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Invisible Piggybacks

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Words are powerful. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” says Solomon (Prov. 18:21). But the power is not in the words themselves. Take them to a lab, put them on the table, dissect them, and what do you see? Nothing but a combination of letters, phonics coordinated for a language.

The power of words is in the ideas they represent. Words symbolize concepts, emotions, strategies, and arguments. They serve as signposts to an inner world. As Charles Wright put it, “The visible carries all the invisible on its back.” Without visible, concrete words, we would not be able to tap the invisible world that is the real driving force behind our lives.

The apostle Peter presents the reverse of Wright’s image, stating, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). Peter’s men, who were “carried along by the Holy Spirit,” were the inspired writers of the Bible. The process he describes is not simply one where the “visible carries all the invisible on its back,” but this time the invisible Spirit carries visible men, empowering them to record the divine will in human language.

Paul describes inspiration as being a verbal process; that is, God revealed not just his thoughts but the very words he wanted man to learn. 1 Corinthians 2:10 says, “These things [the truths revealed to the apostles, D.K.] God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” He then continues, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (vv. 12-13, emphasis added). This is significant. The Spirit did not stop at revealing the thoughts of God, leaving it up to the biblical writers to come up with the right words. The results would have been disastrous. Humans have trouble putting their own thoughts into words, let alone the thoughts of God. To ensure that we would have everything pertaining to life and godliness, the apostles were given the right words to symbolize the things needed to build our faith.

With these things in mind, we should make the Bible our authority in every religious matter. Being the Word of God in every sense, it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Words are powerful because of the concepts they carry. But when those concepts originate in human hearts, they are always flawed. Not only that, but they can become lost in translation, as they move from the soul to the page. But in one instance, an invisible God fused a saving message to visible, readable, understandable words. We are the beneficiaries of that message, so that when we read, we may receive insights into the mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:4).

Mirrors of the Soul

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Mirrors have come a long way. In ancient times, mirrors were composed of bronze, not glass. The metal would be polished to be as reflective as possible, but never would it yield a clear reflection like we can see in modern mirrors today. This explains Paul’s comment on life in the miraculous age: “For now we see in a mirror dimly…” (1 Cor. 13:12). “Dimly” comes from the Greek word from which we get our word enigma, which describes a riddle requiring interpretation. When the ancients looked into their mirrors, it was like solving a puzzle—“Are those bags under my eyes, or did someone punch me in my sleep?” Today we say, “The mirror doesn’t lie.” Back then, that saying would not have made much sense.

James was a master of metaphors, and in one passage he draws a helpful analogy to the mirror to teach us something about the nature of the word of God. He does this by describing two men, both who are looking into mirrors.

Of the first man he says,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (Jas. 1:22-24)

Notice that he says that the man looking in the mirror “looks intently.” Some have made the mistake of accusing this first man of only “glancing” at himself (Moffatt) or “catching” a glimpse (Phillips) in the mirror. Remember what we said about ancient mirrors. A quick glance gave you nothing. These mirrors required a careful gaze at the very least.

The mistake that this first man made was not changing anything about his appearance after the mirror reflected a few flaws. Maybe he needed a shave, or perhaps there were a few stray hairs that needed combing. Whatever the case may have been, the man walked away without doing anything to improve his appearance. This is like the person who studies God’s word, understands it, and learns that he needs to repent, only to walk away from it unchanged.

Contrast this case with a second man. James describes him, saying,

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (Jas. 1:25)

James is still thinking about mirrors. This second man “looked into the perfect law,” just like the first man did. The difference is that the second man “persevered”; that is, he put down his New Testament and made corrections in his life according to what he had just read.

Bibles are like mirrors in that they point out our flaws. Hebrews 4:12 reads, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Sometimes God’s piercing sword can be uncomfortable. Surgery is always painful, but sometimes it is the only option. And when we recover from the procedure, we are better than we were before.

The poet John Kendrick Bangs wrote,

Be sure to keep a mirror always nigh
In some convenient, handy sort of place,
And now and then look squarely in thine eye,
And with thyself keep ever face to face.

Keep God’s word handy. Use it as a mirror for the soul. You may find some flaws, but who wants to go out not knowing that he has blemishes on his face? Better yet, who wants to go before God in judgment, not knowing about the sins that will separate him from his Father for an eternity?


Thursday, February 21st, 2008

It is raining again, and for those of us who live in the South, that’s good news. Jeremiah spoke of how the Lord gives the “autumn rain and the spring rain” (5:24). For whatever reason, he did not send us much autumn rain this season, but we are being treated to a healthy dose of spring showers.

Soon flowers will blossom, and the world will be beautiful again. Every spring we are reminded of God’s power to resurrect the dead. He brings life so effortlessly; nature’s cycles almost seem careless: Flowers burst into brightness and fall to the ground. Green foliage sprouts, but soon turns colors in shades of yellow, red, and brown, and then it too falls to the ground. Winter arrives, killing everything in sight. And then, just when it seems that our world has dried up and withered away, the rains report and the world is born again. In the words of poet Tony Hoagland, “Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene…making beauty, and throwing it away, and making more.”

But in truth there is nothing careless about the rain. God always sends it at the right time. Without it, crops would not grow, animals and humans would starve, and life would vanish from the earth. God has a purpose in sending the showers. That purpose is life.

Rain never fails to achieve its intended purpose. James used it as an illustration of patience, pointing out that the farmer trusts in its power, waiting for the “precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains” (Jas. 5:7).

Isaiah had the effectiveness of rain in mind when he made the following comparison.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (55:10-11).

God uses his word just as effectively as he uses rain. It will achieve its purpose, regardless of the circumstances or of man’s refusal to heed its commands.

Much of God’s word has already been fulfilled. Abraham became a great nation, just as he said. A descendant of Abraham’s named Jesus was born of a woman and died to save us from our sins, just as he promised. This man rose from the dead and left his tomb, as it was predicted in the Scriptures. The church was established as a dwelling place for God on earth, according to God’s word.

Many things have not been fulfilled. Judgment Day is coming. A blissful eternal home awaits the righteous; everlasting punishment awaits the wicked. I know these things will come to pass because God spoke about them.

These words are right as rain.

Hypocrisy’s Usefulness in Testing Spirits

Monday, March 5th, 2007

The news has been featuring a number of intriguing stories about hypocrites.

At the forefront is Al Gore’s carbon footprint. The former vice president has been telling us the world is coming to an end because of our excessive energy-consumption, yet his electric bill is $1,200 a month.

Then there is Ted Haggard, the fallen leader of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. After a male prostitute accused him of homosexual activity and drug abuse, Haggard checked himself into rehab. Three weeks later he was pronounced “completely heterosexual.” The public is understandably having trouble believing him.

Another story that has somehow passed under the radar is the inconsistency of bioethicist Peter Singer. For years Singer has been redefining human life by coining the phrase “human non-person” to refer to fetuses, newborn babies, the disabled, and the terminally ill. The hope is that the phrase will prove a worthy salve for postmodern consciences desirous to justify abhorrent practices such as abortion and euthanasia. Hundreds have been influenced by Singer’s humanistic philosophies. But how well does he do when he is personally confronted with them? Not well, as a recent story reveals. When Singer’s own mother became a “human non-person,” he couldn’t bring himself to end her life. When “ethics” got personal, Singer chose to allow nature to take its course.

People of principle relish stories like these because they validate our suspicions. We can’t believe that people actually think their mothers and children are “human non-persons.” We know a lot of these televangelists are religious hucksters in disguise. We’ve always had a feeling that celebrities and politicians don’t practice what they preach. But is hypocrisy really evidence that we’re right?

John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). What did he mean by “test the spirits?” The idea is borrowed from metallurgy, the ancient technique of separating metals from their ores using fire. Just as the metallurgist tests his metals by the standard of a fiery cauldron, Christians must examine and prove every teacher by the standard of truth.

But is practice that standard? That is what we are saying if we use hypocrisy as a guide. Hypocrisy may be ugly; the Lord hated it (Mt. 6:1-2, 5, 16; 7:5; 15:7-9; 22:18; 23:2-33; et al.). However, hypocrisy cannot be used as the standard for judging whether or not something is true. If that were the case, then Haggard’s example proves homosexual behavior is acceptable, and Al Gore’s example, on its own, proves that Global Warming is a farce.

Practice cannot serve as a standard because it’s far too subjective. Sure, Haggard fell, but Christ didn’t. He’s the one who originally established the sinfulness of homosexual behavior (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Thousands of other preachers have lived up to their teaching, enough to relegate Haggard to the category of “exception to the rule.”

Moreover, hypocrisy is often the result of a disconnect between what a person believes in his heart and what he actually does. True, some are liars and know what they’re saying is false. But I think most hypocrites are just believers floundering in their own weaknesses, whether they are church leaders, philosophers, or heads of state.

The standard for truth is God’s Word. Because it is inspired (God-breathed), it can claim objectivity (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). While many of its heralds failed to live up to its doctrine at times, including some of the apostles, it has never wavered.

Hypocrisy should be shunned; dishonesty should never be tolerated. But let God’s Word be the judge. If we’re not careful, we’ll arrive at the wrong conclusion because we tested our propositions in the wrong fire.