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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.

Bullseye, Mr Tozer

I like books. I enjoy reading too, but that's not what I'm talking about. I like the books, themselves. I like books per se. So I have a lot of books, and they're organized by genre. History. Theology. Biography. Ministry. Commentary. Et cetera.

Then I have this half-shelf that I simply refer to as "favorites." These are not really my favorite books, but more like the ones I believe would be of great benefit for any... or every Christian to read. I recently finished reading The Pursuit of God by AW Tozer. It sits on that shelf of "favorites" -- and these are some of my favorite quotes. Enjoy.

There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives. (p.8)
The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts. (p.10)
We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Out Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed. 
Our gifts and talents should also be turned over to Him. They should be recognized for what they are, God's loan to us, and should never be considered in any sense our own. We have no more right to claim credit for special abilities than for blue eyes or strong muscles. (p.28)
The greatest fact of the tabernacle was that Jehovah was there; a Presence was waiting within the veil. Similarly the Presence of God is the central fact of Christianity. At the heart of the Christian message is God Himself waiting for His redeemed children to push in to conscious awareness of His Presence. (p.37)
What God in His sovereignty may yet do on a world-scale I do not claim to know: but what He will do for the plain man or woman who seeks His face I believe I do know and can tell others. Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days. (p.71)

*All quotes taken from this publication of The Pursuit of God:
Martino Fine Books (2009-11-12)
ISBN 10: 1578988519 / ISBN 13: 9781578988518

If You Only Read One Book This Year...

I love books. If you know me or you’ve been in my office, this will come as no surprise. I love the idea of “books,” the reading and learning - but I also love books per se. Physical, tangible books. No eBooks or digital copies here. If I could get a car air-freshener in “New Book Scent,” I would.

Maybe it’s because I’ve built my life around a Book. Or because God wants us to glorify Him with our minds, too. Or maybe because I’m just weird.

But whatever my reason, there’s something about reading and learning and devouring books that seems right for Christians - and especially pastors. God has preserved His words in the form of a book. Therefore, pastors are vocationally readers. They go to meetings to plan and strategize, they visit with people, they counsel people spiritually, and they cast vision and make budgets - but none of that matters if they are not devoted to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6.1-7). The Church spreads by proclamation of the Word, the gospel message that Jesus Christ saves sinners. Pastors (and Christians) are better served when they are readers, reading the Bible to hear from the Lord, but also seeking wisdom by reading commentary and books written by the godly who’ve gone before us.

So what's one book that's made a huge impact on me? The Cross Centered Life by CJ Mahaney. This book is all about the gospel and its importance in our day-to-day everything we do. So often we slip into this mentality where the gospel is just something that unbelievers need to hear to be saved. And no one does it on purpose. Do’s and don’ts and lots of other things lull us into thinking that the gospel belongs in a tract for the lost, but it really doesn’t have anything to offer us after we get saved. Mahaney argues just the contrary - that the gospel is in every way for the believer after their conversion, and that daily reminding ourselves of the cross can transform our lives one day at a time. He writes about why we need to be reminded of the gospel daily, but he doesn’t leave us hanging. He also devotes time at the end of the book to how we can do it - simple ways to put into practice the cross centered life.

Weighing in at only 96 pages, this short book can be read in one sitting. I know. I’ve done it. But that was the second time I read it. When I put this book down after the first time, I immediately knew it was one that I would come back to regularly. And I encourage you to read it, too. After all, we can never have too much exposure to the gospel of Jesus!

"For the Love of God..."

Ever heard anyone say that? Sure you have. People say it all the time - mostly out of frustration - without knowing what they're saying. But have you ever really considered what it means? Have you ever thought about the love of God?

I hadn't. I mean really thought about it. I know that God loves the world. And that He loves me. I know that the love of God is forgiving, great, and gracious. And if asked, I probably would not have said I found it "difficult" to explain.

But then I read this 84-page book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. And I was blown away. Carson's starting point is basically how I've set this up. No one thinks "the love of God" is a hard thing to grasp - until they look at it more closely.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is close to the beginning, when Carson points out five ways that the Bible speaks of the love of God. They each get more treatment as the book progresses, but they are worth mentioning briefly here. For me it was like stumbling onto a gold mine - just knowing these differentiations exist makes it easier to read parts of the Bible that speak of God's love. They fit together better now. They make more sense. And so here are five ways the Bible speaks of God's love:

1. The special love of the Son for the Father, and the Father for the Son. The gospel of John cites this in 3.35 and 14.31.

2. God's providential love for the whole creation. This theme runs through the entire Bible, but it is clearly seen in God's declaration that His creation is "good" (Genesis 1), and in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus speaks of God's providential care for birds, the grass, etc. (Matthew 6).

3. "God's salvific stance toward his fallen world." In spite of the world's rebellion, God commands people to repent, and orders His people to take the message of reconciliation (through Jesus) to the ends of the earth. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but wants people to repent (Ezekiel 33.11).

4. God's particular love for His elect. This one has been the cause of many an argument between brothers, mostly because neither understand this in the light of the other four points - this is one aspect of God's complex love. But according to Deuteronomy 7.7-8 and 10.14-15, as well as Romans 9 with Jacob and Esau, and Ephesians 5 with Christ's love for "the church," there is definitely a special way that God loves His people that is different than how He loves everyone.

5. God's sometimes conditional love - conditioned, that is, on obedience. Jude commands us to "keep ourselves in God's love" (verse 21), and Jesus tells his disciples to remain in His love (John 15.9). This way of treating God's love as conditional reminds us that we are still morally responsible for our actions, and have a part in our becoming holy, as He is holy. It's not as if we could ever fall out of His love, but remaining in His love is more like a teen getting home by curfew so as not to incur the wrath of his father. He will rest assured that his father is pleased with him. So it is with God's "conditional" love.

I recommend reading the whole book for further and better treatment of each of these "types" of God's love. It's short, and very accessible - in other words, you don't have to be a scholar to understand it.

And who knows? Maybe the next time you hear someone say, "Oh, for the love of God," you can strike up a spiritual conversation about which one!

A is for Augustine

You don't need a Master's degree in church history to appreciate this one. Here's a new-ish book that alphabetically highlights 26 heroes in the history of the Church - aptly titled The Church History ABC's. The authors have taken a different person for each letter of the alphabet and written a very short biography about that person and their contribution to the Church. This book is colorful and bright, and the artwork is great. Naturally, it's aimed at helping children learn their ABC's, while simultaneously exposing them to some godly men and women whose names they'll be well-served to know. (But if you're knowledge of church history is a little spotty, don't worry - you don't have to tell anyone you bought it for yourself.) Click the picture below to take a look inside.