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.


Why Be Baptized?

January 11, 2013

Why be baptized? The question only makes sense if someone believes in Jesus. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, was buried, and raised from the dead, then it is legitimate to ask: why be baptized?

Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22). If I’m going to follow Jesus, I can’t hesitate to do what Jesus did especially when he commands it. Jesus didn’t need baptism for forgiveness of sins unlike you and me, since Jesus is sinless. But Jesus persuaded John to baptize him “to fulfill all righteousness.” It was appropriate to fulfill God’s will.

Jesus commanded baptism (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:16). The followers of Jesus are to go into all the world and make disciples. A disciple, in this case, is a follower of Jesus. A disciple is someone who learns and follows Jesus’ instructions. But the making of a disciple is incomplete if we don’t follow all of Jesus’ instructions. We are also to baptize this person in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We are also to teach them to keep all the things commanded by Jesus.

Jesus promised certain things in baptism through his teaching and his apostles’s teaching.

  • The entrance into the Kingdom of God, John 3:5
  • Forgiveness of sin, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Cor. 6:11.
  • Reception of the Spirit, Acts 2:38, 1 Cor. 12:13, and therefore the new life in the Spirit, i.e. regeneration, Titus. 3:5, John 3:5.
  • Union with Christ. Gal. 3:27, and particularly union with Him in his death and resurrection. Rom. 6:3ff, Col. 2:11f, with all that implies of release from sin’s power, as well as guilt, and the sharing of the risen life of the Redeemer, Rom. 6:1-11.
  • Salvation. Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21

Now I’m not suggesting that immersion in water by itself does all these things. These passages assume that we come to baptism in faith with repentant hearts. The power is in the work of Christ — his death, burial and resurrection. Baptism is an expression of our trust in Jesus and in God. But on the other hand, the New Testament never pictures the unbaptized as possessing these blessings. Baptism is the place where we meet God in faith to receive the spiritual blessings he has promised because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Why be baptized? Jesus was baptized. Jesus commanded baptism. Jesus has promised spiritual blessings in baptism. I can’t take Jesus seriously and claim to follow him without also submitting to baptism.


Unwrap the Gift

December 21, 2012

The mall is crowded. People scurry about finding parking places and searching for that perfect gift. It’s a time of wrapping paper and tape, ribbons and bows. It’s a time of standing in line to ship packages to loved ones. It’s the season of gift giving and receiving.

I reflect over all the gifts I have received. I’ve been truly blessed. One of the dangers of abundance is that it may dull our sense of gratitude. Gratitude needs to be cultivated. It is the proper response to gifts. So it is important to say thank you and acknowledge the giver. It is also important to say thank you to God, the ultimate giver.

I don’t know how many packages will be under our Christmas tree. I do know that none will be left unwrapped. We may even feel some childlike excitement as we wonder about a particular gift. (I have to watch Kathy to make certain that she doesn’t shake too many of her packages.) The anticipation may build until the appointed time to open gifts, but no one says, “Let’s wait until next week or next month.” A gift is meant to be opened.

The greatest gift of all time is reflected in the most memorable of Bible verses:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16, ESV

Yet, many people leave this gift unwrapped.

The benefits of this gift are not automatically applied. There’s no divine direct deposit set up for each of us. Instead, the gift requires of us a decision to accept it or reject it. There’s no middle ground.

Since sin is the reason for the gift in the first place, it is natural that faith or trust is required. Sin is the opposite of trusting God. Sin is trusting ourselves and going our own way in opposition to God.

It is also natural that it requires repentance. Since sin is the problem that the gift is intended to cure, renouncing sin – having a change of heart about sin is a prerequisite (Luke 13:3).

Baptism is also an expression of this trust. From the vantage point of sight, baptism looks like someone just getting wet. But we walk by faith not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). In the eyes of faith, baptism is the place where God has promised to meet us and apply this great gift to our lives: forgiveness (Acts 2:38), regeneration (Acts 2:38, Titus 3:5, 1 Corinthians 12:13), and union with Christ (Galatians 3:27, Romans 6:3).

Have you unwrapped the gift?