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Life

Listening Is the First Thing

Here is an encouragement to all who make it their regular rhythm to read and listen to the Scriptures. Not to mine it for religious information or obscure facts or historic controversies or proverbial nails in your friend’s doctrinal coffin. But for shaping. For transformationFor God.

This comes from Eugene Peterson’s introduction to The Message.

“Revelation” means that we are reading something we couldn’t have guessed or figured out on our own. Revelation is what makes the Bible unique.

And so just reading [the Bible] and listening to what we read, is the first thing. There will be time enough for study later on. But first, it is important simply to read, leisurely and thoughtfully. We need to get a feel for the way these stories and songs, these prayers and conversations, these sermons and visions, invite us into this large, large world in which the invisible God is behind and involved in everything visible and illuminates what it means to live here—really live, not just get across the street. As we read, and the longer we read, we being to “get it”—we are in conversation with God. We find ourselves listening and answering in matters that most concern us: who we are, where we came from, where we are going, what makes us tick, the texture of this world and the communities we live in, and—most of all—the incredible love of God among us, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

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Theology

Hear the Music, Don’t Learn the Steps

Part 5 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.

If you are anything like me (let’s hope not), your bent is to read the Bible to get information. You want to mine the peaks and valleys of Scripture for intellectual ascent, to out-wit, out-smart, or out-argue someone else in a theological debate. You want information because filling your brain makes you feel enlightened, special, smart, or just plain better than others.

If you aren’t like me, I’m willing to be you are still a bit like me (too bad) in that you read the Bible for information, yet in a different way–it just might not be for theological prowess. Instead, you might have been raised on the American proverb, “Knowledge is power,” and “power” for you is that little nudge to initiate your self-help gears.  You bring that perspective to your devotional times, and as long as you find that little piece of history to remember or a short verse to memorize, your conscience will be appeased, at least until tomorrow morning.

If you read the Bible simply for information, you will learn the dance steps of Christianity. Anyone can learn dance steps. Even uncoordinated white men can learn the Macarena or the Electric Slide if a pretty girl invites them to the dance floor. It is much harder (impossible?) to hear the music as the writer and composer would without a complete internal transformation.

Isn’t that what we do when it comes to devotions? We look for dance steps. We simply want to know where our feet go. We search for a rule to follow or a sin to avoid. We want to know when to raise our hands in church, when to say “Amen,” and how to talk like church-folk. Sadly, this doesn’t only happen during devotions. At Sunday services, small groups, or Friday night hang-outs, people in the church are just looking for dance steps. Many Christians (and those who think they are) just want to know where their foot goes next.

Dance steps will get you by for a song or two. If you know the steps, you might even be able to fool your dance partner that you know what you are doing. But sooner or later a song will play that doesn’t have programmed moves. You will need to hear the music to show that you know what you are doing. Unfortunately, there are millions of people in America who can do the dance of Christianity, and reading the Bible for information–which is what you probably learned to do growing up–will only teach you steps. You must hear the music.

The Bible teaches this, just not in the same vocabulary.  The author of Hebrews writes, “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” (4:12-13).

That goes way deeper than simple dance steps.

Dance steps are akin to phony, external religion, but God wants us to hear the music. Dance steps make Christianity about me. Hearing the music makes it about God. Dance steps are a short cut that yield no eternal reward. Hearing the music means we enter into the story of God’s redemptive work and relish the fact that he has graciously broken into our lives to save us from the sin and brokenness we would not otherwise be able to overcome.

This is were true joy lies. Thus the Bible is meant for your spiritual transformation, not mere transfer of information.

Obviously no one can “hear the music of the gospel” unless the Spirit causes them to be born again (John 3:1-8). With that said, we still have responsibility for our spiritual lives. As I wrote last time, whether Christian or not, our greatest need is the gospel. Scriptures main point is to be “a speaker amplifying the music of the gospel.”[1] Here are some questions to help us hear the music when reading Scripture.

  • What is the big idea of this passage?
  • How does this passage fit into the big story of God’s redemptive work throughout the Bible?
  • How does this passage point to Christ (either implicitly or explicitly)?
  • What idols and counterfeit gods does this passage expose?
  • In what ways does this passage expose my unbelief in the gospel?
Answering these questions will not always be easy, but the process will always be worth it. In the end, only by God’s grace, you will be more gospel-sensitive, and less externally religious.

[1] I am indebted to Dr. Keith Johnson for the analogy of “hearing the music of the gospel.” Read his article for a much fuller and more helpful version of what I have written.

Categories
Life

Without Change, We Won’t Last

I was listening to “Mona Lisa (When the World Comes Down)” by The All-American Rejects earlier tonight.  There’s a line that caught my attention in the first verse.  Tyson Ritter, the band’s frontman, sings:

Without a change
Our lives will never last
‘Cause we’re going fast

This is such a small line in the context of the song, but it shows the world’s desire for change.  You can see it all over the media.  From diets to cars to fashion to philosophy to education to political candidates.  Everything is always “new” and offers some kind of “transformation.”

What the world needs is the change that Christ offers.  He can provide it because in him we find the changeless One.  “[The earth and heavens] will perish, but you remain…like a garment they will be changed.  But you are the same, and your years will have no end” (Heb. 1:11).

This changeless One, doesn’t leave us changeless though.  We need it, or we are doomed.  He gives the greatest change we could ever have.  “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image [that is, the image of God that sin has ruined] from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Without change, we definitely won’t last.  But every change that doesn’t come from the Lord will give way to the next best thing.  In Christ we find the greatest thing this universe has to offer.  The searching stops with him.

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Theology

Jesus, not Santa, is Watching You

Has the thought sufficiently gripped my mind and begun to dominate my every action, producing the quality of transparency in my life?
– Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone

During this Christmas season, we sing about Santa watching us to find out whether we are naughty or nice.  Let us remember that Jesus is always watching us.  That’s not a cause to be afraid.  It should cause us to humbly bow before him, his omniscience, and marvel at his word, which judges and discerns the intentions of our hearts (Heb. 4:15-16).

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Life

Live the Real Gospel

Tim Lane and Paul Tripp have written a book called How People Change that I’ll need to read soon.  In the meantime, here are seven counterfeit gospels that Lane and Tripp outline in the book.  Let us pray we pursue the true gospel of Jesus so we may have a transformed life.

  • Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment as I do.”
  • Legalism. “I live by the rules-rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.”
  • Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”
  • Activism. “I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ.”
  • Biblicism. “I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”
  • Therapism. “I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin-and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs.”
  • “Social-ism.” “The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”