Day Two: Is It Good To Go Beyond The Basics?

In a novel, it’s important to start the story with a “hook,” a a sharp, compelling lead that insists the reader finish the book. In a work of nonfiction, the hook is just as important, but it has to assure the reader that he will get what he came for. In The Good News We Almost ForgotKevin DeYoung delivers the goods, starting with the foreword.

“A catechism is not a man-made add on to the Bible; it’s instruction in good theology derived from the Scriptures.” That’s good to know, because one of my first excuses to avoid the catechism is that I insist on the Bible alone. Who needs additional truth? God’s word is sufficient in itself. DeYoung promises that the Heidelberg Catechism is no more and no less than explanation and affirmation of the Bible.

Early in the book, DeYoung offers a general outline of the Heidelberg Catechism. Suddenly, it’s not such a long, disjointed document; for me it became a simple, cohesive and relatively compact way to digest the essence of the gospel.

The Heidelberg’s 129 questions are divided into 52 Lord’s Days, making it easy to preach from weekly. DeYoung uses each Lord’s Day as the material for a chapter. A brief scan of the table of contents reveals a logical progression: man’s misery, man’s deliverance and man’s response. DeYoung offers a simpler description: guilt, grace, gratitude.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is so rich and infinite, that we can never expect to master it in our humanity. At the same time, the Gospel is so simple that even children can grasp it’s great value and enjoy a personal relationship with the Father who loves them enough to sacrifice His one and only Son. Until DeYoung linked those three short words together: guilt, grace, gratitude, I had never considered how concise the message of redemption is.

Guilt, Grace, Gratitude. They provide a framework not only for the catechism, but for the Bible. In the example of Israel, God firmly establishes man’s guilt and inability to save himself. Through the giving of the Law, depravity is confirmed. Following a 400 year silence, Grace slips quietly into the picture in the form of a baby. Effusive Gratitude spills over the pages of the Epistles as the authors joyfully proclaim the excellencies of God’s salvation.

DeYoung confesses in the introduction that the catechism has been good for his own life and ministry. It narrowed his focus on the gospel. Even in the first 9 Lord’s Days I have found the same thing.

Try as you may, Christian, you can’t out grow the gospel. And if for a moment you think you have reached beyond the basics, I challenge you to pick up this book. Sparks get smaller, cooler and extinguish as they float past their birthing flame. Lay low and close the coals, let the fire of your faith revive as you discover The Good News You Almost Forgot. 

Day 2, Review of Heaven Revealed

“The notions about heaven that many people have do not come from Scripture; rather, it is their failure to study Scripture that has led to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the biblical meaning of heaven.” (pg.17)

Monday, I began my review of Paul Enns’ book Heaven Revealed.  As I pressed myself further into the book, all the way to Chapter 1, I began to reassess my own beliefs about heaven. I have also been reading Charles Spurgeon’s classic devotional, Morning and Evening.  Spurgeon harps on the truth that a Christian’s life is not to simply be about a relationship Jesus, or following Jesus, or seeking to know Jesus. My life as a Christian is to be consumed by Jesus, such that my identity dissolves in Him becoming insignificant and eternally important simultaneously because of His infinite value.

Enns’ description of heaven develops a practice field for this concept. He quotes a chapel speaker he once heard, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” NOT SO! Enns cries!

“Unless you are heavenly minded, you will be no earthly good,” he challenges.

Enns provides several Scripture references indicating heaven as our focal point. There are no verses, he points out, that enjoin us to focus on earth. If there is truly continuity between today and forever, I want my last day on earth to be merely a single step into the pages of eternity. I want my worship on earth to be so similar to the heavenly chorus that my voice blends with angels, scarcely missing a beat.

Enns is absolutely right when he tells his readers that studying God’s word will reveal an accurate knowledge of heaven, and an exquisite future for those who believe in Jesus Christ. In order to make heaven our focal point, we need to bury ourselves in Scripture. By enjoying the mercy of Jesus in the pages of the gospels, by heeding the criticism and stern rebukes by Paul in the Epistles, by joining David singing in the Psalms we will begin experience heaven on earth. Heaven is complete communion with God; a daily life with no barrier of time or space between us. That sounds remarkably like the life a growing Christian is learning to live here, now, today.

The video above is a fascinating  lesson by Louie Giglio. His explanation of the heavens (the actual created cosmos) stops my heart momentarily and excites me to see what is just barely beyond my vision today.

 

 

A Pathetic Witness

I’ve had a lot of thoughts today about mentors and mentoring. None of them collections; they are scattered and hardly worth relaying. But perhaps they will stimulate your mind and prompt you to fill the comments with more meaty material than my post! (:

This morning I was journaling my disappointment with myself. The Bible commands Christians to always be ready to give a defense for the hope that it is  in us. I am confident that I have grown exponentially in my faith over the last 17 years and especially in the last 4-5 years. However, the courage and comprehensive thoughts that are required to present a persuasive “case for Christ” evade me. How is it that I can KNOW with all surety that Jesus is my life, that Jesus is the only reason that I am alive today, that Jesus is my hope and uncanny Joy, that Jesus is the solitary solution for every pain and question, and that everyone who does not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is headed to hell – how can I know this – and still stutter when given the opportunity to share my faith?

A friend from work joined me at church a couple weeks ago. She loves the Lord, but is admittedly young in her faith. Two days later we were both approached at work by another friend and the conversation led this friend saying, “Oh, I never read the Bible. I think it is just too far-fetched, a story. I raised my children to be religious. I believe that god is in each of us and we need to aspire to be good.”

I love this friend. We’ve had such fun together at work, laughing and goofing off. Now, she asked me a few questions and as I told her who Jesus was and why the Bible is trustworthy – it sounded sci-fi, out there and little crazy even to me. I found  myself saying, “It’s hard to explain.” I can scarcely believe I’m admitting this. I write this blog as devotional, with a heart to serve Jesus with my talents and make Him winsome to others. And here I am telling you that I’m pathetic at sharing the gospel.

Journaling leads me down rabbit trails sometimes, but then often drops me back off where I started by the end of my ramblings. That happened today. I drew the connection between mentoring relationships and Jesus with His disciples. They chose to follow Him. They sought His advice and learned from his teachings both in word and in action. He poured His life into them. I am a disciple of Jesus, so I asked His advice.

“Jesus, Rabbi. Why can I not explain the intense value, perfection and necessity of believing in you? What if Peter had been asked why he was following you?”

“Abby,” Jesus answered me, as a faithful mentor always does. “My disciples were asked why they believed in me. I even asked them myself.

‘Who do people say that I am?’ I followed that question with, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ And Peter answered with words that the Father gave him, ‘ You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.'” (Matt 16)

Suddenly, I saw a difference in Peter’s response and my own. Peter did not respond, “This is what I personally think…” He responded with undiluted certainty, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

When the final critical question is asked, a confident answer is required. Especially in financially troubling times, days of earthquakes, extreme weather, drunken fathers, abused children, AIDS epidemics and ravaging cancer – people do not care what I think. I cannot impart the truth with a timid suggestion of a possible truth.

So declaratively, without apology: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It is more than my belief. It simply, HE SIMPLY IS.

The Amazing Gospel of Luke – A week-long book review

Last night I started reading Michael Card’s new book, “Luke, The Gospel of Amazement.” My interest was piqued when I heard Michael interviewed on In the Market with Janet Parshall.  In case you haven’t noticed, I reference Janet’s show quite often. She is a wealth of information, from current events to book reviews, close looks at biblical prophecy and its impact on today to how to survive our wobbly economy, from estimating the value of your record collection to understanding your family’s dynamics. She is a skilled orator and passionate lover of Jesus Christ. And she’s a writer. In short, she’s the woman I want to grow up to be!

On to the book…

OH, one more thing…don’t miss a day here this week. Like the week-long review of Will Davis’ book, “10 Things Jesus Never Said,” we’re going to take an in-depth overview (oxymoronic, but true) of this book. When you finish reading my blog this week, you are going to have to read Michael’s book. And lucky you! I am giving away a copy of Michael’s book on Friday. So make sure to leave your comments each day so you can be entered in the drawing.

Now, on to the book…

Remember the dazzled, amazed look in a child’s eye when their imagination really gets going? When you’re reading that silly book with talking animals and they look up at you with a query like, “Can dogs really talk?” That’s the purest form of imagination.

Dictionary.com says imagination is: the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.

Dictionary.com: Informed: having or prepared with information or knowledge

In Michael’s book he calls on the reader to use his “informed imagination.” My first collision with Michael’s use of the word “imagination” in reference to the Bible, had me concerned. I know people who consider the Bible to be a moralist, fictional story. They believe it was composed by various writers’ lively imaginations and strung together to make a point: live a good life. Fortunately, as I continued to read, that is not Michael’s approach.

The Bible calls upon us to love God with all of our hearts, souls and minds. In secular circles, it is largely believed that Christians employ their hearts and scientists employ their brains. But Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And to keep his commandments, it follows that we must KNOW what they are and UNDERSTAND the person making these demands. So somehow, we must bring our hearts and minds together. Michael says that, “the imagination is the vital bridge between the heart and the mind.” (pg. 13)

Michael calls on readers to prepare their minds with facts about the culture, the geography, the society of the writer’s time (information). Then, to combine this with “mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses” (imagination). As a writer, I hope that people read my work with a mind toward original intent. Obviously, everything I write is predicated on the world around me. The same is true of biblical authors, in this case Luke.

In the introduction, Michael lays out a few basic facts that an informed reader knows about Luke.

1. He was not an eye witness of Jesus’ life.

2. He was a doctor

3. He was a Gentile

4. He was a companion of Paul

There are more, but I want you to read the book! Next, Michael begins linking these facts with social norms like, the relationship between doctors and slaves, (now your curious – right?) how individuals got their nicknames, and why there are so many songs recorded in Luke’s gospel. These aren’t things that are spelled-out in Scripture, but they are logical deductions that help us to engage with the TRUE story of Jesus in the gospel of Luke.

Keep reading!