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Entries in God's Word (8)


Lessons from missed opportunities

Recently, my husband told me about a photo op he thought I'd like. There is a cherry orchard not far from here where sheep are grazing. Instead of taking a mower out in between the trees, sheep are acting as organic lawn mowers. I drove past there to check it out, and yes, it's something I thought looked picture-worthy. The branches of the trees aren't that far from the ground, so the sheep have a nice canopy. The whitness of the sheep contrasts with the green grass, and the leaves on the trees.

I had to drive past there on Monday evening. I had my camera with me and as I drove, the most gorgeous twilight sun was spilling across the road, lighting up the sheep, who were minding their own business, grazing fairly close to the fence that's been erected around the orchard.

I pulled my car over and got my camera out. Not wanting to scare the sheep, I decided to open the window and zoom in. As soon as I got my camera in focus, two very large, very alarmed Great Pyrenees came barreling toward the fence at top speed, barking angrily. Their message to me was clear:

Get away from these sheep!

Yes, I was obviously an interloper. I know Great Pyrenees well. My aunt and uncle have them at their farm to keep coyotes away from the cattle. They are wonderful dogs.

I obeyed their obvious command to buzz off. As I drove away, I noticed that one of them chased after me, likely to say, "good riddance." I didn't get my picture. The dogs were doing their job, protecting the sheep.

As I drove, I thought about sheep and shepherds and my mind was drawn to John 10:11: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."

Those dogs are not really shepherds, but they do the work of a shepherd. As soon as those dogs charged toward me, the sheep ran in the other direction. They knew from the dogs' barking and running that they needed to scatter away from my car. These dogs are very protective. Last summer, when I was at my uncle's farm, I wanted to wander in the early morning light to take pictures, and their Great Pyrenees, Mike, walked about three feet behind me wherever I went. He was making sure I was protected. It's his job.

As Christians, we have a good shepherd. Jesus is our shepherd, and he has laid his life down for us. Just like those sheep knew to follow those dogs, we know to follow Christ. We recognize the voice of Christ. When threats from outside us, false teaching and temptation to sin, come along, the presence of the Holy Spirit sends out the warning sounds toward us: run away!

Through the word of God, our shepherd speaks to us. The warnings are there to protect our hearts and minds. They fill our hearts and minds with truth. Those dogs were protecting the physical lives of those sheep. God's word protects us.

Lately, I have had occasion to converse with Christians who seldom read the bible. They say they are Christians, but they fill their minds with anything but God's word. They don't "have time" for the bible. I cannot understand it. There is very little biblical reflection in their conversation. What is God's word to them when there is politics, news, their careers, or entertainment? It makes me sad.

How can I know when to take flight from a threat unless I know the words of my shepherd? The Holy Spirit does speak to my conscience, but it always speaks loud and clear in the word of God. Left to my own devices, I don't always recognize a threat to my mind and heart. I need God's sure word to teach me when it's time to take flight and run. Like those dogs charging toward me, I need God's word to see the threat and speak, "be gone!"

Until the day Jesus comes to take us home with him, we need this word so much.


Inwardly digest

From The Collects of Thomas Cranmer:

Blessed Lord, which hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant us that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that by patience and comfort of thy holy word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope thou has given us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Fire, poison, and beasts

This past week, I have been studying James chapter 3 in preparation for Sunday's lesson. Ah yes, James chapter 3, that chapter people often cringe at because of what it says about our speech.

Words like fire, blaze, unrighteousness, and phrases like set on fire by hell. Comparisons to unruly beasts, and being relegated to a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

God created with word. God left his revelation in word. Christ is the final word. As creations of God, we have this power of speech, this power that has both life and death in it (Prov. 18:21).

In the past few days, I have seen this reality online. This post does not intend to summarize the gory details. Feel free to partake of the drama elsewhere if you dare. This past week, I saw someone on Twitter be demeaning and belittling towards another's simple question. I left that exchange convinced that I'll never follow, interact, or pay much heed to that guy.

Who would dare say God's word is not relevant? Or outdated? Really? Poison is a good way to describe some of the words I have seen the past few days. This week, James's words repeat in my head:

My brothers, these things ought not to be.

Yes, dialogue is necessary, but reducing our discussion to playground tactics is not fitting for adults. How many people who behave this way online go home and reprimand their children for doing the same thing? And if we lack a good vocabulary, bookstores still sell dictionaries, and surely there must be an app for that.

In preparation for Sunday, I am compiling a list of negative ways of using speech as compared to positive ways. My list of negatives so far: 

Groundless accusation
Cruel sarcasm
Bitter words
Angry words

And each one of these can be preserved forever when we put them online.

Sometimes, what's funny in person isn't funny online, and while we can't tip toe around everyone all the time, we should remember that a comment that sounds like a great one-liner face to face can come across as curt online. We don't know what the person on the receiving end is going through. Years ago, someone made a very innocent comment to me in a comment thread, but it happened at a time when I was going through some really difficult times. It left me in tears. Yes, I guess I shouldn't be such a baby, but it was a good lesson for me to strive to think about the humanity of the other side of the screen.

I have been guilty of every one of those abuses of the tongue, and then some. It is my greatest downfall. The combination of having emotions too close to the surface and a quick reaction time is often disastrous. But I want to be better, and I suspect (I would hope, anyway) others would be on board with this. How can we on one hand use our words to show praise and thanksgiving to God, and then turn around and use them to tear an individual down? 

God's word diagnoses the human heart most succinctly. It may be uncomfortable to honestly evaluate whether or not we are guilty of these things. But it is necessary. I have been on the receiving end of cruel, careless remarks, and I've given them to others. No, these things ought not to be.


Remember rather than blame

It's not uncommon for those who grew up in the church, and who have become disenchanted with it, to blame the church they grew up in. I've seen it and I've heard it from young people around me. 

They were hypocrites.

They were legalistic.

They weren't relevant.

They only wanted to control me.

They were anti-intellectual.

Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.

It's almost as if having a loving church home, loving parents, and people who encouraged them in the things of God is a mark against them. Far better to be unruly and angst-ridden and then have a dramatic turn around. That is the stuff of gripping testimonies and viral blog posts.

Kevin DeYoung, in Taking God at His Word, spends the last chapter in exhortation. Beginning with II Timothy 3:16-17, he encourages the reader to do what Paul commands in that passage: continue.  He says that whether we falter and feel confused, we ought to continue in what we have been taught, and to keep steady on. I think that's brilliant advice.

Furthermore, he exhorts people to remember those who have taught them the word and who have lived godly lives before them:

Obviously, not everyone is blessed to grow up with good parents and good churches. But this doesn't make Paul's command to Timothy any less appropriate for those of us who did. Think of your Sunday school teachers. Think of your youth group leaders. Think of your pastors. Think of your dad. Think of your grandparents. Thing of your mom. Did they not have your best interests at heart? Did they not love you? Were they imposters Were they wrong in everything they stood for? Is it reasonable for you to conclude that those who came before you, those who taught you to trust the Bible, those who have more experience and probably more wisdom than you -- that suddenly they are benighted morons? Are they deserving of your cynicism, rejection, or scorn?

I realize that the Christian blog world is inundated with stories of leaders who failed, who abused, who sinned grievously. But, believe it or not, there are still good people who believe God's Word and live by it. I often find that it is the people who grew up without that familial and church suppport who hold on most fiercely. I did not grow up with such a heritage. When I was looking for truth, I seemed to be on a fruitless search. I wanted someone to guide me. When I worked in youth ministry, I had a hard time relating to the kids who had been in church since infancy, and looked at what we had to offer them in the way of Scriptural teaching, and turn up their noses and say, "Um, no, but thanks, anyway." Why did they not want truth?

There are still people who love the Word of God and cling tenaciously to it. Continuing on does not bring a lot of fame, and the naysayers seem to command a bigger audience wherever they go, but we must continue. 


Quoting Packer

In his book Taking God at His Word, in Chapter 5, "God's Word is Final," Kevin DeYoung quotes J.I. Packer

Our own intellectual competence is not the test and measure of divine truth. It is not for us to stop believing because we lack understanding, but to believe in order to understand.

This aspect of God's authority, of course, sits alongside the attribute of Scripture's clarity. God has given us a word which He wants us to understand. It is not humility to doubt God's word when we can't understand it. While we should doubt our own hearts, we don't doubt God because something is difficult to understand. And of course, these principles can't even begin without a pre-supposition that God is God and that He has spoken.