Monday, August 11, 2014

Always Reading but Still Failing?

     I have asked myself the following question many times:
     “Why, when I spend so much time in Bible study, or read so many Christian books, listen to legitimate Christian radio and even spend time in Scripture, do I fail to incorporate what I have learned into my life? Why do I read about patience in the morning but then act impatiently in the afternoon? Why do I hear a sermon on long-suffering on the radio and then lambast someone an hour later? Peter Furler, previously of the Newsboys, sings about this very thing in the song, Your Love Is Better Than Life:

I don't know how I can end a prayer, then turn on a friend
I don't know what I was thinking when I just pressed 'Send'

     Warren Wiersbe, in his autobiography Be Myself, explains the cause of our failure:

     “I fear that Christian radio can make people ‘codependent’ if they aren’t careful. Listeners think that because they’ve listened to a ‘great preacher,’ they’ve learned something, but that isn’t necessarily true. A woman wrote and told me how many Christian broadcasters she listened to in the course of a day, and then she added, ‘But I’m not a successful Christian and don’t know what’s wrong.’ I wrote and told her what was wrong: she was listening to too many voices and not taking time to digest what she heard (if it was wroth digesting) and put it into practice.
     ‘Pick out one or two speakers who really get through to you,’ I wrote, ‘and listen to them, but be sure to practice what they teach from the Word. Also, spend time alone with the Lord each day, reading the Bible and praying. God doesn’t need the radio on to talk to you.’
     Weeks later, she wrote back and told me how her Christian life had changed for the better because she followed my counsel...Now she was listening to the Lord and doing what He was telling her to do.” Warren Wiersbe, Be Myself

     This is so true. I spent years every morning, when my kids were still living at home, in my quiet time with God, reading Scripture and journaling. I would listen to Christian radio—both preaching and music—in the car as I ran my errands, and devoured books by what I like to call “the old dead guys”: those great theologians and preachers of old. Why then did I struggle year after year with some of the same sins? I did progress, but I wasn’t where I might have been and in fact could have been.

     It was because I was inundating myself with information and the reading became almost a way to spend my leisure time. I could immerse myself in the poetic prose of Spurgeon but lose sight of the fact that what he was saying was supposed to actually be applied. And then I would read something else, maybe written by a more current Christian. And then I would hear preaching in church and on the radio and it was all great in an “in-the-moment" way! But I didn’t take it seriously enough to apply. It became almost like a hobby! I’m not saying it’s bad. It's better to immerse oneself in Christian media (if it is doctrinally sound) than the junk on television or a trashy novel or nasty political commentary. 

     But the problem was that, as I look back, I think most of my consumption of Christian media was primarily for the purpose of enjoyment (with perhaps an element of commiseration thrown in. What Christian hasn’t, as they hear a great truth proclaimed, gratefully exclaimed inside, “They get it! They get it! They get it!) But it’s no good to just leave it there. It’s no good to walk away fed and fat only to go right back to living in our old reactions and worldview because our “devotion” has become a pastime activity. No. Devotion must lead to action. It must impact, long term and permanently, our heart, thoughts, attitudes, actions and reactions.

     When I went through a spiritual crisis 3 years ago this summer, I walked through it with God and the Psalms. Nothing else. No radio. No books about Christianity or written by Christians. No books or radio/internet sermons on how a Christian can overcome suffering. 

     That experience taught me the power of the Word, the same power I knew from having been saved through the Word. How quickly we forget! One voice walked me through the dessert, and it changed me. He changed me. I listened only to Him. And I prayed, hard. I prayed all the time. It became a state of being to pray during that time. I had no other recourse, but more importantly, I desired no other recourse. I desired God the Father, Jesus the Son and His Holy Spirit.
     “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

     Permanent changes came about in my person after that 2 ½ year trial. It was the worst thing I ever went through but the best thing, because I am not the person today that I was. I finally achieved victory over some of the sins that I struggled with over and over and over again when I wasn’t seriously asking God in prayer to change me, but instead treating God like a novel pastime. Changed hearts do not just “happen” by listening to Christian radio, reading Christian books, or going to a charismatic or modern-day preacher. Ultimately we have to do what Wiersbe also counsels in his book, and that is to obey God’s four commandments in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
     “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:5

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” Psalm 86:11

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Turning Away From the Lies

Eugene Peterson, in Perseverance, a Christian Basics Bible study, writes:

"The first step toward God is a step away from the lies of the world. It is a renunciation of the lies we have been told about ourselves and our neighbors and our universe. Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking that you had, or could get, the strength, education and training to make it on your own."
Eugene Peterson, who, by the way, also wrote a paraphrase of the Bible called The Message. As I have said on this blog before, The Message is not a Bible, although it is marketed as a Bible. Please do not read The Message as a Bible. I do not mind quoting Peterson as long as I make it clear that I do not endorse The Message as a Bible). 

"If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing." 
1 Timothy 6:3-4

"...Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge," 1 Timothy 6:20b

"always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." 2 Timothy 3:7

Friday, August 8, 2014

Those Who Read the Bible as "Literature"

C.S. Lewis:

"Those who talk of reading the Bible 'as literature' sometimes mean, I think, reading it without attending to the main thing it is about; like reading Burke with no interest in politics, or reading the Aeneid with no interest in Rome. That seems to me to be nonsense." C.S. Lewis, writing in Reflections on the Psalms

"The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped. 
Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, 
what kind of wisdom do they have?" Jeremiah 8:9

"At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." Matthew 11:25

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; 
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" 1 Corinthians 1:18-20

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Difficulty as Occasion for God's Grace and Help

Rebecca Manley Pippert writes:

     “All noble things are difficult. God is doing the same work in our lives that he was doing in David’s life—bringing us into glory and making us suitable for heaven. He did not shield David from the requirements of becoming spiritually mature, and neither will he shield us.
     Christians are people of hope and not despair. We know that God had the first word and will also have the last. David is a wonderful example of the fact that hope is inseparable from faith in the true God. David knew that God was trustworthy, loving, holy and just. He knew that God’s goodness could never be exhausted. And the fruit of David’s hope in God was that it gave him patience to wait and a steadfastness that probably wasn’t natural to his temperament.
     David’s hope also enabled him to suffer honestly but well. He did not expect life always to be easy or even fair. But these difficulties were seen as occasions for God’s grace and help. If we likewise accept the fact that life is not always fair and that it can be difficult, we will be able to live from faithful strength instead of from frightened anxiety.”

Rebecca Manley Pippert, author of Transformation, a Christian Basics Bible Study

Psalm 25:1 “In you, LORD my God, I put my trust.”

Psalm 39:7: “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.”

Psalm 62:5: “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.”

Monday, August 4, 2014

God Equips His People

As I mentioned, I have just finished a personal study of 1 and 2 Timothy. The following, from the study guide Walking in Power, Love, and Discipline by Kay Arthur, David Lawson and Bob Vereen, is a great composite of how God equips His people:

     “God has given us all that we need to do all that He created us to accomplish while here on planet Earth. He has given us grace, mercy, and peace. He has given us power to suffer, love for our enemies, and self-control for those times when it seems we’re going to be overwhelmed and not in control of our own emotions. He has given us confidence that He is able to keep safely that which we have entrusted to Him. He gives us strength in our times of weakness and understanding in all things. He is not restricted by our limitations, is not moved from faithfulness by our failures, and is not unaware that we belong to Him. He delivers, equips, judges...and rewards. He compensates our enemies according to their deeds, stands by us when no one else will, and uses us to speak when no one wants to hear. He will deliver us from every evil deed, bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom, and when this life is over, He will welcome us into our permanent, eternal dwelling place to live with Him forever!
     God has given us His Word and instructed us not to be ashamed of it but to suffer for it, to retain its standard, to guard it from all manner of evil, to entrust it to faithful men, to handle it accurately in our studies, to continue in it every day of our lives, and to preach it when it’s convenient and when it’s not. His Word gives us wisdom that leads to salvation and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness so that we might be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Paul knew this. Paul shared this with us. No wonder Paul could stand at the end of his life and declare with certainty: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, and I have kept the faith.’
     What do you know about Him and what He’s given you? What will you say at the end of your life?”

Arthur, Lawson and Vereen

Saturday, August 2, 2014

2 Timothy 3:1-5

I just completed a personal study of 1 and 2 Timothy, and zeroed in on 2 Timothy 3:1-5,  which reads:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

The study guide I used, Walking in Power, Love, and Discipline by Kay Arthur, David Lawson and Bob Vereen, provided the following commentary on 2 Timothy 3:1-5 which I found to be quite sobering. The author's definitions of the words used in this passage are fodder for honest reflection on the condition of our hearts.

disobedient to parentsa person who resists the authority of his parents, leading him to resist all other authority, both human and divine.

revilersa person who uses his speech to cause harm to people, attempting to ‘tear them down’ in his conversations with other individuals.

irreconcilablea person who will not accept a truce but continues in his enmity and unforgiveness.

malicious gossipsa person who intentionally thinks up evil reports and accusations and falsely accuses someone else. (This word is the same word used to describe the devil).

without self-controla person who is void of any self-imposed restraints over his passions and lusts. (Note that in 2 Timothy 1:7, God has given believers power, love, and discipline. The word discipline could be translated ‘self-control’).

brutala person who is untamed, savage, and wild in his actions and attitudes.

treacherousa person who betrays any confidence and trust placed in him—a traitor.

conceiteda person who knows it all and cannot be told anything by anybody.

lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of Goda person who loves what is pleasurable to himself rather than what pleases God; a person who is controlled by satisfying his passions—food, drink, recreation, entertainment, success, sex, etc.—rather than being controlled by what pleases God.”

holding to a form of godlinessa person who holds to an appearance of religion, a mask of godliness. This person would attend church as a ritual and embrace some of the traditions of religious activity (like celebrating Christmas and Easter), but would not have a personal relationship with Christ.”

Now, surely we all have been plagued by the above characteristics. Reading the above can elicit overwhelming sorrow in our hearts. But 1 John 1:9 assures us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

There is no time like now to do personal business with God. He is awaiting our response to His call.