Monday, November 30, 2009

The Impact of Reading God's Word Aloud

When you hear Scripture read aloud, how does it affect you? When was the last time you heard the Bible actually read aloud? If you're a church-goer you probably hear it read at some point in the service. Do you hear it read any where other than there? If you do hear it read in the service, how is it read? Is it the entire congregation reading it together? Is the Pastor or someone else reading the passage to you? If so, how do they read it? Does it sound exciting and engaging? Or, does the reading sound fairly it's being read to simply set up a sermon?

Over the last few weeks I've been reading Max McLean's book Unleashing the Word and it has had a strong impact on me. McLean who is best known for his recorded readings of the Bible makes the case that too many churches do not value the public reading of Scripture. He makes a strong Biblical and historical case to show the great power of the public reading of God's Word. For centuries much of humanity was illiterate and they were dependent upon God's Word being passed down orally. With this in mind, much of the Old Testament was written to be read aloud in story form. Many of the New Testament letters were written to be read aloud when the church gathered corporately. Yet, when I hear Scripture read in services it is usually read only in short segmented verses and it often lacks very much passion or zeal. Certainly we don't want to go too far and make our corporate Bible reading a performance every Sunday morning, but shouldn't there be something that grabs our attention as we hear God's Word read? I know there are times when I view Scripture very differently after I've heard it read aloud rather than when I've read it silently. To a greater degree the Bible comes to life when I hear it read aloud.

Think about those questions listed above. Let me hear from you. I wonder if you think much about the impact of hearing God's Word read aloud.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Are Your Tears in God's Bottle?

Don’t we all spend time thinking that no one knows the trouble we’ve seen? We’re quick to say that we know other people have it so much worse, but in our hearts we are twice as quick to begin sending invitations to our own pity party. Yet, trouble is a very real part of life. For a Christian or anyone else to say that life can be trouble-free is simply not true. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

When we look closer at the verse though, we see more than just an acknowledgement of the presence of trouble; we see Jesus directing our attention away from the trouble and calling us to place of focusing on Him. He means for you to find great comfort in those simple words, “But take comfort”. He offers you a place of rest in your struggle.

Psalm 56 is another place where we see this redirection. The great king David was no stranger to turmoil. He had many enemies through his life. Some of them were even created by his own hand. In Psalm 56 we see a pattern that is common in many psalms. David names his enemy, speaks directly to God concerning his struggle, but continually turn his focus to God’s strength and help. In Psalm 56 he is so aware of God’s care that he says, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” David believes with all of his heart that God is very aware of the delicate condition of his heart. And he finds great comfort in this truth.

Perhaps as you read this you disagree. “If God knows my trouble He certainly doesn’t seem to offer help,” you might be saying. In both of these passages there is a great window of human responsibility that has been opened. Jesus calls people to place their trust in Him. David shows us that he makes a real choice in turning his gaze away from the trouble and putting his focus on God. If you are to know the peace and resolve offered by God, you must intentionally turn to him. Not only that, but you must humbly turn to him. This humility leads us to surrender our agenda and time table.

In your prayers and crying out to God, are you bring trust in God or simply a list of demands? It’s most natural for us to come to God with the rescue plan already figured out and expect Him to put it into action. That isn’t what God desires though. Nor is it how He typically works. He is looking for faith and trust. He is at work to change your perspective. Especially when you struggle.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Spiritual Examination

Many times we wonder how we are doing as followers of Jesus. We want to know how we can measure our maturity or spiritual growth. Dr. Donald S. Whitney, a professor at Southern Seminary, has written numerous books on the spiritual disciplines and how followers of Jesus can grow in their spiritual health. He's just published a video on YouTube that introduces his book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. I would encourage you to spend the four minutes watching the video and then consider reading the book.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Pursuit of Peace

We hear much about world peace, don’t we? Every night the cable news shows are littered with those who would offer recommendations on how to bring peace to the conflicts on the Earth. We have lucrative prizes awarded to those who put forth effort toward and ideas on peace. And don’t forget, world peace is what most beauty queens want to bring to the universe.

But what is the best definition we can come to in regard to peace? For many, it is the absence of war. But how is that to be achieved? “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace,” said our first President, George Washington. While that may be true from a military standpoint, is it really true peace?

Real peace is not simply the lack of aggression toward another, but the ongoing act of showing kindness to others. It is making sacrifices of one’s self for the betterment of others. Whether we are speaking on the scale of nations, human relationships or humanity’s relationship with God we know a life of peace is not the typical experience of humans. It just seems out of our reach.

The question to ask here is why. The most honest answer is a fairly obvious one though it may be difficult for us to admit. We lack peace because we are usually more concerned with self than we are about others. Whether on an interpersonal level, a national level, or in your relationship with your Creator we are all centered upon self unless outside action is done to redirect our hearts. Therefore, a life of peace must be aided by the power of God.

Jesus Christ is called the Prince of Peace in the Bible. He is the One who is able to bring real change to our hearts so that we will both desire and pursue a relationship with God and peace with others. According to the Bible, there is no other path and there are no substitutes.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Waste No Words

It makes for an interesting read when every word matters. Authors of well-known and best-selling stories and novels spend untold hours toiling over every word that appears in print. Can you imaging spending that much time reviewing every single word and its placement in a 500 page novel? Simply amazing. Too often I am guilty of wasting words. Maybe you are too.

When it comes to this sharp accuracy, though, many times we don’t think of the Bible in this way. We lose sight that it is actually the written and recorded words of God. Yes, it was delivered to this world through the quills of many different authors, but it is God’s ultimate revelation of Himself and how we can know Him and live at peace with Him. With God as its supreme author the dictations given to Moses, David, Peter, Paul and the other writers were thought through like no other publication.

One such area that we encounter the thoughtfulness of the Bible is in the comparisons found in the Psalms, Proverbs and New Testament. More and more I am impressed with the thoroughness of the New Testament writers when they help the reader understand the real and practical application of God’s truth. For instance, if you notice in 1 Corinthians 13 there are phrases used as Paul talks about the qualities love contains and the ones it does not. Every phrase includes simple words that are grouped together containing such power.

Take what Paul says in verses four and five when Paul says that love is not arrogant or rude. When someone is arrogant they believe they are better than others. When someone is rude they treat others as if they are better than them. In a matter of a few simple words we are instructed to look at our internal attitude and how it manifests itself externally. Two seemingly small words deliver a tremendous blow to the way we think of ourselves and treat others. They leave us with the need for hours of self-examination.

So here’s the challenge. First, read the Bible. Second, go back and read it very slowly. Sure there are parts that are not are not meant to be dissected word by word because they are narrative or historic genealogy, but the Bible has much more power than we have ever imagined. If you just take those words we mentioned above -- arrogant and rude -- you will see how God will use His word to bring correction and guidance in your life. It’s a lot to think about, but isn’t that the point?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Love Defined

Our society has love all wrong. In modern times love is often expressed in terms of praise for physical beauty or some personal attribute. In other circles it is defined as a “force” that keeps the universe in balance. I’m sure you could look around and define love in many different ways. Some of those definitions are wonderful and some of them are not so great.

Yet, love is important. The Bible says that it is even more important than faith and hope. Perhaps because faith in God and hope toward God must be rooted in love from God. In fact, it is God’s display of love toward humanity that is to shape our love toward one another. That love is best displayed by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, coming on a rescue mission to Earth. He came to rescue us from walking away from a the ultimate relationship we were created to enjoy, a relationship with God where we could know Him and share in His love.

How would I define love, then? I believe it is a commitment to serve. Maybe that sounds kind of dull and boring to you, but there is more there than meets the eye. The Bible uses words like covenant or promise to describe commitment. Love’s commitment is sacred and long-term. It is not wavering and it is constantly consistent. The other important word there is serve and I use it to remind us that we are are to regularly put others above ourselves. We are to look toward the good of others before we look for the benefit to ourselves. That’s hard to do. It’s especially difficult if we aren’t committed to the other person or persons.

Hopefully, this definition moves us in an entirely different direction. This definition of love calls us to focus on the other person, and their good, with abandon to our own good. The definitions I used in the beginning are ruled by what is pleasing to our eye or what will bring us the greatest benefit. See the difference? Many times real love costs us dearly because it demands that we make personal sacrifices for the good of others. Real love is indeed a commitment to serve.

Whether you agree or not I hope you will at least consider your own definition of love. Is its primary motive is to see what you might receive from others or what you can share with others as you genuinely serve them?