Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Taking Advantage of a Great Grace

For all of the problems we face in our early 21st century world, we live in a time of tremendous graces from God. Travel, for example, has become far easier. I was thinking about this as my wife and I were flying from London back home to the Detroit area a few years ago. There were points in that trip when the cloud cover broke and you could clearly see the Atlantic Ocean below us. I was thinking about those who, centuries earlier, would make this same journey by sailing ship and, once back in the States, by stagecoach or train. A journey by sea and land that would have taken upwards of eight weeks was taking us only eight hours. We live in a time of great grace medically. Cataracts of the eye, which resulted in near or total blindness for many in past generations, and affecting individuals such as Martin Luther, can be now treated with an outpatient surgical procedure, a procedure which, only a generation ago, required intense, in-patient surgery and a long recovery time.

Living in a time of grace applies also for those who are seeking resources to go deeper in the Christian faith. The abundance of Christian literature, in analog (i.e. hardcopy print) or in digital form has never been greater. Videos are prolific. Audios, in the form of sermons, teachings and podcasts are abundant. This state of things was spoken of by Doctor John MacArthur during the funeral service of Dr. R.C. Sproul in December 2017. Dr. MacArthur, speaking of our present moment observed: "This is the greatest explosion of the truth in history."  He added: "There has never been a time in the history of the world where sound doctrine is so available in a split second, anywhere on the planet." We now live in a time when one can download classics of Christian reading, such as Pilgrim's Progress, the writings of the early Church Fathers, the Imitation of Christ and classics of bygone centuries such as Isaac Ambrose's 17th century classic "Looking Unto Jesus" in a matter of seconds. For those wanting the print versions, rapid ordering through online means, has never been easier.

Nowhere does living in a time of grace appear more strongly than when it comes to the Bible. For those of us in the English-speaking world, never before has Scripture been so readibly available, readable and accessible. Millions carry the Bible with them on smartphones and tablets. Print Bibles also exist in great abundance.

I would like to suggest a practice available to us as a result of this "explosion of truth", specifically in regard to our Bible reading. I first heard this suggestion during my seminary days. The professor in our Hermeneutics class (that's actually, a fancy-sounding way of referring to Biblical Interpretation) recommended a way for us to grow in our understanding of Scripture. Professor Stone challenged us to read different English translations of Scripture to become better acquainted with the nuances of how the Bible has been translated into English. The King James version, with its English from the time of the first Queen Elizabeth, is still a valuable translation in the era of the second Queen Elizabeth. The translation can be quite literal and can acquaint us with ways that Bible-era individuals communicated ideas.

My personal preferences are the English Standard Version and the New American Standard. Both are in contemporary English and translated rather literally. Reading these two translations can demonstrate a difference in the emphasis of translators. This can be seen in the translation of Jude 1:5. The New American Standard says that the Lord saved His people out of Egypt. The English Standard Version renders the verse as saying that Jesus saved the people out of Egypt.

In my devotional reading, I toggle between the English Standard Version and the New American Standard daily (as well as toggling between a print version and a tablet so as to keep my analog and digital reading skills honed).

May I challenge you that if you haven't read through the entirety of the Bible that you'll commit to do this (Take 12 minutes per day and you'll read through the Bible in one year). Once you've read through one version, read through another. It's a grace we've been given in our time and place.

Lastly, may I ask that you pray for and support efforts to translate the Bible into languages for which no translation currently exists. According to the website for The Seed Company (Wycliffe Bible Translators):

Over a billion people worldwide don’t have the full Bible in the language they know best. Nearly 1,700 languages don’t have any Scripture at all. In our lifetime, the Bible will become available to all for church planting, evangelism and discipleship efforts led by the local Church. 

The Seed Company is looking to complete the remaining translations so that all peoples will have a Bible translation in the language they know available to them by the year 2025.

Please pray for this great task and  consider supporting them. https://theseedcompany.org/

In this time of great grace, those of us in the English-speaking world can now read multiple English translations of the Bible. We can also assist in bringing those who don't have a Bible yet in their language, to have one within a decade from now.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Taking the time to see the work of God

There is a quote attributed to the late actress Carrie Fisher in which she said: “Instant gratification takes too long.” We live in that kind of culture. There is a kind of virtue our society places on being able to do things quickly. It once was said that things worth doing are worth doing well. Perhaps, that old proverb modified for today might read that things worth doing are only worth it if done quickly.   

While there are many aspects of our lives in which "instant" or "quickly"  have been real improvements to our lives, there are others which simply require the passage of time. They take a passage of time that simply cannot be sped up. Education, for example, from kindergarten to college, still requires many years of study. A child, within his or her mother's womb, still needs about nine months to become developed enough to be born.

The Bible is full of examples where God's work among His people, as communities of faith, or as individuals, requires time. We learn that trying to speed up the process could actually work against our best interests. When the people of Israel were about to start the process of conquering the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, God indicated that the conquest would not happen quickly because it should not happen quickly. God told His people:

"The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you."  Deuteronomy 7:22 (ESV)  A rapid conquest would bring about other problems. Rapid human de-population would lead to the rapid  growth of the number of wild beasts in the land. A successful and stable conquest required time.

It can also take time to recognize God's work in our lives. For some of God's people, very obvious changes in them have happened quickly. However, that is not always the case. In the Gospel accounts, we find that our growth in Christ is likened to the growth of wheat. The Lord Jesus told the parable of the wheat and weeds. They both develop, side by side, until the time of harvest. (Matthew 13:18-30). Growth in evil happens over time. So does the growth of holiness in Christ. 

Please recognize that there are occasions where it may take time to see that God is doing a truly wonderful work. We find such an example in the 28th chapter of the book of Acts. In that chapter, Luke gives the account of a shipwreck. Those who escaped the shipwreck, including the apostle Paul, find themselves on the island of Malta.  In that account, we find that after getting ashore, Paul gathered some sticks for firewood. Luke tells us:

"When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand."

The reaction of the onlookers made perfect sense:

"When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm."

You could imagine what it would have been like to have been there to witness that event. Everyone was waiting for Paul to fall over ill or dead.  And waiting, and waiting...

Luke confirms this: "They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead."

However, the unexpected happened, not the expected natural outcome of a viper bite.

"But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god."

Those onlookers drew the wrong conclusion about Paul being a god. However, they drew the right conclusion that something supernatural and out of the ordinary happened. 

Sometimes, when God works miraculously, the effects are sudden and dramatic. It does seem to be more the case that when God is working among His people, that work looks, at the beginning, like an ordinary event. Yet, it takes the patient watching of His people to know that something different, something unusual, is slowly unfolding. It simply takes time to distinguish between an everyday event and something special which God is doing.  Keep this in mind when you see what God does and has done, in the lives of His people, especially your own.