The Wonderful Word of God

Charles Spurgeon said, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” That is the truest non-biblical statement I’ve ever read. I started singing “Jesus loves me” to Joy when she was tiny – “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That’s deep theology for little minds and hearts. I want her to always know that Jesus loves her and that the Bible is trustworthy and true. That is a strong foundation for her life.

Michael W. Smith wrote, “Ancient Words,” a song that speaks to a more “grown-up” perspective of the Bible. I’ll post a link to the song in the comments, but the refrain goes:

Ancient words ever true

Changing me and changing you

We have come with open hearts

Oh, let the ancient words impart.

A child’s simple song. A stirring anthem. They both speak to the authority, power, truth, and wisdom of the holy and living Word of God. No other tool in my Christian toolbelt has helped me grow in my faith and love for the Lord like the Bible. It contains the very heart of God.

Isaiah said, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (40:8). The Word of God will never be irrelevant or antiquated. No matter how much the culture changes, the Bible is the eternal authority for all creation. God also said that His word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (55:11). His word is effective and nothing and no one can stop it. Jesus declared, “Your word is truth” (Jn 17:17). You and I can trust the sacred writings of God.

I have studied the Bible for thirty years. I’m nearing the completion of my Master’s Degree in Christian Ministry with an emphasis on Biblical Studies. That doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch.  In fact, it has made me realize how much I don’t know.

Some days the Bible is my teacher, revealing the deep things of God. Some days it is my sword striking at the heart of the enemy of my soul. It is my mentor, pointing to my failures and showing me the better way. It is the “light for my path” (Ps 119:105) and the Joy of my heart (v. 111). Lately, it is my comfort and reminds me that “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That’s two of the sweetest truths ever spoken. Beloved, God’s Word will hold you.

The Word of God

Likely not the exact same picture I made, but it is the same design.

I come from a long line of crafters. My mom was an extraordinary seamstress – I loved the handmade clothes she created for me. My grandmother painted beautiful designs with a needle and thread. I often lay in bed and traced the stitches on my “Sunbonnet Sue” pillowcase. Mom decided it was time for me to take up the family tradition, starting with learning handwork. She bought me a simple embroidery kit and taught me how to rock my needle back and forth to make the straight lines of stitching, then she taught me the French knot and the daisy stitch and how to fill a piece of fabric with color. The kit was a design with a candle, a Bible – with a real velvet bookmark – and the words of Psalm 119:105. As I stitched the letters, the words were “sewn” into my heart: “Thy Word is a Lamp [unto my feet] and a Light [unto my path]”.

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and all 176 verses speak to the wisdom, beauty, blessing, and perfection of the Word of God. He said this Word brings blessing and Joy to the one who walks accordingly (v. 1). It helps young men – and old women – live a pure life and eschew sin (v. 9, 11).  When he is weary God’s Word gives him strength (v. 28). It sets his heart free (v. 32). God’s Word is precious to Him (v. 72). It gives him knowledge and good judgment (v. 66) and fills him with hope (v. 81). The Word of God is sweet – it is the Joy of his heart (v. 103, 111). It is true, righteous, trustworthy, right, and eternal (vs. 137-144, 160).

The Psalmist said that even when he “strayed like a lost sheep” he never forgot the good commands of the Lord (v. 176). I’ve lost my way a few times since I made that picture for my grandmother. I’ve found myself in dark scary places. But I would trace the words on my heart, just as I traced the pattern on my pillowcase, and I knew where to find the light. I still go back to that verse often and remind myself that the Bible has the power to dispel darkness and show me the way home. The Word of God is Light and Life to me. It is stitched on my heart.

Do You Believe?

What does it mean to believe? And in what should we believe? Is it enough to believe that there is a God? A lot of people agree to the presence of some supreme being in the universe, and many will call him God. And many believe that a man named Jesus taught the ways of God and exemplified His heart of love, compassion, and grace. But what makes one’s belief right or wrong? John explained the difference: “Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son” (1 John 5:10).

The heart of the Christian faith is to believe what God has said about Jesus Christ. God declared, “This is my Son” (Matt 3:17: 17:5), and that gave divine weight to everything Jesus said and did. John said that when men reject Jesus and His words, they are saying that God is not truthful nor trustworthy. When I say I am a Christian, I am not making a statement about my assent to the truths of Christianity; I am making a statement about God’s trustworthiness through His Son.

When I was younger in my faith, I thought my salvation depended on how hard I believed. It finally dawned on me that it wasn’t my dogged determination to hang on that saved me. It was God’s faithfulness to do what He promised to do. God said that Jesus is His Son, that His death was sufficient to cover all my sins, and that His resurrection ensures my eternal destiny. I believe what God said. It is the foundation of my faith.

Beloved, if you believe what God has said about Jesus, you are blessed in every way; for this life and life eternal. You are blessed because you stand on the confidence of God’s testimony, not on the traditions of men. You are blessed because “you will see the glory of God” (John 11:40). Your faith will be made sight and your hope in Christ will be confirmed. In heaven’s chronicles, your name will be recorded among the great saints of human history, and you will be commended with those who pleased God by their faith. What a blessing it is to believe!

Go To The Word

Everyone seems to have an opinion these days and we all want to be heard.  As a blogger, I am one of the hundreds of thousands – probably even millions – of people on the world-wide-web trying to get a word out to the world. Christian bloggers, of which I am one, seem to be the most overcrowded segment of the species. So, with so many voices out there, to whom should you listen? Who should you trust?

Isaiah was God’s prophet prior to the Israelites going into Babylonian captivity. He had been called and anointed by God to speak on the Lord’s behalf. But just as it is today, there were a lot of people saying a lot of things. But were they reliable? Were they true? Were they clear and righteous messages for God’s people? Those are the same questions we need to be asking today.

In Isaiah’s time, the ungodly messengers were consulting mediums and spiritists who “consulted the dead on behalf of the living.” They whispered and muttered nonsense because that is what the people wanted (Is. 8:19). Paul warned Timothy that men would “gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3). If you listen to the popular messages coming from many pulpits (books, blogs, podcasts, etc.) today, you will hear much the same.

Paul told Timothy to “Preach the Word” (2T 4:2) and that agrees perfectly with Isaiah’s admonition: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Is. 8:20). And that brings me to my favorite people, the Bereans, who took Paul’s messages and “examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

If there is one hill I will die on, it is this: Do not depend on what others say about God. Not even me. Check out every word against the One Word of Truth. You MUST be a student of the Scriptures yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to go to seminary. It means you have to spend time in this divinely inspired Book, searching out truth, wisdom, and understanding and aligning your heart to it. Then you will know how to spot the errors, lies, and false witnesses in the world. Beloved, I implore you – study God’s Word as if your life depended on it. Because it does.

Apologetics 101

I really didn’t want to take apologetics in seminary. I don’t like confrontation and arguing and I’d seen videos of people tearing others down by their “vast knowledge” and it just felt wrong. But it was a required course so I went in with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, vowing that I would not become like them. In the end, that class strengthened my faith more than some of my theology courses did.

Apologetics is not “apologizing” for being a Christian. It is a defense of the faith, but not in a confrontational manner I saw in those videos. 1 Peter 3:15 was the theme of our course: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  I said it was our “theme verse” but it really became a challenge the instructor issued to each one of us to know what we believe and why we believe it.

Like so many good southern kids I grew up in church: Sunday School, Sunbeams, G.A.s, VBS, Acteens, Youth Group – I did it all. Sweet godly ladies taught me Bible stories and filled my mind with memory verses. And that is a wonderful gift for any child. I bless these ladies for their loving, servant hearts (and for the butter cookies and punch).  But when I got into this course, my professor made me take out every childhood belief and examine it carefully and closely and dig into the Scriptures for the reason behind it. By the end of that course, I had a deeper understanding and appreciation for Christianity and a firm conviction about what I believed. They weren’t just Bible stories anymore. They were deeply rooted truths I could trust with my life.

And one more thing that course taught me as Peter continued: “Do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (v. 15b-16). When you know what you believe and why it is true you don’t have to do battle with others. You can answer firmly with gentleness because what you have isn’t ammunition, it’s hope. And hope – not a fight – is what people are truly searching for.

What you believe matters. It matters for your own confidence and it matters to the lost world. Beloved, you need to know the what and the why of your faith.

Acts: The Plan of the Ages

I interviewed an atheist for a class assignment. While I asked my questions, he peppered me with his own. I remember one question clearly, even after so many years: “Why would a good God let His Son suffer and be killed on the whim of evil people?”

“He didn’t,” I replied.

“But isn’t that what your Christianity teaches?” he insisted.

“Not exactly,” I answered. “God didn’t let anything happen. He planned it and foretold it. Jesus’ death wasn’t by the whim of man. It was an intentional act of the sovereign God to fulfill His purpose – the salvation of men.”

He cocked his head to one side, “I’ve never heard it put that way.  My church always taught us kids that people acted of their own free will to kill Jesus.”

“They did,” I replied. “But they acted within the sovereign will of God.”

At that moment I felt like a salmon swimming up a waterfall, trying to explain a concept that has baffled the wisest theologians for ages. I still don’t understand it completely, but I know it is true. The Bible clearly teaches both and doesn’t try to make it neat and tidy.

Please take a moment to read Acts 3:17-26.

When Peter addressed the crowd that gathered around the once-crippled man, he invoked the name of Jesus as the source of healing power. The same Jesus they had crucified. The same Jesus God had raised from the dead. Peter said that they had “acted in ignorance,” not realizing that this Jesus was God’s Messiah (Christ). But Peter also said that God used their actions to fulfill His Plan of the Ages. God had foretold the suffering of His Servant through Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and all the prophets. He had promised salvation long before Jesus’ birth.

John wrote that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before the first human and the first sin. This was all within God’s eternal plan: the salvation of humanity. I once heard a preacher say that long before Jesus came to earth God knowingly planted the seed that would become the tree that would be made into the cross on which His Son would die.

I take great comfort in the truth of God’s sovereignty over the will of human beings. I am sitting in the middle of a family mess right now because of another’s free will choices. But I am convinced this did not occur outside of God’s sovereign plan. Somehow this too will fall in line with His “good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Rom 12:2). And when it does, there will be Joy.

Good and Evil

I came across several verses this morning that set up a theme.

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom 12:9)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21)

“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (16:19)

“In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Cor 14:20).

“Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thess 5:21-22).

Verse 16 intrigues me. Innocent describes a person with a pure mind – unmixed with evil. That was Adam and Eve, the first humans and the last innocent people on earth. God told them not to take the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because, at this point, they were pure.  In their innocence, they were free from the harmful effects of the knowledge of evil, a knowledge they—and we—are unable to bear.  The serpent led them to believe that if they ate from the tree, they could know what God knew. And he was right. To a point. He failed to tell them that they did not have the moral capacity to bear that knowledge without disastrous repercussions. 

When she plucked that piece of tainted fruit Eve got “knowledge” all right, but she also got much more than she bargained for.  When she and Adam were exposed to the knowledge of evil, evil overtook them and buried their innocence.  They had the “knowledge of evil,” but not the power to resist it.

But Paul said there is good news: good can overcome evil. That’s where Jesus comes in. He is the only pure, good, innocent human being to walk on earth. He took His good to the cross and to the grave and there overcome the evil that was destroying God’s good creation.

So how do you and I overcome evil? The same way the saints did: “They overcame [the evil one] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev 12:11). We overcome the evil nature within by faith in Jesus. We overcome evil in the world by proclaiming what God has done for us. And we overcome evil in our daily lives. We avoid it, hate it, and turn our minds away from it. We refuse to give it a foothold (Eph 4:27). You were not made for evil, Beloved. You were made good (Gen 1:31).

Hear the Word of the Lord

One of Jesus’ best-known parables was about the Seed and the Sower found in Luke 8: 4-18. The parable in and of itself tells a powerful spiritual truth about the condition of the hearts of those who hear the Word of God and how they receive or reject it. But there are a few words that are sown throughout that we need to notice. Hear. Receive. Listen. The word “hear” or “hearing” appears seven times in this passage. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (v. 8). Reach up and touch the side of your head. Those are ears. For most of us, those ears allow us to hear. But the context tells us that Jesus is not talking about auditory sound waves – He wants His listeners to receive the Word and understand (v. 10). He wants followers who take His Word deep into their hearts and let it work in and through them to produce much fruit for the Kingdom of God.

To receive (v. 13) means to take hold of something with favor and make it your own. Poppy ran to the store yesterday for bread and milk and came back with a surprise for our granddaughter – stickers! She took them from his hand and pressed them to her chest and said, “Oh, thank you, Poppy!” She received his gift with enthusiasm and – well – Joy. We are all guilty of listening to a teacher or preacher read through a Scripture – especially if it is familiar to us – and mentally drifting off. But Jesus said we are to take hold of it and press it into our hearts where it can take root and grow.

But this is the one that piqued my interest the most: “Consider carefully how you listen” (v. 18). Not just what you hear – although that is important – but how you listen. “Listen,” in this context means how we attend to the Word we hear. The writer of Hebrews, speaking of those who turn away, said: “The message they heard was of no value to them because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Heb 4:1-2). Paul said they found no value in it because they believed it was the word of men, not the Word of God (1 Thes 2:13 paraphrased).

The Bible is the “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16) Word of the Sovereign Lord. It is true and powerful and eternal. It is life-changing and life-giving. Moses said: “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deut 32:47). That’s how we must “hear” the Word. Receive it, Beloved. Believe it. Give your heart to it, and it will give you life.

The Best Teacher

I was looking through the Psalms this morning and the Spirit brought several verses to my attention. Let’s see if you can detect the theme:

“Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior and my hope is in You all day long” (25:4-5).

“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way” (v. 9).

“Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him” (v. 12).

“Teach me Your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path” (27:11).

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” (32:8).

“Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth . . .” (86:11)

The Christian faith is first and foremost about salvation – about bringing sinful men and women to repentance and cleansing and eternal life through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. But He doesn’t save us and then leave us to figure it out on our own. He teaches us how to live this different life. He teaches us to walk in the straight way, in His ways which are holy and righteous. He teaches us by His Word and His Spirit. He teaches us by the example of His Son who lived a perfect life of love and grace and holiness. He teaches us through people who preach, teach, mentor, and live their faith out loud every day. And I am living proof that He teaches us by the mistakes and missteps we make. I will have my Doctorate soon in the school of hard knocks.

I have always loved to learn. I used to sit on the floor next to our family’s bookshelves and read the encyclopedias. And then I discovered the Bible and my heart and mind exploded. I also discovered that God loves to teach, it’s a match literally made in heaven. But you don’t have to be a nerd or a scholar to learn what God wants to teach you. He tailors the courses to each person, but the student learning outcome is always the same: that you and I would look like Jesus. Beloved, come join me in this divine class. I’ll save a seat for you.

You Better Believe It

I was in the 5th grade and was doing my math homework one night (and anyone who knows me knows how much I hate math) and I kept asking my mom, “What’s so-and-so times so-and-so?”, over and over until she lost her patience with me and snapped, “Figure it out!” So, I did. I added and added and added until I got the answer. I know for certain that 7×8=56 and you can bet it will remain with me for the rest of my life.

So, here’s a question for you: Why do you believe what you believe? Because your childhood Sunday School teacher told you a Bible story? Because your pastor preached about a passage on Sunday? Because you read something profound in a book by a smiling author? There’s a malady in the church called biblical illiteracy. It simply means most people in the church don’t know the Bible very well. We know Bible story sound bites. We know a few verses (mostly taken out of context). And we know what the culture tell us – that God is all and only love and doesn’t want us ever to be unhappy or deny our “true selves.”

What we believe is too often just what we’ve been told – but not what we know. And there is a difference. What you’ve heard just sits in your ears, but what you know takes deep root in your heart and, like your circulating blood, affects every part of you. If your faith is built on others’ thoughts and opinions, how can you be sure you are building on solid truth? When someone challenges your belief, you can’t make a good defense and it all starts to crumble. But if your belief is built on what you have mined from the Scriptures and chewed on and have wrestled your heart and mind into submission then your faith will stand up against the questions of the world. Like my math equation, what you invest in stays with you.

Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Are you convinced that what you believe will hold you up? As Christians come under fire, it’s more important than ever that you know what you believe – and why you believe it. And it’s eternally important that what you believe is the truth. Beloved, you don’t just need to know about religious-sounding stuff. You need to know the truth.