Fifteen Reasons to Pay Attention to God’s Word

The more I read, study, memorize, and meditate on it, the more I realize that God’s Word is what I need. All the time.

It is the power that brought the universe into existence (Genesis 1:3).

It is the seed that brings you to life (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:21).

It is the truth that sanctifies and sets you free you (John 17:17; 8:31-32)

It is the light that guides you (Psalm 119:105).

It is the mirror that shows you who you are (James 1:23).

It is the joy and delight of the heart (Jeremiah 15:16; Psalm 1:2).

It is the river that makes you flourish (Psalm 1:3).

It is the water that washes you (Ephesians 5:26).

It is the course that educates you (Psalm 119:130).

It is the gold that enriches you (Psalm 19:10).

It is the bread that nourishes you (Matthew 4:4; Job 23:12).

It is the courage that emboldens you (Psalm 56:4).

It is the song that you sing (Colossians 3:16).

It is the sword that arms you for battle (Ephesians 6:17).

It is the breath of God (2 Timothy 3:16).

For these and many more reasons, “see that you do not refuse him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25).

A Powerful Productivity Tool at Your Fingertips

If you’re reading this on a smartphone, you have a powerful productivity tool right at your fingertips.

I’ve used it to read mentally demanding books, clear out my e-mail inbox, plan for meetings, and strengthen my prayer life.

No, it’s not an app or any kind of online program. It’s much simpler than that.

It’s the 15-minute timer.

And it’s ridiculously simple. I have an iPhone, so I begin by saying, “Hey, Siri. Set the timer for 15 minutes.” When the countdown begins, I shut out everything else and put all my concentration into that one task.

This works on tasks I love and the ones I loathe. The enjoyable tasks, if left unchecked, could keep me occupied endlessly—to the neglect of other important ones. The fifteen-minute timer keeps me accountable to move on to other tasks I need to do. And those irksome tasks (the ones you get busy just to avoid) can be tamed by the timer, too. I’ve been surprised how much of an unpleasant task I can knock out when the timer is going.

Of course, not every task lasts only fifteen minutes, but tasks that require more time can be divided into smaller units. And the awareness that the clock is ticking helps me push myself, cut out distraction, and ultimately get more done than I thought possible.

You might be surprised how many e-mails you can respond to in fifteen minutes. Or creative ideas you can generate. Or even the quality of heavy reading you can do.

So why not give it a try? All it takes is a little determination—and a timer.

Why We Need a Prophet, Priest, and King

I recently finished preaching a three-part sermon series on Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King. While researching for these sermons, I came across this helpful paragraph in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

He had to be a prophet to know and disclose the truth of God; a priest, to devote himself to God and, in our place, to offer himself up to God; a king, to govern and protect us according to God’s will. To teach, to reconcile, to lead; to instruct, to acquire, and to apply salvation; wisdom, righteousness, and redemption, truth, love, and power—all three are essential to the completeness of our salvation.

Bavinck’s explanation provided the springboard for this three-fold schema I used when preaching:

  • My view of God is distorted, so I need a PROPHET.
  • My relationship with God is disrupted, so I need a PRIEST.
  • Our world is disordered, so we need a KING.

Closer to Bavinck’s wording, here’s another way to think about it:

  • TRUTH. I need someone with truth. As Prophet, Jesus tells me the truth about God, myself, and the way to God.
  • LOVE. I need someone with love. The truth he tells me is that God is holy, and I am sinful. As Priest, Jesus stands in my place before God—taking my punishment, and presenting me as righteous.
  • POWER. I need someone with power. As King, he has the power to make everything as it should be.

In the Old Testament, these roles of prophet, priest, and king were so important that they required the special help of God’s Spirit. Since oil was a symbol of God’s Spirit (1 Samuel 16:13; Luke 4:18), a leader would pour oil over the head of the one who was being commissioned as a prophet, priest or king,  who would then be called an anointed one (see Psalm 105:15; Exodus 30:30; 1 Samuel 16:13; 24:6).

The English words “Messiah” and “Christ” come from the Hebrew and Greek words meaning “anointed one.” So when the writers of the New Testament refer to Jesus as the Christ they are saying that he is the ultimate Spirit-anointed one—the Prophet, Priest, and King, all wrapped up in one divine person (see Acts 10:38; 1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 16:13).

Singing the Seven “I Am” Sayings of Christ

 

Last month, I had the opportunity to preach at a Christian camp. Since the campers’ ages ranged from 7 to 12 years old, I wanted my sermons to be simple, memorable, and foundational. So I chose to preach on the seven “I Am” sayings of Christ in the book of John.

As I prepared my sermons, the truths of these seven sayings began to deeply impact me. I wanted them to stick with the campers long after the week of camp. Then I had a thought: Turning these sayings into a song might help the kids remember these truths. So I went to work, putting these sayings into rhyming verse, and my wife Christa put it to this beautiful tune. As it turned out, this exercise pushed me to understand more clearly what Jesus was saying, and the significance it has for our lives.

The final product was a simple four-verse poem and chorus. I’ve provided the text below, with some comments on its context in the Gospel of John.

1

To hungry souls, Christ is the Bread
Who fills and satisfies.
To darkened hearts, He is the Light
Who opens blinded eyes.

John 6 tells us that Jesus had miraculously fed a monstrous crowd numbering over 5,000 people. When these people with full tummies followed Jesus hoping for more handouts, Jesus told them that their real need wasn’t for physical bread. After all, not even manna—bread that fell from the sky—could keep their ancestors alive. The only thing that would ultimately satisfy them was the Bread that came straight from Heaven—in other words, the Son of God who would die and rise again on their behalf. To “eat” this Bread means to believe in Jesus. Whoever does, Jesus assures us, “will live forever” (John 6:58).

In John 8:12, Jesus proclaims, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The very next chapter dramatizes this claim. Jesus restores vision to a man with congenital blindness. However, this man still needed another kind of sight—faith in Jesus. When he later came to Jesus and believed in him, the formerly blind man could finally “see.” He understood that he was a sinner in need of Jesus. The proud Pharisees, however, ironically remained blind, since they refused to believe. To them, Jesus said, “Your guilt remains” (9:41). When we come to Christ as the light, we simultaneously see our sinfulness and Christ’s perfection. We no longer try to deceive ourselves into thinking that our sin is hidden to God. Instead, we confess our sin, taking refuge in His perfect Son.

2

To wandering sheep, Christ is the Door
Who loves and lets them in.
No better Shepherd can they know
Than He who died for them.

Many people cherish the idea that there many paths to God. Christ’s teaching, however, is quite clear: access to the “fold” is only through Him. But the invitation is free: “I am the door,” Christ proclaims, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

Not only is Jesus the door of the sheepfold, he is the Shepherd of the sheep. In contrast to false shepherds, those self-seeking “hired hands,” Jesus proves his love by his sacrificial death: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (10:11). Let no one think that Christ’s death betrayed his weakness, for “no one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (10:18). Neither should anyone think that his death was permanent, for “I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (10:17). Can we find any better Shepherd than Christ?

3

Like branches, we can bear no fruit
Except through Christ the Vine.
He is the only Way to God,
The Truth, the Life Divine.

The third verse echoes John 15, which teaches that fruitfulness comes only through a relationship with Christ: “I am the vine,” he explains, “you are the branches. whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” The second part of this verse reflects the familiar words of John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

4

Those dead in sin will come alive
At Jesus’ mighty cry.
For all who trust in Christ the Life
Will live and never die.

The phrase “those dead in sin” calls on Ephesians 2:1 to explain our deadness without Christ. I hoped the words “Jesus’ mighty cry” would evoke the scene of our Lord standing at the gaping mouth of the tomb shouting, “Lazarus, come forth,” which is the context in which he tells grieving Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

I saved this saying for the final verse, even though it comes earlier in the book of John. It serves as a fitting climax since the theme of eternal life runs throughout John’s gospel from beginning to end. In 1:4, John tells us that “in him was life.” And near the close of this book, when explaining why he wrote, John says, “These [signs] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).

Chorus

Come to this Feast, behold this Light,
Pass through this open Door.
Be led by Him and loved by Him,
And live forevermore.

With the chorus, the verbal mood changes from declarative to imperative. These sayings of Jesus are not intended as interesting facts to ponder. They present us with a Person to whom we must respond. That is why I wanted the chorus to be an exhortation, a direct call to action, just as the Apostle John intended for the readers of his gospel. I tried to incorporate at least a hint of each of most of the seven sayings. The “Feast” reminds us of Jesus as the Bread. The “Light” and “Door” are stated explicitly, and the words “pass through” reflect Jesus’ being the “Way” to the Father.  The exhortation to “be led by Him” urges the proper response to Christ as the Good Shepherd. Finally, the invitation to “live forevermore” is evocative of Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life.

What I’m Reading: Sweet Reason

Sweet Reason: A Field Guide to Modern Logic

Sweet Reason is not the sort of book that will keep you wide-eyed, turning pages late at night. It’s actually a pretty dense textbook—the kind with charts, gray boxes, exercises, and odd-numbered answers at the back of the book.

So why am I reading this? When working on my Ph.D., I was required to have proficiency in two research languages and was given the option to substitute formal logic for a language. I chose to take logic instead of a second language, and Sweet Reason was the textbook. It turned out to be a game-changer for me. As I researched for and wrote my dissertation, Sweet Reason gave me the skills to more effectively evaluate arguments and compose my own. I determined (nerd that I am) to work through the book a second time.

The brilliant thing about this book is that it assumes virtually no prior knowledge about logic, but then leads you quickly—almost without your realizing it—into some pretty complex stuff. The authors deliver the content in a whimsical but clear writing style, and they weave informal logic throughout the textbook. Despite its daunting subject, Sweet Reason is anything but dry and dusty.

Thinking—good and right thinking—takes hard work. Discovering the truth is no easy task. But those who learn to do it well are less likely to be confused or deceived; they are more equipped to articulate truth to others. As a Christian who serves the God of truth, I believe right thinking is not only personally beneficial but also a way I can worship my God. And Sweet Reason is helping me do just that.

True Love, Genuine Faith

True love springs from genuine faith.

That is, in part, what Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 1:5, when he describes the goal of his gospel proclamation. “The aim of our charge,” he insists, “is love that issues from sincere faith.”

Does that mean that I must have sincere faith in order to truly love someone? Yes, because loving people is really, really hard. It is agonizing to be longsuffering with an irritating or irresponsible person. It is difficult to show kindness to someone who has a critical spirit. It takes enormous self-denial to avoid envying someone who gets what I wanted, or boasting over someone wants what I got. It is always easier to insist on my own way and to be irritable and resentful when I don’t get it. It is always easier to rejoice when people do wrong than when they do right. It is hard to bear all things, to believe all things, to hope all things, to endure all things.

Love is hard. It is, in fact, the toughest thing a person must do because it requires self-denial. So, who can truly love? Only those with genuine faith. Why? Because only an unshakable confidence in God who loves me unconditionally can sustain my love for others. Love for others can thrive only in a heart overwhelmed by God’s grace, assured of God’s justice, and resting in God’s purposes.

Yes, true love must spring from faith that is sincere.

That word translated sincere means unfeigned, unhypocritical. Sure, someone can fake his faith for a while. He can go along with the Christian crowd and learn to say the right things and act a certain way. But not when he is called on to love—truly love. Tough, gritty, never-quitting love cannot come from a person who wears a flimsy faith-mask. Sooner or later the faker will give up trying to love God and others because he does not believe it is worth it. His faith is not genuine.

No wonder so many people openly claim to love God—and sincerely think they do—but show utter contempt for others. It is a common self-deception that our sentimental thoughts about God prove that we have love for God. In fact, however, the acid test of our love for God is whether we love others. John put it this way: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

You cannot love unless you have sincere faith. True love must spring from faith that is genuine.

What I’m Reading: Evangelism in a Skeptical World by Sam Chan

I recently finished reading Sam Chan’s Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News About Jesus More Believable. If you’ve read Tim Keller’s Center Church or Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s Every Day Theology you’ll be familiar with Chan’s concepts and efforts to make the gospel intelligible to unbelievers. Chan calls out the unfortunate tendency of Christians to evangelize the way they were evangelized. Instead, Chan insists, we must be eager and equipped to craft our gospel presentations to most effectively connect with our hearers. His book aims to give a theological justification and practical help for doing just that.

For me, the practical parts were most helpful. Chan walks his readers through a method for “storytelling the gospel,” giving a “topical evangelistic talk,” or an “expository evangelistic talk.” (The day after I read it, I used his method of storytelling when I taught a group of teens.) These chapters alone are worth the price of the book. On the other hand, I found myself cringing at some other parts. Attempts to contextualize the gospel (which we all must do when witnessing) always run the risk of melting the jagged edges of Christianity into smooth metaphors. On the road of evangelism, firm guardrails must be on two sides: one keeps the evangelist from speaking the gospel in a way that is foreign to his audience, and the other keeps the evangelist from speaking to his audience in a way that is foreign to the gospel. Some repair of the latter guardrail, I think, would make this good book even better.