We don’t do it like they did…

One of the most-frequently recommended practices of modern Christianity was virtually impossible until 500 years ago. Do you know what I’m talking about? The private reading of scripture. No doubt, for the entire history of Christianity, we have encouraged the public reading of scripture, but the average Christian had neither the education nor the means to afford his own Bible.

Even when Gutenberg introduced his revolutionary movable-type printing press that drove the cost of printing down, his Bible cost the equivalent of three year’s wages for an educated man. Did you know that only one of his Bibles was sold to an individual rather than a school, church, or organization?

I can’t prove these numbers, but I suspect that that less than 1% of Bible reading in the first 15 centuries of Christian history happened alone or in private. In contrast, I suspect that 95% or more of Bible reading in our century is done privately and individually.

It isn’t my goal to discourage you from reading scripture alone. Not at all! What a blessing we have in our access to the Word. Here’s my challenge for you: read like the early Christians did! Don’t only read alone. Read to someone. Read with someone. Be read to by someone.

Did you know scripture even commands this?

  • Joshua 1:8 “This Book of Law shall not depart from your mouth…
  • 1 Timothy 4:13 “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
  • Revelation 1:3 “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it…”
  • Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

By all means, keep reading your Bible alone, but let’s try doing what our brothers and sisters have done, and read the Bible with a friend. It might just change the world!

Money from a Nigerian Prince

Have you ever gotten an email from a Nigerian prince who needs help getting his money to an account in the United States? If you’ll supply him with your bank account information, he’ll transfer you millions, and you can keep a cut for helping him out?

If you haven’t gotten that email, have you ever gotten a phone call from Microsoft explaining that your computer is filled with viruses and that, for a low fee, they can clean it for you right then and there on the phone? But if you wait, the price will go up!

Has the IRS ever called to let you know that you owe them back taxes and penalties, and if you don’t pay up immediately, the police are already on their way to your door?

If you’ve gotten these messages, I hope you know to hang up the phone as fast as possible. They’re all common scams designed to fleece you out of your money and even your identity. There are so many fraudsters out there, it’s hard to trust anyone.

Unfortunately, the devil is a scammer who works in the spiritual realm, too. He is the father of lies (John 8:44). John warned Christians, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but teste the spirits to see whether they are from god, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Paul told the Thessalonians, “test everything; hold fast what is good.” The Corinthians were told to “weigh what is said” when prophets spoke (1 Corinthians 14:29).

Not every phone call or email off your get is legitimate; so it is with the spiritual. Not every sermon is true. Not every preacher is genuine. Not every church is healthy. Not every hunch is divine guidance. We need to be people “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

If God Isn’t Forgetful…

God is Spirit. He isn’t limited by space and time and the rules of the physical universe like we are, so for our finite minds to comprehend his infinite nature, God uses metaphors and pictures to help explain himself.

For example, God is not a biological male, yet he refers to himself exclusively with masculine words and ideas like “Father.” He doesn’t use that language to tell us that he has XY-chromosomes or particular anatomy, but to reveal something about his nature and action. Sometimes when we read scripture we forget that God is not just like us.

Many times the Bible says that God remembered something. God remembered Noah in the ark (Genesis 8:1), barren Rachel in her distress (Genesis 30:22), and the groaning of enslaved Israel (Exodus 2:24), among others.

An all-perfect, all-powerful, and all-knowing God clearly doesn’t have a memory problem. He isn’t forgetful. So when God says, “I remembered my servant” it does not mean, “I nearly forgot him, but fortunately, I had a post-it note handy.” So what does it mean?

Remembering for God is not the opposite of forgetting. Research the times when God remembers and you’ll see a trend emerge. When God remembers someone, he is thinking of them in a special way. They may feel like they have been forgotten, but God is about to demonstrate his love for them in his acts of deliverance for them. When God remembers a person, he favors a person.

As we reflect and remember this Memorial Day weekend, let’s remember how God remembers us. Perhaps we can begin to remember him—and others—in a similar way.

Spiritual Spring Cleaning

Spring has sprung! It’s time to clean out the closets and get rid of that stuff you haven’t used in years. You keep holding on to because you think this year is going to be different…but it’s time to take it to the Help Center! There’s something therapeutic about getting rid of the accumulated junk that piles up.

While you’re cleaning out the garage or the closet, think about some of the “junk” that needs cleaning out of our hearts. The Bible warns us about these things that can slowly accumulate. Take a spiritual inventory and resolve to get rid of…

Crooked and devious speech. (Proverbs 4:24) Replace these with words that build up! (Colossians 4:6)

Violence and oppression. The prophet Ezekiel said to replace them with justice and righteousness (Ezekiel 45:9).

Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander need to go, according to Ephesians 4:31. Our hearts are much healthier when filled with grace, mercy, and love.

Let go of fear. God didn’t give us that spirit, but a spirit of love, power, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).

Sweep away “filthiness” and fill our hearts with the power of scripture (James 1:21).

Clean out the things that are enslaving you and slowing you down. Hebrews says that without this stuff, we can run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Paul told the Ephesians to put off the old self and all the stuff that used to define us, and live fully empowered in the new life of Jesus (Ephesians 4:17-24).

Spiritual Growth for Busy People

Hand writing So Many Things in To Do List with red marker isolated on white.

We live in busy times. The average American works 47 hours per week, driving 26 minutes each direction to and from work. School and sports are sponges that absorb every free second in our children’s lives. When we play, we play hard and constantly find ourselves running short on time. Since time is a finite resource, we never will be able to do everything we want to do. Retired people tell me all the time that they’re busier than they ever were before.

Here are a few ideas for spiritual development for busy people. I’d love to hear what you’ve added:

  1. Use lunch for the kingdom. When you take your lunch break, be intentional about using that time to serve God. If you usually eat by yourself, choose a day to eat with non-believers. If it’s medically feasible, give up a lunch break for fasting and prayer.
  2. Redeem your commute. Download a free audio Bible app and dedicate a portion of your commuting time to hearing the words of scripture. Does hearing the news really bring you closer to God? Doubtful. You won’t even miss it! Find a Christian podcast, audiobook, or sermon series that will teach you while you drive.
  3. Think about one of your chores at home or work that is mindless. Make that time a special time in prayer for something specific.
  4. Gospel interruptions. We are slaves of the urgent. The phone ringing interrupts our thinking—even when it’s a telemarketer. Why not plan a gospel interruption? When you plan your calendar on paper or electronically, set reminders that will pop up memory verses or a principle you’ve been praying on.
  5. Signs, signs, everywhere. Place visible reminder signs in front of you in strategic places that you’ll see throughout the day. Swap them occasionally when you begin to ignore them. A Bible verse on your rearview mirror might calm your commute. Using a Bible verse for a computer password might help you think before you send that email.
  6. Make Bible study easy. When clothes are piled on the elliptical, there’s no chance you’ll use it. Make sure that your “spiritual tools” are easy to access and visible. Give them a special home other than the floorboard of your car. Plan to succeed.
  7. Learn to say “no.” I’m almost certainly a hypocrite for writing these words, but that doesn’t make them any less true. Every time I say “yes” to something, I am saying “no” to something else. Be willing to say “no” to some good things so that you’ll make time for the best things.

What would you add to this list?

The World’s Worst Bank Robbers

Have you seen the Geico commercial about lousy bank robbers? The robbers bolt out and run to the side of the road where you would expect to find the getaway car running, but there’s no car! Once they get outside, one of the robbers pulls out his phone and uses Uber to summon a car. As the bank’s alarm is sounding and police sirens get louder, the robbers just stand there counting down the minutes until their car arrives. I hate to spoil the ending for you, but as the commercial ends, the police arrive and the bank robbers are certain to get arrested.

The commercial is funny because the robbers are so bad at their job. They evidently failed to plan for the last and most significant part of the robbery: the getaway!

Their story is a lot like a story Jesus told in Luke 12:13-21. Instead of a bank robber, it focused on a farmer who had made a lot of money. He did a lot of things right. He was successful in planning for the near term and had a great return on his investment. He was so focused on the next stage of his investment that he ignored the final and most important stage. Jesus ended that story by saying, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.” When we forget the eternal, we are the foolish bank robbers made over.

James used the same image in James 4:13-17. He warns us not to forget that life is just a vapor that appears for a while and disappears. We must not forget to plan for God’s will—not just ours.

If you want to avoid being the world’s worst bank robber, you need to think about what happens at the end. Don’t forget to plan for the most important part of life.

How do you define greatness?

Some people think that becoming filthy rich makes us great. But Jesus said, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

Other people feel greatness belongs to the mature, the educated, and the brilliant. But Jesus said that “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 28:3)

Maybe you think attaining a position of significance by climbing the career ladder will make you great. But Jesus said, “those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

A lot of men think that strength gives greatness. But the Bible says, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)

The philosophers would have said that wisdom makes a person great. But the Bible says, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Corinthians 3:19)

Having a long resume with a list of great accomplishments and great abilities makes a lot of people feel great. But Jesus said that the widow who only had a penny to give was the greater giver. (Luke 21:1-4)

Perhaps ambition will get us where we want to go. If we fight hard, work hard, and study hard, maybe we can reach the top. But Jesus said that “the last will be first.” (Matthew 20:16)

How do you define greatness? No one has ever lived a greater life than Jesus of Nazareth, and his definition of greatness is unlike the one we hear every day. He said that greatness came through humble service, faithful obedience, childlike trust, sacrificial generosity, and simple faith. May we aspire to his definition of greatness!

Just the Facts

In 1997, 14-year-old Nathan Zohner polled his classmates to see if they would support a ban on dihydrogen monoxide. Before they answered, he warned them of the dangers of DHMO.

Here are the facts: the chemical can be incredibly dangerous. Accidental inhalation, even in small quantities can be fatal. Prolonged exposure to solid DHMO can result in amputation. It is found in tumors, pesticides, and the cooling systems of nuclear power plants. It has been used by governments to torture suspects and disperse rioters. Many cults even have rituals that require this substance.

Despite these risks, DHMO is common even in food that has been labeled “organic,” household cleaners, and even swimming pools. After presenting his classmates with these facts, 43 of his 50 9th-grade peers voted to ban DHMO. How would you have voted?

If you voted to ban it, congratulations!

You voted to ban water.

Yes, dihydrogen monoxide is just plain ol’ high quality H2O.

Everything Zohner said was true, but misleading. Inhaling water is called drowning. Ice does cause frostbite. Water is in all of our food and most of our industrial systems, but you and I know that doesn’t mean it is terrifying.

Zohner’s little experiment has plenty of applications. We can be misled with true statements. Did you know that the devil quoted scripture to Jesus in Matthew 4? He used truth to lie. Peter warned that some people would do the same thing to scripture—twisting for destruction (2 Peter 3:14-18). Perhaps that’s why Paul told Timothy to “rightly handle” the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

So remember – when someone gives you “just the facts” (or the scriptures!), don’t forget to make sure those facts are telling the truth.

What’s better?

Many of the routine decisions we make every day aren’t choices between evil and good. Sometimes we just must decide which path is better. Several times in Proverbs, God describes a “better” way. Take a look:

“Better to be lowly and have a servant than to play the great man and lack bread.” (Proverbs 12:9)

“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.” (Proverbs 15:16)

“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” (Proverbs 15:17)

“Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” (Proverbs 16:8)

“How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.” (Proverbs 16:16)

“Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1)

“Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.” (Proverbs 19:1)

“It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” (Proverbs 21:9)

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” (Proverbs 27:5)

Are you choosing what’s better?

God Doesn’t Hate You

File this under “theology that should be obvious, but isn’t.” God does not hate you.

Some people are convinced that God is in heaven, looking down with a magnifying glass, searching our lives for every failure, no matter how miniscule or well-intended, to find a reason to damn our souls. Too many people live in fear because they never feel good enough or righteous enough. They fear some unknown technicality—an uncrossed “t” or undotted “i” that stands between them and life.

This view of God is heresy. It is false doctrine. It is unholy. It is bad.

If God was looking forward to your destruction, why would he send his son to suffer and die?

If God wanted you to fail, why would he give a book that points the way to life?

If God didn’t want you to endure to the end, why would he assemble a family to help you keep going when the going gets tough?

God really, really, really wants every person to be saved. Don’t believe me? Read 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:23, and Matthew 23:37. Remember that he didn’t come for the righteous, but sinners (Luke 5:32), and that he and the angels rejoice when one repents (Luke 15:10).

You can have confidence before God. Jesus makes that possible. Read 1 John 3:21-24 and Hebrews 4:14-5:3. Read Romans – the whole book. And then read it again!

When we are born again into the family of God, we are not orphans. We are adopted into God’s family, where God and his people nurture us and give us what we need to finish the race. Read Philippians 1:6, 2:12-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, Hebrews 13:20-21, and 1 Corinthians 1:8.

God’s grace is marvelous and deep and life-transforming. Your salvation does not depend on your perfection, but Christ’s. If you are in Christ, enjoy the confidence of your standing. Refuse to live in fear anymore!