Archive for July, 2011

In his book, Embraced by the Spirit, Chuck Swindoll recalls the impact of his father’s “last words.”

“One of my most unforgettable moments happened when I was about ten years old. My father served our country during World War II in a plant in our hometown, building all sorts of interesting equipment for the massive tanks, fighter planes, and bombers that defended us in lands far away. Dad worked too long and too hard. As a result he suffered a physical breakdown. And on its heels came an emotional trauma that puzzled everyone, including the doctors.

“I was convinced in my heart that my dad was going to die. He may have had such thoughts too, because one night he called me
into his room for a somber father-son talk …. I remember leaning hard against his bed, listening carefully to a voice that was hardly more than a whisper. I thought I was hearing him for the last time. He gave me counsel on life—how I should live, how I should conduct myself as his son. The counsel wasn’t long, and then I left and went across the hall to the room that I shared with my older brother. All alone, I lay across my bed and sobbed, convinced that I would never see my dad alive again.

“That scene still haunts me. Even though my dad recovered to live … I still remember the night he talked to me. Something very significant is wrapped up in our final words. Consider the night in Jerusalem when the Lord and his disciples gathered for … what we call ‘The Last Supper.’ Less than twelve hours after [that meal], Jesus was nailed to a cross; a few hours later, he was dead. Jesus understood the significance of those moments and the importance of his last counsel. And so he gave them exactly what they would need to carry them through the rest of their days.”

Whenever we observe this important ordinance, we should consider our Savior’s words that He spoke to His disciples. His death and resurrection would forever secure salvation for them and any disciples to come. Christ conquered sin and death when He rose
from the grave. His victory secured ours as we surrender our full allegiance to Him.

We should offer the Lord’s Supper only to Christ-followers – to those who have surrendered their lives to Christ. This means more than merely believing in Him or accepting His teachings or even accepting the truths about the gospel. To where the name “Christian” truly means that an individual has surrendered his life – literally died to the old life. The apostle Paul said it like this, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, ESV).

I mentioned in my message last Sunday that Travis has several turtles that our whole family enjoy as pets. One of them, a box turtle named Rosie, lives in a large berm filled with azaleas. Rosie thrives on insects, snails, and slugs, along with occasional treats of blackberries or strawberries. I also mentioned that when Gayla has one of those special treats, she can call Rosie and she will respond—albeit ever so slowly!

Domesticated animals and pets recognize the voice of their master and learn to do so quickly. Charlie Frank raised the elephant Neeta from birth and trained her as a circus performer. On retirement he gave her to the San Diego Zoo. After they had not seen each other for fifteen years, a television crew filmed their reunion. Frank called Neeta from about a hundred yards away. She came to him immediately and performed her old routines on command. Her past experience gave her the power to recognize his voice.

Humans don’t always do as well as animals in voice recognition. However, people can learn to recognize God’s voice. How? We can hear God when we get into His Word. The more time we spend listening to God’s voice through the Bible, the more able we will recognize His guidance and direction in our living.

Many people say that they cannot understand the Bible. Others offer that they don’t have time to read the Scriptures or that they don’t know where to begin. Some suggest that they get all they need by listening to sermons or going to Bible studies. Still others say that they get all they need for direction in life through family members, friends, or more spiritual people. If any of these describe you, then let me offer this warning: you greatly diminish your ability to hear and recognize God’s voice when you do not avail yourself personally to His Word.

God’s Word contains everything we need for salvation, knowing God’s will, being conformed into Christ’s image, and trusting in God perfectly. In other words, the Scriptures makes us “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). So, in order to help us all hear from the Lord more readily, allow me to offer the following:

  • Set aside a time each day to read a portion of God’s Word for yourself. Make this a priority.
  • Use a translation of the Bible that you can understand. If you unsure which one, ask me or someone who can advise regarding Bible translations. I enjoy using the English Standard Version, though we have access to several good translations.
  • Use a systematic approach to Bible reading. Use your church’s devotional material. We can also suggest a reading plan for you. Did you know that by reading the Bible systematically you can read the Bible in a year by reading just 15-20 minutes a day?
  • Don’t be afraid to mark in your Bible. Underlining, highlighting, or writing notes in your Bible can help you to remember key truths God has revealed to you.

Why do I believe that reading the Bible will make such a difference in your life? My belief roots in my understanding and conviction about the divine nature of the Scriptures. Though secularists believe that the Bible is one good book among many other religious texts, I hold that the Bible stands alone as the true source of God’s revelation to man. I want to offer several reasons for my convictions about the Bible.

First, God inspired the record we call the Bible. He acted through the Holy Spirit through the biblical writers to pen His Word entirely and exactly as He intended. This means that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. Paul stated this truth in 2 Timothy 3:16. The Scriptures have their origin in God’s revelation. We can trust the Scriptures as trustworthy and inspired for three reasons: (1) the Bible’s own claims for itself, (2) Jesus’ affirmations of the inspiration of the Scriptures, and (3) the change that God has brought in your own life through the Bible. While some may offer challenges to the first two, no one can argue effectively against how God has spoken to you and how He has changed you.

Second, God speaks authoritatively through the Scriptures. And if He does so, then we should obey what He says. When we read a direct command from the Word, we don’t have to pray about obeying it. No, we should obey it immediately. Biblical authority means that we can use the Bible to develop our doctrines, evaluate our ministries, evaluate our personal lives, and teach others God’s truth. Really, apart from the Scriptures, we have no authority by which to preach and teach.

Third, God reveals Himself to us through the Bible. He wants us to know Him, and the more read His Word, the better we will know Him. While might contend that they can know God through creation, that knowledge about God remains limited to general revelation. However, by availing ourselves to God through the Bible, we gain specific or a more explicit revelation of God.

Finally, God’s supplies all we need to understand about salvation, knowing God’s will, being conformed to Christ’s image, and trusting in God perfectly through the Scriptures. In other words, God’s Word can meet our deepest needs.

Finding Life’s Meaning

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

Not that I read this journal, but the Winter 2003 issue of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology included a study of notable quotations from famous people around the world about the meaning of life. The study analyzed the quotes of 195 men and women who lived within the past few hundred years. Allow me to offer a summary of the major themes and some of the people representing each theme:

1. Life is primarily to be enjoyed and experienced. Enjoy the moment and the journey. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Cary Grant, and Janis Joplin (best known for her lyric: “You got to get it while you can”) endorsed this theme.

2. Life is unknowable, a mystery. Bob Dylan and Stephen Hawking endorsed this theme. Hawking wrote, “If we find an answer to that (why we and the universe exist), it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we know the mind of God.”

3. Life has no meaning. Joseph Conrad, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Jean Paul Sartre, and Clarence Darrow found no meaning in life. Darrow compared life to a ship that is “tossed by every wave and by every wind; a ship headed to no port and
no harbor, with no rudder, no compass, no pilot, simply floating for a time, then lost in the waves.”

4. Life is a struggle, endorsed by Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, and Jonathan Swift. Swift wrote that life is a “tragedy wherein we sit as spectators for a while and then act our part in it.”

5. We are to create our own meaning of life. Carl Sagan wrote: “We live is a vast and awesome universe in which, daily, suns are made and worlds destroyed, while humanity clings to an obscure clod of rock. The significance of our lives and our fragile realm derives from our own wisdom and courage. We are custodians of life’s meaning.”

6. Life is a joke. Charlie Chaplin described life as “a tragedy when seen in close-up but a comedy in the long shot.” The rock star Lou Reed said “Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony.”

7. We are to worship God and prepare for the afterlife, a pursuit taken by Desmond Tutu, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa. Desmond Tutu said, “[We should] give God glory by reflecting his beauty and his love. That is why we are here, and that is the purpose of our lives.”

What about you? Do you subscribe to one of these or do you pursue something different?

Let me assure you that finding life’s meaning in any other than a complete surrender to the Jesus Christ really makes no sense. You cannot find life’s meaning by making it happen through pursuing pleasures or by simply hoping you stumble upon it along the way. Neither will you discover life’s purpose by declaring that there’s nothing after our time on earth, so you might as well get all the enjoyment you can now.

Therefore, I urge you to listen to the Spirit of God when He speaks to you. He works to convict you of your sin because you need a Savior. Don’t try to overcome your sin with good works; you don’t stand a chance. Jesus Christ took the penalty for sin and defeated death. Surrender to Him today.

Paul urged his young protegé preacher, Timothy, saying, “Guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20, ESV). He called the Scriptures, the source of true biblical preaching, a deposit that had been entrusted to Timothy. Paul intended Timothy to view the truth of God’s Word something that must be guarded as one would guard or protect money or valuables. As a preacher of God’s Word, I belong of a company of servants (actually, Paul used metaphors like single-minded soldiers, disciplined athletes, and hard-working farmers) who must preserve and pass on God’s truth to the next generation. Paul challenged Timothy, “…what you heard from me in the presence of many witnesses pass on to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV).

Understanding my main responsibility — to preach the biblical message — keeps me faithful. Temptations abound for me to copy the styles of others who draw large audiences with a more entertaining, albeit “watered-down” approach. Knowing that God called me to faithful and not famous keeps me focused on Him, His Word, His calling on my life, and even His mission. Obviously, my personality will come through as I preach; however, the focus of my preaching must always reflect my calling to proclaim God’s message and not to draw attention to me.

God-centered preaching means that the preacher proclaims the biblical message in a responsible, passionate, and authentic declaration of the inspired Word, in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit. That means that biblical preaching, by definition, will declare the counsel of God — not merely the ideas of man. Additionally, that means that biblical preaching will not seek to declare certain subjects as “off-limits” or “no longer fitting for our culture.” The biblical preacher will seek to understand the biblical text and deliver the Word of God to his hearers, leaving the ministry of conviction to the Holy Spirit.