Sunday, December 31, 2006

Raising an Elder for the Church

Although our son, Christopher, is 3 years old, Janet and I have talked about our goals for him. We do not know how his interests will change over the years. Will he grow up to be a firefighter? A police officer? A mail carrier? A missionary? A politician? An athelete? Who knows?

We do not know what his career may be, but we know what kind of man we would like to see him become. We want him to internalize the qualities of an elder described in the New Testament. We want him to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ who is "above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination," not " arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined." We want Christopher to "hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound (healthy) doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (Titus 1:6-9, ESV).

We will pray and teach and model our lives in such a way that those characteristics will be nurtured in Christopher. No matter what career he may choose, where he may live, or how much money he may earn, we look forward to seeing our son become a godly man.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

How to Handle the Bible

I found this passage from the devotional The Strength of a Man by David Roper. It is titled "Bible", and can be found on pages 70-71.

Present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Most of us are biblically educated beyond our character, perhaps because we confuse the means with the end. We falsely assume that the purpose of Bible study is mere learning, a fallacy particularly characteristic of those of us who take the Bible straight.

But mere orthodoxy is never enough. Even the demons are orthodox (James 2:19). They study the Bible too. They make their own prophetic charts and draw their own theological lines, but the Book doesn't alter their behavior. They're devilish to the end.

In Paul's second letter to Timothy, he encouraged his young friend to be an approved workman "who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

The word here translated "who correctly handles" means "one who goes for a goal." Classical Greek writers used the word of road builders who cut their way straight through a forest to a predetermined location. The Septuagint (the first Greek translation of the Old Testament) used the word in the last phrase of Proverbs 3:6. "In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight (direct you to the goal)."

Paul contrasted good Bible study with the flawed methods of those who were "quarreling about words," which he said, "is of no value, and only ruins those who listen" (2:14). Further, "godless chatter" ---mere discussion of the Bible without the goal of godliness---will make one become "more and more ungodly" (2:16). Ironically, God's Word, when misused, can make us less and less like God!

Paul therefore warns Timothy to "flee the evil desires of youth" (2:22), a command that in context has little or nothing to do with youthful sexual desires. Paul rather had in mind the wrong-headed passion of the young and the immature to argue about meaning---"word-fight" is the term he coins. Those who mishandle God's word in this way are workmen who ought to be ashamed.

Instead of arguing about meaning, Timothy was to "pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2:22). In other words, he was to seek God and his goodness through the Book. To do so is to handle the Word correctly---to go straight to the goal.

The purpose of Bible study is clear. It ought to produce worship and make us more and more like our Lord. To the extent that we read the Scriptures for that reason our Bible reading is valid; to the extent that we do not, it's nonproductive. Worse, it's counterproductive, making us less and less like our Lord. Thus the hymnist prayed:

Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord,
My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word.

It's humbling to think about the many times that I have jumped into counterproductive arguments about the Bible. While it is necessary to defend the faith at times, I do not want to walk around with a chip on my shoulder, eager for a "word-fight." It's such an unhealthy and unattractive way to live! Jesus deserves better from me, and I am determined to do better in this area.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Love Greets People Outside Our Group

I have been reading through "What Jesus Demands from the World" by John Piper, a book that Janet gave me for my birthday last month. She knows how much I like John Piper's writings.

This is a paragraph from page 233.

Loving our enemy includes those who are hard to love, whether a hostile stranger or a bad-tempered spouse. And therefore the ways of love that Jesus demands are as varied as self-sacrifice at the one end of the spectrum and a simple greeting at the other end. It is remarkable that in the context of enemy-love Jesus says something as ordinary as, "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matt. 5:47). People concerned with global suffering and international injustices might think this is ridiculously individualistic and insignificant. Greetings? Does it really matter in a world like ours whom we say hello to on the street? Jesus knows that the true condition of our heart is revealed not just by the global causes we espouse, but by the daily acts of courtesy we show. Relentlessly he pursues the transformation of our hearts, not just the alteration of our social agendas.

What a needed word! It is so easy to "love humanity" without actually loving people. I want (and need) to do both.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Nativity Story

Our family saw "The Nativity Story" at a local movie theater on Sunday afternoon. The story about the birth of Jesus Christ is told in a very compelling way. We get a little insight into the culture and times of Jesus' mother and adoptive father. The town of Nazareth is portrayed as a dirty and poor community in which people take God seriously and children enjoy their lives. The Roman Empire rules without mercy, and King Herod is a duplicitous and paranoid politician who is obsessed about messianic prophesies from the Jewish scriptures.

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20, NIV).

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort" (Luke 6:24, NIV).

Those two verses came to mind as we saw the contrasts between King Herod and Jesus' family.

In Mary, we saw a young woman who made a quick transition from being a girl to a responsible woman when she became engaged to Joseph. Although she struggled with the idea of being married to Joseph, she came to love and respect him as she saw his exceptional qualities lived out. Mary came across as a firm believer, even though nearly everyone (except her much older cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist) doubted the supernatural origin of her pregnancy.

The Bible describes Joseph as "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:19, NIV). In the movie, we get a good idea why. When confronted with Mary's unexpected pregnancy, he is heart-broken. He had chosen to marry her because he had always viewed her as a young woman of noble character. To think that she may have committed sexual immorality tore him up. He said that he had always pursued honor in his life, but it becomes obvious that he did not care to be honored by people so much as to live honorably before his God. He took Mary as his wife and Jesus as his son despite the negative opinions of his friends, neighbors, and others. In marrying Mary, he allowed himself to be thought of as having committed sexual immorality with her.

We saw Joseph secretly return a donkey to his future father-in-law, who had lost it to tax collectors. After paying the taxes for Mary's father, he returned the donkey without letting him know that he had paid the taxes for him. Later, when their donkey was becoming weak on the long trip to Bethlehem, Joseph attempted to share his meal with the donkey secretly so that it would have the strength to continue carrying Mary. ( He never knew that Mary saw him trying to take care of her in that way.) I was reminded of Jesus' words, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:1, NIV).

The scenes with the shepherds were the most touching of the movie. We saw how God showed special favor to some men who viewed themselves as far from special.

The magi were interesting, but their scenes may have been the least accurate. For some reason, they were not warned in a dream against returning to see Herod, but they seemed to figure out on their own that it was a bad idea. On the other hand, I liked that they were portrayed as astronomers rather than astrologers.

The Nativity Story may be the best biblical movie ever made. The character development made it the most thoughtful biblical movie that I have ever seen. I hope that others will enjoy it as much as I did. I'm looking forward to getting it on DVD.