Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sometimes God Waits

Many of you, like me, have a prodigal or two in your life. They know who God is; they have tasted His love and kindness. But for some reason they have chosen to leave His presence. They are off doing their own thing. Your heart aches for them. You see what a mess they’re making of their life and the pain they’re causing themselves and others. The pain they’re experiencing is of their own making. You want to do everything in your power to reunite them with Christ before it’s too late. How can we help them?

I have recently found the answer in two of Jesus’ parables. At first glance, God’s behavior seems contradictory. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18 and Luke 15), the Shepherd leaves the other ninety-nine to go look for the one who is lost. But in the parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15), the Father stays home and waits for his wayward child to come back on his own. Why does God sometimes rescue and at other times wait?

I asked my husband what he thought and his answer made a lot of sense. “Maybe it’s because in the case of the sheep, it has gotten so lost that it can’t find its way home, so God goes to the rescue. The son knows how to get home, but chooses to stay away. So God waits for him to come back.”

This helps me know how I should behave toward the lost. Should I go and bring them home? The answer I get from the first parable is, if they don’t know the way home, yes. If they have followed the wrong shepherd to their own demise, yes. If they are mired in discouragement, caught in the briers of addiction, and don’t have the energy to get back, yes. If they have been trapped by the enemy and immobilized by their wounds, then yes, go where they are and carry them home. Rescue the perishing, as the old hymn says.

On the other hand, when should we wait? The Parable of the Son answers this question. The son has had every advantage. He has experienced his father’s love, wealth, and work, but he chose to reject a relationship with his father in exchange for whatever his father could give him. He squandered his inheritance and explored all the world has to offer. What he found was temporary thrills, shallow relationships, and desperate hunger. Even then, he stayed away, ashamed at his own selfishness. It wasn’t until he mustered the courage to go back that his father could show him the full extent of his love.

In the meantime, the Father waits and watches. He continues his work at home. He loves his missing son, oh how he loves him, and yearns for him to come back. He never stops watching the road. So when the prodigal finally does return, his father spots him while he’s still a long way off, and runs to greet him. He wraps him in his arms, and immediately forgives his son who is now broken and humbled. The father ignores all talk of servitude and throws a party to celebrate that his son is home at last.

In reality, that’s a hard example to follow. Waiting with one eye on the road feels like doing nothing. My heart breaks daily for those who choose to stay away. They say they want to explore what the world has to offer. They waste their godly inheritance seeking relationships with people who use and abuse them, and their souls are malnourished for the abundance in their Father’s house.

It hurts to see this happening, but I cannot force them to come home until they are ready. In the meantime I pray, claiming God’s promise that the Word planted in them when they were young will continue to speak to them: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

For all our prodigals, I pray that they will get sick of the empty life they are living and hunger for the sustenance of Truth. I pray they will remember the relationship with God they once enjoyed and find the courage to come back. Let’s keep our eyes on the road so we can greet them with open arms when they return. And when they do, we’ll party. Lord Jesus, bring them home soon!
Beth Vice, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bible Reading 101

As soon as we finished practicing the song, our pianist grabbed a Bible and started searching for a something. “Hold on a minute,” she said, “This is really good you’ll like this.” Since the song was, “God is Singing Over Me,” I guessed she was looking for Zephaniah 3:17 and called it out. It happens to be one of my favorite verses. After she read it, someone in back commented, “Beth would know that. She’s like one of three people in the whole choir who’ve ever even read Zephaniah.” And I have to ask, “Why is that?”

Why is it true that we who call ourselves Christians don’t read the Bible? Believers around the world willingly suffer persecution, torture, and death for the privilege of possessing even one scrap of this life-giving Word. They risk everything to smuggle it into their country so they can win others to Christ. Some memorize entire books of the Bible so they can pass it on orally without the incriminating evidence. And here we sit in America with 2-3 Bibles each and we don’t even read them!

I’ve heard all the arguments: “I don’t have time,” “I don’t understand it,” “I don’t like the Old Testament,” “I’m not a reader.” But none of those hold any water. Here’s why.

We Need to Read the Bible…
1. To get the whole story. Many people read the New Testament and skip around to other favorite verses. This is like reading only the last half of a novel or haphazardly watching scenes from a movie. We miss the setting, the plot, the introduction of characters, foreshadowing, motive, and continuity of thought (Colossians 1:25-26). It’s helpful to acquaint new believers with the story of Christ through the book of John or one of the other gospels. But when do we grow up and read the rest of the story?

2. To protect our hearts from false teaching. In 1517 Dr. Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church. In it, he pointed out the discrepancies between the current teachings of the Catholic Church and the written Word of God. He suggested services be conducted in the language of the people instead of in Latin, so they could understand what was going on. Most people couldn’t read or write and relied on their priests to teach them what the Bible said. The Church had become corrupt and greedy, but the peasants didn’t know any better because they couldn’t read the Bible for themselves.

What’s our excuse? We know how to read and have easy access to Bibles and a wealth of resources. If we rely solely on pastors, teachers, and TV preachers to tell us what the Bible says, but don’t read ourselves, how will we know if what they’re saying is right (Acts 17:10-12)?

3. To protect our minds from worldly thinking. There’s stuff coming at us from every direction – TV, movies, billboards, radio, music, and popular slogans. The only way to counteract those deceptive voices is through regular contact with the truth (Jeremiah 4:22).

4. So we can tell others. If we’re not in the Word, how can we know what the Good News is? We have to get it ourselves before we can share it with others (Matthew 22:29).

5. To be a team player. If the quarterback is the only one who reads the playbook on his team, they’re not going to have a winning season. Yet, many Christians depend on our quarterbacks (pastors, teachers, missionaries) to lead the team and win the game. This attitude of nonparticipation is passed on to our children and new believers in the church.

6. To receive God’s power. Our only two weapons against the enemy’s attacks are prayer and the Word of God. We have no other offensive weapons. I don’t know about you, but I would rather fight the enemy than just stand there while he shoots at me (Ephesians 6:17-18 and Hebrews 4:12)!

What keeps us from reading the Bible?
1. Laziness. Let’s face it, self-discipline is difficult. Anyone who’s ever tried to diet or maintain an exercise program knows that. But the results are worth it!

2. Peer pressure. Who would think that Christians would experience negative peer pressure from other Christians regarding Bible study? And yet I face it all the time. If I refer to a lesser known story from the Bible in a Sunday school discussion, I get blank or guilty stares. I feel like an oddity. Comments, like the one in choir practice point out the fact that I’m different, even in my own peer group. But I’m resolved to please God rather than man.

3. No felt need. Many pour over the Bible when they first become Christians, or when they feel a need for comfort or direction. However, if we don’t read consistently, we won’t have anything to draw from when tough times hit. We need to store up God-talk in our minds and hearts.

4. Wrong impressions. It’s not how much we read every day that matters. It doesn’t do any good to read five chapters of the Bible a day if it’s just to check it off our list. I once heard a speaker say she reads until God stops her. That helped me to slow down and savor what I read instead of racing through devotions each day. The point is to take it in and respond to God’s message. It’s meant to be a conversation.

How Can I Start?
1. Ask God for help. The Bible is hard to understand; it’s a spiritual book, meant to be read over and over. If it was easy to “get” the first time, we wouldn’t keep coming back. God wants to give us understanding. So each day before you read, ask Him to speak to you.

2. Make it do-able. Reading the Bible in a year is a great goal, but most people get bogged down. Pastor Rob Baker recommends beginning each day with 90 seconds in the Word. You’ll be amazed how much you can absorb in that short period of time (the length of an average commercial). Once you get a taste, and it becomes a habit, you’ll want to read more.

3. Talk about it. It’s much more fun to learn when you tell somebody about it. My husband and I often read verses we like to each other. And we marvel at the way God gives us direction for our current situations, no matter where we’re reading.

4. Use tools. Bible study books, chain references, commentaries and other resources can help us get the most out of our reading. This time through the Bible, I’m reading Jon Courson’s Application Commentary as I go, and I’m learning terrific stuff! Just recently, he pointed out that when Isaiah prophesied that a guy named Cyrus was going to rebuild Jerusalem, it hadn’t even been destroyed yet (Isaiah 45)! But 200 hundred years later it happened just like God said it would.

I long to see hunger for the Bible in the hearts of God’s people. I yearn for the day when a verse in Zephaniah is mentioned, and instead of saying, “Zeph-a-what-a?”other Christians respond with equal excitement and others are encouraged. I hope you will be one of them!

I would love to tell you more! Invite me to your church or gathering. I teach a fun workshop called: "Ten Reasons to Read the Bible and Ten Ways to Go About It."
(c) Beth Vice, 2010