Chapter Four (continued)

Responsibilities

I think it unfortunate that many people think of the bible as nothing more than a book full of dos and don’ts.  This may explain much of the opposition to Christianity and religion in general that exists today.  Without an intimate relationship with God, his message could very well be interpreted as either fiction or the demands of a self-absorbed, egotistical being.  Imagine if you will, living with parents with whom, by every account, have no desire to be loved by you and in turn, demonstrate none toward you.  Imagine living with a spouse where the same scenario exists.  What possible hope could there be for peace and harmony in such a relationship?  In fact, is it a relationship at all, or simply an arrangement?  As ridiculous and tragic as this may sound, many who claim to be a Christian, have little or no relationship with God. As far as they are concerned, God exisits and believe he’s real, but is of little or no consequence.  If you were to ask them if Jesus is their savior they would respond, “Of Course!”  Now you might conclude that their faith is false or professed for selfish reasons, like social acceptance.  But it is also possible that they really have placed their trust in Christ as savior, but have forgotten the part about making him “Lord” of their life.

What exactly does it mean to have made Christ the Lord of your life?  Two things are implicit; the first is the matter of control.  When Christ is Lord of your life, you have accepted a subordinate position to him.  Not just because he is God and all that implies, but because he able to accomplish things, you cannot. This doesn’t imply that you simply sit back and wait for him to work everything out; like when hiring a plumber or an appliance repairman. A life with Christ as Lord means that challenges become a collaborative effort with God, as do the successes.  Your challenges are God’s challenges; your successes are his as well. Who better to go to for help when you’re estranged from someone you deeply care about, yet can’t seem to break through the walls that both of you have constructed.  If Christ was able to conquer death, who better to turn to?

The second aspect of the Lordship of Christ is being responsible, or living up to your end of the relationship.  We’ve all have seen the movie; the Lord of the castle leads his army to the battle but when the actual fighting begins, he’s sitting on his steed in the rear giving orders and directing traffic.  Then there are the other Lords or Nobles who put on their helmet, belt and shield; then pickup there sword and lead from the front, fighting side by side with their men.  Christ could be described as the latter, making sure we are fully armed for battle, and walking with us side by side into the conflict.  He doesn’t fight our battles for us, but is always there to pick us up when we fall and to provide whatever assistance we may require.  Christ works in us and through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The problem for many Christian’s, who seem to be powerless in the face of conflict and trial, isn’t a lack of belief, but a lack action; caused by not living up to their responsibilities.  Sometimes it’s simply laziness or choosing the easy way out, but oft times it’s simply lack of knowledge as to what those responsibilities are.  They have accepted Christ as Lord, but have no idea what his orders are. I have spoken to numerous people who claim to have prayed earnestly for direction, but received none; or so they say. More often than not, they may have prayed, but if you were to ask them how many hours they’ve spent searching God’s word to find out what they are responsible for, the response is usually couched in an excuse like, “I don’t have time” or “I already know.”  To those who view the bible as largely a book, full of dos and don’ts; I suggest they consider another viewpoint.  Instead, consider God’s word as a book which delineates what our responsibilities are to God and toward one another; as well as what God has promised to do on our behalf.  This perspective provides a very practical and compelling reason to explore God’s word. In addition, it is comforting to know that God always fulfills his responsibilities and makes good on his promises.  The question is, do we?

Relevancy

When somebody tells me that they have a very difficult time just sitting down and reading the bible, I truly sympathize with them.  But I have developed a kind of standard reply to their excuse…baloney!  There have been times throughout human history when such arguments may have held water, but in America at the beginning of the 21st century, it’s baloney.  If we lived in a country where it’s a crime, OK; if the book itself was in short supply, I understand; if the only bibles available were those written in the language of 17th century England, that’s a potential problem; but the reality is that none of this is true. Why then do I sympathize with them? Because, I’ve been where they are; and thankfully someone came along and gave me good advice and showed me just how uninformed I was.

Today, there are dozens of very readable versions, one to suit most anyone’s taste and education level.  There are versions in almost every language on earth and even editions for children and teens.  So this isn’t the real problem of most who claim, “It’s so difficult.”  I think the biggest stumbling block is relevancy or context; which I do believe is a legitimate excuse.  The problem is evident from the previous paragraph; that many good and sincere people sit down and try to read the bible as if it were any other book and when the story begins to get repetitive or boring, they simply give up.  It’s no different than when you start reading a novel, which from your perspective is boring; you then put it down and turn on the television.   But just like the search for a readable version or translation, there is any number of ways and means to make God’s word come alive and speak to you, powerfully and with relevance. Let’s look at a few.

When I pick out a new book to read, I rarely if ever begin by reading the introduction or prologue.  I might take a peek at the jacket cover, but that’s the extent of my query.  I’m anxious to get started on the real story, not what the author or someone else has to say about it.  Background, who needs it…, perspective, what’s the point…I’ll draw my own conclusions.  But honestly, the resources which are included in most bibles are worth taking the time to read before diving into the text; at least to the extent of knowing what’s available to you without having to leave the chair or get out of bed.  There are outlines, individual book summaries, dictionaries, maps, timelines and the one that I like the best, references by topic.  For example, if the subject is forgiveness or reconciliation, you will be directed to books, chapters, and verses that address those subjects in some specific way.  Using the topical references implies something else important in making your time in God’s word productive which is to read with a purpose.  When we read with a purpose already in mind, the issue of relevancy is immediately addressed.

Now I have a brother-in-law, who when he was young, loved to read maps, even road atlases.  As a result, he knows more about geography than anyone I know.  But for most of us, we only look at a map if we want to find out where something is located, or how to get there.  There are those who love to read God’s word, just for the sake of reading it and this is sufficient motivation for them.  But for most of us, if I we have a specific topic or issue in mind we are far more likely to enjoy the fruits of our labor.  It’ as the old saying goes, “It’s hard to arrive at your destination if you don’t know where you want to go.”

Convinced

I had a seminary professor confess to me over coffee one morning that it had only been in the past ten years of nearly three decades of teaching men and women about the truths of Scripture that he became convinced that what he was teaching was true.  I was taken aback by his confession and immediately asked how he could teach something as being true and invaluable, if he didn’t believe it himself.  He replied, “Because I desperately wanted it to be true and thought that if I studied long enough and said that I believed often enough, it would eventually become truth to me.” “Did it work,” I asked?

The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to his young friend Timothy wrote this, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God- breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Too often, we confuse head knowledge with heart knowledge.  Our head is where we store data and then process it for our own benefit and purposes.  But, we all could testify to the fact that our thoughts are frequently anything but beneficial and that often, there purpose unclear at best.  Of course, there is finite knowledge, like non-theoretical mathematics and engineering, where proof and acceptance is arrived at by study and scientific method. But when it comes to knowledge about God and who he is, such methodology is of limited value, at best.  I have read dozen of books and listened to speakers try to convince people that knowledge of God can be grasped by study and systematic human logic; but the truth is, it isn’t until the data gets transmitted to the human heart, can we be convinced of its voracity and then beneficially apply it . The heart is where we become convinced of the authenticity of God and his purposes.  Faith and the work of faith are not academic.

We are infinitely more blessed today, than those who walked with and talked to the Apostles themselves, first hand.  Why you ask?  It’s because we have Gods complete works to draw from.  What Paul was referencing when he refers to “Scripture” is not the bible we read at home or in church. It couldn’t be since it was they, the Apostles, who were in the process of writing what we call today, the New Testament. But it wouldn’t be long after its writing, that men and women would recognize these letters and accounts as the inspired Word of God.  I have often asked myself, why were these documents so quickly and enthusiastically endorsed and accepted as God’s word?  One reason can be found in the quotation I referenced above from Paul’s letter to Timothy, “because you know from whom you learned.”  Some think that Paul was referring only to himself, that he is the “from whom” in this verse.  Perhaps, but I think it goes beyond that; there’s more to it.  Jesus told his disciples and friends (John 16) that he would send the Holy Spirit to convince and “guide them into all truth.”  Where does the Spirit reside? In the hearts of those who love God, in the person of Christ?  I love the word picture that Christ uses to describe the relationship between God and those in which his Spirit resides, “we will come to you and make our home with you.”  It is the depth of this relationship that allows us to be convinced of the truth found in Scripture, both Old and New.

So how did my seminary professor answer my last question regarding his failing efforts to make the Scriptures real and effective for and by himself?  He said with a smile, “Eventually, I gave up trying to convince others how smart I was, and that I had all the answers.  Instead, I refocused on the work of the Holy Spirit and discovered, along with my class, that only he, the Spirit of God, could convince me of what I already knew.”

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