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Never be afraid of your Bibles

An open Bible being read

I always get a little nervous when people bring the Bible into conversations about hate speech. Not because I’m afraid of what people will find in the Bible, but because of the increased tendency to weaponize anything that doesn’t fit with the prevailing worldview.

Let’s be honest: The Bible says some pretty strong things about homosexuality, lying, adultery, disobedience to parents and authorities, gluttony, idolatry, pride, and more. And because of that, as we look around at the world and try to determine the best way to reach the culture around us, it can be tempting to set the Bible aside… or at least, to try to clean up the parts that might seem to be a barrier. As much as I get that temptation (because I feel it, too), we can’t though. We can’t downplay or ignore what the Bible says out of fear—whether that’s fear that what the text says doesn’t match what I believe, or that it might make us seem hateful.

The Word of God, and the gospel itself, are far too important to be set aside or downplayed. And a downplayed or ignored Bible isn’t what the world needs from Christians. Instead, the world needs Christians who are committed to submitting to this Book. Spurgeon put it this way:

If there is a text of Scripture you dare not meet, humble yourself till you can. If your creed and Scripture do not agree, cut your creed to pieces, but make it agree with this book. If there be anything in the church to which you belong which is contrary to the inspired word, leave that church.

What the world needs, now more than ever, are Christians who are committed to the Word of God. Other Christians need right now is the same thing. We all need to be people who know this Book, and are not afraid of it. Who know that what some might try to twist into hate, isn’t hateful at all. It is a message of hope and joy. A book that makes this world actually make sense. We need more of that. Everyone needs more of that. May we never allow fear to away from it.

The way is before us

saskatchewan road

Think about the advice we hear, read, and maybe even share: Be true to yourself. Follow your dreams. Have faith in yourself. Stuff like this. Y’know, basically everything that you find in the self-help section of Barnes & Noble, and Star Wars. Emily and I listened to a video where a ministry asked Jim Carrey to speak to attendees at an event, and his encouragement was much the same.[1. With some added “we are all God, God is in all of us” for good measure.] It’s the kind of advice that leaves us choosing our own paths, serving as our own guides toward our spiritual destinies.

The problem, of course, is when left to our own devices, we have no idea where we’re going. And this just won’t do, as Charles Spurgeon reminded his readers in Advice for Seekers. He wrote,

Too many say, “I am my own guide, I shall make doctrines for myself, and I shall shift them and shape them according to my own devices.” This is death to the spirit. To be abreast of the times is to be an enemy to God. The way of life is to believe what God has taught, especially to believe in him whom God has set forth to be a propitiation for sin; for that is making God to be everything and ourselves nothing. Resting on an infallible revelation and trusting in an omnipotent Redeemer, we have rest and peace; but on the other unsettled principle we become wandering stars, for whom is appointed the blackness of darkness forever. By faith the soul can live; in all other ways we have a name to live and are dead. (37)

Friends, none of us need to be our own guides, anymore than we need to follow blind ones. The way is before us. God has shown it to us, the way of life. The gospel. Let’s keep following it, and pointing others to it.

May God purge my heart of idolatry, too

Bible zoomed in on Romans

I’ve been reading through the historical books of the Old Testament recently, reading account after account of the Israelites abandoning the Lord and chasing after false gods. I read through these accounts and often think about how easy it is for me as a 21st century reader to become arrogant. A chronological snob looking down at “primitive” people who worshipped gods of stone, wood, and metal.

It’s equally tempting to look around at the surrounding culture and identify the idols of those outside the Christian faith. Idols not necessarily made of silver and gold, but of power, prestige and progress.

And then it’s just as easy to look in one other direction: at the church itself, which often seems to chase after idols not dissimilar to the rest of the world. Some within the church want power as much, if not more, than anyone else. Some want ever-increasing platforms, and an extra zero at the end of the advance check or attendance figure.

But the place where I rarely look? My own heart.

I was doing some searching around through my archives and stumbled across this quote from Charles Spurgeon, which struck a nerve. Here’s what he wrote:

It is truly said that “they are no gods,” for the objects of our foolish love are very doubtful blessings, the solace which they yield us now is dangerous, and the help which they can give us in the hour of trouble is little indeed. Why, then, are we so bewitched with vanities? We pity the poor heathen who adore a god of stone, and yet worship a god of gold. Where is the vast superiority between a god of flesh and one of wood? The principle, the sin, the folly is the same in either case, only that in ours the crime is more aggravated because we have more light, and sin in the face of it. The heathen bows to a false deity, but the true God he has never known; we commit two evils, inasmuch as we forsake the living God and turn unto idols. May the Lord purge us all from this grievous iniquity![1. Morning and Evening, May 4 (morning reading).]

Why did cut a little deep? Because I want a lot of those things I mentioned above, too. I want the book deal. I want the influence. The security, the money, the comfort… those are really tempting, even when I know they would never be enough even if I got them. It struck a nerve because as much as I like to think of myself as a mature follower of Jesus, there is still much “grievous iniquity” to be dealt with. May God purge my heart of idolatry, too.

To be Christian is not to be excluded from sorrow

I don’t know many Christians who genuinely feel like the Christian life should be marked by an unceasing, unfailing, unrelenting happiness. The kind of victorious Christian life that you see peddled on TV. But I do know many who aren’t sure if they’re doing it right. That is, they might know in once sense that Christianity isn’t supposed to mean a life free from difficulty and pain, but practically, they’re not too sure what that really means. They’re worried that God is punishing them for something, but they have no idea what.

I’m entirely not sure what it is that we do that perpetuates this idea. But I do know that it’s not true. Charles Spurgeon understood this, and actually talked about the Christian life as something more than some sort of smile and sunshine faux-joy. He wrote,

The path of the Christian is not always bright with sunshine; he has his seasons of darkness and of storm. True, it is written in God’s Word, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace;” and it is a great truth, that religion is calculated to give a man happiness below as well as bliss above; but experience tells us that if the course of the just be “As the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day,” yet sometimes that light is eclipsed. At certain periods clouds cover the believer’s sun, and he walks in darkness and sees no light. There are many who have rejoiced in the presence of God for a season; they have basked in the sunshine in the earlier stages of their Christian career; they have walked along the “green pastures” by the side of the “still waters,” but suddenly they find the glorious sky is clouded; instead of the Land of Goshen they have to tread the sandy desert; in the place of sweet waters, they find troubled streams, bitter to their taste, and they say, “Surely, if I were a child of God, this would not happen.” Oh! say not so, thou who art walking in darkness. The best of God’s saints must drink the wormwood; the dearest of his children must bear the cross. No Christian has enjoyed perpetual prosperity; no believer can always keep his harp from the willows. Perhaps the Lord allotted you at first a smooth and unclouded path, because you were weak and timid. He tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, but now that you are stronger in the spiritual life, you must enter upon the riper and rougher experience of God’s full-grown children. We need winds and tempests to exercise our faith, to tear off the rotten bough of self-dependence, and to root us more firmly in Christ. The day of evil reveals to us the value of our glorious hope.[1. Morning and Evening, April 29 Morning reading.]

To be a Christian is not to be excluded from sorrow. To follow Jesus is not to walk a path free from difficulty. But to be a Christian is to be able to walk through the shadows and sorrow with hope, knowing that he will come and bring our sorrows to an end. But until that day, we walk the path where joy mixes with sorrow.

Jesus’ love for his Church never changes

I know more than a few people who, well, maybe it’s not fair to say they’ve fallen out of love with the local church, but they’ve certainly become disenchanted by it, at least in practice. They value Christian community and fellowship, but “church” holds a ton of baggage.

I get that. It’s easy to become disillusioned, especially when you consider all the junk many have experienced (thankfully, my few negative church experiences have been fairly minor). I sympathize, and try to empathize, with those either have or are tempted to say, “we’re done.” But what I’m always thankful for are the people who, despite their frustrations and painful experiences, refuse to give up on the church. They love her, despite her flaws.

In some small way, they’re displaying the kind of love Jesus has for his bride, the church—a love that will never leave nor forsake her. I love the way Spurgeon described it in one of his sermons:

Before the first star was kindled, before the first living creature began to sing the praise of its Creator, he loved his Church with an everlasting love. He spied her in the glass of predestination, pictured her by his divine foreknowledge, and loved her with all his heart; and it was for this cause that he left his Father, and became one with her, that he might redeem her. It was for this cause that he went with her through all this vale of tears, discharged her debts, and bore her sins in his own body on the tree. For her sake he slept in the tomb, and with the same love that brought him down he has gone up again, and with the same heart beating true to the same blessed betrothment he has gone into the glory, waiting for the marriage day when he shall come again, to receive his perfected spouse, who shall have made herself ready by his grace. Never for a moment, whether as God over all, blessed forever, or as God and man in one divine person, or as dead and buried, or as risen and ascended, never has he changed in the love he bears to his chosen.[1. Charles H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. XL]

It’s that last line that gets me every time. “Never for a moment… has he changed in the love he bears to his chosen.” Jesus won’t stop loving the church. He knows all that she does—all we do—and loves us still. He is preparing his bride for eternity. His love will cleanse her. And someday, the church will truly be as beautiful outwardly as Jesus sees her now.

No higher praise could be offered

Familiarity is a double-edged sword. Familiarity can bring with it a sense of comfort, of happiness and contentment. Think of a favorite shirt or pair of slippers, maybe even a good book. Familiarity, in this sense, can be a very good thing. But it can also have a downside in that the exciting can seem mundane.

It’s easy to feel that way at Christmastime. We know the stories. We know the Christmas productions and all the events. And it’s easy to just want it to be done and over with so we can get back to our regular lives.

I feel like that sometimes. And when I do, it’s because I need to change my perspective. I often find it when I consider the fact that the angels sang of Christ’s birth. Spurgeon said this well:

They stretched their willing wings, and gladly sped from their bright seats above, to tell the shepherds on the plain by night, the marvelous story of an Incarnate God. And mark how well they told the story, and surely you will love them! Not with the stammering tongue of him that tells a tale in which he hath no interest; nor even with the feigned interest of a man that would move the passions of others, when he feels no emotion himself; but with joy and gladness, such as angels only can know. They sang the story out, for they could not stay to tell it in heavy prose. They sang, “Glory to God on high, and on earth peace, good will towards men.”[1. From his sermon, “The First Christmas Carol.”]

The angels didn’t just speak of Jesus’ birth. They sang. There was no higher praise they could offer, no song so sweet as the one announcing that the Messiah had come. And that’s the thing I want to latch onto. It’s not just the good news being announced, but the way they announced it. The news was (and is) too good to just be spoken.


Photo: Lightstock.

What needs to happen to write “a word to the unconverted reader”

freely-heart-rocks

“A word to the unconverted reader.”

We don’t often think of these words belonging in books written by Christians with a Christian audience in mind. And probably with good reason. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone who isn’t a Christian choose to pick up a book by a Christian author for themselves.[1. Unless the point was to make fun or attempt to poke holes in his or her arguments, of course.] But when I read them at the end of a chapter in Charles Spurgeon’s The Saint and His Savior, they don’t feel out of place. They don’t appear to be a shoe-horned acknowledgement of the possibility—no matter how remote— that a non-Christian might be reading. “Now, if you’re not a Christian…” as we usually read, and whatnot.

Perhaps it’s because Spurgeon was the quintessential gospel-centered preacher.[2. He was gospel-centered before being gospel-centered was a tagline.] Regardless of the text he preached, or the subject of the books he wrote, his aim was to proclaim only Christ and him crucified. So, when he addressed his unconverted readers, what he wrote mattered. He didn’t write to them as an afterthought, or as a mere acknowledgement as so many of us do today. Instead, he wrote to them to explain why what he had just written mattered to them.

For example, when he wrote to Christians of our love to Jesus—a love which grows in us a desire to obey his commandments, an anxiety to make his name known, a desire to defend him against his foes and endure and persevere in whatever situation he places us—he explained what all of this meant for the one reading who does not believe.

And he doesn’t mince words. He reminds such readers that they have been condemning themselves even by reading of these graces enjoyed by others. That the heights and depths of this love of which he wrote is too high for anyone to attain for themselves—only Christ can attain it for them. Of Christ, he says, “He can renew thee, and make thee know the highest enjoyment of the saints.”

He alone can do it, therefore despair of thine own strength; but He can accomplish it, therefore hope in omnipotent grace. Thou art in a wrong state, and thou knowest it: how fearful will it be if thou shouldst remain the same until death! Yet most assuredly thou wilt, unless Divine love shall change thee. See, then, how absolutely thou art in the hands of God. Labour to feel this. Seek to know the power of this dread but certain fact—that thou liest entirely at his pleasure; and there is nothing more likely to humble and subdue thee than the thoughts which it will beget within thee.

Know and tremble, hear and be afraid. Bow thyself before the Most High, and confess his justice should He destroy thee, and admire his grace which proclaims pardon to thee. Think not that the works of believers are their salvation; but seek first the root of their graces, which lies in Christ, not in themselves. This thou canst get nowhere but at the footstool of mercy from the hand of Jesus. Thou art shut up to one door of life, and that door is Christ crucified. Receive him as God’s free gift and thine undeserved boon. Renounce every other refuge, and embrace the Lord Jesus as thine only hope. Venture thy soul in his hands. Sink or swim, let Him be thine only support and he will never fail thee.[3. C. H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co., 1858), 270–271.]

Though we might not want to emulate his language,[4. I mean, unless speaking in Victorianisms is your style, then have at it.] there’s something I think we could all learn Spurgeon’s desire to leave a word for the unconverted reader.

Spurgeon felt the “anxiety” of which he wrote to his fellow believers—the desire to make Christ known. He didn’t write to nonbelievers as an afterthought, or as though a footnote would be sufficient. Instead, he spoke to them knowing the general disposition of their hearts—that they are far from the Lord, that they are condemned under God’s judgment, and that they have only one hope: to turn to Christ, to put their souls in the hands of the one who, “sink or swim,” would be their only support, and would never fail them. They need worry less at the first of growing in love for Christ and obeying him out of that love, but first gaining that love.

Spurgeon’s words to the unconverted reader were the words that matter most to them. So if we are going to write to those who don’t believe—even if the chances are slim that they’ll be reading—an offhand acknowledgement won’t do. We must write to them as Spurgeon did. But in order to do that, we must also feel the same “anxiety” Spurgeon did. Because writing a word to our unconverted readers only “works” when it’s clear we care about the state of their soul.

We can work and we can wait, for Christ will reveal all in the end

freely-heart-rocks

Yesterday, I was reading an overall excellent book on disciple-making and orienting churches around being “sent”—that is, building a culture that helps everyone see themselves as missionaries responsible for making disciples. One chapter in particular dealt with the challenges many of us have in sharing our faith. We feel awkward, we don’t feel equipped, we don’t know what to say… all the things we’ve all heard, felt and said.

I read through the chapter and found I agreed with most everything in substance (which is nice). But as I came to the end, even though I agreed with the points made, I didn’t find myself actually motivated to go and share the gospel more. If anything, I actually found myself struggling with demotivation to a greater degree than I had before I started.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve read an evangelism book and agreed with what’s said, but by the time you were done, you felt less motivated than you did when you started. You felt less effective than ever. And so, you continued to feel like a failure when it comes to sharing the gospel.

So often, there’s an expectation in these books—whether spoken or unspoken—that you’re going to see immediate results. That you should be able to draw a line from someone who comes to faith in Christ to yourself. And I’m not always so sure that’s true. I agree that we should be able to point to clear fruit in our lives of our growth as disciples, which includes playing our part in making others disciples.

But I wonder if part of the discouragement so many of us feel about sharing the gospel comes down to this expectation? And sometimes I wonder if the expectation itself is realistic—or if it misses something critical that might actually strengthen us for our task?

Consider what Charles Spurgeon once said:

We must not always reckon to see nations converted the moment the gospel is preached to them; and especially where new ground has been broken up, where countries have just received the gospel message, we must not be disappointed if neither to-day nor to-morrow we are rewarded with abundant results. God’s plan involves ploughing, sowing, and waiting, and after these the up-springing and the harvest. “Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain.”[1. C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 19 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 182–183.]

This is good advice for all of us. It is a reminder that our expectations don’t always align to God’s plans. “God’s plan involves ploughing, sowing, and waiting, and after these the up-springing and the harvest,” as Spurgeon said. Sometimes as we share the gospel, will be ploughing the soil. Sometimes we will be sowing seeds. Much of our time, especially in a culture such as our own, will be spent waiting.

There are people I’ve been sharing the gospel with for years who I have yet to see express interest in the things of God, let alone give any indication that they will turn to Christ as their only hope. I still share what I can where I can, but I recognize that I’m probably not going to see the results right away (which, I hope, no one will write off as a lack of faith on my part). And if this effort does result in them coming to faith at some point, it doesn’t mean I’m going to know about it.

At least, not yet.

I fully expect there to be a day when I’ll get to learn the results. But today is not that day. Tomorrow might not be it, either. It probably won’t be until I’m standing with those people worshipping our risen Savior. And because I know that, I don’t need to worry about drawing a straight line right now. I can wait and I can work, knowing that Christ will reveal all in the end.

He will never leave you or forsake you

heart-log-freely

If you had to asked me if I had a favorite Bible verse or passage, I’d be inclined to say, “the last one I read.” A bit cheeky, I know. But, even so, there’s a lot of truth to this.

The other day, I started Deuteronomy. And in Deuteronomy 3:6, Moses tells the Israelites as they prepare to enter the promised land, “Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”

This is without a doubt one of the best verses we can read, if for no other reason than those last eight words: “He will not leave you or forsake you.” This is something I’m always tempted to forget. Because I’ve lived more of my life as a non-Christian than as a Christian, I’ve got a lot of reprogramming I’m still trying to do. One of those places is remembering that I do not have to be afraid that God is going to wash his hands of me. If I am truly his—if he truly did save me 10 and a half years ago—then I belong to him.

Through Christ, he has brought me into his family. He has called me his child. He will never leave me or forsake me. Thinking about this reminded me of something Charles Spurgeon said:

The devil would rob us of our heritage if he could, but there is an Advocate with the Father who pleads for us. Satan would snatch from us every promise, and tear from us all the comforts of the covenant; but we are not orphans, and when he brings a suit-at-law against us, and thinks that we are the only defendants in the case, he is mistaken, for we have an Advocate on high. Christ comes in and pleads, as the sinners’ Friend, for us; and when He pleads at the bar of justice, there is no fear but that His plea will be of effect, and our inheritance shall be safe. He has not left us orphans.[1. The Believer Not an Orphan (Published in Till He Come)]

This is such good news, isn’t it? Though he may try, Satan cannot snatch away what we are promised. He cannot drag us out of God’s hand anymore than we can jump out ourselves. And what’s more, even as we feel the weight of our sin, we can know that Christ is still with us. Always, until the end of the age. He has not left us orphans.

He will never leave us or forsake us.

There’s only one book no one can make me get rid of

Bible-square

I love books. I love them to a degree that is probably bordering on unhealthy. There are stacks of them in my house. My shelves are double stacked. My wife is constantly pulling her hair out because they’re everywhere.

I love my books.

I hate when I have to purge them.

But I could part with all of them.

Seriously. All of them. Every graphic novel (which I’ve done before). Every commentary. Every book on prayer, on evangelism, on church leadership and the end times. Ever really great piece of literature. Every entertaining but not life-changing paperback.

Every single book I own could be taken away from me if necessary. Every book but one: My Bible.

My Bible is more important than any other book I own. It is the book from which I learn about God’s nature and character, about the grand plan he has been working throughout all of history to reconcile all things to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the promise of the new creation and the certain hope of salvation through faith in him. Every page, every word, every syllable offers something more valuable than even the greatest literary works in my library. There is no more important book I own, even when I fail to treat it that way.

I love how Charles Spurgeon once described the value of the Scriptures. He said:

All other books might be heaped together in one pile and burned with less loss to the world than would be occasioned by the obliteration of a single page of the sacred volume [Scripture]. At their best, all other books are but as gold leaf, requiring acres to find one ounce of the precious metal. But the Bible is solid gold. It contains blocks of gold, mines, and whole caverns of priceless treasure. In the mental wealth of the wisest men there are no jewels like the truths of revelation. The thoughts of men are vanity, low, and groveling at their best. but he who has given us this book has said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let it be to you and to me a settled matter that the word of the Lord shall be honored in our minds and enshrined in our hearts. Let others speak as they may. We could sooner part with all that is sublime and beautiful, or cheering and profitable, in human literature than lose a single syllable from the mouth of God.[1. C.H. Spurgeon, from the sermon “Holy Longings,” as quoted in Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke, pp. 27-28]

This is the attitude we should all see growing within us as we read the Bible. As we begin to read it, it can be challenging. The cultural and historical distance, translational baggage, the temptation to jump into the most difficult to understand passages possible… all of this and more threatens to steal our joy as we take our first steps. But over time, we start to see more and more of the wonders God has given us in this book. And reading it eventually becomes one of our greatest joys because through it we come to know our glorious redeemer more and more deeply.

the many books I own are wonderful, but they don’t hold a candle to this one. I hope you feel the same.

(And Emily, if you’re reading this, this is not a license to get rid of all my books while I’m at work.)