The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Category: Ministry

I’m NOT a Reader!

5046807_f520“But I’m not a reader!”

As a pastor, I cannot tell you how often I hear these words in response to encouraging people to seek joy in Christ through the Scriptures. In a world where God has primarily communicated himself to us via written word, it would seem he has also primarily created people who do not enjoy the written word! Irony much?

Modern research into teaching/learning methods have only served to increase people’s justification for not reading. I hear things like, “I’m a tactile learner” or “I’m a visual learner.” These excuses are used both to explain why people don’t want to read their Bible and why they don’t want to listen to sermons.

Alas… what are we to do? Has God been so inept to provide us with the ineffective tools of Scripture and preaching?

Not hardly.

God loves words! He created them! In fact, he created through them! One of the first things we learn about God is that he is a God who speaks! He reveals himself through words. He draws us to faith through the Word of the Gospel! He transforms our lives by his Holy Spirit working through the Word to renew our mind!  Even the greatest revelation of himself, his son Jesus, was known as the Word made flesh!

He gave us ears to hear words, mouths to speak words, and even eyes to read words!

If you’re thinking… “Yeah Jonathan, that’s all great, but I’m still not a reader!” I want to give you five simple things to think about and see if God doesn’t soften your heart toward pursuing him in the riches of his Word.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1. The reason you can read is so that you can read the Bible.
The history behind modern literacy rates is primarily rooted in Christianity. We are a people of the book and have always wanted others to be able to read that book! Most of the modern day university system has Christian roots that really can be traced all the way back to medieval monasteries. Christians have been responsible for developing written languages all over the globe and promoting literacy on the mission field… all of this for the ultimate purpose of equipping people to read the Bible. One of the main reasons so many people can read today is because of the efforts of Christians in the past who wanted you to be able to read the Bible.

Church022. The Bible was never meant to be read alone.
One of the reasons many people avoid or ignore reading Scripture is because it can be a difficult task. Let’s be honest… the Bible is not the easiest read. It is an old book, written in a variety of styles to which our modern sensibilities are not naturally attuned. To understand any given passage you have to mentally journey across time, cultures, geography, settings, etc. This can be an extremely tough task! I believe this is why Scripture is not meant to be read alone. I don’t mean that you should never read the Bible while sitting by yourself. By all means…do that! What I mean is that we should always take what we are reading in private and discuss it with other believers! In this way, we can help each other understand the scriptures. We can teach one another, disciple one another, etc. The Bible is a communal book. It was written to communities, for communities, to be read in community, preached in community, and discussed in community. The Holy Spirit works through the Word and through one another to help us understand the Scriptures! We are a body that works together for the good of the whole…this includes our reading of Scripture. If you find reading the Bible frustrating, then find people with whom you can discuss what you are reading. Especially look for people equipped to help you understand the word. You might just find yourself becoming excited about seeing more of Jesus through Scripture.

magazines4603. We read what we love.
You know this is true. You may not read very much, but if there is something you particularly enjoy, then you will read about that subject. Perhaps novels bore you, but you have a million issues of People magazine. Maybe history doesn’t peak your interest at all, but you can hardly wait for the next issue of BassMaster, Cosmo, or Sports Illustrated. We read what we love. The question is do we love Jesus? We have been promised that he will meet us in the pages of Scripture…and if we love him we will pursue him there…even if it is difficult. We are willing to work hard for the things and people we love. Have you seen the value of knowing Jesus? If so, then you know he is worth the effort of digging into Scripture. Reading the Bible is like mining for gold…the task is wrought with difficulty, but the reward is riches beyond your dreams. In fact…the treasures available in the Word are worth more than any amount of gold (Ps 19:7-10)! Love Jesus…and read about what you love.

bible-light-rays4. Do not rely on your natural learning preferences, but on the supernatural teaching of the Holy Spirit.
When we say things like, “I’m not a reader,” we are not just underestimating our learning ability, but the Holy Spirit’s teaching ability! The Holy Spirit inspired the Word and speaks through it…do we doubt that he can actually do that? The fact that you are not a reader is actually all the more reason for the Holy Spirit to teach you through the Word because it will be even more obvious that he is the one at work! God loves to work through our weaknesses! Perhaps this is the reason he has chosen to primarily communicate through written Word when so many of us feel weak as readers! God has promised that faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ! May we believe him and let that change the way we approach hearing and reading the Word.

image0165. What about people who cannot read?
Perhaps all this sounds find to you, but what about people who legitimately cannot read. While literacy is on the rise, illiteracy still abounds. Are non-readers doomed because they lack this particular skill? Absolutely not! Since it’s inception, the church has always had a large portion of its population who were illiterate. Even those who could read were not able to own a personal copy of the Scriptures until well after the invention of the printing press (circa 1450). This is why I always stress the studying of Scripture in community. For the majority of its history, the church has only been able to study the Word together. Brothers and sisters who cannot read today are still able to dive deep into the riches of God’s word through hearing it and discussing it in community. The ability to read a personally owned Bible can greatly enhance this experience and this is why we, the church, are still advocates for written language development, Bible translation, and literacy. The need is actually much greater than you think. There are almost 7,000 known languages in our world. About 500 of these have the complete Bible in their language. Many have portions of Scripture or a current translation project happening, but nearly 1800 languages still await the start of translation effort to bring them the Bible in their own tongue. Those 1800 languages represent about 180 million people! In light of this reality how could we ever look at the treasure of our Bible and say… “Nah… I’m not a reader!” Let us take up and read so that we may know Christ and make him known! Let us continue to take the Word to those who still don’t have it in their own language so that they many know The Word…Jesus! Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ!

For more information about how you can be involved in Bible translation efforts click here.

Bonus Confession: I’m not a reader either!
This may sound strange and unbelievable coming from a pastor who has invested in a small library, but it’s true. I didn’t read a complete book until late middle school. Even then, all I read were comic books and sci-fi/fantasy novels until well into college. It took me years to read through the Bible for the first time and I was actually over halfway done with seminary before I completed the task. Ha! However, I now spend much of my time with my nose in books because I believe that within the pages of Scripture there is treasure far greater than anything this world has to offer! I don’t always enjoy digging for treasure, but I do enjoy finding it. Thus, I find myself reading more and more of Scripture and resources that help me mine its depths. So take it from one “non-reader” to another, not only is it possible to read the Bible, it is far more rewarding than you could ever imagine because within those pages and those words you actually encounter a person…the person…Jesus.

 

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Meditating on My Mortality

Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death. – Jonathan Edwards 

Do you ever think about dying? On the whole scale, I think our culture tends to ignore death as much as possible.

We idolize youth and do all we can to maintain looking young! We dye our hair, change our clothes, and even have surgical procedures to disguise the onsetting displays of our mortality.

Why do we do this?  Or…an even deeper question…what does living like this do to us?

284912-graveyard-1319926148-334-640x480I firmly believe that if we live in denial of death, we will not truly be living at all.

I think that is what Jonathan Edwards was getting at in his resolution to meditate on his own mortality. It wasn’t that Edwards was absurdly morbid or wanted to be depressed all the time…no…quite the opposite! He wanted to live fully, and he believed this could only be done (and would only be done) if one were constantly aware of the fact that their life could end at any moment!

Edwards wanted to ingrain into his everyday thinking the commonality of death and that his own would come in a common, most likely, unannounced way.  And, he was not the only person to think in this manner. Many pastors and theologians of old would keep a skull on their desk to daily remind themselves of their inevitable end.  In some way, they apparently found this to be both a helpful and wise practice.

mortalityThis seems so strange to us, but in my own experience I have found this to be extremely freeing and powerful, which is what I think Edwards intended.

I actually talk about my own death often with my wife, Holly, and early on in our relationship she found it to be quite disturbing…but over the years I think she has grown more accustomed to my meditations on mortality and seen what I mean when I say that God uses such reflections to fill my heart with freedom and power.

I feel freed from false priorities. There are so many things that seem so important until you focus on the reality of death. This has a way of rearranging and reorganizing your priorities and it nearly kills your pettiness altogether.

I feel freed from anxiety. There are so many things that I worry about which have no eternal significance. Meditating on my mortality helps me to keep these things in perspective and approach accomplishing them out of a sense of freedom…not fear.

I feel freed from self-importance. It is so easy to have an inflated view of myself. Instead of seeing that I am a part of God’s grand story, I tend to see him as a part of mine. Death has a way of crushing such a perspective. When I think of “great people” in Scripture and how commonly their deaths are reported…it is really humbling. Great people, used in great ways…and in a verse they are gone and the story goes on, because the story is ultimately not about them, but about God! Thinking about my death helps me keep that perspective…it helps me have a right view of God and of myself.

I feel empowered to live. I don’t live each day in a hazy false reality of supposed immortality. No. I live each moment to it’s fullest knowing that it could be my last (or at least this is my goal). Such a perspective does not negate living responsibly and wisely. However, it does free us from many false notions of responsibility and wisdom that are really nothing more than fear. To think often about my death doesn’t depress me, it empowers me to live life fully while I still live.

I feel empowered to love. Each moment I have with people is a precious gift from God and I want to love deeply. Mortality has a way of minimizing the things my kids do to annoy me…it has a way of making my arguments with my bride seem so trivial…and in place of my pettiness, meditating on death has a way of awakening new depths of love within my heart for these amazing people that I did not even know possible.  Thinking about the brevity of life helps me to get over silly little things that so often steal time and energy from my relationships. It empowers me to love.

I feel empowered to laugh at death. If you are still thinking this all sounds way too morbid…consider this with me for just a moment. The real reason reflecting on death is a positive experience for me is because it has been conquered by Christ. Death is not natural! There is a reason we don’t like it and don’t like to think about it…we were not created for it! We were created for eternal-joy-filled living in relationship with God. Death is an unnatural interruption. Yet, Christ has conquered death…it has no victory for the Christian. So I can laugh at death, because it cannot even do to me what it is designed to do! Death is supposed to end life, but for the Christian…death transfers us from life to life. We move into the presence of God…into eternal life. Death cannot even deliver death anymore! The joke is on death and we get the last laugh! Therefore, meditating on my mortality helps me to live life to the fullest now, knowing that true life can never be taken from me!

So I am resolved to mediate on my mortality…for only in light of the fact of death can I truly, fully live.

Letter #20: Your Education is not Over!

Dear Jonathan,

Graduation is just around the corner…literally a few weeks away! Congratulations again on making it to this point! Now, don’t fail your finals and blow the whole thing! I’m just kidding. I have to mess with you a little now that you are about to be a “Master of Divinity.”

We have had so many good conversations over the past few years and written a number of letters back and forth. I hope they have been helpful and ministered to your heart, even if only a little. So what is there left to talk about? Why am I writing you this close to graduation? What else could I possibly have to say? Well…there is at least this one thing…

Free-Arizona-Continuing-Education-for-Realtors-285x280Your education is not over!

Sorry to drop that bomb on you right as you approach the finish line, but I am trying to be a little preemptive here. What do I mean? Well, let’s just say that it is not uncommon for seminary graduates to “quit” reading and studying due to post-school burnout.

Typically, language skills are the first thing to go. All that hard work, hours, blood, sweat, and tears that you put into Greek and Hebrew…all I can say is use it or lose it brother! Honestly, that goes for all fields of study into which you have taken the plunge.

You must keep reading, writing, and thinking deeply or you will lose all the skills you have gained. Listen, it is very easy to enter ministry and become caught up in a million different things, let your studies take the back seat, and simply be a surface level teacher. You don’t want that!

You want to be able to speak to your people out of deeply dug wells, from which you draw up the purest water of the Word to help sustain their thirsty souls. You want to show them how they can mine the treasures of God’s Word themselves. You can only do that if you are doing it yourself.

Now, I’m not telling you to be an ivory tower theologian. You should never sit in an office all day, every day, surrounded by books, and disconnected from the people you serve. No. Discipline yourself to make a schedule that keeps you connected to their lives and connected to Christ through the Word. It is possible.

Jonathan, graduation is nearly here, but don’t let that be the last time you crack a book or mediate on Scripture. You have worked hard to develop the tools you need to study the Word for the glory of God and the good of the church. So do that!

Your education is not over!

Grace and Peace,

J

*To know/understand the premise behind these letters please click here.

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