Subscribe to the Gospel Reformation blog by Email

Bible

God Communicates With Us -- And He Does It Through A Book

If you don’t like reading, fake it till you make it.

When I was in middle school and high school, I didn't read anything. To Kill A Mockingbird. The Scarlet Letter. Beowulf. Nothing. We were assigned all these classic novels that (now) I wish I had read. Somehow I got by, but not only was my laziness sinful, it was practically unhelpful as I got to college and had to read something. Winging it wasn't going to work anymore. So I forced myself and I did it — but I didn't enjoy it. I got bored. It made me tired. I knew I was being coerced into reading so I could get a decent grade. Whatever the excuse, I still hated reading.

Then sometime between undergrad and graduate school, I discovered a joy for reading. It was like someone flipped a switch. Reading was no longer a chore, but it was becoming a hobby. Maybe I was growing up. Maybe it was because I got to pick the books. Maybe it was friends who challenged me. In truth, it was probably a combination of all those. Or maybe the Holy Spirit simply worked a seismic miracle!

I’m grateful that God changed my feelings about reading; how else would I commune with him?

Since then, I’ve amassed a library of almost 1,000 books; many I’ve read, and many I still need to. So I am definitely not the me of fifteen years ago, the me that hated to read. And I’m unspeakably grateful that God changed my feelings about reading — because how else would I commune with him; how else would I know what he’s done and what he’s like?

God wants us to read; he has not left us to ourselves to figure him out. As with many of the world’s religions and philosophies, we’re not left to feel and guess and grope at notions of why the universe exists, or what part we play in it. God communicates with us — and he does it through a book. History’s meta-narrative, the grand overarching story of creation-fall-redemption, including the good news of God’s own son coming into the world, comes to us in a book.

Written down and compiled over nearly two millennia, by around forty authors from three continents, the Bible is the most unique book the world has ever and will ever see. And we as 21st-century American Christians have more access to it than any other people in the world, or in the history of the world. The Bible reveals God’s plan, his character and nature; it is full of history and poetry and wisdom. But what if I don't like reading? Do it anyway! A general disdain for reading will not set itself aside for the Bible. So fake it till you make it. Force yourself to sit down and read. God will take that time and use it; he’ll teach you and you’ll grow in your knowledge of him. He’s big enough to meet you there in spite of your reluctance.

While the Bible is the only book without error, God has blessed the church with so many other resources that can be a tremendous aid to our growth.

As you begin to enjoy (or at least tolerate) reading, you’ll see that, while the Bible is the only book without error, God has still blessed the church with so many other resources that can be a tremendous aid to our growth. Again, because of the internet especially, Christians today have access to articles, books, e-books, blogs, and sermon manuscripts that they couldn't have imagined even twenty years ago — and many of them at no cost to the reader! 

With so many good resources at our fingertips, all it takes to learn and grow is a commitment to read. After all, Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). And if we apply that to the amount of information we have available to us, we have a huge responsibility to fight through the excuses and take advantage of it!
 

REFLECTION

What stops you from reading more? Time? Interest? Something else?

Reading from a variety of sources is not bad, but why should we be careful about what we take in, other than the Bible?

Think about your typical day. Where could you make a little extra time for a habit of reading? And don’t say you don't have any!

For further reflection, read Psalm 119:9-24.

What The Bible's Shortest Verse Can Teach Us About Grief

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

The Bible is full of comfort for the hurt and grieving, and it speaks to our grief in a hundred different ways. For some, their comfort is in the nature of God as a loving father. For others, comfort is found in a familiar passage like Psalm 23, a chapter on the Lord as a shepherd tenderly caring for and protecting his sheep. For their comfort, some lean on a sturdy confidence in God’s providence, while others in God’s promises such as Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who Love God and are called according to his purpose.

While there is certainly much comfort found in all those places and more, when it comes to offering hope to the hurting, there are two powerful words in the Bible that are often overlooked. Tucked away in the miraculous story of Lazarus’s resurrection, John 11:35—the Bible’s shortest verse, but perhaps one of the longest on implication—stands ready to flood our souls with truth about the Lord’s sympathy and compassion: “Jesus wept.”

Lazarus had been dead for four days. His sisters, Mary and Martha, both greeted Jesus with the same mixture of emotions, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They believed Jesus could have healed him, but they despaired that he was too late. Many of the Jews had come to console them, and they mourned with Mary and Martha. And as Jesus looked on their sadness, as he watched them grieve the most intense loss we feel in this life—the death of a loved one—he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” As they went to the tomb where Lazarus was laid, Jesus wept. (John 11:17-35)

Sometimes Jesus has an odd way of giving us what he knows we need. But in the meantime, Jesus simply wept with this friends.

The son of God. The second person of the Trinity. “The radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3), in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). This Jesus, who knew how it all would turn out, still wept with his friends. Jesus knew Lazarus would be resurrected. He knew that sheer joy and celebration were just around the corner. In fact, he stayed away an extra two days when he heard Lazarus was ill, so that the disciples, Mary and Martha, and the onlooking Jews would see the glory of God and believe (John 11:5-6, 14-15, 40). Jesus loved this family and knew that witnessing Lazarus’s resurrection would deepen their faith more than seeing him healed. Sometimes Jesus has an odd way of giving us what he knows we need. But in the meantime, Jesus simply wept with this friends.

It’s an incredible comfort to know Jesus sympathizes with our pain, that he’s compassionate and meets us in our grief. It’s no small thing to read that Jesus wept with these people he loved. He knows death is not eternal. He knows resurrection is coming. He knows life and glory are just around the corner, but in the moment, suffering and death and tremendous grief were real — and Jesus mourned their effect. 

In Jesus’ tears we see how he loved Lazarus (John 11:36). His example teaches us there’s a way to mourn while staying confident in God. In Jesus we see what it looks like to not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And as Jesus mourns the sadness of death before he resurrects Lazarus, so we mourn the reality of suffering and death before the final Resurrection, when Jesus will “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

 

REFLECTION

Have you ever heard it said that intense grief indicates a lack of faith? How does Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’s death indicate otherwise?

Jesus didn't go to Lazarus immediately when he heard he was sick, which led to Mary and Martha’s suffering when he died. What comfort can be gained by observing Jesus’ reason for this (that they would see the glory of God and believe)?

When you’ve experienced grief (maybe that’s right now), what comforts you? Is there any hope in knowing Jesus sympathizes, cares, and mourns with you even though he knows how he’ll use this to deepen your faith?

For further reflection, read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.

"Everything Happens For A Reason" May Not Be Helpful -- But Don't Stop Believing It

I recently read an article encouraging Christians to stop saying “everything happens for a reason.” The argument? Everything doesn’t actually happen for a reason.

According to the author, some of life’s occurrences are random — but they “can ultimately be redeemed and used by God for a purpose (Romans 8:28).” There’s a distinction between some of life’s events happening with purpose, and some happening randomly but with qualities God can redeem after for his purposes. “These two things are quite different if you begin to unpack their meaning and understanding.”

But there are a few problems with this. First and foremost, the Bible doesn’t support it. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers (Genesis 37). Job lost everything he owned, his children, and his health (Job 1-2). Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, was sick and died—causing confusion and pain for friends and family—since Jesus wouldn't go to heal him (John 11). Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, “a messenger of Satan to harass him” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Jesus, an innocent man, was murdered publicly and with the approval of all the involved religious and political leaders (Acts 4:27-28).

God doesn’t spin the world, take his hands off, and wait for opportunities to step in and clean up a mess.

Can we all agree these are horrible events? Of course we can. And while not a single one of us would like to find ourselves in a similar situation, often times we do (except for being crucified for the sin of the world). We lose jobs. We lose loved ones to cancer and car wrecks and house fires. We go through divorce and abuse. These are all situations of intense pain and suffering.

And yet the Bible is clear. God is not random. He doesn’t spin the world, take his hands off, and wait for opportunities to step in and clean up a mess. He is sovereign. He is wise. And his ways—though they may include hard times and pain—are higher than our ways and always work together for our good (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 8:28).

Joseph was used to save Israel and preserve God’s people during a great famine (Genesis 50:20). Job experienced God’s faithfulness and blessing on the other side of heavy suffering (Job 42). Jesus let Lazarus die on purpose so that the power of God would be displayed in his resurrection and people would believe (John 11:14-15). Paul’s thorn kept him humble and taught him about the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). The death of Jesus was the most heinous act of evil ever committed — but it brought salvation to the world (Romans 5:6-11).

While it may sound like a help to believe suffering does not intentionally come to us from God, the biblical truth is that it does — and the real comfort is in knowing God has a plan for your pain, to grow you, to make you more like Jesus, to use you as his ambassador.

It’s a mystery why and how God allows pain and suffering, and how he intends to use it for good. Yes, God is love. Yes, he is good. But yes, he is still sovereign over his creation, absolutely sovereign over all of it (Isaiah 46:8-11). While it may sound like a help to believe suffering does not intentionally come to us from God, the biblical truth is that it does — and the real comfort is in knowing God has a plan for your pain, to grow you, to make you more like Jesus, to use you as his ambassador. The only real comfort is in knowing God is not out of control and in every situation there is a definite purpose.

At the same time we can all agree it typically doesn’t comfort hurting people to hear aphorisms like "everything happens for a reason.” Most of the time it can be insensitive, and therefore I agree it shouldn't be used lightly on people in the midst of their pain. So get rid of the bathwater, sure, but let’s get the baby out first.

Don’t fall for a fake comfort. Everything does happen for a reason. Jesus said not even a bird falls from the sky apart from God (Matthew 10:29-31). Your circumstances are not random and meaningless. It’s precisely because everything happens for a reason that you can trust God to fulfill his purpose and bring you safely through it. It may just take a little faith.

It's Slippery Out There Sinning For The Greater Good

What happens when trying to be a good Christian makes you a bad Conservative? 

Whoa. One sentence in, and some of you may already be scratching your heads. I know there are some who think those two words are synonymous--but it is possible to be good at one and bad at the other. Maybe this is just one of those tensions we have to accept, like trying to reconcile God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. Or the Trinity; how can God be three and one at the same time? It's like that. How can a person be a good Christian and not be incensed at the Grand Jury's decision to indict David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt? 

I don't share my political views often; in fact, I almost never talk politics--on purpose. It suffices to say that you'd spot me if you look a little right. Which is where I find myself questioning the way I'm supposed to respond to the news that a Houston Grand Jury indicted the videographers who exposed Planned Parenthood last year.

For a short version of the most commonly asked questions about the news, this is a great summary. And for some great cultural analysis from a Christian viewpoint, take a listen to the first ten minutes of yesterday's episode of Al Mohler's excellent podcast, The Briefing. I agree with Mohler; we are living in a world turned upside down. And it's appalling that Planned Parenthood will continue (at least for now) to get away with their atrocities, especially in light of the videos. That part of me is as red as it gets. Don't misread me: Abortion is evil, murder, and an abomination. In other words, it's sin.

But so is lying.

So is breaking the law by falsifying government documents. So what if all reporters do it to get the story.

We’ve moved into a bigger, more theoretical (dare I say age-old) question of whether it’s okay to commit a little sin for the “greater good.”

See my dilemma? I'm supposed to join my Facebook timeline in raging about the "injustice" done these two videographers who busted Planned Parenthood, thus making me a good Conservative. But I'm having a hard time saying it's okay for them to sin because the other people are bigger sinners. I'm having a hard time justifying their sin for some kind of greater good; I don't think I can do that and be a good Christian. Because that's what this has turned into. "It's okay they lied because the other people are killing." The line to get on the slippery slope is long, but it's moving pretty fast.

With the conservative outrage over the Grand Jury's decision on Monday, we've moved beyond the question of Planned Parenthood's evil. We've moved into a bigger, more theoretical (dare I say age-old) question of whether it's okay to commit a little sin for the "greater good." And where's the line? Which sins are small enough to be okay? Is it okay to bomb an abortion clinic? If falsifying government documents will bring down Planned Parenthood, is that okay? Bombing, I'm guessing we all agree, no. But lying? It seems my fairly conservative Facebook feed agrees, yes.

But then my Bible still says, no.

Sin is sin is sin. Falsifying government records sent Jesus to the cross. Killing babies sent Jesus to the cross. Neither is beyond the reach of the gospel--but neither honors the Lord, either. One may be more or less heinous to me and you, but they both assault the sovereignty and glory of God. They are both cosmic treason to a Being infinite in his justice and holiness.

So I find myself not outraged at the Grand Jury in Houston, but a little let down by David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. I wish they'd done things the right way, maybe done a little more research, maybe gone the extra mile to make sure the bases were covered. Because my stomach turned at the videos they released. I want their work to mean something. But I can't be a good Christian if I expect the system to hold Planned Parenthood accountable for breaking laws, without holding these two accountable for breaking laws.

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose," calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. Isaiah 46.8-11

I can be a good Christian, though, by remembering and trusting that God is sovereign, that his purposes can't be thwarted, and that he allows and works through our sin to accomplish his purposes. He used the sin of Joseph's brothers to save many people (Genesis 50.20). He used the sin of the Pharisees and the Jewish crowd to save his people through the murder of Jesus (Acts 2.22-24). 

And he can still use the sins of a couple of videographers to expose the sins of a nationwide abortion provider. So let's stop acting like these two didn't deserve their indictments, like they were martyred--but let's not stop praying that their work might yet succeed in its aim to expose greater evils.

When Your Tongue Lets You Down

For several months now, it's been my habit in the morning to tweet a poignant, usually spiritual, quote. They come from all over; sometimes they're from something I'm reading. Other times they're just copy-and-pasted from another twitter account doing the same thing. My purpose has been simply to encourage (or convict) others with a quote that's encouraged (or convicted) me. I've accumulated quite a few quotes from which I choose every morning, and--in an unexpected way--it's been a great tool for me since I read many of them over and over for days or weeks before they get sent out to the interwebs.

Once they're out there, they normally get a couple of Facebook likes and maybe a retweet or two. I hope they're hitting home with others like they are for me. But every now and then, you put one out there and figure out you've really struck a chord. It happened yesterday.

When our tongues let us down, it is because we have not first watched over our hearts and thoughts. -Alistair Begg

I posted this quote yesterday because it was relevant for me. Reading through Matthew, I'd just been meditating on 15.11: "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." So I sent it out--and almost immediately started getting notifications that it had been liked or retweeted--and they continued all day. Until they stopped at 11 retweets and 26 likes on Twitter, and 5 likes on Facebook. Now, those are not astronomical numbers, but it's certainly a bigger response than I'm accustomed to on my daily, obscure Christian quotes. I normally have to post pictures of my kids to get a response like that. 

Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. Matthew 15.17-19

So why this quote? Why did this one resonate with people so much? I think because we all know it to be true. This is an experience--a biblical truth--with which we're all too familiar. We've all said something or thought something we regret. Some of us do it every day. Or every hour. The words we say, the thoughts we think, reveal who we are deep down. If it's in my heart, eventually it'll make its way out of my mouth. And the same goes for you.

The things that are outside of us may influence us, and they may be harmful. Music, movies, friends, conversation, art, food, drinks, there are a million things outside of us that may influence us negatively. They may feed, highlight, or encourage the darkness in our hearts, the darkness just waiting to escape by the mouth. But those things are not what defile us. Sin defiles us--and my sin starts in my heart. Words. Thoughts. Actions. Those are all just ways to let it out.

So do you say things you wish you could take back? Look at your heart.
Do you think things you're glad no one knows about? Look at your heart.

As you look, though, remember--"good in, good out" or "bad in, bad out" is a simple enough philosophy. There's some truth in that, but there's one easier. Just because you put Christian music and Christian movies and Christian books and Christian other things in, doesn't guarantee you'll get Christian things out. Try this one instead: gospel in, good out.

A heart fixed on the gospel, on the grace, mercy, and kindness of God, is the heart that brings forth good words, thoughts, and actions. A heart fixed on the good news that, in Christ, there's nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there's nothing you can do to make God love you less, is a heart that's been "watched over."

And if that's where your heart is, your tongue won't let you down.