Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Bullet of Scripture: Speaking to Future Man

There are many people today, as always, who are in panic mode, decrying the fall of Civilization with the introduction of our remarkable, fast paced revolutionary technology and the information overload it has birthed! To some extent they are appallingly, frighteningly right! Have you ever heard someone called a Luddite? The term is used to refer to someone who opposes new inventions or innovations. It comes from a public uprising in England in the early 1800s when skilled weavers opposed the advances of the Industrial Revolution. “The principal objection of the Luddites was against the introduction of new wide-framed automated looms that could be operated by cheap, relatively unskilled labour, resulting in the loss of jobs for many skilled textile workers.” In short, they had cause to demonstrate because their “Civilization” or “way of life” or “means of income” or “former security” was failing and passing away!

When one “way of life” gives way to another, there is always turmoil, loss, conflict, dissatisfaction, fear, uncertainty, change. Such things frighten many good people who do not wish to see the “old ways” end. Just as in the days of the Industrial Revolution, our own times of dramatic change mean much is lost but that much is also gained … often for the better!

Philip Martin paints a grim picture of “The New Electronic Man” evolving out of our Electronic Revolution:
But a new creature has crawled out of the blinking neon forest and struggled to his feet, a New Man for the Next Age. He carries a mobile phone and he knows about PlayStations and those vulgar rituals of public humiliation they show in prime time. He’s lost his taste for subtlety, understands that the world is too rough for empathy and that reflection is a sign of weakness. Besides, he can drop down into his personal echo chamber and hear the smartest people in the world tell him he’s absolutely right any time he wants. He can stop his ears and eyes against all dissent.

Wised-up but unrestrained by wisdom, deeply cynical yet inoculated against self-doubt, low-carbed and Red Bulled, his reflexes honed by simulated mortal combat in the dorms of a football or basketball school, this rough beast stalks the earth. And like the kid in the ESPN commercial, he’s not that strong a reader.

Whether or not “this being” is the New Barbarian at the gates of Western Civilization or an “anti-Luddite” seeking the New Order or the Child of the Future who will save us, and who we need to adopt and foster, is still a question much in doubt. One thing is clear; we need to insure that the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is still available for him to access in the arcane, new forms he embraces as his “saviors.” Our Future Man and Woman need to hear it just as much as the crowd about Jesus’ feet the day He first told the story. It remains, along with all the words of Scripture, the life-changing Truth all need to encounter. Let it come from a “storyteller,” a handwritten text, a book, a computer screen, a cell phone or some as yet unimaginable medium. But come it must if insanity is to be replaced with sanity!

The Creator’s “word gifts of truth” are eternal and applicable to every person in every generation, in every circumstance, at every level of society regardless of the medium used in telling it. If a person earnestly “reads God,” the great truths of the Savior will keep him or her up to date! “Without a heritage everyone starts over!” We don’t have that kind of time. The wise will “read God” and remember … and they will do it with a steady haste!

I am laid low in the dust; but I know You will preserve my life according to Your Word.” Psalm 119:25

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

This is the last in a series of posts inspired by Mr.Philip Martin's article: “Reader’s Remorse: Have books lost their shelf life?” Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Sunday, April 5, 2009.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Bullet of Scripture: More Than Just the Facts …

Reading a book can be merely a practical exercise undertaken for utilitarian motives … “I have to!” or “I need to!” Ask any student cramming for an exam pouring over his or her textbook. Some people take pride in reading only for information. Philip Martin, in his article entitled “Reader’s Remorse,”* paints a picture of the “Captain of Industry” being interviewed for a feature piece in some business journal who comments with disdain that “…he hasn’t time to read fiction, that all his reading is designed to provide him competitive advantages…”

Yet reading should provide more than a “competitive advantage” over others. Its higher purpose is to serve as a cultural repository to feed one’s thinking, nourish the heart and enflame the vision! The great heritage of the ages is to be found in the “Great Books” and not in great financial payoffs. A people who do not have even a passing acquaintance with “the books of truth” not only “starve” their own intellects but abet the slow suicide of their own Culture as they have known and experienced it. Not every member of a culture needs to be a connoisseur of books on religion, philosophy, literature and history but there needs to be many among their number who are widely read. Society needs an appreciation for the content of such tomes that inspires respect for learning … otherwise, the past loses its role as prologue and becomes the funeral pyre for civilization. Just as the riches of antiquity burned under the torches of the barbarians at the gates of Rome, and the Romans themselves once destroyed the ancient world’s greatest library in Alexandria, so we destroy ourselves when we destroy knowledge … by the fire of ignorance and the idolatry of the immediate!

There is also a personal pleasure to be found in the reading of books that should not be discounted as trivial or “old fashioned.” To sit down with the object … a book … in one’s hands and concentrate on the words and symbols displayed on its pages is like opening the curtain in a theatre where one’s imagination can be fully engaged and filled with anticipation, pleasure and significance. When reason, hands and eyes work together to deliver the experience of reading, the results within one’s heart can be engrossing. It is a form of recreation unique to itself as much as fishing, golf, travel, gardening, shopping or ballroom dancing.

The most exciting and beneficial experience a person can have on earth is learning how to exchange his or her ideas for God’s ideas … your minimums for His maximums; your limitations for His new horizons; your blindness for His light; your ignorance for His brilliance; your bondage for His freedom. Only reading the “right” things for you … and especially reading the Scriptures … can give you the most profound tool imaginable to expand your mind and your life to the utmost. The quality of your life experience can improve overnight with the intake of the “thoughts” of God! In Isaiah 40:31 we read, “But those whose expectations are in the LORD will renew their strength …” In Hebrew the word renew can mean to exchange! Exchange your thinking for His thinking! To replace, convert or swap your conclusions for Christ’s conclusions brings incredible empowerment. To renew your heart and gain a fresh take on life start reading for truth … for God’s ideas! To start thinking like the Messiah is to start reigning in life as a continuous “overcomer.” Just one of His words can change everything.

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11

The words I speak unto you are spirit and they are life!” John 6:63

Let the same mind that dwelt in Jesus Christ dwell in you.” Philippians 2:5

*“Reader’s Remorse: Have books lost their shelf life?” by Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Sunday, April 5, 2009.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Bullet of Scripture: The Story, The Medium and The Message

There are many ways to convey information: spoken words, written words, electronic words. There are even words as knots on a web of cords. The Incas of Peru used a complicated pattern of knots to write their records of empire. This is one of the most interesting and unusual “written languages” in the world. By their very nature, the forms, symbols and words of every language offer distinct ways of perceiving the world, interacting with their expressions and implying reactions by the people who use them.

A great storyteller will be a great storyteller regardless of his or her medium. Yet the way the story is conveyed to us matters greatly. In one of the Star Trek movies, Captain Kirk caresses a book because he loves the way it feels in his hands. He loves the experience of reading it rather than having the computer impart the same text. The medium becomes part of the experience that creates the message of the book. Consider how we attach another level of meaning to the book in our hands when we think this was my mother’s Bible or my dear friend is the author of this book, this was the first book in my library, so and so gave me this book, this book changed my life, etc.

Philip Martin, writing in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette*, makes this point very well as he compares reading a book to reading from a computer screen:

“Paper takes up space, and the ability to arrange it in space is one of its advantages. Also, reading off a piece of paper held in your hand is different than reading off a screen, in part because the physical nature of paper allows us to use our tactile senses – our fingers and hands – to navigate our way through documents. Reading off a screen transfers some of the place-keeping and navigational responsibilities to the brain, causing it to be more taxing.”

This leads to another consideration: how does reading a book in any form change not only the experience of reading but also the reader? There is no doubt that books make an impact on us. I can testify to many books that they changed my life. I could even rank the top ten that profoundly altered my thinking about truth, hence my life also. Why read for any other propose than inviting change? We should read the way we eat … to stay alive and enjoy the process! Some reads taste better than others but they can all be digested for our benefit! Even the poorly written, dull or error prone book can point us to a new and better direction. Reading is like the rest of life … trial and error and then fulfillment!

The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly. The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” Ecclesiastes 12:12

Nevertheless, the right and balanced reading of books and the Book are “well driven nails” that enable us to hold onto the truth that will invigorate, direct and electrify our living. The key is not to go beyond or draw back from the leadership of the One Shepherd Who has given us His message to read!

But My righteous ones will live by faith (in what I have said and written), and if they draw back I will have no pleasure in them.” Hebrews 10:38

*"Reader’s Remorse: Have books lost their shelf life?," Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Sunday, April 5,2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Bullet of Scripture: Story Telling, Old and New

Let’s travel back in our imagination a couple of thousand years. You are one of the followers of Messiah Jesus. It is a clear evening. The sun has just set and you and your friends make yourselves comfortable around a brightly flickering camp fire. It’s been a long day. You’ve had a good meal. Everyone is ready to relax for awhile before going to sleep. You are enjoying a well deserved rest after a fatiguing day of walking, healing, ministering and listening to the Word of God spoken by the Master. Everyone quiets as the Savior begins to tell a story. This is a good one even though He has told it before: “There was a man who was a beggar. His name was Lazarus …”

This “Man,” Jesus, Who tells Lazarus’ story (Luke 16:19-31) never wrote a book. In fact, this well-loved account was not written down until after His death. It was at that time transferred from memory to “paper.” There were options even then. Writing could be done on parchment with a bamboo “fountain pen” invented by the Romans. Another common way of writing was to use wooden tablets covered in wax. Writing was created by incising the wax with a stylus. This was a pencil-sized instrument of iron (as noted in ancient Roman texts on writing) or bone or wood or other hard materials that could leave an impression in the wax. A stylus could even have an “eraser” end to smooth away errors or unwanted text.

The years passed. The text was copied over and over again by different hands using a variety of papers and writing instruments. From somewhere around 700 A.D. onward, the quill pen was commonly used to make these handwritten books. By the year 1424, the library of the great university of Cambridge, England, had a total of 122 parchment books, each worth the price of a farm or vineyard!

Then there was a revolution; spurred by the increasing demand for reasonably priced books by a growing, educated middle class. This new technology of the printing press was as earthshaking as the gift of writing itself. At the forefront of this technological revolution was a German goldsmith by the name of Johannes Gutenberg. He is credited with inventing the first European printing press with moveable type in the year 1440. His first substantive project … the famous Gutenberg Bible … included the story of the beggar Lazarus!

Just over a half-a-millennium later a new revolution is changing the way people interact with this ancient story. In preparing this article, we searched for and then read the text of Luke off a computer screen. The experience of receiving the story of Lazarus and his rich neighbor has changed. There are several fascinating implications in this change but, above and beyond all other considerations, is the fact that after some 2,000 years his bit of history is still being told. The stunning revelation of this story is not so much in its content. It is the fact that when God in flesh walked the earth He took the time to select this particular story and tell it instead of thousands of other options! That the Messiah Himself should use such an illustration of poverty, hopelessness, sores and dogs is as astonishing and remarkable as the story itself! What a wonder is the Mind of God!

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores…” Luke 16: 19-21

The point of this great piece of biography is that no matter how bad things are for you on earth they are temporary. They cannot keep you from spending eternity in the Presence of God. Quit complaining. Have no pity parties. The depth of your poverty and suffering could be the very instruments that opened up your eternity to the Lord of Life. Read the Scriptures … this one from Luke and the hundreds of other verses where the Lord has spoken clearly! Put your hope in God’s Voice, not miracles, not circumstances, not the temporary. Lazarus listened, evidently sought to obey, even in his poverty, and waited! For 2,000 years now millions have heard his story. It is the story of a nobody who became somebody because Jesus called his name! Our Lord is saying this is the destiny of all who will listen and think the way Lazarus did!

The Father said that if people won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets (the Scripture), they won’t listen to someone even if he comes back from the dead!” … “When Lazarus died the angels took him into the Presence …” Luke 16:22, 31

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The 4th of July: Freedom, Independence and Interdependence for All

“It is no small thing to build a new world, Gentlemen.” These are Benjamin Franklin’s words in John Adams, the powerful historical mini-series chronicling the birth and infancy of our nation. Truly it was no small thing when the members of the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Knowing they were about to embark on an adventure that would cost them dearly, they concluded the document with these words, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

The new world these men pledged to build would be birthed in “blood, sweat and tears.” With agony, frustration, doubt, bickering, disagreement, anger, fear, worry, pain, betrayal, courage, bravery and sheer determination the leaders of our nation set about giving form to “their ideal government” of free men. The liberated and independent country they envisioned had never before been known on earth! To their advantage, the American Colonies were well endowed with rich farms and prosperous communities, even cities; in comparison with much of the rest of the world, including England, Americans were becoming rich. On the other hand, they were facing the supreme military power in the world at that time, Great Britain. In defiance of the odds, this militarily insignificant group of colonies demanded more than just equality under British law … they demanded Independence! That July day they had no army, no navy, no government, no allies, no unanimous loyalty, no proven national leaders, no facilities, no financial reserves, etc. … yet they took on the most powerful nation in the world … and won! Even more amazing, a large portion of the American population didn’t want it to happen. Thousands declared themselves to be loyalists to the British government, or Tories, and actually fought with the English against the vision of the Founders!

Being men of reality and understanding, they realized that this dream could only come about if they covenanted together, fought and died together, sacrificed together and overcame their differences together. As much as they wanted independence from England they needed interdependence among themselves to achieve it. Their wonderful blend of freedom and dependence is magnificently stated in the Declaration of Independence and our American Constitution. The roots of these revolutionary documents are a balance of secular “enlightenment” thought and the truth realities expressed in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Our Lord Himself tells us that He came to make mankind free, free to be part of the Father’s family and to break free from the world’s tyranny of idols and illusions: “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:35-36). The same thought is echoed in the words of the Apostle Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Let me confidently state that the United States would never have come into being had our Founding Fathers sought to have built it on the Koran rather than the Scriptures of Moses and Jesus!

Just as the colonists set about building a nation of free men, the Lord Jesus preceded them by coming to earth to build a worldwide family of free human beings. Their gender, color, employment, heritage, nationality or any other distinction created by human thinking or natural consequences was a secondary consideration! Think about another “Declaration” of our Lord’s purpose in the story of another seeker after Truth. This man, named Nicodemus, was a religious leader yet still did not comprehend the relationship of the natural and the supernatural!

One thing you can be sure of, controversy always sprang up easily when Jesus spoke out against the legalistic leaders of the Jews. But not all those leaders were indifferent to His words. One man who was eager to know more was Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a member of the ruling Jewish council. He came under the cover of night to the Master to ask the questions that had pricked his mind for a long time. He understood that the miracles Jesus performed could only be done by a Man of God. Yet he was confused and unsure of the message and the Man Who delivered it. This was not the teaching of the established experts. Jesus spoke, not with “degreed learning” but with “convicting authority.” He made statements, like “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Nicodemus’ mind refused to step outside the box and see the point the Teacher was making. At the end of the interview Jesus gave him, and us, His own “Declaration of Independence”:
I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the bronze snake in the wilderness, (for the people to look and be healed) so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not waste away to nothing but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the Name of God's one and only Son. This is the final verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God
." John 3:12-21

These words and their full meaning are too exalted and deep for our tiny minds and hearts. Yet we do comprehend enough of their truth to be compelled to seek the hope of greater things. We too, like our Founding Fathers, can see the great beginning and hope of a still unrealized America … and we too “still press on!” The Founders of our country had this great “Declaration of True Freedom” to undergird their understanding and commitment as they crafted a new nation that would “… establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …” (preamble of The Constitution of the United States).

We are exceedingly blessed to live in the United States, the country that came out of the Declaration of Independence presented to its citizens that July of 1776. We enjoy and prosper from the benefits of our heritage of freedom as Americans. As we celebrate the birth of our nation this coming weekend, our major emotions should be reflection and gratitude. Let us recall again the words of The Signers and join afresh in their resolve! “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

No nation on earth has ever brought more peace, prosperity, liberty and opportunity to its people than the United States of America. Our system of government, freedom, power and benefits is the most successful in history for the maximum number of its citizens. Truly, our Founding Fathers and our Founding Generation have been our greatest friends in giving us our way of life. If our hearts are noble, the choices before us are clear. We, too, must mutually pledge anew in our current crisis our reliance on God. We, too, must mutually pledge to others our fortunes, our honor and, if necessary, our lives!

“… greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends!” The Lord Christ in John 15:13