Why Read the Bible

December 30, 2011

How have you done in regular Bible reading? I’ve just finished my Bible reading plan for 2011. I read through the Bible in the KJV in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the KJV, and I also read the New Testament and Psalms in the 2011 edition of the NIV. I’m in the process of planning my reading for 2012. It doesn’t take the beginning of a new calendar year to plan to read the Bible, but it is a convenient time to think about it.

Regular Bible reading is a great privilege. We have easy access to the Bible. Some of you may even have a Bible on your smart phone that you carry in your pocket or purse. With that kind of convenience, you can take advantage of the unexpected waiting that comes to all of our lives.

Why read the Bible? We worship a God who has revealed himself in the words of scripture. We come to know someone through words. We listen to one another’s conversations. We read letters. We read articles and books. Just think how limited we would be if all of life’s communications were like a game of charades. Given the importance of words in general in knowing another, it is not surprising that we come to know God through his self revelation in scripture. Coming to know God through the Bible is consistent with his nature.

The Bible is also central to Christian instruction. Paul states:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV

Paul also affirms that moral transformation which is a goal of Christian living is achieved by the renewal of our minds (see Romans 12:1-2). Although it is possible to read the Bible and not be transformed morally, since it is an activity that must be approached in faith, it is impossible to have moral transformation as God desires without the words of scripture guiding us.

Finally, the Bible contains God’s dealing with his people. We read about God’s unfolding plan and mission for his people in the world. N.T. Wright notes scriptures’s relationship with our mission in the world.

The idea of reading a book in order to be energized for the task of mission is not a distraction, but flows directly from the fact that we humans are made in God’s image, and that, as we hear his word and obey his call, we are able to live out our calling to reflect the creator into his world.*

Many reasons exist for regular Bible reading. Make your plans today.

*N.T. Wright, The Last Word, p. 34.

If Christ Were Not…

December 26, 2011

Published in 1852, Henry Roger’s book, The Eclipse of Faith, imagines what it would be like if Jesus Christ were erased from history. He imagines going into a library and finding no trace of the life and words of Jesus. No Golden Rule. No Good Samaritan. No Prodigal Son. Pages of law books that had formerly protected women, children, and the poor are blank. Alarmed he looks into volumes of art history. Paintings like Raphael’s “The Transfiguration” and da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” are missing. He thinks of the great poems of Milton, Dante, Wordsworth, and Tennyson, but he finds only empty pages. It hits him that if Christ were erased from history great works of philanthropy and missions would cease – hospitals, schools, orphanages, and missionaries. If Christ were erased from history like a great hand erasing chalk writing from a blackboard, the effects would be devastating.

A Newsweek poll agreed with Henry Roger’s assessment. If there had been no Jesus…

  • 61% believe there would be less kindness
  • 47% believe there would be more war
  • 63% believe there would be less charity
  • 58% believe there would be less tolerance
  • 59% believe there would be less personal happiness

But Jesus never intended to be only a great moral teacher. He never intended to be just a flavoring for Western Civilization.

Yes, it is possible to have a cultural benefit if some people know and follow the Golden Rule at least part of the time. Jesus undoubtedly has influenced law, art, and literature. But in recognizing the profound influence of Jesus, we must ask ourselves the bigger questions. Did Jesus die for our sins? Is Jesus Lord?

The skeptic may complain that unkindness, war, greed, intolerance, and unhappiness still exist and ask, “What has Jesus really done?” But in answering the bigger questions, we have a reply. We need to go beyond the lip service of Jesus as a cultural influence to Jesus as Lord. The more profoundly Jesus transforms us, the more our world will change. We must confess that this world is not yet as Jesus would have it to be. But to erase Jesus is to erase hope.

It’s possible to enjoy the cultural benefits of a world influenced by Jesus. But Christ’s greatest gift is received when we trust and obey. It would be devastating if Christ were not. But it would also be devastating to our life and eternity, if Christ’s we’re not.

Aren’t You Being Judgmental?

December 20, 2011

If you stand for Christian values, you will likely hear someone say, “Aren’t you being judgmental?” I like the story of Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu philosopher. He came to the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. In his address to the delegates, he said, “We [Hindus] accept all religions to be true,” and “[it] is sin to call a man [a sinner].” Of course in making the statement, he himself has called someone a sinner (i.e., the one who calls another a sinner). The charge of being judgmental is always a boomerang.

But what about “Judge not, that you be not judged”? Doesn’t that forbid judging. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:1-6 has three parts. The middle part uses the image of getting a speck out of someone’s eye. The image of getting a speck out of someone’s eye is a way of talking about counseling or confronting someone about sin in his or her life. This isn’t forbidden, but we are first to get the beam out of our own eye. Jesus is concerned about hypocritical judgment.

But what about “Judge not, that you be not judged’? It is indeed a warning about judgment in a section that confirms we will indeed make judgments. What is Jesus’ point? The point is found in the explanation that starts with “for.”

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2, ESV

Jesus is warning us about unmerciful judgments. If we want mercy from God, then we need to extend mercy to others.

Finally, Jesus warns about uncritical judgment, a failure to evaluate a situation and its dangers. Holy things are not to be given to dogs, and pearls are not to be thrown to pigs, because pigs trample, and dogs attack. Wisdom can know ahead of time how certain things and people will be treated by others. Jesus is warning us of an uncritical judgment in the face of persecutors.

Jesus is not opposed to us making judgments. He is giving us warnings about unmerciful, hypocritical, and uncritical judgments. It is impossible to live the moral life without making judgments.

The charge of being judgmental is always a boomerang, because it too is a judgment. The question in such cases is do we have an agreed upon basis for moral decision making. If we are both Christians, we should in the moral teachings of the Bible. If we don’t have a common basis for morals, then the problem is likely not judgmentalism regardless of the charge, but our competing ways of deciding what is moral. Both of us have the right to attempt to persuade the other, but in the end, if we can’t agree on the basis, we may have to lovingly disagree and await for God, the Judge.

Wings Like Eagles

December 2, 2011

Are you weary and troubled? It is part of the human condition. We will all face moments of trial. We will all at times grow tired. In Isaiah 40:27-31, Isaiah looks ahead to the Babylonian Captivity. Those would be dark days for Israel. Those captives too would be weary and troubled.

Isaiah pictures the discouragement of the captives. They think God has forgotten about them. They long for a vindication and return to their homeland, but they fear that God is no longer concerned. Isaiah in his prediction asks them, “Why do you say this?”

Isaiah then reminds them of the nature of God. God is everlasting. God is creator of the ends of the earth. He doesn’t grow tired or become weary. God’s wisdom and understanding are limitless. Who could search it out?

Why does Isaiah remind them of the nature of God? The nature of God and the problems of life have a connection.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Isaiah 40:29, ESV

Even the young can be exhausted. But renewed strength is available for “they who wait for the LORD” (40:31). This is the waiting in faith. This is the waiting in hope of God’s saving activity. Isaiah provides a beautiful and poetic picture of those with renewed strength.

…they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31, ESV

Eagles soar even on the winds of the storm. Our own strength will fail us, but if we rely on God’s strength, we will have the strength to endure. We may not escape the storm, but we can endure the storm. We can ride out the storm. If we hope and trust in the Lord, we will see His salvation. We shall mount up with wings like eagles.