Tag: Bible Reading Challenge

Word and Spirit

img_7233

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time you know how much I love the opening chapters of the Bible. Every school year starts with reading Genesis 1. So naturally I was pretty excited that the Bible Reading Challenge #samepagesummer started today with John 1-4. No one can read the opening verses of John’s Gospel without hearing echoes of the creation account.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

In verse 14 we read that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” So we know that that Word is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the light of Genesis 1 and John 1 and John 8 and 2 Corinthians 4:6. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our own hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

All these passages resonate with tones from the creation narrative–beginnings, creation, life, darkness, and light. All these passages bring us face to face with the Triune God–Father, Son and Spirit. And how could it be otherwise? Jesus is the Word–the same Word that was used to speak the universe into existence, the same Word that is revealed in the pages of Scripture. The God of Genesis 1 is the same God of John 1, so of course we are going to see nothing but consistency of character within the pages of Scripture from beginning to end. As the creation narrative unfolds, we are bound to see hints of God’s redemptive purposes, which according to 1 Peter 1:20 and Ephesians 1:4, were ordained before the foundation of the world. And as the gospel narrative unfolds, we are likewise going to see the back drop of creation, the stage upon which the great drama of redemption plays out.

So when in John 1:6 we are introduced to this new player I couldn’t help but see hints of a similar character in Genesis 1 as well. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” In verse 15 we read “John bore witness about Him and cried out, ‘This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.” He continues by affirming that he was not the Christ, nor a prophet but rather “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.” Verses 24-34 give us even more insight into John’s person and role. We read there that John came baptizing with water for the purpose “that He might be revealed in Israel.” Again we have John bearing witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

When you consider the role of the Holy Spirit as the Supreme Witness–the one sent to testify to the glory of the Son, the member of the Trinity always at work exalting the person of Jesus Christ–doesn’t it make sense that our first introduction to both He and John are with the backdrop of wilderness, darkness, water and then glorious Light!

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

Think about the fact that we get “without form and void” from the Hebrew tohu wabohu, meaning an empty, unformed, chaotic wildernessAnd then consider that the description of the Holy Spirit’s movement over the waters comes from the Hebrew rachaph, which is to brood, like a bird over her nest of eggs. So when you have John, the voice of one crying from the wilderness, baptizing with water for the purpose of revealing the Son of God, testifying to the Light come into the world, and this same John sees with his own eyes the Spirit of God descend like a dove over the waters of Jesus’ baptism, well I just have to assume this John the Baptist guy ain’t your average witness.

In fact Jesus Himself said that “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11).” What made John so great? Luke 7:28 seems to indicate that it was his becoming the least that made him so great and indeed his words in John 3:22-36 bear evidence to his role as the lesser bearing witness to the greater. Indeed, John’s assertion “He must increase, but I must decrease” should be the believer’s mantra each and every day.

We often hear of Christ figures, and we read of types and shadows in the Old Testament that point us to the Messiah in the New. John the Baptist is indeed an Old Testament figure in that he appears to us before the coming of Christ. But his role as witness, testifying to the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world, seems to be couched in terms that point us to none other than the Holy Spirit. When we read of John’s humility, we should be overwhelmed by the Spirit’s humility.  The Spirit who is God Himself, and yet seeks not His own glory, but rather testifies and bears witness to the glory of another.

It is this same Spirit that breathed out Scripture, giving us the glory filled revelation of God in the face of Christ Jesus. It is His testimony IN HIS OWN WORDS! Won’t you listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say concerning the person of Jesus Christ? Just for 5-10 minutes a day? You can do so and be on the same page as thousands of other Christians each day through the Bible Reading Challenge. By reading 4 chapters a day, 5 or 6 days a week, you can finish the entire New Testament but the end of the summer!

To whet your appetite for the book of John and every page that follows here are a couple links to some messages worth every minute of listening to.

Click here and here for an excellent 2-part series by Christopher Ash called “Word and Spirit in John.” And click here for a stunning message by John Piper about John the Baptist called “He Must Increase, I Must Decrease.”

 

Exposed

img_7202

What do the Bible Reading Challenge, the Sheologians Book Club reading of “(A)Typical Woman“, the Grace Church of the Valley womens study of “A Gospel Primer“, and ongoing discussions with several of my friends all have in common?  They all had me rethinking this week what went on in Eden and what certain occurrences there mean for women today. Come take a stroll with me down the garden path of Genesis 3. I’m taking stops at nearly every verse so pardon the halting pace. Verse 1:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.”

This has not changed. Can we all just keep that in mind? The serpent is still crafty but he’s not infinitely creative in his craft, which means he’s mostly always up to the same old tricks.

“He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

Ladies, something should happen when you hear words like “the Bible never says…” or “the Bible doesn’t explicitly forbid…” There should be an instant red flag. This should cause us to spring into action, pull out our concordances and do a little fact checking. We may find that it’s true — that the Bible truly says no such thing. Or we may find that the Bible actually does say the very thing we’re being told it doesn’t say. Or we may find that the Bible says something similar but we’re not sure if it’s the same thing, in which case we better do a little research till we are sure. But in every case we should be sure about what the Bible actually does and doesn’t say, NOT BECAUSE SOMEONE TOLD US SO, BUT BECAUSE WE’VE ACTUALLY READ IT THERE. Which brings me to my next point.

2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Poor Eve. She was so close to getting it right. But this passage shows how being off just a little bit can open the door to some really big error. Of course, talking to snakes in general can open that door pretty wide, too. But notice her little added phrase, “neither shall you touch it,” which was absent from God’s original command.  One could say that adding not to touch a thing would only rightly reinforce the command not to eat it. And indeed that is the reasoning behind much of the legalistic “X is forbidden, Y could lead to X, therefore Y is forbidden as well” mentality.   It’s not just legalists who error in this regard.  There are other ways to be just a little bit off when it comes to wielding God’s Word.

Think of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. Satan used a similar tactic with Him in Matthew 4:1-11. The twist here was instead of questioning God’s law, he abuses God’s promises. Didn’t God say, “He will command his angels concerning you?” Didn’t God say, “On their hands they will bear you up?” Do you really think Satan is beyond using those same tactics today? “God promised X to this person. You are a person. Therefore you should demand God do X for you as well.” If this tactic doesn’t sound familiar to you go watch “American Gospel” now on Netflix.

Whether it’s something we’re told the Bible says not to do, or something we’re told the Bible says God will do, the consequences for not getting it absolutely right can be disastrous. This is why Bible translations matter. This is why the content of our worship matters.  This is why the books and the podcasts and the conferences that we ingest matter.  This is why the cute little Christian sounding memes we repost matter. A little error can have enormous consequences.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

Now this one doesn’t seem that subtle but for some reason it works on us women anyway. In Genesis 2:17 God says “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” In Genesis 3:4 Satan says, “You shall not surely die.” This seems to be a pretty obvious contradiction of the law of God.  The average Christian woman should be able to see right through that kind of tactic, right? Yet on any given day I can scroll through my social media feed and see a whole lot of messages that should come with a little red flag warning Christian women that the following statements should definitely be checked against scripture. Instead they are being reposted with little praise hands. “Love yourself” “You are enough” “Believe all women” “Divorce doesn’t disqualify you from anything” “Woman can be pastors too” “You deserve to feel great” “This drink will solve all your problems” “Yoga is just stretching” “Exposing all your ugly stuff is actually beautiful and real” “It’s wrong to judge” “We don’t have to obey. We’re not under the law” “God’s not angry about sin.” Maybe you don’t think any of those statements are lies. Maybe you think all of them are. Maybe you think some are and some aren’t. The question I have for you is, can you show me in your Bible what makes them true or false?  Are you letting Scripture determine what is true? Or are you, like Eve, allowing your own desires and appetites to govern your decisions?

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 

Here’s the thing about most women’s ministries. They seek to indulge our appetites rather than change them. “Women want to hear this and they want to eat that and they want it to look like this and they want to experience that and they want to leave feeling like this.” And voila, the publishing companies, and the conferences, and the Etsy shops deliver all of the above.  It’s interesting to me that when the Israelites needed to be fed in the wilderness, God didn’t just rain down the cucumbers and leeks they were craving from Egypt. He gave them a brand new diet of manna meant to whet their appetite for the true Bread of Life. I’m not saying that the books and Bible studies and conference themes shouldn’t be beautiful and appealing or that austerity is somehow more holy in nature. But I am saying that if the focus of your ministry to women is giving them what they want, maybe you should stop taking your cues from Eve.

It’s not that her desires were overtly corrupt either. She just wanted organically grown fruit which I’m sure was packed with gut cleansing probiotics, and it just happened to have all the right filters to make it glow and all she was really going for was an authentic growth experience in self awareness and personal truth… so “she took of its fruit and ate.” Oh and then because she happened to be extremely influential with her husband she was somehow able to convince him to do the same. Don’t know how. Who ever heard of a woman being able to change her husband’s mind about anything?

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

The original bikini bottom right there. And even with just her hubby around Eve knew it was a little unsubstantial. As soon as God shows up they hide themselves and their beachwear out of fear of exposure.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 

Ladies, what’s changed? Why is exposing our bodies, our sins, our sexual history, our conflicts with others, our messy homes, TO EVERYONE IN THE WORLD suddenly an act of bravery cleverly captioned as “authentic” or “vulnerable”? Have we forgotten that God’s solution for His scantily clad creatures was not to remove their sense of shame or or analyze their guilt complex or take a picture and post it for all the fallen angels to relate to? No! His solution is right there in verse 21 of the same chapter. “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” God lovingly, mercifully, compassionately stooped and covered them properly.

No, I don’t think we should all pretend to be something we’re not. And yes, true confession born out of repentance of sin has it’s rightful place. I’m just suggesting that FB and IG and Twitter and the blogosphere and your women’s Bible study group and the conference podium are NOT that place. As brave as exposing one’s self to the world might seem, I can’t help but wonder what other fears our exposure is covering up.

With that, I’d like to invite you to a different kind of exposure that takes a different kind of bravery. I’d like to invite you to a feast with no forbidden fruit. It starts June 1 and it’s called Same Page Summer and you can find out more by clicking here. For about 4 chapters a day, 5 or 6 days a week, you can join thousands of other women all over the world as we read through the New Testament together, with our families, with our Bible study groups, on-line, and in many languages.  Come, take and eat.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12,13

 

On Worship

After Tom had a week away at seminary for Winterim with Keith Essex and Steve Lawson, I got to take a once in a lifetime trip to Atlanta for the G3 Conference.  It was the first time I had traveled alone in over 20 years.  When you’re used to crossing the Pacific every summer with 5 kids in tow, you’d think this would be a piece of cake but I was pretty much lost and pathetic the whole time.  But I did more than survive the adventure.  I came home with a ton of sound teaching, glorious worship, and edifying conversations ringing in my ears (and more free books in my carryon!).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Going to a G3 Conference is like attending a family reunion.  Only it’s the kind of family where everyone gets along and is really excited to see each other.  And it’s the kind of family that has an inordinate number of extremely gifted Bible expositors, prolific authors, powerful preachers, qualified shepherds, dedicated missionaries, and a host of general doers of the Word.  I can’t even begin to describe the caliber of teaching, heights of worship, and warmth of fellowship I experienced there.

After hearing some of Tom’s take-away from his Essex class on Ezra and Nehemiah the week before, I couldn’t help but feel like I was experiencing at the conference some of what is played out in those two books.  Ezra 7:10 tells us that “Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel.”  The fruit of this determination blooms gloriously in Nehemiah 8 and 9 when

“all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate.  And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard… And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands.  And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground… They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

One of the points John MacArthur made at G3 was that “The guy with the guitar is not the worship leader.  The pastor is.”  Which is why according to Paul Washer, “The problems with our worship go back to the preaching.”  This makes sense in light of Washer’s definition of worship as “the outward expression of the inward estimation of God.”  If people are not taught who God is directly from the source of His own revelation concerning Himself–His own Word–how can they worship Him in truth?  As Steve Lawson pointed out, “Our worship will rise no higher than our theology.”  At the same time our worship needs to be as truth-full as our teaching.  Costi Hinn remarked that “Accepting false lyrics but demanding true teaching is hypocrisy.”

The people of Ezra’s day heard the Word of God, they understood His character through its exposition, and they worshiped Him through their ‘Amen’ to the truth.

Popular worship today seems to fall so short of ‘Amen.’  There is too little of God’s holy, triune nature being proclaimed in preaching or in song to demand such a response.

There was a lot of talk at the conference about making the expository preaching of the Word of God the central tenant of our worship and bringing back doctrinally robust hymnody (and Psalmody!) as a means of singing out our ‘Amen’ to the Word preached.

This was a huge encouragement to me.  I grew up singing hymns and spent 7 years in a church dedicated to exclusive Psalmody.  I’ve also been a part of churches that were devoid of both.  While living in Hawaii we attended a traditional service in which we were the only young family.   I had the incredible privilege of singing in a choir made up of older saints.  It was the highlight of my week to gather with them to sing the great hymns of the faith, all through the months of expecting our fifth son, and then with him in my arms, and then with him being passed around the choir, and then with him crawling all over and under the pews.  And then the announcement came that in an effort to “breathe life into a dead service” and attract a younger crowd we would no longer be singing hymns.

It was devastating. Both to the older folks and to our young family.  I wrote the following letter to the pastor expressing our sorrow.

Thus says the Lord:“Stand by the roads, and look, ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is;and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” But they said, “We will not walk in it.” Jeremiah 6:16

I’m just a mom with a bunch of little kids.I can’t write out big tithe checks or traverse the globe on mission trips. I’m not what you would call a “mover and shaker” in the church. Most of the time you wouldn’t even know I’m there and if it weren’t for my toddler running up and down the aisles I wouldn’t get noticed at all. But I’m there almost every Sunday, not at the contemporary family service, but at the traditional one. The one with all the old people in it. The one that’s been described as “dead” or “on it’s way out.” The one with “not much going on.” Most of the time my kids are the only ones in that service and it’s true that most of the time it IS pretty quiet.

But one thing I’ve learned from spending a bit of time with older folks is that one should never mistake “quiet” for “dead.” In an age of sensationalism we tend to forget the God of the Whisper. The God who commands us to be still. The God of Order. The God who finds great worth in “a gentle and quiet spirit.” I am perfectly aware how hardly anyone looking at all those white heads sitting silently in the pews would ever describe that service as “Spirit filled.” But that’s not quite fair, either to these gloried saints or the Spirit that indwells them. In fact, I would venture to guess that the hunched over ninety year old who seems to be dozing in the pew knows quite a bit more of the Holy Spirit than your average thirty-something worship leader does. You see, the Holy Spirit’s been her constant companion for nearly a century and since her husband died twenty years ago, He’s been her only companion. And she’s learned a lot from Him. For one thing, she’s learned to listen. To be still. And God in His amazing wisdom has equipped the elderly body to do that better than anyone else.

The thing is, I know just how much these quiet folks are filled with the Spirit because I’ve been the constant beneficiary of the gentle overflow. Every smile, every pat on the back, every shaky squeeze of the hand, every time they stop to interact with my children, every word of encouragement they offer is a Spirit-led act that in a faster-paced, noisier setting might go completely unnoticed. But for an hour each Sunday, there’s this pause in my crazy, hectic life. And wrapped in the warmth of tradition and the richness of the well-ordered-Word I look up to see an older saint nod an affirming “Good job, mom” and it’s just the encouragement I need to make it through another week.

Please, in your quest to fill the church with young people, don’t neglect our older saints. They have more to offer than you might think. 

And so does their music. Music which I’ve heard disregarded as “archaic, boring, and irrelevant.” Because apparently to be acceptable to God, church-music must be modern, entertaining and germane. Maybe it’s time to rethink the standards by which we regard church-music and repent of the flippancy with which we’ve thrown generations of rich, meaningful, God-honoring, Gospel-centered, deeply instructive worship material out the door simply because it didn’t have the right beat. Maybe it’s time to return to those ancient paths that Jeremiah 6:16 encourages God’s people to seek out and walk in.Paths for which our older saints make the very best kind of guides. 

“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.  I am the Lord.”  Leviticus 19:32

After a hard fought battle the church decided to allow the hymn singing to continue until that generation had passed on.  They didn’t have to wait long.  I wrote the following poem in honor of that triumphant day.

We are the church who killed the hymn –hurrah!
Who shook off our fetters, went out on a limb –hurrah!                                                        Who took what was sacred and dear to the heart
Of the elders among us whom we’d like to depart
And take all their creeds and their stained glass art,                                                                Their potlucks and organs and dreary old songs,
And be Gone! Gone! Gone!

We’ve adopted a tune heard in any saloon
And added a beat picked up right from the street.
In the name of progress and the modern age
We’ve looked to the seeker and made them our gauge.                                                           We’ll no longer be bound like a bird in a cage
To traditions or standards or words on a page!
Yes, we are the church who killed the hymn!
Hurrah! And Hurrah! And Hurrah!

To see how one member of our family is working hard to keep hymns alive in his generation click on this link.