Don’t Smoke the Book of John

June 28, 2013

Why are our Bibles so portable? The Bible is a library of sixty-six books. In scrolls, it would be difficult to impossible to carry around. The book form or codex was introduced to the world in the first century. By the second century, we have evidence that the codex became the preferred format for early Christians.

The book format allows a lot of material to be carried in a handy size. The last page of Revelation in my Bible is on page 1252, yet it is only about an inch and half thick. A best-selling novel of 650 pages can be nearly two inches thick. Why are our Bibles as thin as they are? Most Bibles are printed on thin paper.

That leads us to the odd news. The German Bible Society distributes about 400,000 Bibles per year. According to Felix Breidenstein, the society’s business manager, the Chinese craving for cigarettes is driving up the price of Bible production. The rising demand for cigarette paper in China means stiffer competition for the thin paper used in Bible printing. So if you need another reason to quit smoking other than it can kill you, it also drives up the price of Bibles.

Bible paper and smoking have another link. Prisoners have on occasions used pages of the Bible to roll their own cigarettes. The World Bible Translation Center tells one such story. Thirty years ago a prisoner was using his Bible to roll cigarettes. Another inmate squealed on him. But surprisingly, the chaplain gave the man another copy of the Bible. But he left with this admonition: “Don’t smoke the book of John.”

The prisoner continued to roll cigarettes, but respected the charge. He didn’t smoke the gospel of John, but began to read. He learned of God’s great love in sending His Son. He learned of the choice between eternal life and perishing, and he chose life. The prisoner was converted and now serves as chaplain at three different jails in Texas. He recently baptized 15 and has distributed 300 Easy-to-Read New Testaments in the past year.

How odd that Bibles and cigarettes are in competition for the same paper! China attempts to restrict religion to government-authorized religious organizations and registered places of worship. Persecution exists. My prayer for the Chinese is that they also discover the best use of thin paper – the Bible.

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Wallets that Never Wear Out

June 21, 2013

Wallets, billfolds, purses – we probably all have one. They are the place where we put our money, credit cards, driver’s license and ID cards. They are necessary things that take a tremendous amount of wear and tear.

Wallets wear out. I can remember the transfer from a worn out one to a new one. The old wallet’s leather was worn and discolored. It had never quite recovered from the amusement park water ride. Emptied it looked kind of like a shed snake’s skin – still having some of the shape of its former occupants, but looking very lifeless.

But worse that wearing out – money disappears from them at blinding speed. I’m reminded of Proverbs 23:5: “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (NIV).

How would you like a wallet that never wears out? It’s a special wallet that never loses its contents. Is it some special new super cowhide with SuperGlue inside? No, this special offer isn’t found on the shopping channel, but from Jesus himself.

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:29-34, NIV

It’s a paradox. What I give as a Christian is what I truly get to keep. What I accumulate for myself will ultimately go to another, “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (Job 1:21). Thomas Fuller states another paradox, “Riches enlarge rather than satisfy appetites.” Somewhere along the way, I must learn that satisfaction and contentment come from another source than more things. As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Do I have an eternal wallet or simply one that will wear out?


Fatherhood Is Important

June 14, 2013

Fatherhood is on-the-job training. To drive a car, I went through driver’s training and had to pass a test to receive a license. I must confess there are times when I see or read about certain cases, that I think this person shouldn’t have been allowed to procreate without passing a test. But real life doesn’t work that way. We become fathers and then muddle through with on-the-job training.

Resources, however, do exist to aid us. I’ve been blessed with some wonderful examples of Christian manhood and fatherhood. We learn a great deal from seeing it done well. (I suspect that some of the cases in the previous paragraph that I wish had needed a license lacked good role models in their lives.) There is a place for the older to train the younger, to share with the younger.

Books and magazine articles can also help. As a young man, I learned a lot about fatherhood from the books of James Dobson as many of my generation did. The books giving the developmental stages of childhood were also very helpful. It helps to know what to expect at 6 months, a year, and so on. But the greatest help, if we will let it, is the Bible. It contains wisdom: wisdom for being a father, wisdom for life, and wisdom for salvation.

Fatherhood is not always perfect, but it should be principled. I learned there were times I needed to apologize to my children. I’m sure there were a lot of things I could have done better, but I hope there were some principles reflected in my imperfect portrayal of a father. The principle to provide for and protect my family. The principle to love my wife, their mother, as Christ loved the church. The principle to raise our children in the discipline and nurture of the Lord. The need to love my children and be there for them.

Fatherhood is a time sensitive role. Yes, it involves on-the-job training, but there is a real need that we get it together for our children. They are only with us for a short time. Eighteen years seems like a long time until you are in the midst of it. First tooth, first word, first step, first day of school, and all those other firsts pass quickly. Much of what we teach about morality is learned in the first six years. Much of what we teach about spirituality is learned in the first twelve years. Fatherhood is time sensitive.

Fatherhood is a life long role. If you have done your job reasonably well, the relationship with your adult children is a wonderful and rewarding season of life. In most cases, it also leads to a new role: grandfather. May God bless the fathers among us. Fatherhood is important.


“Hasten the Day”

June 7, 2013

Peter makes an intriguing appeal “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:11-12, NIV). Of interest is the word that the NIV has rendered “speed.” A quick survey of translations indicate two possibilities: (1) hasten or speed the day or (2) eagerly desire the day.

  • “hastening” (ESV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and NET), “speed” (NIV),
  • “eargerly” (NIV margin, Hugo McCord), “earnestly desiring” (NRSV, ASV), “earnestly desire” (HCSB), “look forward” (NCV)

The Greek word “speudō” has both meanings. Those who favor “hastening” point to Jewish background, although the IVP Background Commentary notes that the rabbis were divided on the issue of whether Israel’s repentance and obedience sped up the day. “Hastening” would suggest that we speed the coming of that day by our repentance, evangelism, and prayers. Those who favor “eagerly desire” find it the simpler solution because it doesn’t involve human behavior affecting the timing of the end. Although I’ve tended to favor the second choice, I must confess the difficulty of the options.

However, I don’t want to get lost in the “trees” of this passage and miss the grandeur of the “forest”. As you read 2 Peter 3, it is apparent that Peter wants us to be prepared for the Day. It will arrive “like thief in the night.” We know it’s coming, but we don’t know when. This world will be destroyed, but Christians hope for better things. In the meantime, we must live holy lives knowing that our future home is where righteousness dwells.

Yet what may be most challenging to 21st century American Christians is the eager anticipation of that Day. What is apparent in the chapter is an eager anticipation regardless of translation choice in 3:12. First century Christians were excited with longing for Jesus’ return. It didn’t mean they checked out from this world. Preparations needed to be made. People needed to be reached. As C.S. Lewis has aptly quipped, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

We are in need of reminders to aim at heaven. The busyness and comfort of this life may cloud our vision. Would we pray with Paul, “Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22)? Or would our lifestyle proclaim, “O Lord, wait!”? Our attitude to the day has an effect on our lifestyle. Somehow, the companions of eager desire are holinesses and reverence. May we eagerly desire the day of God!