Let Us Value God’s Word!

holding bible

I received a Voice of the Martyrs magazine the other day that focused on smuggling Bibles into various countries.  There were several articles throughout describing some of the hardships and lengths people have to go to just to get a copy of the Bible into people’s hands (and hearts).

I couldn’t help but think, as I was reading the article, about how blessed many of us are when it comes to access to the Bible.  Right now, I can think of at least seven different English translations of the Bible sitting on my shelves (not including two updates of two of them that are slightly different).  I have some of those translations in different editions of study Bibles, increasing the number of Bibles I have access to.  In addition, I have two different audio Bibles in my room (plus two in the car).  If I need more insight, I can pull out my laptop, iPad, or phone and immediately access probably another 20 or so English translations there.  Again, let me say, most of us are blessed beyond measure!  Some may call it an embarrassment of riches.

Yet, at the same time, it seems that this blessing has also led us to be somewhat . . . well . . . spoiled, ungrateful, and somewhat desensitized to just what a treasure we have.  I don’t mean for that to sound harsh, but it struck me hard today.  The magazine articles, coupled with a video I have seen a few times now of people literally weeping, hugging, and kissing their Bibles when they finally received copies in their own language, really hit me and made me think about their perspective on having Scripture they can read versus ours.

Let me speak for myself.  I truly don’t feel I memorize, read, and pray over the word like I should.  There is no sense of urgency, I suppose, because I know that it is always there.  I can pick it up and read it any time, so there’s no pressure to read it right now.  Especially after a hard day’s work, I just want to relax and watch TV, mindlessly scroll down the unending social feed that is Facebook, or play a game.  When I do feel like reading, for some odd reason, I will reach for other Christian books about the Bible, but not necessarily reach for the Bible itself.  (That, too, is another blessing we take for granted, but I will focus on just the word itself in this blog post.)

Maybe if we lost access to the Bible we would actually respect it and value it more.  Maybe that is what it will take to cause us to yearn for the word of God more than anything else.  Maybe if access to the Bible is restricted, our hearts and spirits will finally be stirred to realize how much we need it.  Maybe then we would hug our Bibles, read them until they fall apart, and memorize and recite Scripture more than our favorite songs (even Christian ones).

Or maybe, just maybe, we can learn from seeing how other Christians who are not as fortunate (part of me wants to put quotes around that word) as we are treat their Bibles and access to the living and powerful word of God.  Maybe we can realize the blessing we have been given without having it taken away, and we can begin to treat our Bibles as the gifts they truly are.  Maybe we can pray for ourselves and encourage one another to hunger and thirst for God’s voice in His written word as much as we hunger for food and thirst for water.  Maybe we can really believe that we do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4).  Maybe we can let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians).  (Reread that last sentence a few times, focusing on the words “dwell” and “richly.”) Maybe we will hit a point where we carry our Bibles as lovingly as if we were carrying the most expensive treasure on Earth.  Maybe we will learn to hug our Bibles as we pray; to shed tears over them every time we open the pages and realize the lengths that people have gone to so that we can have access to the word of God.  Maybe we will learn to reach for our Bibles (in whatever format) in our spare moments rather than for games and social media, meeting with God as often as possible and learning from Him.  Maybe we will start hiding God’s word in our heart more, memorizing as if our lives depend on it because maybe, in a way, they do.

Maybe, just maybe.

“God, forgive us for taking your word for granted.  Forgive us for failing to see the treasure we have in front of us.  Forgive us for treating your word as an accessory to be used at suitable times rather than as your very words to us that we need to live.  Please help us to love your word more.  Help us to hunger and thirst for it.  Let us reach a point where nothing else can satisfy us.  Thank you, Lord, for giving us this blessing.  Let us treasure it for the riches contained in it.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Book Review – “The Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith

beautiful-life

I am always looking for fresh ways to explore who God is and how to live the Christian life.  When I originally read The Good and Beautiful God, I found some fresh ways of understanding who God is.  That book is the first in a three-book set by James Bryan Smith.  After finishing the first book, I wanted to continue to expand my views by reading the next book in the series, and InterVarsity Press graciously agreed to send me a copy of The Good and Beautiful Life.

Where the first book attempted to help us reexamine our views of who God is, The Good and Beautiful Life sets out to help us get a better sense of how to put on the character of Christ, to borrow from the subtitle.

Smith draws a lot of his inspiration from Dallas Willard, and, as I understand it, Smith’s three books are a sort of “curriculum of Christlikeness” that Willard encouraged him to write.  If you are familiar with Willard, you will certainly sense a lot of the same ideas coming through Smith’s writing.

The book takes the Sermon on the Mount and breaks it down by representing it as Christ’s blueprint for what a disciple’s (or to borrow Smith’s term, “apprentice’s”) life should look like as he or she increasingly follows Jesus.

The chapters follow the Sermon on the Mount in order, tackling ideas such as learning how to live without anger, without lust, and without vainglory, as well as learning how to bless those who curse you and living in the kingdom day by day.

After each chapter is a brief “Soul Training” exercise to try to apply the material to one’s life and help the process of inner transformation.

At the end of the book is a 32-page appendix that is a small group discussion guide to help walk small groups through that material as a way of supporting and encouraging one another to grow.

Smith points out throughout the book that the idea is not one of changing one’s outward life only (or even primarily).  The real focus is on allowing Christ to change one’s inner self so that the outward actions follow as a natural result.  It brings back the idea of Christ’s talking to the Pharisees and explaining that rather than cleaning the outside of the cup and dish while leaving the inside dirty, they should have cleaned the inside first, and the outside would have been clean also.

There are a few areas where I am not sure I agree with Smith, but I am still considering what he has to say.  For example, he tackles the idea of casting one’s pearls before pigs and argues that Jesus is not saying to withhold something precious from those who don’t deserve it (pages 192-195).  Rather, he interprets it as saying that pigs cannot digest pearls, so they will get hungry and turn on the owner, whom they can digest.  The idea being that the pearls represent condemnation and judging and that people cannot “digest” that, or handle it, so it won’t help them but will leave them starving for help.  Based on most interpretations I have read, Smith is definitely in a minority view here, and he acknowledges as much in the book.  I have to say that I am not totally convinced by his view yet, although it would make the passage flow better.  But to me, pearls always represent something expensive and precious (pearl of great price, the gates of pearl in Revelation, etc.); this would be one of the only places, if not the only, where that would not apply, especially if Smith’s view is correct, as judging and condemnation could not be interpreted as precious.

Overall, however, I found this book very refreshing, and there are many great ideas to take away from it.  Where Willard provides a lot of the theoretical side of kingdom living, Smith works more on the practical side, so combining Smith’s work with Willard’s will give a more well-rounded idea of the type of kingdom living they advocate.

If you are looking for a “curriculum” for Christlikeness, this book (and this series) is a good one to consider.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – “Habits of Grace” by David Mathis

habits

Lately I have been greatly desiring to grow in the spiritual disciplines as a means of growing closer to God and being transformed into the image of Christ.  I have read books by Dallas Willard and Don Whitney in the past.  When I heard about Habits of Grace by David Mathis (published by Crossway), I was excited to read through it.

In many ways, this book is very similar to many books that are out on the spiritual disciplines.  There is, however, one thing that makes this book distinct.  It breaks the disciplines down broadly into three categories: Hear His Voice, Have His Ear, and Belong to His Body.  Mathis explains that the organization of the book is intended to “help Christians young and old simplify their various personal habits of grace, or spiritual disciplines” (location 194, Kindle edition).

The first category covers Scripture reading, study, meditation on Scripture, and memorization of Scripture.

The second category covers prayer (both individual and corporate), fasting, and journaling.

The third category covers fellowship, corporate worship, listening to preaching, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and listening to rebuke (a very interesting addition, and one I found very inspiring).

There is a separate section that covers missions and evangelism, managing our money, and managing our time.

I appreciate the Bible-centered focus of this book.  Whitney’s book is similar.  Not all books on the disciplines emphasize the importance of Scripture by referring to it throughout the book.  Habits of Grace, however, keeps the word central.  There is also an emphasis on the grace of God being the central means of our growing in the disciplines.  It is God’s working in us, not our striving on our own power, that enables us to be transformed into the image of Christ.

As I have been memorizing Scripture recently, the chapter on memorizing really hit me.  I also like the chapter on journaling.  Mathis does a good job emphasizing how journaling can be an extension of meditating on Scripture and prayer to God.  I have always focused on journaling as primarily a way to record what I am thinking or doing, so this focus was an interesting one for me to consider.

One of the most powerful chapters to me was the chapter on using time wisely.  I have been struggling lately with feeling like I often waste too much time, and this chapter really hit home to me how important it is to see our time as a gift from God to be stewarded just as we might steward our money or possessions.  I would like to read this chapter a few more times to really internalize it.

I highly recommend picking up Habits of Grace if you are looking for a short, Bible-centered book on spiritual discipline.  You will not regret it.

*Note: I received a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.