Bibliolatry – the Bible as an end in itself

“There is a very subtle form of idolatry called bibliolatry.  It involves treating the Bible as an end in itself instead of a means to an end.”- Mark Batterson

In Chapter 5 (“The Key of Keys”) of Whisper, Mark Batterson discusses the first love language – Scripture.  He notes the challenge the Bible, the inspired Word of God, faces in our culture.  For our modern society chooses to elevate tolerance above truth.  Hence, Pastor Batterson explains the consequences:

“When truth is sacrificed on the altar of tolerance, it might seem as though everybody winds, but in reality everybody loses.  God calls us to a higher standard than tolerance.  It’s called truth, and it’s always coupled with grace.  Grace means I’ll love you no matter what.  Truth means I’ll be honest with you no matter what.” (emphasis Mark’s)

Among all books, Mark underscores, the Bible falls into a category of its own.  At least two things make the Bible absolutely unique:

  1. The Bible’s “living and active (Hebrews 4:12).”  Thus, Pastor Batterson notes, we don’t simply read the Bible to gain knowledge.  After all, Mark reminds us, “knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1).”  In addition, the Bible reads us.  As we read Scripture, we inhale what the Holy Spirit exhaled thousands of years ago.
  2. We never get to the bottom of the Bible.  According to rabbinic tradition, the author states, every word of Scripture consists of seventy faces and six hundred thousand meanings – like a kaleidoscope.  Therefore, no matter how many times we read the Bible, it never gets old.  It’s timeless as well as timely.  Furthermore, a well-used Bible testifies to a well-lived life.

In conclusion, the goal of reading the Bible isn’t just acquiring Bible knowledge.  Most noteworthy, the goal involves learning to recognize and respond to the voice of your heavenly Father.  That’s so you grow in intimacy with Him.  Thus, Mark offers a serious equation: Holy Scripture – Holy Spirit = bibliolatry.  Taking the Holy Spirit out of the equation leaves us with the letter of the law, Mark asserts.

The quickening of the Holy Spirit means the difference between information and transformation.

Today’s question: How do you avoid bibliolatry so you grow in intimacy with Christ?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Get into God’s Word – so His Word gets into you”

Waiting for healing and restoration

“Although I wait for healing and restoration, I do not wait alone.  We have the spirit of Christ with us always.”- Ann Swindell

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor honors him.  You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”- John 14:16-17 (ESV)

In Chapter 9 (“Waiting with Grace”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell admits that she daily longs to be healed.  And still, she receives God’s grace.  Thus, Ann hasn’t received the grace of healing.  However, she experiences the grace of God’s presence.

Most noteworthy, the author adds, the Bleeding Woman twice encountered the grace of Christ’s presence.  First, she touched Jesus and received physical healing.  But, she also received grace as she looked Jesus in the face and told Him her story.

Because Jesus knew the Bleeding Woman came to Him in faith, He sought her out.  In addition, he offered her His presence and acceptance.  Also, Jesus acknowledged her existence as well as her suffering.  Ann explains how we daily experience the indwelling presence of Christ.  She states:

“What grace!  This is the great grace we have been given; we don’t have to wait for an encounter with Jesus once in a lifetime or once in a year or even once in a week.  For those of us who believe in Jesus and have given our lives to him, we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit every moment of every day.  What grace God would live within us.  In our delight and our sorrow, in our joy and our pain, we are never alone.”

Today’s question: How do you receive the grace of Christ’s presence as you await healing and restoration?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The recipient of extravagant grace”

Staying tender and needy before God

” . . . if we remain paralyzed and if we refuse to risk staying tender and needy before God, then we are risking . . . missing out on the opportunity for closeness and intimacy with him and with others.”- Ann Swindell

Ann Swindell concludes Chapter 8 of Still Waiting as she underscore the inherent danger in risk.  Yet, whether we’re waiting for material or spiritual blessing, it’s our choice to keep risking.  In fact, risking is the only choice available.  Since we can’t predict the ultimate results of our actions, essentially we risk all the time.

As a result, Ms. Swindell explains why the only way forward involves risk.  Ann states:

“Risk is the only way forward, even — and perhaps especially — if it’s the continual risking of our hearts before the Lord, the risk of giving him all our desires without knowing what would happen.  This is scary business, treacherous heart territory.”

However, it’s far worse to miss out on staying tender and needy before God.  Because unexpected freedom arises from riskiness.  Instead of confusion, repulsion, or awkwardness, we find a place, Ann notes, “where grace cracked wide open.”

Therefore, such moments offer a surprising gift.  As you share your brokenness with others, they share their brokenness with you.  Also, as Ann’s found, shared brokenness leads us to shared hope.  Not despair or wallowing.

Finally, the author exhorts, your place of risk becomes a place of deep connection with God.  Ann describes how to learn of God’s goodness and presence in deeper measure:

“When I open myself to vulnerability with God, I have the opportunity to learn of his kindness and love more richly.  These attributes can’t be learned any other way.  Real love requires risking our hearts with him.  We know this because we have the best model for risking and living vulnerably before Father God: Jesus himself.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses hymns, or Christian songs help you stay tender and needy before God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Healing and restoration”

I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me (Tyndale, 2017)

Pastor and author John Ortberg titles his latest book I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me: Getting Real About Getting Close.  Although we crave intimacy, it remains a scary concept for a lot of people.  Therefore, intimacy cannot be coerced.  For God desires connection, not compliance.  Thus, the building blocks of intimacy consist of shared experiences that build meaningful connections.  This requires the essential elements of time and presence.  In other words, intimacy is a big feeling built on small moments.  Details matter.  And while the spiritual nature of God’s presence at first seems like a barrier to intimacy, God’s spiritual nature actually makes intimacy with Him deeper than with anyone else.

Vulnerability, Pastor Ortberg observes, drives us to attachment, to intimacy.  In moments of temptation, of aloneness, we make the choices that uniquely shape our character.  Yet, only God’s big enough and strong enough to assure us everything’s OK.  As John states, “Jesus offers to walk with you in the midst of your ordinary life today.”  Jesus continually invites us to connect – and never gives up.  However, our capacity for self-deception know no bounds.  This creates a serious problem with intimacy.  Thankfully, grace secures the foundation of Jesus’ call to more courageous self-awareness.  In addition, His great love for us gives evidence that we’re worthy of love and belonging.

This leads to Romans 12:15, a passage Pastor Ortberg calls “the golden rule of intimacy” – “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”  There’s a magic arithmetic in shared experience.  When we share joy, that joy increases.  In contrast, when we share pain, that pain decreases.  So, don’t put sadness in charge of your life.  Rather, take your sorrow to God.  Since Jesus exemplifies the ultimate combination of authority and vulnerability, He offers us ultimate intimacy.  Also, God created us to have great authority and great vulnerability.  It’s not a matter of having one at the expense of the other.  In this process of commitment, we experience a freedom that avoiders never know.

Finally, Pastor Ortberg defines the Deep Down Dark  as “the place where you know you can’t make it on your own.”  In the Deep Down Dark, groaning (complaining to God) in suffering builds intimacy.  On the other hand, grumbling (complaining about God) destroys it.  Furthermore, healing from shame – deeply embedded condemnation – only comes from finding an acceptance greater than our greatest rejection.  As Lewis Smedes writes, we need the “spiritual experience of grace.”  God’s grace readies us to make any statement or take any actions that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.  Intimacy, John asserts, needs “outimacy.”  It needs to overflow in love beyond itself.  This happens in a community that lives and breathes Jesus.

As a result, it’s not a case of  I’d like you more if you were more like me.  As Pastor Ortberg concludes:

“I wonder if he [Jesus] whispers it still.

Just stop.

Be still and know.

Whoever has ears, let them hear: Bring in the love!”

Getting close – love and grace catch us unawares

“No one becomes real without getting close, without being loved.  And love, like grace, sneaks up on us mostly when we’re unaware.”- John Ortberg

“This is real love — not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”- 1 John 4:10 (NLT)

“Once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”- Skin Horse to Velveteen Rabbit

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 14 (the final chapter) of I’d Like You More . . . as he notes that becoming real always comes with a cost.  Thus, becoming real means:

  • risking the fear of others rejecting you
  • losing freedom in order to make promises that allow for relationship
  • everlasting humiliation of the never-ending need for confession
  • letting go of the remote control- and of control in general
  • wrapping your heart around someone else’s well-being

In addition, Pastor Ortberg distinguishes between two types of love.  The first type of love seeks value in what you love.  Something that’s shiny, handsome, expensive, or useful.  However, the second type of love creates value in what you love.  John described that kind of love in 1 John 4:10.

Furthermore, Pastor Ortberg expands the connection between love and intimacy.  He writes:

“God created us to offer love to others because he wants no one to miss out on an intimate connection with him.  He loves the worst person in his world more than you love the best person in yours.  He loves everybody more than you love anybody.”

In conclusion, John stresses, Jesus didn’t become real when He became human.  Rather, Jesus brought a slice of reality to our “fake, phony, phantom world.”  By becoming real to us, Jesus modeled a real human life, making it possible for us to become real.

Today’s question: What Bible verses strengthen you in getting close to Jesus?  Please share.

Coming Monday, January 8th: the annotated bibliography of I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

Tomorrow’s blog: “God’s people – a waiting people”

Acceptance digs wells

“Rejection builds fences.  Acceptance digs wells.”- John Ortberg

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.  And that is what we are! . . .  And what we will be has not yet been made known.”- 1 John 3:1-2

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 11 of I’d Like You More . . . as he tells us that the rabbis in Jesus’ day talked about “building a fence around the law.”  As a result, rabbis took a specific law and extended it out further.  Thus, they created a safe boundary.

However, this fence-building creates rejection.  In contrast, Jesus’ acceptance of the Samaritan woman dug a well of living water.  Jesus offered the Samaritan woman, the poster girl for shame, an acceptance greater than her rejections.  Pastor Ortberg offers these words of encouragement:

“God has an amazing way of taking our biggest mistakes, our biggest wounds, . . . biggest scars, . . . and biggest hurts and using them to enable us to do ministry and become messengers for Jesus with people we never thought we could reach because he’s Jesus.”

In addition, Lewis Smedes notes three conventional human responses to shame:

  1. lowering our ideals to the level of our abilities (our hearts know better)
  2. making ourselves acceptable enough to satisfy the ideals we already have (we can’t make ourselves acceptable)
  3. persuading ourselves we’re just fine the way we are (it’s impossible to convince our consciences – they started the nagging in the first place)

According to Mr. Smedes (Shame and Grace), the only answer centers on “a spiritual experience of grace. . . .  The experience of being accepted is the beginning of healing for the feeling of being unacceptable.”

In conclusion, John reminds us that self-acceptance cannot overcome the power of self-rejection.  Acceptance in the grace of all-knowing love creates freedom.  We need to meet Jesus at the well.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help(ed) you discover Jesus’ acceptance – bigger than your rejections?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The antidote to secret hate – open repair”

Do the next right thing – knowing what you ought to do

“Do the next right thing  you know you ought to do. . . . Nothing will drive you into the Kingdom of God like trying to do the next thing that is right. . . because you will need help, and you will get it, because that’s where God is (emphasis author’s).”- Dallas Willard

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 7 of I’d Like You More . . .  as he cites political theorist Hannah Arendt.  Writing in The Human Condition (1958), Hannah states that the very commitments we fear restrict us end up defining us:

” Without being bound to the fulfillment of our promises, we would never be able to keep our identities; we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each [person’s] lonely heart.”

Thus, even when we blow a commitment, God keeps His vow to us.  At the cost of the cross where Jesus died, God gives us His grace.  Even when we fail and fall down.

As Dallas Willard once said in conversation with Pastor Ortberg, do the next right thing.  In addition, the beauty of doing the next right thing centers on the fact that often we’re unable to do it.  As a result, that realization drives us to seek God.  And, rest assured, we will find Him.  However, we first need an honest approach to our intentions.

In conclusion, G. K. Chesterton encourages us to be all in with Jesus.  As he ends his essay ” A Defence of Rash Vows,” G. K. states:

“All around us is the city of small sins, abounding in backways and retreats, but surely, sooner of later, the towering flame will arise from the harbor announcing that the reign of the cowards is over, and a man is burning his ships.”

Today’s question: How’s God helping you to do the next right thing?  Please share.

Coming Monday:  the new Christmas Short Meditation, “Mighty Lord of all Creation”

Tomorrow’s blog: “People need a sense of belonging”

The call to more courageous self-awareness

“No one has ever called people to more courageous self-awareness than Jesus did.  The foundation of his call was grace.”- John Ortberg

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”- James 1:22-24

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 5 of I’d Like You More . . . as he notes that self-awareness includes (a) recognizing our strengths and values, but also (b) seeing our weaknesses and sins.  However, John cautions, sometimes faith actually causes us to be more self-deceived that more self-aware.  Thus, Pastor Ortberg quotes writer Richard Rohr (Breathing Under Water – 2011):

“Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people, until you get to any issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security.  Then they tend to be pretty much like everyone else.”

Therefore, author Brene Brown advises us to engage in wholehearted living, which involves:

  • coming out of hiding
  • letting go of perfectionism and shame
  • enough vulnerability to live in the reality of the truth about ourselves
  • sharing one belief – that we’re worthy of love and belonging

We access evidence of worth and belonging through Jesus’ great love for us.  Furthermore, Jesus’ love gives us courage to face the truth about ourselves.  That, in turn, makes intimacy possible.

Yet, self-awareness contains a paradox.  Pastor Ortberg explains that it’s a necessary bridge as well as a great obstacle to intimacy.  For intimacy turns to fear when we’re even partially aware of our brokenness or ugliness.  Hence, John states, “intimacy requires a gift of acceptance that self-awareness cannot provide.”

In conclusion, John encourages:

“It is one thing for us to be aware of ourselves.  It’s another to know that God — the holy Creator of the universe — is fully aware of us, and yet still loves us wholly, without reservation, and without end.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you heed Jesus’ call to more courageous self-awareness?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The golden rule of intimacy”

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together

The Imperfect Disciple (Baker Books, 2017)

Jared C. Wilson, currently director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently published The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together.  In his Introduction, Pastor Wilson states he wrote the book to demystify discipleship.  Because all of us need tuning up in the gospel every day, Jared thinks of discipleship as not simply following Jesus, but refollowing Jesus every day.  We veer off track so easily.  Yet, we don’t often realize our souls are greatly troubled when, in fact, that’s the case.  As a result, the author notes, we need to feed, nourish, and lubricate our souls.  Through this process, we don’t need good advice.  In contrast, we need good news.  And there’s good news for those on the bottom!  Jesus turned things right side up, not upside down.

Thus, discipleship rests on our trust of Jesus’ mercy toward our total inability to become bigger, better, or faster.  In addition, discipleship must deal with the tension between the glorious reality we believe in and yearn for and the harsh reality of life.  As a result, Pastor Wilson underscores, “every day when you encounter God . . . you face the choice of simply looking at Jesus or actually trying to see him.”  As G. K. Beale observes, people resemble what they revere, either for their ruin or their restoration.  Therefore, to truly behold Jesus, it’s crucial to cultivate Spiritual formation.  This means we find ways to immerse ourselves in the work of the Holy Spirit.  In the process, we re-sync ourselves to the rhythms of the Kingdom of God.

Through centering on the gospel, the essential duties of maintaining a relationship with God seem more delight than duty, more rhythms than rules.  Contrary to popular belief, hearing is believing.  In other words, to see we must first hear.  For, Jared states, the glory of God blares from the pages of Scripture.  Thus, God’s not giving us the silent treatment.  In fact, the author stresses, He’s practically yelling.  To behold Jesus, we must feast on His presence rather than giving Him crumbs.  Prayer enables us to strengthen this relationship.  Also, we need to think of duty as worshipful prayer rather than worshipful prayer as duty.   Our daily life communicates when where we place our hope and trust.  And the more we pray, the more we abide in God’s strength alone.

In conclusion, Jared emphasizes that our availability to God’s call to sacrifice is predicated on our understanding that God needs no more messiahs.  Jesus already took care of that job.  Thus, God doesn’t need us.  Ah, Jared adds, but we’re wanted!  God’s grace goes all the way down.  It meets us in the darkest valleys of the heart.  But God’s grace also goes all the way up to His glory.  Therefore, to practice followship of Jesus is to believe, through God’s grace, that heaven’s beyond our imagination or ability to conceive.  One day the Lord “will pull out a chair and seat us at his own table at the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

Patience is more than endurance

Dad’s first new car, a blue/white 1962 Rambler Classic 4 door sedan.

“Patience is more than endurance.  A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer.  God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says — ‘I cannot stand anymore.’  God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, the He lets fly.  Trust yourself in God’s hands.”- Oswald Chambers

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”- Romans 12:12

“People ask me a lot about the values I got from playing for the Cubs for so many years (1953-1971).  The value I got out of it was patience.”- Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub”

In the summer of 1962, after 13+ years of marriage, my parents – Bill and Elinor- bought their first new car.  For a little over $2,000, they purchased a blue/white Rambler Classic 4 door sedan from South Side Rambler on South Ashland Avenue in Chicago.  The Rambler replaced an aging, green metallic 1949 Chevrolet Fleetline Coupe.

One notable feature of the Classic was a safer, twin circuit brake system.  Only a few cars used this in 1962.  However, my most vivid memory centers on the colorful push buttons that engaged the automatic transmission.  In addition, I remember the rounded upper window points on the back door and the rounded tail lamps.  With the demise of the Electroliner, the Rambler provided reliable highway transportation.

Approximately three hundred years ago, a prisoner in the Tower of London carved the following words in his cell wall.  He truly understood that patience is more than endurance:

“It is not adversity that kills, but the impatience with which we bear adversity.”

As Jared C. Wilson discerns in The Imperfect Disciple, at its root, impatience reflects confusion about control.  In other words, impatience represents the rotten fruit of self-sovereignty.  To our chagrin, people and circumstances don’t operate as if we’re the center of the universe!   Therefore, we need the gospel to cultivate patience in us.  For patience is more than endurance.  Denial of our adversity, in contrast, fosters impatience.  Hence, as we trust our sovereign God, who ordains all things, we grow more patient with others.  And we relax in God’s better hands.  We realize what impatience costs us in our relationship with God.  We enjoy abiding in Christ.

In conclusion, Pastor Wilson summarizes how the gospel grows patience through humbling:

“We are sinners who stand only by the virtue of grace. . . . saved by grace alone.  Knowing this helps us climb down from our pedestals.   It’s at the top that we mistakenly inflate our own sense of importance.  Coming down to see that the ground is level at the foot of the cross helps us regard others with more thoughtfulness — and more patience.”