Marketing God’s Word

I suppose you could say that this is kind of a rant.  I frequently receive catalogs from a major seller of Christian books and Bibles. Over the years I’ve bought quite a few things from them and I appreciate their work.  But the latest catalog sort of set my teeth on edge–and it wasn’t about the number of Amish romance books on display–although I may rant about those sometime soon.  No this rant is about the Bibles they’re selling.

The Bible is the Bible and while there are competing translations–ESV, NKJ, NASB, NRSV, etc.–there shouldn’t be much else separating them.  The Word is the Word, after all.  But you can never underestimate the ability of marketers to differentiate their product from their competitors product.  With the Bible we not only find study Bibles with notes by people of differing theological positions, we also find Bibles prepared especially for children, teens, women, men, people in recovery, people who like horses (really I can’t make this stuff up), and just about every other subgroup of Americans you can find.

I’ve begun to find all of this really irritating.  The focus of Bible readers should be on the Word of God proclaimed therein–not on anything else.  If you like horses and want to read about them–read Black Beauty. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God’s nature and His salvific work through Christ’s substitutionary atonement for our sins at Calvary.  It is to bring people to faith in Christ.  Every time we add something alien to that task to the pages of Scripture we diminish that purpose and obscure the Word.

Unfortunately the Church today is far too willing to accept the marketing of trinkets and trash in the name of living a Christian life, when what is really needed is not a mimicking of the culture around us but a turning toward the unadorned Word.  Had God wanted additions to His Word, I dare say He would have had the writers of Scripture add them in the original autographs.

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Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The ancient Romans worshiped many so-called gods, one of whom was called Janus.  He was the god of time in their pantheon and was generally pictured as having two faces, one which looked toward the past and one looking toward the future.  As we approach the new year we are in what I guess we could call Janus time, looking at the year now ending and the year ahead.

There’s often not much going on at this time of the year so our newspapers are filled with articles about things they told us already.  You know what I mean–who died this year?, who failed this year?, who succeeded this year?, who–well, who whatever.  I frankly find those articles rather boring and seldom bother to read them.  Neither do I pay too much attention to what some ink-stained wretch is projecting for the next twelve months because their speculations are probably going to be wrong.

But when we turn to look at the things of true and lasting importance, the things divine, well then I encourage people to be Janus-like in their lives.

Look back at what God has done for the world in the Scriptures He inspired.  Oh, there is so much meaning there, there is so much Truth there, there is so much Life there–you could never go wrong or waste your time with the past recorded in those 66 books.

Look back too at your own life.  Look for the times when God has blessed you, sustained you, protected you, loved you.  If you’re clear headed you’ll see there are so many times when you needed Him and He was there for you, just as He promised–even unto the end of the age.

But I encourage you to look forward also–forward to what God will be doing with you and through you in the time ahead.  The seeds of your future faith life have already been planted and they are moving even as this is written.

Finally, look forward to the Day of the Lord–the Day when Jesus will come again with myriads upon myriads of angels and His glory will be visible to everyone so that on that Day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

The past and the future are filled with God and there are few things more pleasant to contemplate on a cold December day.

Rolling Hills

I’ll bet you’ve heard someone say “youth is wasted on the young.”  If you’re over 40 you’ve probably said it yourself.  I know I wasted lots of opportunities when I was young to experience simple pleasures which today seem somehow powerful to me.

I live in a place where we could speak of our hills as rolling.  We’re sort of at the base of a mountain and under the layers of dirt there are still lots of rock formations that shape our land.  In recent years those who farm the land here have added soy beans to the crops in their rotations and when they cut the beans down in the fall they cut them close to the ground.  That gives you a really good view of how the ground in a field rolls and curves, each field looking unique when compared to others.

For some reason I’ve been fascinated by the shapes in the fields this fall.  I know I never would have seen such a thing when I was 16 or 26 or even 36 probably.  I would have been too busy with whatever I thought was important back then.  But now I’m taking the time to look and to feel a kind of awe at the remarkable variations in the fields.

Too many people are like me–not taking time to see what is around them, not let’s the majesty of existence intrude into their lives.  And I think one of the results of that failure to take a moment is that we don’t spend enough time contemplating God–the one who created everything from the dog-doo on your shoes to the supernovas 50 million light years away.  We’re just all tied up with things that seem to be important this moment and we don’t make the effort to search the Scriptures in a way that will open our eyes to Reality.  God is reality.  The things we let ourselves get all worked up about–they’re just blips in the road.  But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Take some time this week–look at the rolling hills and experience God.  You’ll be glad you did.

The Cattle On 1000 Hills

For the last decade or so my wife and I have spent Thanksgiving in South Carolina with our youngest daughter.  This year was no different.  We had a good time but our travel back and forth was a mixed bag–things went well going south, but not so well going north.  Thanksgiving traffic can be brutal.

Still, we make the best we can of our situation and trying down there God gave me a little reminder of just who is in charge of the world.  We were driving through the western part of Virginia with mountains and hills all around us.  I happened to glance over to my right and saw a good size herd of black Angus cattle on a hillside field.  And the Lord reminded me then of the words of the psalmist in Psalm 50 who, writing in the words of God, said, “The beast of the field are mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.”

One of the great problems we have in this world is the sinful idea that somehow we are in charge of things.  I’m sure the farmer who owns that herd has thought of them as “his” cattle.  But, in point of fact, they aren’t.  In reality those are God’s cattle.  Just as my home is God’s place and my car is God’s car and my retirement money is God’s money.  None of it belongs to me, but it all belongs to Him and I am simply the steward of those things.  Not only does God own everything–He also owns everyone.  We are His people, not independent beings.

Some years ago I spoke about this in a sermon and a parishioner said to me afterwards, “how can a man live if he doesn’t own anything?”  That’s a powerful question and one that deserves an answer.

God’s ownership of everything and everyone is actually Gospel–Good News for us.  You see if I indeed own things like my home, my car, my kids, my own life–well, I’m going to be all the more upset when they’re gone.  Corrie ten Boom once said that she had learned to hold lightly the things of this world so that it wouldn’t hurt so much when God took them away from her.  Ownership of things is not freedom, it is indenture.  If I am tied to my things, then I am imprisoned by them.  If I hold hard to my life and how I live it, I am always afraid of what will happen if it all falls apart.  If I grasp  at stuff–stuff owns me.

But when I acknowledge God’s ownership of all things, including myself, then I am freed to live the life that God has planned for me.  I am ready to step out and experience the great adventure that is the Christian life, unencumbered by anything except faith in Him and His promise that all things will work together for good for those who are called according to His (not my) purpose.

Those cattle on that hill in Virginia reminded me of all that.  And I thank God for bringing it into my mind.

A Grandfather’s Delight

I have a granddaughter.  Her name is Katelyn and she is my only grandchild, so I dote on her quite a bit.  It’s my responsibility, don’t you know.  Parents discipline and instruct, grandparent’s dote.  It’s the way of things.

Now I’m going to brag just a bit about Katelyn–she got straight A’s at school during the first marking period of her freshman year in high school.  So I’m really proud of her.  On the other hand, if she had received a bunch of D’s I would have still been proud of her–not because of what she had done, but because of who she is.  You see I don’t love my granddaughter because she is the best high school freshman–I love her because she is my granddaughter.

It’s similar to the way God loves His chosen people.  He doesn’t love us because we’re good or smart or because we achieve great things.  He loves us because we are, because we exist, and He has chosen to love us, even though we’re not very lovable when you weigh us on the scales of righteousness or obedience.

St. John says that God is love.  And that is true, even if we often misunderstand what John meant when he wrote those words.  God created us so that He might love us.  We exist to be the object of His divine affection.  We are created so He can love us the way the Trinity has experienced love within Himself.  The Father has always loved the Son who has always loved the Father who has always loved the Spirit who has always loved the Son who has always loved the Spirit who has always loved the Father.  [I came by this understanding by reading Tim Keller, a Presbyterian pastor].  So God has chosen to share this love outside the Trinity and we receive it as a gift–an undeserved gift.

The next time you look at someone you love, just because you love them, I hope you’re reminded that the God of the universe loves you too–just because you are you.

Waiting

I’m sitting here in my office right now waiting–waiting for a concert we’re going to have at church tonight.  I’ve been looking forward to it for a couple of months.  It’s by a group called the Haining Family out of Branson, MO.  We first heard them at our AFLC national conference this year.  At the moment I’m praying for good attendance and spiritual benefits for the people who come tonight.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not real good with waiting.  Once I’ve decided on something or once I’ve been told that something will happen, well, I want to get on with it.  Patience is a virtue, but it is occasionally illusive for me.  From a lifetime of watching people, I know that I’m not the only impatient person in the world–it’s a widely shared trait.

Lots of people are that way about waiting for the Jesus’ return too.  If you’re one of those folks who would be really happy if He came tomorrow morning–well I’m with you.  In the first years after the Lord’s Ascension there were evidently many people who believed His coming would happen any day.  They looked for it every morning when they woke up.  Some were so eager that they actually stopped working and just, as we say today, hung around, causing the Apostle Paul to say that if they didn’t want to work–well, they didn’t get to eat.

I can’t say I’ve seen that today, but we do get a lot of folks who seemed entranced with “signs” that portend the Lord’s immanent return.  The latest one seems to be something about a “black moon” coming in about 20 years. (I had never heard of it either).  But Jesus told us that it was not ours to know when the day of the time would be.  We just have to live our lives as His faithful people and trust that when it is just the right time God will act.  Lots of people awaited a Messiah for generations, looking here and there.  But Jesus didn’t come until just the right time.

So the question becomes–do we trust God enough to just wait?  Or will we waste our time with schedules and signs and calculations that confuse the faithful and embarrass the Church before the world?

I’m not real good with waiting–but I’m going to trust that God will do what He wants when the time is complete.  In the meantime, we all have lives to live and work to do–after all the Gospel is always going to be Good News.

The Reading Of Many Books

St. John’s Gospel ends with these words, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.  Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

I love books.  I own lots of them.  Quite a few are in my office at church and there are more at home.  I believe that reading from the printed page is more than just getting information, it’s a holistic experience.  Books have weight and aromas.  The pages often tell the story of those who have read this book before us.  Their pauses are marked by “dog ears” and their excitement shown by underlining.  Books are meant to be used until they are used up.  I far more prefer to read a book than to read the same words on a Kindle which turns a full life experience into a cold and impersonal one (IMHO).

There is one book that can be read over and over again without ever exhausting it’s contents.  Of course, that’s the Bible.  Sixty six books that all have one purpose, to show us what God has done and is doing to bring us back into right relationship with Him through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the Cross and the tomb which was empty 3 days later.  No matter how often I turn the pages in my Bible, I find something I didn’t know or understand something better than I ever did before.  God speaks to me over and again in that Book of books.

And John tells us there is even more to know!  Can you imagine?  Oh what glory we will experience when we come into the presence of God and hear and learn of all the things we can’t find out now.  And yet, no one has even mastered what we now have.

I’ve mentioned before Luther’s statement that a person becomes educated, not by reading many books, but by reading a good book many times.  And of course there is no “gooder book” than the Good Book.

My prayer, as I sit here in my office today, is that anyone who reads this will go now and find their Bible and start to read it.  Maybe it’s covered in dust.  That’s okay, you can wipe it off.  Maybe it’s well used already.  That’s okay too, I know you’ve missed something.  Maybe you’re afraid God will get hold of you if you spend time in the Word.  Well, He will, I guarantee it.  But you’ll like the experience once you get used to it.

Go and read, my friends, go and read.  As our friend John also writes of the Word of God, “these 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.”