year.  I also found this article which says that two-thirds of parents do not read to their children.  I hope this trend doesn't continue.  I believe there is still something special about holding a book in your hands and reading it, and I am including Kindles, Nooks, and other e-book devices in this.  (Gotta keep up with the times)

As a Christian, my love for the written word starts with Scripture.  I believe with all my heart it is the only word given to us by God, it reveals to me the character of God and His plan of redemption through Jesus, and  it transforms my life daily.  The Bible is my starting point, but my love for books goes beyond that.  I love all genres, fiction and non-fiction.  Books have shaped the person I am.  My character, beliefs, and intellect have all been shaped in some way by the books I have read along with the great people I have encountered along the way.  Here are the three main reasons I will never stop reading and being influenced by books.

Reading Means You Never Stop Learning

We learn in many ways whether through life experiences, verbal communication, or television and media, but I believe reading is still one of the best means of instruction.  Books are written for various reasons, but they are all educational in some way.  When you read a biography of someone's life, you find areas of identification with that person and you learn from their experiences.  Reading a work of non-fiction can be educational in several ways whether it's instructional, historical, or idealogical.  Fiction is educational as well.  A protaganist that is a police office give us perspective on that type of life, or a character who suffers from some type of disorder educates us about the rigors of that kind of life.  As long as you are reading, you are learning.

Reading Means You Never Lose Your Sense of Imagination

I know this mostly applies to fiction, so all of you who never read fiction, try it some time.  It fuels your own imagination to read a story.  I may never go to France, but I can read a story set in France and imagine I'm there.  I can't travel back in time, but I can read a story set in ancient Rome and suddenly I'm temporarily transported to another time and place.  And be honest, how many of you have ever went to open a wardrobe and secretly longed to peek though the coats and clutter and see a snowy landscape with a light pole in the middle of a pine forest and a faun having a conversation with Lucy Pevensie about a great lion who rules the land?  It is one of my worst fears to one day lose my sense of wonder and creativity.  I believe as long as there is a book to read my imagination will always be engaged.

Reading Means You Will Never Stop Being Inspired

As I said, many of my beliefs grew out of something I read.  Reading inspires us.  Life is difficult, and we all need an escape.  We all need something to distract us and to inspire us.  I know that if it weren't for books I would lack inspiration.  I need to hear stories about people who have overcome tragedy.  I need to read stories about people who have been severly wronged and have somehow found the ability to forgive.  I need to read real life stories about men and women that God has used for His puroses and His glory.  I need to have my beliefs challenged and my soul encouraged.  I need to be inspired, and books provide this.

So if it's been a while since you have immersed yourself in a good book, pick one off the shelf, dust it off, and dive in.  Learn, engage your sense of wonder and imagination, and be inspired.  It's never too late to become an avid reader, and it's never too early to start reading to your children.  Embrace the power of the written word.

What books have inspired you?  Comment below with some of your favorites and why you love them!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Season of Reconciliation

Earlier this summer, my wife and I bought our first house.  It was very exciting for us.  We put a lot of work into it, and finally in October we moved in.  Because of the work and money put into the home, Rebekah and I have decided not to buy each other any gifts this year.  This has caused me to meditate more on how I can give gifts that can't be bought.  As our church has been preparing for Advent and the Christmas season, my pastor has been preaching on these intangible gifts as well.  He has mentioned several times that Christmas needs to be a season of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

The concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation saturate Scripture.  In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus admonishes us to leave our sacrifices at the altar and go be reconciled with the one we have wronged.  Paul says in Romans 5:10, say that even though we were enemies of God we were "reconciled to God through the death of His Son". (HCSB)  

If the person of Jesus is the heart of the Christian message, then the concept of reconciliation is the life-blood coursing through its veins.  Scripture is very clear that through the death of Christ we are reconciled to God, and because of the sacrifice of Christ we can also be reconciled to each other.  Forgiving someone who has wronged you or seeking forgiveness from someone you have wronged is one of the best gifts you can give this Christmas season.  Be reconciled to each other.

There is no limit on forgiveness.  Jesus commands us in regards to forgivness to do what it seems we are incapable of doing, forgive others in the same way God has forgiven you.  C.S. Lewis said in Weight of Glory, "to be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you".  This couldn't be more true.

This Christmas season, if you have been wronged, choose to forgive.  If you have wronged someone else, seek forgiveness.  Choosing to forgive someone who has sinned against you is giving them the most precious gift you can give.  We are all prone to wander.  We are prone to forget the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation God has given us in Christ Jesus.

I love the words that Matthew West wrote in a song called "Forgivneness".

It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It's always anger's own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It's the whisper in your ear saying 'Set It Free'

Let's seek the most precious gifts this season.  Celebrate reconciliation to God and to each other.  Celebrate the Incarnation.  Celebrate the King of Heaven come to earth to set men free.  Celebrate Jesus, the Great Reconciler of sinners to God


Piper, John.  "C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Forgiveness.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Shepherd's Call: Election as Motivation in Evangelism

John Piper wrote a book on missions called Let the Nations Be Glad: the Supremacy of God in Missions.  In it, he says that the doctrine of election (predestination) should be a comfort to those laboring for the sake of the gospel in the mission field.  He references John 10:16 in support.  In John 10, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd.  Like a good shepherd he guards the door of the sheep.  He protects His sheep, he cares for His sheep, and He would ultimately sacrifice himself for His sheep.  But in v. 16 Jesus says that His fold is not yet complete.  John 10:16 says, But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  Then there will be one flock, one shepherd".

The doctrine of election should be a comfort to us as we share the gospel because it assures us that our work will not be fruitless.  Many see the doctrine of election as a hindrance to evangelism.  They may ask, "If God has already chosen his sheep, then why evangelize?  What is the point?"  Jesus answers this in John 10 by saying that even though those sheep are His, they have strayed.  They need to hear his voice, the gospel. The gospel is the means by which God calls His lost sheep.  The gospel is His  voice, and His sheep recognize it.  Romans 10:14 says, "But how can they call on Him they have not believed in?  And how can they believe without hearing about Him?".  Yes, the lost are called to respond to the gospel with faith and repentance, but salvation is ultimately God's work.  He sends us on a rescue mission for His sheep.  His sheep!  So the doctrine of election should convince us of the urgency of evangelism and give us comfort as we share with the lost.  It is urgent because God has lost sheep everywhere.  It is urgent because we don't know where or who they are.  It is urgent because they must hear!  But we can take comfort that all His sheep will hear, and they will recognize His voice.

I know not all will agree with me about election, and that is fine.  It is just that I am convinced by Scripture of the validity of this doctrine.  You can disagree with me about election and still be a partner with me in evangelism.  I welcome friendly discussion and exhortation.

Occasionally I write poetry.  I don't really ever share it because it can be quite personal.  So I guess I am making myself a little vulnerable in putting this out there, but John 10 inspired the below poem.

NOTE:  The rhythm and rhyme of the poem will not make sense unless you pause after the 1st and 3rd lines of each stanza.  Lines 2 and 3 should be read without pausing.  I am not an expert in poetic rhyme, but I do my best!  :)

The Shepherd's Call

Wandering lost without a fold;
Your sheep are scattered in the world.
But because You have declared them Yours;
You command Your Church to go.

Your Word, the Light, exposes darkness;
It causes every hellish foe to flee.
Your Gospel beckons to the perishing;
Turn to You, the Shepherd of their souls

They hear Your voice and know it well.
Their Master has come to their rescue;
With joy they will call out to You;
You will redeem them from their fall.

Lord, Your fold is scattered everywhere;
Send us where they may be found.
Your Gospel is such a  beautiful sound;
To sheep in need of their Shepherd's call.


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers.  Used by permission.  Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

Piper, John.  Let the Nations Be Glad:  The Supremacy of God in Missions.  (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2010)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Beauty of God Pt. 3: The New Heavens and the New Earth

This is the third and final part of my paper about my meditations on the beauty of God.

The promise of salvation is that one day we will be able to behold the beauty of God face to face.  Many in Scripture desired to see God face to face, but they could not bear to look because the brightness of His beauty and glory overwhelmed them.  In Exodus 33, Moses asked the Lord to show him His glory, but God said in verse 20, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live”.  God did reveal His glory to Moses but only his backside not his face.  Paul likewise encounter the living Christ in all his beauty and glory on the road to Damascus and was struck blind because of the brightness of His radiance. 
            The joy of heaven is that for the first time we will get to see God as He truly is.  We will get to fully experience His beauty and bask in the warmth of His glory.  Revelation 21:3 says, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them”.  What is probably my favorite promise in all of Scripture in found in Revelation 22:3-5.  It says the following regarding the New Heavens and the New Earth:
“There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.  And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.”
In heaven, the beauty of God will eternally be on display.  For the first time, we will experience completely unhindered worship of God.  We will be in awe of His beauty from the first moment, and that awe will never cease but will endure forever!


*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture was taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995, by The Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Beauty of God Pt. 2: The Beauty of His Word

 This is part 2 of a paper I wrote for seminary in which I meditated on the attribute of the beauty of God.

The beauty of God is also on display in His word.  The Bible is God’s special revelation of Himself to us, and His attributes are on full display in it.  If God’s beauty is defined as Him having all desirable qualities, then this is also true of His word.  The psalmist declares in Psalm 119:103, “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”.  Again in verse 19 he says, “I shall delight in Your statutes” and in verse 18 “open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law”.  His word is beautiful, and should be the desire of the heart of His people.  It is not the ink on the pages of a book that is beautiful, but it is the God behind the words.  The words of Scripture are God’s very words, and we could never begin to comprehend the true beauty of God if He had not revealed Himself to us in His word. 
            Further, if the word of God reveals to us the beauty of God, then Jesus, the Word incarnate, does so even more.  John 1:1 says, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.  John 1:14 goes on to state that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth”.  Hebrews 1:3 praises Jesus as “the radiance of His [God] glory and the exact representation of His nature”.  Jesus himself says in John 14:9, “He who has seen me has seen the Father”. 
            Scripture also declares that God’s beauty is displayed in those who proclaim the good news of the gospel.  Romans 10:15 says, “How will they preach unless they are sent?  Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News of Good Things”.  To proclaim the gospel is to proclaim the beauty of God and the glory of redemption in Him.  The gospel is beautiful because the Savior it heralds is infinitely beautiful.
            Jesus truly is beautiful, and He contains all the desirable qualities attributed to God because He is God incarnate.  It was beautiful when Jesus heard the cries of a leper, healed him, and declared the unclean clean.  It was beauty on display on the mount of transfiguration as Jesus revealed His beauty and glory to three unsuspecting disciples.  And it was the beauty of atonement on display as the innocent Son of Man hung on a cross bearing the wrath of God on behalf of undeserving sinners.  How beautiful is our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ!


*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture was taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995, by The Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Beauty of God Pt. 1: Creation

I was recently given the task in one of my seminary courses to meditate on and write a brief paper about one of the many attributes of God.  As I was studying His attributes, the attribute of beauty stood out to me, so I chose that one to write on.  I wrote of the beauty of God displayed in three areas:  creation, His word, and the New Heavens and New Earth (heaven).  I figured I would publish each one of these areas as three different blog posts so that you could meditate along with me about the beauty of our great God.  So here is part 1:

God is beautiful.  That is such a simple and concise statement, but it is true and powerful.  God is the essence of beauty.  All other manifestations of beauty find the origin of their beauty in Him.  The Tennessee iris that blooms in May bears the marks of the beauty of its Creator.  The rugged Rocky Mountains that stretch out across the landscape of Colorado display the beautiful majesty of the God who formed them with His hand.  The oceans declare the mysterious beauty of the awe-inspiring God who spoke them into existence.  The beauty of God is all around us, it is praised in His word, and it will endure forever.  

God can be described as beautiful because he contains all good qualities to the fullest extent.  Psalm 19:1 states “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands”.  Creation exalts the beauty and glory of the One who made it.  In the beginning, God spoke, and the universe we know came into being out of nothing.  And it has not stopped bearing witness to His beauty ever since.  I love being outside.  I enjoy hiking, jogging, and, most of the time, yard work.  There is nothing like having your breath taken away while admiring creation from the top of a mountain.  There is also nothing more humbling that standing on the shore of the ocean and feeling the power of the waves crash on your feet knowing that the scene before you, water and sky as far as the eye can see, barely scratches the surface of the immense beauty of the sea.  The simple things of creation are also beautiful.  Jesus says in Luke 12:27, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these”.
            The beauty of creation is mind-boggling.  Psalm 104 says that God established the earth, and he set limits to everything.  All of creation fulfills its purpose.  Springs flow forth in the valleys providing water for cattle.   Trees grow and provide a place of rest for the birds.  Grass springs forth so that cattle may graze.  God causes the earth to produce fruit and vegetables so that man will be filled.  The order of creation is a beautiful thing, and God created that order.  Psalm 104:24 says “O Lord, how many are your works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions.” 
            As I meditated on what God’s word says about the beauty of creation, I was floored by a certain realization.  If creation, the enormity of which I can’t comprehend, is this breath-takingly beautiful, how much more so is the One who spoke it all into being?  If being in the presence of nature gives me peace, how much more peaceful is the beautiful presence of God.  If seeing an eagle in flight captivates me, how much more should I be captivated by the most beautiful One in the universe?  If I am overwhelmed by the beauty of my bride, how much more should I be overwhelmed by the beauty of the Lord?  The beauty of creation is great but greater still is the beauty of the God who made it all.


*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture was taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995, by The Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Christian Paradox of Suffering

In the last two months, My wife and I have have had relatives impacted by cancer diagnoses and a stroke.  In the last two months, our country has experienced a bombing in Boston, tornadoes decimating Oklahoma, and the horror associated with the Kermit Gosnell trial.  Suffering seems to be predominate on the world scene as well as in our own personal lives.  I had a pastor who once said that a person is either  about to go through a period of suffering, is in the middle of a period of suffering, or will soon go through a period of suffering.  It is inescapable, and we are all exposed to it.

I call suffering a Christian paradox because of how the Bible refers to these times of trials in our lives.  Suffering is awful, but the Bible not only tells us to expect it (John 17, James 1) but to take joy in it (James 1).  This is where the paradox lies.  The darkest times in  the life of a believer is often where they sense the joy of the Lord the strongest.  There are three things I believe God's word teaches us about suffering.

Suffering Exposes our Weakness and Highlights God's Strength

In 2 Corinthians 11:22-27, Paul gives a list of his sufferings.  He mentions his imprisonments, beatings, and being near death many times.  At one point, he received 39 lashes.  He was persecuted by the Romans and the Jews, stoned, and shipwrecked.  He literally faced danger at every turn along his journeys.  Paul said many believers were boasting in an unspiritual way about their accomplishments.  Paul's point was that if he was going to boast in anything, he was going to boast in his weaknesses because they exalt the strength of God.  In Chapter 12, Paul even says he was given a thorn in his flesh to "torment me so I would not exalt myself" (v.7, HCSB).  God refused to remove this ailment so that Paul would see that God's grace was sufficient enough for him. We are weak and broken vessels, but God has chosen us to display his strength and power through.  It is a mystery, but the glory of God's strength is made more evident to us and to the world when it is displayed in our moments of weakness.

Suffering Matures Us As Believers

James 1 is clear that suffering is inevitable, but we are to take joy in it.  It also says the trials develop our character in a way that matures us as believers.  According to James 1, suffering and trials help us develop endurance, gives us wisdom, and increases our faith.  All of this leads to a better understanding of who we are as believers and followers of Christ.  It also increases our hope.  James 1:12 says that the "man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him." (HCSB)  God in his infinite wisdom knew this fallen world would bring suffering on His children, but because He is sovereign over suffering, He can use it shape us more into the image of His Son.

Suffering Gives Us a Clearer Portrait of God

My suffering is nothing compared to what many have suffered, but I know that in some of the darkest periods of my life is where I learned more clearly who God is.  You see examples of this in Scripture as well.    Daniel learned this in a lion's den.  Joseph, Paul, and Peter all got greater glimpses of God from a jail cell.  John received a powerful revelation of God while exiled on Patmos.  But my favorite example of this is from Job.  We all know his story.  He lost everything.  His wife had turned on him, and his friends were attributing his suffering to his own sin.  Job never cursed God, but he did demand an answer from him.  And what an answer did God give (read Job 38-41).  After all of Job's suffering, Job received an image of God he would never forget, and Job's response is one we should all have:  "I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You;  therefore, I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes".

Suffering affects us all, but let us never forget that God is sovereign over suffering and has a purpose for it.  Also let us never forget that he is not immune to it.  The greatest example of suffering was endured by Him after all.  He became man and walked among us.  He bore the weight of our sins on His shoulders.  He endured His own wrath for sin on our behalf.  He faced the sting of death we deserved.  He indeed knows all about suffering.