How to Have Intimacy With God

Jon Bloom writes this truly wonderful piece:

Intimacy with God is available to you. It is as accessible to you as God’s promises. And God’s invitation to you to enjoy intimate fellowship with him is that thing that is putting your faith to the test more than anything else (James 1:2–4).

The Heart of Intimacy

Intimacy is what we call the experience of really knowing and being known by another person. We frequently use spatial language when describing this experience. An intimate friend is someone we feel very close to; they know us at a deep level. If something happens that damages the intimacy with our friend, they feel distant from us. Or a person who doesn’t know us intimately knows us at a superficial level.

But of course intimacy is not spatial but relational. We all know what it’s like to be sitting right next to a person with whom we feel distant and we can feel close to a person who is four thousand miles away.

What makes us feel intimate with another person? While there are many ingredients to intimacy and each intimate relationship we have has a different recipe, common to all of them is trust. We cannot be intimate with a person we don’t trust.

Trust is at the heart of intimacy. The more we trust someone, the closer we let them get to us. The degree to which trust is compromised in a relationship is the degree to which intimacy evaporates.

The Heart of Intimacy with God

This is as true in our relationship with God as it is in our relationships with other human beings. Our experience of God’s nearness or distance is not a description of his actual proximity to us but of our experience of intimacy with him. Scripture shows us that God is intimate with those who trust him. The more we trust God, the more intimately we come to know him. A felt distance from God is often due to a disruption in trust, such as a sin or disappointment.

This reality is vitally important to understand. As Christians, we want to experience intimacy with God. With the psalmist we say, “for me it is good to be near God” (Psalm 73:28). And we want to heed James’s exhortation and realize its promise: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). But we can seek that nearness in ways that don’t produce it.

Intimacy Is More Than Knowledge

One common mistake is thinking that nearness to God can be achieved through knowledge accumulation. Now, of course to intimately know God we must know crucial things about God. Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) and he pointed out that many worship what they do not know (John 4:22).

But never in the history of the Christian church has so much theological knowledge been available to so many people as it is today. The American church enjoys perhaps the greatest amount of this abundance. We are awash in Bible translations, good books, insightful articles, recorded sermons, interviews, movies, documentaries, music, and more. And much of it very good. It is right for us to be very thankful.

But America is not abounding in Enochs (or finding them frequently disappearing), saints who walk with God in a profoundly intimate way (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5). Why? Because knowledge is not synonymous with trust. That’s why Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day, some who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40)

Biblical knowledge is far better than gold when it fuels our trust in God, because it fuels our intimacy with God (Psalm 19:10). But when biblical knowledge replaces our trust in God, it only fuels our pride (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Happy Lamentations

It sounds like a paradox, doesn't it? Happy lamentations.

Aren't lamentations (by definition) expressions of sorrow? Well, yeah. Yeah, they are.

But if there's one thing I've learned about the Christian life from the Bible, things are not always what they seem.

Have you read the book of Lamentations in the Bible lately? It's a pretty depressing book. There are a lot of, ahem, expressions of sorrow - i.e., lamentations.

But chapter 3 sits smack dab in the middle with a glowing picture of happiness and hope in the midst of a book mourning God's judgment. The author recognizes that God is sovereign over suffering and is a just Judge but He is also the comforter and a loving Father to His children.

I find this passage overwhelming with comfort. Take it in today.

Even in the midst of suffering, we can have happiness and hope in a God who loves.

He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.” 

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. 

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 

It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. 

- Lamentations 3:16-27 ESV

An Advent Reading (December 20)

For the past few Sundays I've been sharing some Scriptures my church is reading to intentionally celebrate the incarnation of Jesus. This is the final passage:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV):

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Advent Reading (December 13)

For the next two Sundays, I will share a few Scriptures my church is reading to intentionally celebrate the incarnation of Jesus.

Philippians 2:5-11:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

3 Things People Without Joy Need to Do

Dad is preaching through Hosea right now, a book that is undeniably gloomy. Its central focus is on God's judgment being poured out on God's people. But in the midst of destruction, there is always hope.

Yesterday Dad preached on Hosea 9:1-9, a situation that found God's people without joy because they were living in sin. Through the text, Dad gave us three applications that Christians without joy today need to hear and do.

1. Call out to God and ask Him to reveal your sin.

This is no airy-fairy, dream-like revelation in the sky you're praying for, Dad assured us. It's actively reading God's Word and seeing your sin revealed through that. To have joy, read the Bible.

2. Call upon the Holy Spirit to convict you.

If you don't have joy, that is ultimately your problem, not God's. There is sin in the way. Ask the Spirit to bring that sin to your mind so that you can repent and deal with it. God will give you joy - but it is only found in faithful living.

3. Look to Christ and His work on the cross.

Joy isn't found in doing what you want to do. Joy isn't found in people. Joy isn't found in food or money or popularity or any ephemeral thing that we are tempted to trust in. Joy is found in depending on Christ through good or bad.

Are you without joy today? Look to God, the author and giver of joy.

What I (And You) Need to Hear Today

Whether you are low or scared or worried or overwhelmed or happy or excited or terrified or delighted or ashamed, here is the greatest comfort I can give you today:

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. 

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust."
-- Psalm 103:1-14 (ESV)

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Patrick Emerson.

What Does Sola Scriptura Mean?

John MacArthur on

The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. 

Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. 

It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture. The most ardent defender of sola Scriptura will concede, for example, that Scripture has little or nothing to say about DNA structures, microbiology, the rules of Chinese grammar, or rocket science. 

This or that “scientific truth,” for example, may or may not be actually true, whether or not it can be supported by Scripture—but Scripture is a “more sure Word,” standing above all other truth in its authority and certainty. 

It is “more sure,” according to the apostle Peter, than the data we gather firsthand through our senses (2 Peter 1:19). Therefore, Scripture is the highest and supreme authority on any matter on which it speaks.

But there are many important questions on which Scripture is silent.
Sola Scriptura makes no claim to the contrary. Nor does sola Scriptura claim that everything Jesus or the apostles ever taught is preserved in Scripture. 

It only means that everything necessary, everything binding on our consciences, and everything God requires of us is given to us in Scripture (2 Peter 1:3).

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Steve Snodgrass.

Celebrating Advent: Week 4

The Messiah, a Gift to Sinners

Isaiah 9:6:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Luke 2:8-11:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Celebrating Advent: Week 3

The Messiah, Born in Bethlehem

Micah 5:1-2:

Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

Luke 2:1-7:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Gospel According to Peanuts

Did you know that A Charlie Brown Christmas was predicted to be a flop? Did you know that it almost didn't air because Linus reads Scripture? All this and more is revealed in Lee Habeeb's 2011 article, "The Gospel According to Peanuts."

Few headlines about network television make me giddy. Fewer still make me hopeful that all is good in the world. But back in August of 2010, I read the following headline from the media pages with great excitement: “Charlie Brown Is Here to Stay: ABC Picks Up ‘Peanuts’ Specials Through 2015.” The first of these to be made, the famous Christmas special, was an instant classic when it was created by Charles Schulz on a shoestring budget back in 1965, and thanks to some smart television executives, it will be around for at least another five years for all of us to see and enjoy. 
What people don’t know is that the Christmas special almost didn’t happen, because some not-so-smart television executives almost didn’t let it air. You see, Charles Schulz had some ideas that challenged the way of thinking of those executives 46 years ago, and one of them had to do with the inclusion in his Christmas cartoon of a reading from the King James Bible’s version of the Gospel of Luke. 
The more things change, the more things stay the same. 
As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan. 
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a groundbreaking program in so many ways, as we learned watching the great PBS American Masters series on Charles Schulz, known by his friends and colleagues as “Sparky.” It was based on the comic strip Peanuts, and was produced and directed by former Warner Brothers animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for Snoopy. 
We learned in that PBS special that the cartoon happened by mere serendipity. 
“We got a call from Coca-Cola,” remembered Melendez. “And they said, ‘Have you and Mr. Schulz ever considered doing a Christmas show with the characters?’ and I immediately said ‘Yes.’ And it was Wednesday and they said, ‘If you can send us an outline by Monday, we might be interested in it.’ So I called Sparky on the phone and told him I’d just sold ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ and he said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘It’s something you’ve got to write tomorrow.’” 
We learned in that American Masters series that Schulz had some ideas of his own for the Christmas special, ideas that didn’t make the network suits very happy.

Image Credit:

Celebrating Advent: Week 2

The Messiah, Born of a Virgin

Isaiah 7:14:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Luke 1:34-38:

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Is It Ever Okay to Lie?

There is a big debate in Christian circles about lying. Is it ever okay for a Christian to lie? What if we're saving lives like Corrie ten Boom and Rahab and the Hebrew midwives? Does that justify lying? Are there multi-leveled planes of morality, where life-saving is on a higher plane than truth-telling and thus we must sacrifice telling the truth to save a life? This debate goes on and on, dancing in circles, often skipping to irresolution.

Frankly, I don't understand it. We throw out the term, "grey issue" when it comes to lying but I think this is neither responsible nor biblical. God's thoughts on the truth are as black and white as they come.

"You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another" (Leviticus 19:11).

"There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers" (Proverbs 6:16-19).

"Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit" (Psalm 34:13).

"God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" (Numbers 23:19)

People will accuse me of being too simplistic. But I think that this command is simple. God says do not lie, ever. There is not a single caveat in Scripture, nor ever any inclination that there are such things as planes of morality. Norman Geisler says that there is a hierarchy of values in the Bible and that, when some come into conflict, we need to subordinate the lower for the higher. So if mercy and truth-telling come into conflict, mercy wins out. 

I disagree. God never, never says that lying is okay if  (fill-in-the-blank). If we think that we need to disobey God to obey Him, we have a lack of trust in Him and a warped view of His law. 

People will use the example of Rahab. You've probably heard it. "She lied to protect the Israelite spies she had hidden to keep safe and she's in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith," they will say. Rahab's lie comes in Joshua 2. If you read the account through, you'll see that the author of Joshua never condones or commends her lie. He simply states it, much like he states the fact that she was a prostitute. We are not arguing for the morality of prostitution because of this text. Why would we argue for lying? Furthermore, when she is mentioned in Hebrews 11:31, her lie is not what got her there; it is her reception of the spies and her belief in God.

In John 14:6 Jesus called Himself, "the truth." Numbers 23:19 says that God never lies. Psalm 119:160 says that all of God's words are truth. The Lord says in Zechariah 8:19, "Love truth." John 4:23 says that God requires us to worship Him in truth. First Corinthians 13:6 says that love is about the truth. Ephesians 6:14 calls us to put on the belt of truth. Second John 2:2 says that truth lives inside a Christian and will be with us forever.

The truth is not simplistic. It is a non-negotiable command for the Christian. We are called to it, no matter what. It is never okay to lie. 

Why You Need the Bible

If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. Hence, the first step in true knowledge is taken, when we reverently embrace the testimony which God has been pleased therein to give of himself. For not only does faith, full and perfect faith, but all correct knowledge of God, originate in obedience. And surely in this respect God has with singular providence provided for mankind in all ages.

-- John Calvin, pg. xxviii in The Institutes

Fly Beyond the Stars: Christians and Imagination

Imagination is of central importance to the thinking, believing, growing Christian. Francis Schaeffer said, "The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars," as if saying Christians should have stronger, brighter imaginations than non-Christians. C.S Lewis too saw its importance, emphasizing its necessity in the process of understanding meaning behind truth. “For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.”

Imagination is a mental practice of creativity, creating something that is not wholly present in reality (i.e., a story world like Middle Earth or Narnia) or creating images or solutions or new things in your mind. Imagination is how you use your mind to internalize wonder and perceive reality in a more powerful way through creativity.

Christians don't talk a lot about imagination and wonder. We talk about rules and leave the "i-word" to the kids and the English professors. But the Christian life is one of immense, unlimited imagination and wonder.

God has created each human with the capacity for creativity, in His likeness, but as Christians, the blinders have been taken off the glasses through which we view the world. Though non-Christians can create good art and use their imaginations, they have a flawed perception of reality. Only Christians can see the whole story of the world - the dark, dark brokenness and the beauty of redemption and the anticipation of restoration. Only they can see the world and all its dirtiness and goodness through the lens of the work of Christ. Only they can see good and evil for what they are and the bold black lines that divide them.

Furthermore, the gospel itself inspires our awe and our wonder. We can marvel at the glories of the cross and our secured redemption. The Bible also inspires our imagination, though with this we must be very careful to not violate Scripture.  Yet there are distinct portions of Scripture that God actually gives to "fire up our imagination," as Randy Alcorn says; for example, heaven.

"We cannot anticipate or desire what we cannot imagine. That’s why, I believe, God has given us glimpses of Heaven in the Bible—to fire up our imagination and kindle a desire for Heaven in our hearts. And that’s why Satan will always discourage our imagination—or misdirect it to ethereal notions that violate Scripture. ... I believe that God expects us to use our imagination, even as we recognize its limitations and flaws. If God didn’t want us to imagine what Heaven will be like, he wouldn’t have told us as much about it as he has." (Randy Acorn, Heaven, Ch.II)

We can use our imaginations when we read of the glorious depictions of the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation and stretch our imaginations as far as we can by thinking about how good and better it will be there. When God gives us rich descriptions in the Bible, like the banquet in Esther or some of the prophets' visions, we are meant to imagine the mental picture the words were written to conjure. When Ezekiel stands in the valley of dry bones, don't yawn. Thrust yourself in that valley of bones with him! See the horror and the death and then realize the wonder of new life.

Our imagination is not a distraction to our Christian walk but a tool that God has equipped us with to create and to fuel wonder. Read good books, look at good art, make shapes in the clouds, appreciate the stars, love beauty, immerse yourself in studying the Scriptures, and stretch your imagination. Wonder at God's creation, be creative, use imagination to add meaning to truth, and stretch it beyond the stars - for the glory of God.

God is Angry (And Other Musings on the Wrath of God)

Even to Christians who have a strong biblical understanding of God's justice, most of us still (perhaps secretly) think it's a little appalling. God is angry. We reject the effeminate, pretty Spirit in the sky that the world worships, but to think of our God as actively angry still makes us a feel squeamish and awkward and sad.

We studied this point in Sunday School briefly this past Lord's Day and discussed some worthwhile reflections on the anger of God. As with the rest of His attributes, God is purely righteous in His anger (Rom. 2:5). He is wholly justified and strictly blameless. This is difficult for us to comprehend because our anger is usually sinful. As we considered in Sunday School, our anger is an emotion that often arises out of sin. That's why Paul has to counsel in Ephesians 4:26, "Be angry and do not sin."

But God's anger is totally other-than ours. My dad defines His anger in a way that I think is very rich. He calls it God's "settled disposition toward His enemies." And God's enemies are all who willingly choose to reject Him. Thus God's disposition toward them is settled. It's not come upon Him in a fit of frustration. He doesn't blow a fuse. He righteously hates the evil.

"The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies" (Nahum 1:2).

"The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath" (Psalm 110:5).

But people with a deeply skewed understanding of the Bible like to see two different Gods - one in the Old Testament and one in the New. The Old Testament God is angry, a God of blind and bitter judgement. His fingertips itch for fire and brimstone. Punishment is what He does best. And then this vindictive God disappears for four hundred years and Jesus suddenly steps onto the scene in the New Testament, meek and lamb-like and simply nice. The flannelgraphs never lie; Jesus always carries around a smile and a vision to reduce physical suffering. He's so sweet.

Sadly, these people don't understand the character of God. Jesus is not a mild manifestation of an Old Testament dictator. He is a member of the unified trinity. He is God. And God does not have split personalities or mood swings, good cop, bad cop, furious one day, cheerful the next. There is no angry God in the Old Testament, nice God in the New. God's anger operates within the rest of His characteristics. And the unified Bible presents one God who is perfect in love and perfect in justice. He is holy, thus He must execute judgement as a just judge.

This theme of God's anger winds through the entire narrative of Scripture, Old and New. Sometimes I see His anger more bluntly in the New.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18).

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming" (Colossians 3:5-6).

But the good news about God's anger is that, though it is fierce against God's enemies, it is removed from God's people. 

"For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:9).

"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" (Rom. 5:9).

This is very good news for today. It gives us hope for tomorrow! We can live in a right relationship with God, all because "For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Because of the blood of Christ, our blood need not be shed. Because of the righteousness of Christ, we are free from having to live a perfectly righteous life (a task we could never accomplish). Because Jesus endured the wrath of God, we are free from it. Because Jesus was resurrected from the dead, our eternal life is secure.

Because of Jesus, God is not angry at us.

Trust and Obey

The key component to lasting joy in the Christian walk is two-fold: trust God in His Word and obey Him. As John Sammis so simply and sweetly yet truthfully put it:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey. 
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

The decisions we make are momentary, but their effects last long. Each day holds a simple question: will we trust and obey today? Sin often messes up our finest goals, but God is still faithful. Each day is a new day.

So I say, good morning, self. Will you trust and obey today?

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Welcome to the Story: A Review

The Bible is a great story. It is a true story. It is the story that makes sense of us, of every moment, whether those moments are utterly confounding or seemingly insignificant.

Stephen J. Nichols' book, Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God's Word, is a book all about the Bible, making it an excellent resource for a new Christian. It's not long, it's written in a clear and simple format, and it provides a sweeping overview of the narrative of Scripture. Though I found nothing unfamiliar in my read of it, a new Christian would, I'm sure, find it deeply practical and beneficial.

Nichols writes in what neatly summarizes Welcome to the Story:

This book invites you to enter in, to participate in, the story of the Bible. To do so, we must first see and grasp the story. We can put the puzzle together much more easily if we are looking at the picture on the box. This book aims to show you the big picture so you can make sense of all the pieces.

The first five chapters examine this big picture of Scripture, looking at four major themes (or acts):

1) Creation
2) Fall
3) Redemption
4) Restoration

The next chapter looks at the characters in Scripture, and how to view them. The final four chapters are exceedingly practical, looking at how to not miss the point of the story, how to love the story, how to live the story, and then the "now what?" aspect of the story - or, how do we put all of this together? There's an appendix of sorts in the back, called "Cheat Sheet for Reading the Bible," which applies "the five friends of biblical interpretation and application," or the journalist's five friends - who, what, where, when, and why - to the daily reading of Scripture.

Nichols' writing is accessible for pretty much anybody, sprinkled with a dose of terribly corny jokes. His overview of the story is accurate and concise, and I enjoyed it the most out of this book. But I love how Nichols emphasizes the personal aspect of Scripture, how we're invited to enter in and participate in that grand story. The Bible is not just to read and forget. It's to read and live and love. And that comes out clearly in Welcome to the Story.

We don't passively watch the story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration play itself out. We're not off in the gallery peering down on the stage. We are part of the story. We're not off the field, in the bleachers watching God bring his plans to fruition. God has made us part of the game. We're suited up and we're on the field.

Buy Welcome to the Story here.

*I received a copy of this book from Crossway through their Beyond the Page review system. I was not required to give a positive review
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Living, Breathing, Beating, Sharp

On June 16, Seeds Family Worship released a single called "The Word of God," simply putting music to the words of Hebrews 4:12:

"The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of bone and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

After these words, they sing a simple chorus:

We love Your word. We love Your word, O God. We love Your word.

I recently had a lengthy phone conversation with an unsaved family member about the gospel. As we talked about creation and sin and eternity and evil and as he threw arguments against the Christian faith and I countered them, he kept insisting, "But those are just your beliefs! You're just saying what you've been taught." "No," I kept responding. "It's not just my beliefs. I'm telling you what the Bible says."

The Bible is far from an ordinary book. It's peculiar from every other inanimate object. Unlike so many other books, it was never meant to merely look pretty on a shelf and collect dust. Its words protect and build up and encourage and convict and blind. It is alive with life and it breathes new life. It is living, breathing, beating, and sharp.

But we restrict the Bible's power sometimes. We pretend that its purpose is to look pretty on the shelf and dusty from neglect. We forget that it contains the very words of God, each word being "God-breathed." (2 Timothy 3:16) We forget the Word of God is the Word of God. And we forget that we ought to love this Word. We ought to adore this book, to not merely visit it, but to "live in it" as C.H. Spurgeon said.

I am guilty of this, sorely and sadly. My Bible rarely sits neglected, but often it's read for the wrong reasons. Or it's skimmed. How wrong of us to skim the words of God, as if we don't need to hang desperately upon each word! Other times, I read the Bible to put a check mark on a page. I read it out of duty but not delight. In short, I take the Word of God for granted.

The Kimyal tribe in Indonesia did not take the Word of God for granted. In this past weekend's Saturday Smile, I shared an incredible video of the Kimyals receiving copies of the New Testament in their native language for the first time. The joy, the weeping, the utter worship of God was indescribable to see. These people understand the importance of the Scriptures. They know its power.

May we in our affluent North America get even a taste of the Kimyals incomprehensible love for the Word of God. May we study the Scriptures and soak in the glory of God. May we know its power and its life and may we never take it for granted. For it is living, breathing, beating, and sharp.

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