Not Just Another Book

BibleIn my travels over the years, I have encountered too many people who have given up on reading the Bible. They have read it through – perhaps more than once – and they know what it says. They understand the overall concept and see no reason to continue reading on a regular basis.

I would suggest that such people have a shallow understanding of what Scripture really is.

Eugene Peterson, in his book, Eat This Book, said, “The most frequent way we have of getting rid of the puzzling or unpleasant difficulties in the Bible is to systematize it, organizing it according to some scheme or other that summarizes “what the Bible teaches.” If we know what the Bible teaches, we don’t have to read it anymore, don’t have to enter the story and immerse ourselves in the odd and unflattering and uncongenial way in which this story develops, including so many people and circumstances that have nothing to do, we think, with us.” (Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book, p. 66)

Rather than not reading Scripture, what we really need to do is to immerse ourselves in it, to lose ourselves in the eternal Word of God. Allow that Word to permeate you and alter your thinking.

As you approach the Word of God, don’t just look at it as reading another book. Instead, see it as a true interaction with the Lord. You’re not just reading a book; you’re coming before the most high God. Make Psalm 119:18, your prayer: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

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Not the Cheap Imitation

imitation“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Have you ever really looked at and thought about this verse? The wording seems odd to me; the phrasing is quirky. It’s as though John started to write something and then altered course. He was headed in one direction and took a slight detour in order to make what he was going to say even stronger.

As a writer, I can almost picture John starting his sentence, “In this is love…,” and then pausing in thought. Apparently, he realized he first needed to tell what love is not. Before he could show the real thing, he needed to do away with the false idea. “Not that we have loved God…” In essence, John is telling us, “Our ‘love’ for God isn’t really love. Oh, there may be some small dimension of love in our ‘love’ for God, but I’m talking about real love, true love, love in all its fullness.”

Now, I’m no Greek scholar, but every translation I checked – even those that are more paraphrases than translations – worded it pretty much the same way. There’s the beginning – “This is love…,” then the stutter step, “not us loving God,” and then the real thing, “that He loved us.” God’s love for us far surpasses, and is far more important than, our love for Him.

I hear so many people today talk about our love for God, as though that’s the epitome, the end-all, the final word. But it’s not. Don’t misunderstand, we should love God. That’s abundantly and repeatedly clear from His Word. Yet, our love for Him will never be more than a mere shadow – a cheap imitation – of His love for us, the real love, demonstrated through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

I challenge you to be far less concerned about your love for God, and far more concerned about His love for you. Rest in His love today.

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Thanks for the Blessings!

Thank God For BlessingsGod, I thank You for Your many blessings. You didn’t have to let me be born, but You did it anyway. There is no compelling reason for You to allow me to draw breath day after day, and yet You do. It certainly wasn’t mandatory for You to permit me to give and receive love, but You have. There was no one forcing You to let me experience life with amazing people – my family and friends – and yet You allowed that anyway.

Granting me the ability to see and hear and touch and taste – none of those were absolutely critical, but You have graced me with those abilities nonetheless. My everyday companion of good health is something I often take for granted, yet it is clearly a gift from Your hand. Sound sleep – on a comfortable bed no less – has been a wonderful blessing given by You.

A shelter over my head, protecting me from the elements, is also a present from You. Food and drink, enough to sustain my life for decades, is unquestionably Your doing. The ongoing gifts of work and play, labor and relaxation, are also from You.

You weren’t obligated to let me see sunrises and sunsets, mountain, rivers, forests, lakes, deserts, and so many other aspects of Your amazing creation, but You have allowed those things just the same. It was obviously not vital that You allow me the wonderful privilege of walking hand-in-hand with an amazing woman – my wife – day after day, for more than a third of century, yet You have given me that gift anyhow. And for our wonderful – and growing – family, thank You!

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer You thanks for the tremendous gift of Your Word that guides and sustains me day by day. And, it certainly was not necessary for You to give me the gift of eternal life through Jesus’ death and resurrection, but You blessed me with that anyway.

I am far from deserving of the blessings You have so freely bestowed, but I am grateful. Thank You!

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The Transforming Power of God

transforming power of GodI love seeing the ways that God works in the lives of His people. We don’t always recognize His working in our own lives. We’re too close to the situation. We can’t step back and observe from afar. But the lives of others can be a different story.

As I read 1 Peter this morning, one verse struck me in particular. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8) That’s a profound statement that would take an entire sermon or two to fully unpack.

  • Unity of mind is a noble goal with far-reaching ramifications, isn’t it?
  • Sympathy. The NIV puts it more in the form of a verb: “be sympathetic.”
  • Brotherly love. Committed, solid, strong, caring love.
  • A tender heart. Couldn’t most of use more of this one?
  • A humble mind. That’s a characteristic that could greatly unify the Body of Christ.

These are all great and challenging goals.

But what struck me as I read was to recognize who the author is of these poignant words: Peter. Do you remember Peter from the gospel accounts? Impetuous Peter. Peter, who often suffered from what a friend of mine calls “foot-in-mouth disease.” Peter, who would happily run roughshod over anything – or anyone – in his way.

And here he is, years later, clearly and obviously transformed by the Lord. He talks about having unity of mind, being sympathetic, having brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Peter seemingly had none of those traits originally. And he now touts them as essential.

Peter was clearly radically transformed by God.

Don’t give up on the transforming power of the Lord in your own life. He’s there, working by His grace, in ways you don’t always realize.

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The God Who Pursues Sinners

God pursues sinnersMost people would say that Genesis 37 through 50 is the story of Joseph. Fourteen chapters with the focus almost entirely on the life of Joseph. It is a fascinating story that we can learn a lot from.

But stuck in the midst of that epic saga about the life of Joseph is a chapter that’s not about him at all. In fact, Joseph is not even mentioned. It’s a story about Judah, Joseph’s brother, and his family.

Judah had three sons. The oldest, Er, had a wife named Tamar. Er died, leaving Tamar childless. The practice of the day was for the brother to take the widow and give offspring for the deceased sibling. So the next son, Onan, took Tamar, but they bore no children, and Onan died, also. This left the youngest of Judah’s sons, Shelah, but he was too young to marry. So Judah asked Tamar to wait – remain a widow – until Shelah was old enough. Apparently, though, Shelah grew up, but Judah never followed through on his promise. Because of this, Tamar decided to seduce her father-in-law. So, dressed as a prostitute, Tamar tricked Judah – he had no idea it was Tamar – into an afternoon liaison. Nine months later, she bore twin boys, Perez and Zerah.

You might be thinking, Well, that’s a fascinating story, Tom, but, so what?

Let me explain. There’s a really vivid contrast drawn between these two brothers, Judah and Joseph. It was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph had done nothing to deserve that treatment. Judah was willingly seduced by someone he thought was a prostitute, a person who charges for having sex. Joseph fled away from the free offer of sensual desire with his master’s wife. Judah broke his word to his daughter-in-law. Joseph is repeatedly depicted as a man who was honorable and true to his word. The contrast between these two men couldn’t be more stark, especially when their stories are told in such close proximity to one another.

As a result, we honor Joseph, but we look down on Judah. One is a hero; the other is someone to be despised. Joseph is the guy we want to hang around with. Judah is the one we want to avoid, right? And that makes perfect sense to our minds. One is worthy, the other not so.

Until we read the lineage of Jesus in the New Testament. Joseph isn’t listed. The noble Joseph, whose life story is comprised of more than a dozen Old Testament chapters, is not in the line of Jesus. But Judah and Perez are there. Judah, the adulterer. Judah, the provocateur. And Perez, whose mother willfully seduced her father-in-law – caused an incestuous relationship – in order to have a child. Those guys made it into the lineage of Jesus, but not Joseph. Matthew even points out the connection, when he says, “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…” (Matthew 1:3).

Doesn’t that strike you as odd? God could have put anyone into the family tree of Jesus. If He really is sovereign – and, make no mistake, He is – then he could have picked and chosen whoever He wanted. He could have grabbed a handful of dirt and made a new person to stick into the lineage if He had so desired.

So, don’t think that somehow this was the Lord making a second or third choice. “Well, that idea didn’t work, so maybe I’ll try this other one.” No! God wasn’t somehow surprised.

Actually, God is the One Who willingly goes after the rebellious.

I think the story of Judah is stuck into the story of Joseph intentionally. It lets us see the difference between those two.

More importantly, it lets us see the God Who intentionally pursues sinners.

“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)

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An Addition Problem

addition problemImmediately preceding the “all who believed were together and had all things in common” section in Acts 2, Scripture tells us “…there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41)

Interesting phrasing. There were added that day…

If you think about it, there are plenty of other ways to tell what happened. Luke could have said that 3000 individuals were converted. Or, he could have told us that 3000 folks became followers of Christ. He may even have informed us that all those people were born-again. Yet, none of those are the wording that became part of the text.

Instead, it tells us that 3000 were “added.” It is apparently a mathematical term. They became part of the entire collective. It’s not just that a whole bunch of people had an individual experience. No. They all became joined to something larger. They were added to the Body of Christ.

If you see your conversion – or even your current walk with the Lord – as simply an individual experience, you’re looking at it all wrong. It’s not a me-and-Jesus adventure. You’re part of the Body of Christ. You’re connected with the rest. You’ve been added to the whole.

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Facebook or Face-to-Face?

face to faceBecause I am a public figure – having ministered in hundreds of churches all across the nation and having nearly twenty books published – some people know a lot about me. They’ve heard me talk about my family. They have read about my life and background. As a result, it is not at all unusual for someone to walk up to me and start talking as though we’re old friends. Although we’ve never met, they act like we have known each other for a very long time. The problem is that I know nothing about them at all. And, honestly, they know only a few things that I have chosen to reveal to anyone who reads my writings. My real friends know far more about me. There’s the issue. There is no actual relationship.

Relationship – true relationship – is built on time spent together. We cannot have a close personal relationship with someone with whom we never spend any time. It is possible, of course, to think we have an actual relationship with our 2,000 Facebook friends, but we don’t. Oh, we may know more about those people than we otherwise would have without social media, but that still doesn’t mean we have a true relationship. If we don’t spend time together, laugh together, hurt together, cry together, discuss, learn, argue, encourage, dream, enjoy – experience life together – without those kinds of interactions, we can’t really experience relationship. And those things can’t happen, certainly nowhere close to their full potential, on social media. It has to be real-life, real-time interaction.

That’s part of the beauty of living in biblical community. God works through real relationships with people around us. Rough edges get sanded down. Sharp corners start to get rounded off. Deep cracks and crevices begin to get filled in. But those things cannot happen in a vacuum. If we isolate ourselves from others, then we miss the benefits that relationships bring to our own lives. We need interaction with others in order for God to fully have His way in us.

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