Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Facebook Quiz You'll Never See

Have you seen the explosion of personality quizzes available on Facebook? Which Twilight character are you? What is the theme song of your life? Which super-villain are you? Which love-language do you have? Who knows how many other quiz topics are available? Carl Jung read our cultural urges quite well a half-century ago when he said, “The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.”

There is another quiz we should be eager to take, but it’s not on Facebook. It’s in the other book:
“The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown."
Mark 4: 14 – 20

Just because we have heard something before doesn’t mean we should pass it by. Watchman Nee observed that patience in the face of the familiar is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Let me tell you about the first time I ever heard this parable. The night after I became a follower of Jesus a speaker used this parable to challenge new believers with an admonition continue as Christians. I just naturally assumed that I was the good soil. How could I be anything else? Sitting next to me that night was a friend from high school who had also just turned to Jesus. After the message she wept and wept and wept. Finally she composed herself enough to sob, “I just don’t want to let Jesus down. I’m afraid I might turn out to be one of those other types of soil.” I had assumed that I was the kind of person who was naturally good and would bear fruit, while she was moved to tears, crying and asking for the grace to live up her calling. At that moment I realized that after just one day she was already way beyond me in her walk with Jesus.

Here’s a quiz that should be all over Facebook: Which kind of soil are you?

Jesus may have had more than one application for this parable. For example, do we think this parable refers only to the first time God calls to us? Perhaps Jesus was explaining the nature of every word God speaks to us. Each time God speaks all four possibilities are in play. Will his word penetrate my heart today? If he has a life-changing word for me today, will I let it take deep root? Will today’s cares choke it out? Or will the fresh word he speaks yield an amazing crop—today?

As a young Christian I thought Jesus was describing a fixed reality: too bad for those with hardened hearts, rocky soil, or lives full of weeds! Thank goodness I was the good soil! It never occurred to me that his words were a call for me to tend my own heart. I am never further away from the Kingdom than when I think that his words are for someone else, but not for me.

Another question: why do most people assume an even distribution of the different kinds of soil? So many commentators discuss each soil condition as if 25% of the seed fell on each type. Can you imagine anyone sowing one quarter of their seed on a walking path? The greatest difficulties are the conditions below the surface. The rocky soil or the type filled with weeds may well have comprised most of the field. Perhaps the North American church struggles with power and fruitfulness because the vast majority of our hearts are shallow or filled with other concerns like worry or wealth. Do we know what lies beneath the surface of our lives? Do we dare ask him for his assessment?

Finally, this isn’t just any parable. Just before his explanation Jesus asked his disciples, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (v 13) Jesus cautioned his students that this parable was critical to receiving the Kingdom of God (v 11). These very famous verses can still speak with authority today if we will take time to tend the garden.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Monday's Meditation: Two Insignificant Verses

It’s just two weeks after Easter Sunday. We are still in that period of time when the resurrected Jesus remained on the earth, encouraging and teaching his friends about the Kingdom of God.

His final actions are recorded for us in Matthew 28: 16 - 20:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

These are familiar verses to Evangelicals. We have even given this passage a name, “The Great Commission.” Most people who point to these verses begin at verse 18, when Jesus begins to speak, but the proper context begins at verse 16--and what a difference those two verses make!

Here are two quick meditations:

Verse 16 - The disciples obeyed. Jesus gave them instructions to return to Galilee. Apart from carrying out those instructions, they would have missed an encounter with the resurrected Lord. It’s a simple meditation, but challenging: obedience puts us in a position to hear God. Do my actions make it easier or harder for me to hear his voice?

Verse 17 - Some of them doubted. These words first hit me like a thunderbolt--some of those who had seen the resurrected Jesus, those who had “proof” of his glory, still doubted! Imagine the scene around Jesus: his best friends giving him worship in a private setting, yet in some minds and hearts there was still doubt. Here’s the good news: their doubt did not disqualify them. He still received them, and he gave the “Great Commission” even to those who doubted.

These two are worth turning over in our hearts today: disobedience may keep me from hearing his voice, but doubt will not. Happy Monday!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Government of God

Students of Jesus are not simply students.  He invites is followers to live in his Kingdom.  It's not just a metaphor, Jesus is a real King his KIngdom is a real place.  The well-being of any people is largely a reflection of the government under which they live.

The current difficulties with pirates off the coast of Somalia highlight the leaderless condition of that country. Most of sub-Saharan Africa groans under the weight of corrupt leadership. I have a friend who lives in Peru, where she regularly experiences interruptions in telephone-service, electricity, and even water. In the United States, despite tempestuous political clamor, we enjoy the benefits of good government: the phones work, the water runs, and the mail is delivered. When natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina shred the infrastructure Americans are up in arms over the shortcomings of their government--without ever considering that in most places around the world the government is incapable (and sometimes unwilling) of providing any assistance at all.

When an outsider looks at any nation, he can see the effects of leadership. Are the people safe, happy, and prosperous? Is there justice in the land? Do the people live in freedom or fear? The scripture affirms that good government is a blessing: “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Proverbs 29: 2)

Followers of Jesus live not only under the government of their native land, we are invited to live also under the government of God. Listen to these words from Isaiah:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with
justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9: 6 - 7
(You might consider these passages from Isaiah as well: 11: 1 - 9; 32: 1 - 8)

Unlike the worldly governments around us today, the government of God is not coercive. Jesus, the King, invites us to come under his government, to honor him as King, and to experience the blessings of the perfect Ruler. The promises of his Kingdom rule are largely dependent upon our choices--will we receive him as King?

If a fireman rescues me from a burning building, no one expects that I will live the rest of my life under his oversight. It would be silly: he saved me but he is not my master. Jesus serves us not only as Savior but also declares he is Lord. He is able--willing--to save, and still he calls us farther up and in to receive him also as Lord. The benefits of his government, the Kingdom of God, are for those who will submit to his rule.

Look at just a few of promises from Isaiah of a life lived in obedience to King Jesus:

Wonderful Counselor: Jesus is the Master of living, and is eager to give the best counsel available. What counsel do I need? Parenting, business, marriage, relationships, career, education? As Dallas Willard has pointed out, Jesus is the wisest person who has ever lived, and his counsel is available to those who will listen to--and do--his will.

Mighty God: Generations of believers and unbelievers alike have discovered that strength does not lie in military might or economic power. All of creation is held together in Jesus Christ. He has power to save, not only from the eternal destruction of Hell, but also from our circumstances here and now. Do we see Jesus as the source of our provision and rescue in everyday life?

Everlasting Father: Fathers on earth are imperfect and increasingly absent in our day. In Jesus we have a family identity that will never be severed. For those who have suffered loss of identity because of broken family relationships, the Everlasting Father is a reality for all who will come to Him.

Prince of Peace: Jesus wears this title not as some honorary degree, but as the one who can bestow peace on us right now. It is his to give. Consider this promise from another chapter in Isaiah: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (26:3) As we come to trust in Jesus in practical, daily ways, we experience the peace he has to give.

And there is more in this passage from Isaiah 9: it encourages us that there is an unending increase of government and peace. He invites us to experience justice and right relationships capable of impacting others around us.

Unlike government programs from earthly nations, we are assured that "the zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." The counsel, power, belonging and peace is accomplished not by human programs, but rather by humbly and intentionally submitting to the gentle yoke of discipleship. After he saves us, he wants to rule us, if we will allow him.

The challenge for us as followers of Jesus is this: his government is available for everyone, but it is still a government. We must choose whether we will live with King Jesus, or simply settle for Fireman Jesus.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Monday's Meditation: The Kingdom of God

Easter Sunday is eight days gone, but we would do well to remember that the resurrection was not a one-time event. Forty days after his resurrection Jesus remained on the earth and appeared to his closest followers time and again. While many of us may be familiar with the details of Easter Sunday--the empty tomb, the fear and confusion, the bewildered joy of seeing Jesus alive again--most of us are a bit fuzzy on the forty-day stretch after his resurrection.

The gospels only hint at this passage of time. They report that first in Jerusalem and later in Galilee, Jesus encouraged his friends but we get only a glimpse of what Jesus said or did. In Acts chapter one we are given eleven short verses about the things on Jesus’ mind during those resurrection days.

Acts 1:3, however, reveals that the subject most important to Jesus during that time was the Kingdom of God. This should not surprise us. Before Jesus began his ministry, John the Baptist declared that the Kingdom of God was close at hand. In his earthly ministry Jesus himself preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Now, with just a few days remaining with his friends, the Kingdom of God is still his passion. Years later as the book of Acts closes the connection Jesus and his Kingdom is still the primary message of his followers (Acts 28:31).

Have you ever had to give last-minute instructions? Imagine you were leaving (as Jesus was) until an undetermined day of your return: what would you say? What important words could you leave with your best friends? Jesus chose to remind his friends about the message he had announced from the very beginning: the gospel of the Kingdom of God.

If the words “Kingdom of God” seem awkward when they appear after the word “gospel” perhaps it’s because in our day we have shortened the gospel to mean exclusively redemption from sin and going to heaven. The rediscovery of the gospel of the Kingdom, along with Jesus’ commission to “make disciples and teach them to obey” stand as the greatest need in the North American church today.

What will you do with your time in the forty days after the resurrection? Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God during that time. Perhaps he still wants us to embrace his teaching.

NOTE: here’s one place to start.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What if you got to live forever but you didn’t like the life you got to live?

As a new believer I had conflicting thoughts and emotions about eternal life. Those who led me to the Lord told me I could go to heaven by trusting Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins. I hadn’t thought much about heaven, and what thoughts I did have ran more to the negative—hell sounded like a pretty bad place. If there were only two choices, then heaven seemed like the better alternative.

Someone told me that in heaven we would spend all eternity worshiping God. This presented a problem because most of the worship services I attended were boring. Could it be true? Would heaven consist of an unending songfest directed toward the Almighty? I enjoyed singing Amazing Grace in church but one of the verses gave me cause for concern:
    “When we’ve be there 10,000 years
           bright shining as the sun
     we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
           than when we’ve first begun.”
With a strong measure of guilt I tried to imagine myself happily singing for 10,000 years only to consider that we had just begun. It was not appealing.

Popular images of heaven include the idea that we will inhabit celestial mansions, waft upon fluffy light clouds and worship eternally. These images certainly beat the idea of eternal torment and suffering but do they truly present the activities we would choose to do forever, especially given the activities and tastes we have right now?

Here's a question: What if you got to live forever but you didn’t like the life you got to live?

The difficulty flows from two misunderstandings. First, popular images of heaven may not be correct, and secondly, “heaven” and “eternal life” are not the same things.

Jesus himself provided a reliable definition of eternal life: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) Nothing about clouds, songs, or heaven. Eternal life is knowing the Father and knowing Jesus. The Father has given Jesus the authority to grant eternal life, and Jesus’ definition is simply that we would come to know the Father and the Son.

So when does eternal life begin? If we can adjust our view to what Jesus has revealed, the answer, of course, is now. When we first turn toward God, we are entering into eternal life. When we turn away from our selfish choices and orientation and choose Jesus, we are entering into eternal life. When we grow in our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are growing into eternal life.

When does a child know its mother? At birth? From within the womb? As a teenager? Earlier in the same gospel Jesus tells us that we cannot see or enter the Kingdom of God unless we are “born from above.” (John 3: 3 – 8) His choice of birth imagery is instructive: a child begins to perceive light and dark before birth. A child intuitively knows its mother’s voice and heartbeat before birth. Yet after the trauma of labor and delivery a child is characterized by what it does not know: the entire process of growth and maturity could be considered “getting to know” its parents.

This process of growth and knowledge continues even beyond childhood. Most adults realize that with each passing decade they come to “know” their parents more and more. I knew my father more fully after I became a father.

Our life in God is made possible by Jesus Christ. That life has its beginning when we are “born again,” and John’s gospel reminds us from the very beginning we are “born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.” (John 1: 13) As we are born of Him, his intention is that we would spend every moment of eternal life growing in the grace and knowledge of Him.

So what about heaven? As we begin to experience eternal life through our walk with Jesus, he begins to work heaven into us even now. I may not know the details of what heaven “looks like,” but I have come to understand that heaven feels exactly like the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the fruit of coming to know the Father and the Son, through living in the Spirit each day (see Galatians 5: 16 – 25)

I’m no longer troubled by the thought of heaven. Whatever it looks like and whatever he has for us to do, I can rest my relationship with him. As I cooperate with the Holy Spirit he is making fit for heaven, whatever that is!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Monday's Meditation: The 39 days after Easter

So Easter Sunday has come and gone. Followers of Jesus all over the world have marked the most significant day in history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The resurrection was the Father’s exclamation point to the ministry of Jesus; the “Temple” had been destroyed and raised up three days later.

But what about Monday? Is the singing and shouting over? Jesus encountered the disciples on Easter Sunday, but what about Monday, or Tuesday, or beyond? The first eleven verses of the book of Acts provide at least five mediations for us in the days ahead.

Meditation #1: The resurrected Jesus remained on the earth for 39 days after Easter Sunday. Many Christians celebrate the victory won at the cross (and rightly so!), but apparently Jesus had more to say and do. The gospels are about “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1), but the rest of Acts reveals that Jesus was still doing and teaching in the decades after the gospels. Is it possible Jesus is still doing and teaching in our day?

Meditation #2: Jesus’ message in the 40 days of resurrection was the Kingdom of God. (Acts1:3) During that time Jesus continued to speak about the Kingdom of God. In fact, the Kingdom of God is the “good news” preached by Jesus in the gospels. And he had more to say after Easter Sunday. In fact, the book of Acts closes with the Apostle Paul proclaiming the Kingdom of God (Acts 28: 31). Have we meditated on the meaning of the Kingdom?

Meditation #3: What was so important that Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem? While the gospel accounts end with Jesus saying, “Go!” in Acts Jesus says “Wait!” In our day many Christians are familiar with the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28: 16 - 20) but are we aware that Jesus commanded us to wait? What was so important that Jesus said, in effect. “don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything until you receive all that I have for you?” Have we meditated on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives?

Meditation #4: Jesus told his followers plainly that there were some things that we would not know, especially regarding the times and the seasons of the last days. Yet this very topic is of great interest in the church today. Literally millions of books have been sold on this subject. In Acts 1: 7 - 8 Jesus tells us to focus on the mission, not the culmination of the mission. Have we meditated on the wrong subject in our day?

Meditation #5: The angels who were present at the ascension asked a pretty good question: “why are you looking toward heaven?” It’s a question worth considering. Frequently we are more concerned with heaven than with the Kingdom of God. The breathtaking sacrifice at Calvary did indeed purchase the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven, but in our generation many followers of Jesus have limited his work and message. One final meditation for the days ahead--if the gospel is only about going to heaven, why did Jesus invite us to take up the yoke of discipleship?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Friday is the Road to Sunday

As followers of Jesus, we need to embrace Good Friday, which is a little bit like saying we need to embrace torture.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"
Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Matthew 16: 21 - 25

Good Friday is the day when we remember the crucifixion of Jesus, but there’s more to it than remembering: Jesus calls us to the cross, too. The famous sermon says "it's Friday, but Sunday's coming!" More properly the point of the story is that Friday is the road to Sunday. There's no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without the Cross, and as his followers there's a Good Friday for all of us.

The very idea of Good Friday causes us concern. The problem is that both his power and wisdom led him to the Cross, a brutal denial of everything he had done before. Those who had seen his power wondered why he seemed powerless at his greatest need. Those who saw his intelligence wondered how someone so smart could miscalculate so badly. Both sides missed what Jesus and his Father were saying: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone, but if it dies, it produces many.” (John 12:24) Not just his words: his very life is a parable.

It wasn’t just the people of Jesus’ day who had a problem with the Cross. Even today religious-minded people want miracles and power. In our day intellectually-minded people want wisdom and truth. What God offers us all is first the Cross. The earliest believers called the Cross “the wisdom of God and power of God.” (I Corinthians 1: 23 - 24) This is a stumbling block for us to consider today: that both his power and wisdom led him to the Cross. People prefer not to dwell on such things. After all, who respects suffering?

You want to tell a story worth telling? Try this one: things are always darkest just before they go pitch black. And then, in the blackness of the truth--the truth that our own power or smarts are never enough we discover that we need to rely solely on the promise of the Father.

Once you’ve been to the Cross, everything changes: stumbling blocks and foolishness turn into power and wisdom. The Cross changes everything. If something’s pursuing you, then perhaps the event which will change everything for you is the Cross. If nothing is changing, maybe you haven’t been to the Cross.

Easter is indeed about the empty tomb. But first it’s about the Cross. Why are we in such a hurry to rush Jesus up to heaven? Is it because the Cross doesn’t fit into our picture of how things ought to be? It didn’t fit into anyone’s picture back then, either. But Friday is the road to Sunday. It was the road for Jesus, it is the road for us.

God promises never to forsake you, but it doesn’t always feel that way, right? Here are two of the phrases Jesus uttered on the Cross: “Why have you forsaken me?” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” How can those two go together? Even at his death, Jesus showed us how to trust the Father beyond the circumstances. His is the example of Job: “Though he will kill me, he’s still my only hope.” (Job 13: 15) The only safe place is the mercy of God, even if it appears he himself is against you.

Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. It's one thing to predict the future. It's quite another to go to the cross willingly. At least three times Jesus shared his destiny with the disciples. They didn’t understand. More challenging still is the fact that Jesus embraced this destiny by faith. He knew the Father’s promise of resurrection, but death still lay ahead of him. And death was still death, even for Jesus. It was his trust in the Father’s promise that caused him to wager everything he had, his very life. As a man, Jesus modeled how to trust the Father.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Bible & Students of Jesus

Once there was a man who was very good at his chosen profession. Although he was young everyone recognized that he was a rising star within his organization. One day he took a business trip. Before he arrived at his destination he unexpectedly encountered his arch-enemy along the road, and that enemy left him on the roadside defeated and--somehow--totally blind.

This man was led by the hand toward his destination, a strange town where he knew practically no one, and was left alone in a room for three days. During those three days, in the darkness of his new-found condition, he had time to reconsider everything he had learned about his profession. He was a man of great learning, especially with respect to the “Bible” of his business. And oddly enough the “Bible” of his business was in fact, the Bible--at least the Old Testament.

The man’s name was Saul, and you can read this story in the Book of Acts, chapter 9. Saul had a passion for the Old Testament. He was almost certainly a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council in Judaism. He had studied under one of the greatest rabbis of his day, Rabbi Gamaliel. And some Pauline scholars speculate that Saul had likely committed the entire Pentateuch to memory. Imagine that: Saul had memorized every word of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Despite such a passion for the Bible, when the author Himself came to earth Saul and many others like him could not recognize that the One who inspired the Scripture was standing in front of them. How could people who had studied the Old Testament scriptures all their lives miss the Subject of those scriptures?

I would like to suggest this answer: it is easier to relate to a book than a living person. Books are manageable. Books can be memorized and mastered, books can be analyzed and interpreted, and books can be used to support conclusions we have have already decided upon.

In our pursuit of Jesus, we need to think seriously about the role of the Bible. If our aim is to take his yoke of discipleship and to learn from him, what role does the Bible play in becoming a follower of Jesus?

It’s too easy to criticize Pharisees like Saul. “How could they have failed to recognize Jesus?” we might ask. “Surely we would not have missed God’s anointed when he came.” Yet we should be careful, because these Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers possessed a commitment and dedication to the scripture that was likely far greater anything we practice in our day.

Among the closing words of the Old Testament are these:
"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3: 1)
God Himself came to earth in the person of Jesus. He came to the center of religious devotion and announced that the Kingdom revealed in the Old Testament scriptures was breaking in unexpectedly. The very guardians of religious orthodoxy could not recognize him. How could this be?

Perhaps the religious people of Jesus’ day were engaged in a kind of idolatry. Not in pagan practices or rituals but in a kind of idolatry which elevated the inspired word of God over God himself. The Bible is a precious gift from God. He breathed it into the minds and hearts of the men who wrote it. I believe that God Himself watched over process of collecting and canonizing these documents. I believe that God has protected the Bible through many dark ages so that every generation would be able to benefit from his gift. I love the book he has given us, but I do not confuse the book with the Author.

Sadly, in many Evangelical circles the Holy Trinity has morphed from “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” to “Father, Son and Holy Bible.”

Our Bible is inspired, literally God-breathed, and “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Our Bible is the “more sure word of prophecy,” capable of correcting us when subjectivism and emotionalism threaten to lead us into error. Yet our misuse of the Bible can cause us to “get the lyrics right but get the music all wrong,” in the helpful phrase of Leonard Sweet.

Todd Hunter, a leader in the Vineyard Movement says plainly that “the Bible is the menu, not the meal.” I believe he means that the Bible should help bring us to the Bread of Life, Jesus, and encourage us in a living relationship with a Lord who is still alive, still speaking, and still doing.

The same Holy Spirit who inspired the scriptures in the first century is still moving and working all over the world. Jesus pointed his followers to the ministry of the Holy Spirit when he said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14: 26) For each follower of Jesus there is a tension between learning
about Jesus and having a relationship with him through the Holy Spirit.

So how should we come to the Bible? I'd like to suggest three "nevers:"

  • First, never come to the Bible alone. Always invite the same Spirit who inspired the Book to inspire your encounter. The Holy Spirit is the one who "will teach all things," and He will use the Bible as part of His tutorial.  
  • Second, never settle for head-knowledge apart from personal experience. True, our first ideas about following Jesus may come from reading the Bible, but I believe we should ask the Holy Spirit to move us from the book to real-life experience. What starts as head-knowledge must find its way into our experience. 
  • Finally, never come to the Bible without a commitment to obey his voice. James, the brother of Jesus, tells us that if we build a lifestyle of merely hearing God's word without doing it, we will become deceived. God doesn't speak "FYI," he speaks "FYO," For Your Obedience.

The Bible is a gift--a gift we should treasure and respect. Let's use that gift to grow closer to the Giver.