Archive | October 2017

The Nature of Scripture

Bible 2

Psalm 19 begins with a description of how the created universe gives evidence of (testimony to) its Creator.  Then the psalm speaks of how the Scriptures revive the soul, give wisdom to the simple, and bring joy to the heart.

That gets me thinking…. What is the nature of the Bible?

The Bible itself answers that question many times, describing itself as a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105), a hammer that breaks rocks in pieces (Jeremiah 23:29), the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirt, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12), God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness in order that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17), more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10).

As the universe speaks to our minds of a wise and careful and caring and imaginative Creator, so the Scriptures speak to our hearts of the goodness and trustworthiness and care of our Lord and Savior.

The Scriptures set us back on course when we have wandered in the wrong direction.  In his book, A Thirst for God, Sherwood Wirt tells of serving briefly as the quartermaster of the Teal, an 80-foot patrol boat belonging to the Alaska Game Commission.  He was at the helm when Captain Cole took over briefly and changed their course north toward Juneau.  The Captain pointed to the compass reading and told Wirt, “Steady as she goes!”  As the ship cruised along, Wirt noted that they seemed to be edging toward the mainland, so he altered the course slightly and steered the Teal straight up the channel.  A few minutes later, Captain Cole rushed onto the bridge and snapped, “You’re off course!  Go back to the reading I gave you.”

Wirt writes, “My dead reckoning had led me to believe one thing, but the chart indicated something else.  Following my intuition might have led to shipwreck.”

The Bible is God’s chart.  Our own reckoning often gets us off course—sometimes quite dangerously.  God’s “chart” pulls us back on course.

And the Scriptures meet our deepest hunger.  Wycliffe Bible Translators Jean Dawson and Hazel Wrigglesworth worked on the Ilianen New Testament in the Philippines with a native Ilianen speaker Iney.  When some persons in her village tried to get Iney to stop her work on translating the Bible, Iney said to them, “When you’re cooking a pot of rice and you taste it and it’s good, you can’t stop there.  Well, I’ve already tasted and seen that this [Bible] is good, and I can’t stop.”

There are words of hope and comfort and encouragement and truth and challenge that meet the deepest hungers of our souls.

And the Scriptures give us peace and strength and courage in the midst of our greatest struggles.  After Terry Anderson was taken hostage in Lebanon in 1985 and held as a captive by terrorists for 6 years, he shared, “Constantly over the years, I found consolation and counsel in the Bible I was given in the first few weeks [of my captivity].  Not other-world, ‘this is just a test’ kind of consolation, but comfort from the real, immediate voices of people who had suffered greatly, and in ways that seemed so close to what I was going through.  I read the Bible 50 times, cover to cover, in those first few years.”

Over and over again in my life, I have found Scripture to provide what I need to get me through struggles that have come along.

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The Testimony of the Skies

Psalm 19.1

In Psalm 19, David speaks of how the skies give evidence to the wonder and greatness of the God who created them.  In verses 3-4, David writes, “There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth; their words to the ends of the world.”

David was claiming that creation itself announces the good news of its Creator to peoples everywhere—even where they cannot read the words of the Bible or understand the languages of missionaries.

The universe, as it exists, reveals to people everywhere that it came into being and holds together with amazing orderliness to it.

A children’s book titled The Chance World describes an imaginary planet where everything happens unpredictably.  For example, the sun might rise one day or it might not, and it might appear at any hour.  One day you might jump up and not come down, and the next day find gravity so strong you can’t even lift your feet.   After reading The Chance World, Henry Drummond, the Scottish biologist, writer and lecturer, pointed out that in such a place where natural law was annihilated, “reason would be impossible.  It would become a lunatic world with a population of lunatics.”  But we live in a world of orderliness, and that points us to One who holds everything in right order.

The late anthropologist and Director of Peru’s National Museum of Archeology, Philip Ainsworth Means, writes of the Inca worship of Inti, the Sun God, but Means noticed that the Inca emperor Pachacuti grew skeptical of the idea of the sun as a god.  Means says of Pachacuti’s skepticism, “He pointed out how that luminary always follows a set path, performs definite tasks, and keeps certain hours as does a laborer.”  Pachacuti had experienced the truth of Psalm 19:3-4: The “voice” of creation had testified to him that even the sun was under the orderly rule of the One who assigned the sun its tasks.

The intricate orderliness of creation has also spoken to the minds of some of the world’s greatest scientists.  Isaac Newton once remarked, “The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”

Robert Boyle, who is looked upon as the Father of Modern Chemistry, shared, “[When] I study the book of nature I find myself oftentimes reduced to exclaim with the Psalmist, ‘How manifold are Thy works, O Lord!  In wisdom hast Thou made them all.’”

One of the richest joys of life is to stand upon a mountain or before the ocean or under the night sky and to bask in the marvel of creation and to contemplate with awe the creativity and order and power and intricate care of the One who assembled all of this.

Thank God!

From: “What does God require of you?” To: “What will God sacrifice for you?”

sacrifice of Isaac

In ancient times, when floods destroyed homes or fields, when fires consumed homes or fields, or when drought or pestilence or disease ruined people’s lives, it was easy to conclude that the gods were against you for some reason.  Sadly, it became easy for ancient people to jump to the next conclusion as well: that these gods would only ease up on you if you made a costly personal sacrifice to them—like the sacrifice of your own child!

Apparently the “father” of our faith, Abraham, struggled with this question, for one day he heard God say to him, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

At that, Abraham must have wondered, Is the God who called me as heartless and demanding as the gods of the people around me who practice child sacrifices?  Did God bless me with a child in my old age only to demand him back from me?

Abraham’s story is well known.  In response to God’s instructions, Abraham and two servants take wood for the sacrificial fire and Isaac (his son, his only son, whom he loves), and they go to the region of Moriah.  Abraham then says to the servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there.  We will worship and then we will come back to you.”  On the mountain, where Abraham is prepared and ready to sacrifice Isaac (his son, his only son, whom he loves), God stops him from hurting his son.  Instead, God provides a ram, caught by its horns in the thicket.

As it turned out, God did not demand a sacrifice from Abraham but actually provided a sacrifice for Abraham.  So Abraham called that mountain, “The Lord Will Provide.”  And Genesis 22:14 points out, “to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Around 2000 years later, on the same mountain about which it was said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided,” God provided another sacrifice.  Jesus (God’s Son, His only Son, whom He loved) gave His life for us.

Abraham ascended that mountain, thinking that he might have to give the ultimate sacrifice: his son.  But centuries later God made it clear that He had turned the question around.  The question is no longer: What deep, personal sacrifice does God require from me?  The question we must come to grips with is this: What deep, personal sacrifice has God made for us?

That sacrifice—God’s sacrifice for us rather than our sacrifice for God—turns everything around!

Brennan Manning states, “The same love yesterday on Calvary, today in our hearts, and forever in heaven.  Jesus crucified is not merely a heroic example to the church.  He is the power and wisdom of God, his love capable of transforming our cowardly, distrustful hearts into hearts strong in the trust that they are loved.  We do not have to do anything except let our unworthy, ungrateful selves be loved as we are.  Trust happens!  You will trust him to the degree that you know you are loved by him.”   (Ruthless Trust, p. 178)

One who was willing to sacrifice Himself for you rather than demanding sacrifice from you has already provided evidence of how fully He loves you.  Alexander Whyte summarizes, “The love of Christ has no border; it has no shore; it has no bottom.  The love of Christ is boundless; it is bottomless; it is infinite; it is divine…. We shall come to the shore; we shall strike the bottom of every other love; but never of the love of Christ!… You will never come to the length of it, or to the breadth of it, or to the depths of it, or to the height of it.  To all of eternity, the love of Christ to you will be new.” (quoted by Leighton Ford in The Attentive Life, p. 158.)

A Sign that we Belong to God?

circumcision of Isaac

I visited some folks in the jail today.  One person I visited cried through my entire visit with her.  She longed to know that God forgives her and that God loves her.

That gets me wondering…. How might God try to convince a people that they belong to Him?

Many centuries ago God came up with a rather peculiar sign to indicate to Abraham and his descendants that He cared for them and that they belonged to Him.  That sign was circumcision—the cutting off of the foreskin of a man’s penis.  Why would God come up with that as a sign that people belonged to Him?

In his book about the value of Sabbath, The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan writes,

“To be circumcised is to be wounded in a place of intimacy and vulnerability.  It is to permit, even invite an act of violence—a sharp knife, a painful cut, a bloody removal—in that part of a man he otherwise most guards and hides.  It is also the part he most intimately joins with a woman.  Circumcision is being scarred in a place of deep identity, where a man understands himself to be a man.  It is being wounded at the only source where a man can create life.  Many parts of a man’s anatomy are useful: with his mind he imagines, with his hands he devises, with his feet he deploys.  A man can create many things, but only in this one place can he create life.  It is here the knife is applied.

“The scar, the wound, sets this man apart: it says that here, even here, especially here, he is a marked man.  He is one who belongs to God.” (P. 96)

If I understand correctly some of what Buchanan is getting at here, he is telling me that circumcision is submitting to God the parts of my life that I most want to hide from others, and it is entrusting to God the parts of my life where I feel most vulnerable and that I try to guard most fearfully.  And circumcision is surrendering to God the areas of my life where I tend to find my sense of identity.  And circumcision is the recognition that the making of life is under the sovereignty of God.  Moreover, circumcision reveals that God desires nothing less than intimate relationship with us.

In the website “The Thirsty Theologian,” David Kjos adds,

“I believe circumcision demonstrates the depth of intimacy God wants to have with his people. He wants such an intimate connection with us that he put the physical mark of his covenant with us in the most intimate possible place. Furthermore, the removal of the foreskin represents the uncovering of our most hidden parts. Think about it: even when a man is entirely naked, his most private part is still covered by his foreskin. Only under the most intimate of circumstances is he entirely exposed, and then only to the one with whom the intimacy is shared. God wants that degree of intimacy with us.”

Many centuries ago, in His care for us, God gave a sign to people to let them know that they belonged to Him.  Later, Jesus gave His life for us to provide greater evidence of the depth of His love for us.

After Jesus’ death, God gave a new sign to us so that we can know that we belong to Him.  Ephesians 1:13b-14 tells us, “Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory.”  God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in us in our evidence that God loves us and that we belong to Him.

God also provides a sign by which others can know that we belong to Him.  Previously, a man would have to lift up his robe to display that he belonged to God.  Now we have a different way to reveal that we belong to Christ.  In John 13:35, Jesus states, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”