One New Year’s challenge that I always look forward to is reading through the Bible beginning January first. Honestly, I don’t always get the whole text read in a year. Sometimes interruptions get in the way. On other occasions, I find God grabbing my attention to stop and meditate on one single verse in the day’s reading instead of pressing on with the rest of the text.
But I’ve found that a daily practice of systematically working through the Bible has been just as important spiritually as eating a healthy diet is for the physical. The objective is simply coming before the life-changing Word of God regularly and allowing HIM to change us.
In my vocation, it’s easy to check out and look at the Bible as a textbook. By this, I mean merely studying the content for sermon preparation, teaching, and the like. But, unfortunately, that’s probably not too far off for many of us. In other words, it’s easy to take it for granted. Yet somehow, we know there’s something different to this book. The Bible is still the number one selling book of all time. It is both mysterious and rational. It is known to change even the hardest of hearts and bring purpose, clarity, and hope for those honestly seeking answers.
I know; some have argued against or wondered about the validity of the Bible. On the surface, that is a good question. To that, I have written in places such as here on the reliability of the text. So, yes, there are indeed rational reasons to trust the Bible and learn from it today for those honestly seeking truth.
Therefore, the challenge that I’m passing along to you is to pick up the Old Book in the New Year and dive in. Don’t worry if you miss a day or can only grab a few verses on another. Just pick it up again the next day at the scheduled reading spot. No, you may not end up having read every single word of the text in 2022. But if you are not at least setting a road map, you’ll never travel anywhere. It’s not about legalism anyway. The purpose is not more religious points scored with God but instead preparing the heart for Him to speak into your life and the lives of His people, the church.
I have often remembered a quote attributed to the 19th century English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, who supposedly said, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” I like that regardless of who said it. It conveys that the Word of God is powerful and will indeed transform your life today. There are several good online plans to read the Bible through in a year. This is the one that I use and here are other options.
As for me going into 2022, I’m in. What about you?
This past weekend I attended a memorial service for a great man. His name is Walter, and he had a tremendous impact on countless souls during his years on earth. Walter was an attorney who fought for civil rights during the 60s and 70s and even argued and won more than one case before the Texas Supreme Court.
Walter was heavily involved in Boy Scouts of America and lived to serve and support those in need around him. The drive for Walter’s care for others was rooted in his relationship with Jesus Christ. His passion for Jesus was on display for all to see, even in his last days.
All of that is enough for praise at a memorial. For me, though, Walter was more. He was a significant father figure in my life. So when I got word last Thursday night that Walter had gone home to be with the Lord, I told my wife that there was more of a sense of loss in his death than when my adopted father died.
Walter and his family showed me Christ, and he also demonstrated to me what manhood was in a world of so many mixed messages.
In my book, Confessions, I noted that I lived part of my childhood without a dad in the house. During those seasons, my mother tried to include some men in my life, men such as Walter, and his son, Eric, who led me to Christ. She didn’t fret over getting more ladies into my impressionable heart. She knew that men and women are different and that I needed the gift of masculinity and the challenge of manhood.
As I scan the neighborhoods of the world today, I see this need being much more pressing in the lives of boys and young men. So I try to convey the love of Christ and work to build and encourage boys and young men the way Walter and others encouraged me.
Today, there are times when I meet a young boy and extend my hand, but instead of offering a high five, I’ll say something like, “Let’s shake hands like men.” Sometimes it’s those little encouragements along the way that helps a boy realize who he is and what he can become as he grows. He needs to hear—from a man—that he indeed is or will be a man someday.
I still remember one of those transformational steps. It wasn’t big, but it was recognition, and sometimes that’s enough to get the ball rolling. We were at my aunt and uncle’s house for some family gathering, and I was the only kid my age there. I was bored out of my skull in the dining area, listening to my mom, aunt, and three or four other ladies talk. Then I heard Walter yell at me from the back patio: “Steve, what are you doing? Come out here and sit with the men.” It was a little thing, but why do I still remember it to this day? Because a man I respected called me out to be with him. If this man was calling me a man, then I figured I’d possibly be a man someday, too. Thus I am.
Who was a powerful man in your life?
If you’d like more on the subject of manhood, check out chapter 4 in the Confessions book. Also available at B&N and Audible.
This is not what I had in mind. My original intent was to pick up where I had left off when I returned after a summer break. Then last Thursday afternoon, I accidentally stumbled into President Biden’s address regarding the chaos in Afghanistan, and then it happened; I strayed into waters I usually don’t swim in by sharing some political thoughts in social media outlets.
While I have my opinions, my point here is not to offer political commentary. Partly because I recognize I am not all that brilliant in this realm, but mostly because I am convinced that the hope for humanity lies in a changed heart by Jesus and not a political debate. Instead, the significant angst and cause for my concern had to do with the most botched Biblical connection I’ve seen used by a President for political gain.
The past few years, I saw several people blast President Trump for his use and misuse of scriptural passages, holding up a Bible, and then infer his insertion of the sacred text was merely a political stunt. They may be correct. While I have seen a sprinkling of responses to President Biden’s complete disconnect of Biblical context, such as here, most of the media waves have been silent or focused on the political.
Biden likened God’s call of the prophet Isaiah to the American Servicemen and women responding to the nation’s call of sacrificial service for those who missed the blunder. You can read the text here or watch it here. As I heard those words, which were inserted probably by a speechwriter, I was not only shocked but wondered how in the world anyone beyond a pre-school education could believe that such a disconnected interpretation would fly.
Does Biden or his staff not see this? Do they not actually grasp the error themselves, or maybe believe no one will check up on them? I assume that someone merely inserted the phrase for Biden with the hope that his address would pull some Christian or Hebrew religious people to his side.
In short, the context of Isaiah 6 is that of God sitting above the throne of human affairs when Isaiah is confronted with God’s holiness. In this exchange, Isaiah sees the evil of his nation and his own sin and responds with fear and trembling. The Steve Hinton interpretation? – “Wow – You’re big and Holy, and I’m small and sinful – I’m dead, please have mercy on me.” From here, God extends grace and mercy toward Isaiah’s heart of repentance. God then calls for someone to carry this message of repentance and hope to the nation, and Isaiah responds. You can read the entire text here.
So why do I bring this up? To merely point out the error of those in public leadership? I have done that before. However, my drive here is to show that we will find hope for today if we correctly receive God’s Word.
As noted, the immediate context was God’s coming judgment on Israel and his prophet, Isaiah, extending an offer for grace to those who would repent of their sin. If we are to make an application today, then we must do what Isaiah did. Instead of blaming others, we must humbly acknowledge our own sin. Therein lies the big rub; we don’t like the words repent or sin when they must be applied to ourselves. But yet, repentance is what we must do.
God is indeed full of awe, and the mere insertion of the Bible periodically in our lives does not impress him. If we are going to do business with the divine, then we must come on his terms. God is both perfect in his holiness and his love, and for us to genuinely grasp grace, we must see the seriousness of our sin. We must own it and confess it.
The call of repentance also reminds me of another passage that is superficially quoted from time to time by many Christians and Jews in America and the West. In the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14, as Solomon dedicated the ancient Hebrew temple, God promised him that if “my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The immediate context for this passage was for Israel, but if we are to apply it today, it would be for the Church and not the nation of America. Prayer is often the main thought here. However, an attitude of humility and turning from our wicked ways must accompany that prayer for deliverance. Hope for America, for any land, begins first by a revival among those who know God and then an awakening among the populace to see their need for God’s grace and respond accordingly.
That is why I have jumped back into a season of writing today on this topic. There may indeed be hope for our confusing time, but it will only come in restoration from God, not our politics. The mercy which God extended personally to Isaiah came right after his confession and repentance. For us, God’s greatest act of mercy and grace came in the sacrifice that Jesus gave us on the cross in his death, burial and resurrection. That healing grace is available for all who would come to God. For that grace to mean anything, though, we must first see our need for it.
I have no problem with politicians using scripture as long as it is in the appropriate context. In truth, I do not know their most inner motive. But when the disconnect of scripture is so apparent, it is clear that abuse of God’s word has taken place. On the other hand, healing can happen when God’s word is properly expounded to the world, and an appropriate response is realized.
Interestingly enough, while clearing out some old files in the garage yesterday, I came across some notes from my first preaching class in college that seemed so relevant. I glanced at a quote given by my professor and immediately took the providential cue from the statement knowing its application for our day. The topic dealt with clear teaching from scripture in times of need, and the quote came from the German theologian Karl Barth as he was being forced out of his home in 1935. In a final address to his students, he noted that the only hope their country had was proper “exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis!” The theological term exegesis is simply the study of appropriate interpretation and application of scripture, which is needed today.
So the call here is not merely for President Biden or other politicians, though that would be good, but rather for all of us to take up and read and head the word of God and follow Jesus with all our hearts.
One of the reasons I pray and ask God to spare America is not actually for my comfort, but that we might continue to send out missionaries to those across the waters that need Jesus and the Bible. So, yes, I do pray for awakening and revival. Yes, I believe it can happen.
I’ve heard it a lot over the years and even more so of late. Divine name dropping. Jesus is referenced. The Bible is quoted. The god of our making is inserted into conversation so that all will know the divine endorsement of our position. After all, how can you argue with God?
When it comes to the person of Jesus, people usually bring Him into a discussion when they believe He can lend added weight to their argument. Socially and politically speaking, conservatives will bring Jesus up regarding a pro-life position, and liberals will enter the Jesus card to support their call for immigration reform or taking care of the down and out. Good Samaritan type talk. Sure, it’s easy to like Jesus when he does what we want him to do and say. But what about the passages where Jesus doesn’t always comply with our wishes? Do we cherry-pick the verses we like and find tools to rationalize away passages that make us uncomfortable?
Therein lies the tension. Are we willing to take all of Jesus or only what makes us feel good? This is the ultimate question. Are we going to follow him totally, or not? Are we going to force Jesus to fit into our worldview, or will we allow Him to change us and mold us into his Kingdom worldview?
In launching this question and series of posts, I’m thinking of one occasion where Jesus connected both the past and the future for a present truth we must all wrestle with. In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus drew up Old Testament history and connected it to the future judgment of those who refuse to repent of their sin. Noah and the ark are the object of Jesus’ teaching, and he spoke of the account as though it was just as authentic as Caesar Augustus.
In teaching on the end times and final judgment, Jesus went back to the Old Testament book of Genesis, treating it with the same authority of an actual history lesson. Jesus taught that the flood account was the real deal. In this context, Jesus was responding to the disciples who had asked about the end times and possible signs that might accompany them. Jesus noted that just as people in Noah’s day had heard the message of God and rejected it, thus bringing judgment upon themselves, so people would similarly respond today and likewise perish.
People don’t talk about judgment these days. The implication is personal sin and accountability to a Holy God, which is uncomfortable and inconvenient to our egos. No, we like the gentle and gracious Jesus. The God of which we must bow down to, well, that’s another story.
Yes, Jesus came full of grace. However, he came full of truth as well. Jesus also spoke of eternal punishment in Matthew 25:46, and Luke 21:27 records Jesus speaking of His second coming on the clouds with power and great glory. In describing the word picture of a grand banquet in Matthew 22:13, Jesus noted that there would be those on the outside being cast into darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In a crescendo of conviction, the apostle John shares the end of all things when those who have rejected the grace of Christ are thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death.
If we examine the facts of his resurrection and choose to call him Lord, we must also acknowledge the day of judgment. To deny Noah and the coming judgment is essentially denying Jesus. The ramifications are enormous. Those who are outside Christ must wrestle with their need in great humility. For those who know the grace of Christ, the call to share his love with the world is paramount. For the child of God, there is peace in knowing the day of judgment will finally bring an end to evil. The day will indeed come when the King of Glory will settle the score and finally bring justice for those who have followed Him.
Yes, Jesus is love, gracious and kind. He is also Lord and we must reckon with this reality. Because he is Lord, we have this assurance that he will come again someday for his children. His lordship is both a convicting and an encouraging promise to take to the bank.
It’s been said so many times; “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over with!” I can feel the pain. But I’m also a realist on this occasion. The truth is that many of the issues that cause us angst may not simply go away with turning the calendar page. Yes, there are some promising signs with COVID vaccines. The political drama is really up for grabs depending on what your bent is on that one. Regardless of present feelings of hope, we just do not know the certainty of the next 12 months.
Along these lines, I am reminded of an outstanding documentary about the Civil War by Ken Burns. The connection here is with the narrator highlighting hope-filled words in late December of 1863 from people looking forward to the new year. But we know now that the war tarried on until May of 1865 with horrendous days they could not have imagined in those quiet closing moments of 1863.
Sure, it’s not a bad idea to pause and consider the journey into a new year. However, if we entrust our hope to external circumstances, we have no complete assurance that anything will be different. So how do we move forward?
Coming not only to the conclusion of 2020, but also to this study on fear, I want to give some hope. The starting block for the race begins in our hearts and minds – in our thinking. For those in Christ, we can and must choose to think differently. Those who are still circling the field on Jesus, consider how God has called us to live differently in His eternal Kingdom and ask yourself if that’s not how you would truly desire to live. While there are more, here are five quick pro-active ways we can shift our thinking from fear to faith and courage.
1. We must Remember Past Victories
It’s easy to fall into despair when surrounded with sorrow. The problem is our focus, though. The antidote to the fear pandemic begins when we deliberately turn our attention from the worldly situation to something above. The first step is to remember what God has already done in the past. We can take courage when we remember the past victories that God has already carried us through. David noted in Psalm 77:11 that, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” In seasons of anguish, the psalmist encouraged himself by recounting and thanking God for his past provisions.
Praising God for past victories is also something Paul picked up on in Philippians 4:6, where he urged the first Christians to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It is so easy to forget and come to God only with our asking. Yet, in our deliberate remembrance of God’s past faithfulness and thankfulness for them, we are encouraged to keep on going forward.
There is an old appropriate church hymn that carries a refrain of, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings and see what God has done.”
2. We must Reprogram our Thinking
At first, this may seem redundant. But the point is to purposefully and regularly monitor what is going through our hearts and minds. Paul notes that we must not “conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” We are constantly bombarded by the “pattern of this world” due to the 24/7 news feeds available to us through our modern media. The constant negative feed from these sources is a superb breeding ground for fear.
By contrast, the call is to pursue the positive deliberately. Again we can learn from the scriptures which, state that, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” One practical option here would be to daily write out 5 to 10 things that are indeed grand and glorious in our lives whether that be something in nature to the simple smile of someone who loves us.
3. We Must Rely on the Team
The blessing I have in life, next to Jesus, is that of being committed to a local church family and some brothers in Christ, all of whom are committed to me. God created us for community, and we need each other. The answer in this mix, though, is not so much what encouragement we can get from others, but what encouragement we can give. Again, going back to the old apostle Paul, he urged the first church to “encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are doing.”
By team, I mean the local church family. A great example of how this plays out is a football team. The difference between a football team and a track team is their interdependence on one another. Regardless of how well a quarterback throws the ball and how fast the wide receiver catches the ball and runs, they are doomed to defeat unless they unite with the other players who are all working together. When they function as a team and encourage each other, they run the ball down the field together and win the victory — kind of unlike what the Dallas Cowboys did this year.
4. We must Resolve to Do
Action is the principle here. It is easy to clinch one’s fist and shout at other people, policies, and forces that stand against us in this life. It is quite another thing to get up and do something to help others. This is especially true when no one sees what we are doing. Serving with no attention. One verse that I have submitted to memory this year is Romans 12:21, in which we are urged to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Imagine what 2021 would look like when more people are concerned with helping others rather than expecting others to serve them.
5. We must Recognize the Big Picture of Eternity
I don’t want to come across flippant on this one, but the harsh truth is that we will all die sometime. The ancient scriptures noted in Hebrews 9:27 that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” The text tells us two firm facts. The first is that death is inevitable and we need to face it, and the second is that there is something after death. Yes, Heaven and Hell are realities. What we do now has eternal ramifications when our hearts stop beating.
So the better question deals with the manner of our life rather than preserving more time on the planet. If there is no eternity, then people rightly should fear death, dangers, and dreads of this world. After all, there is nothing left. Paul got that and even noted that if there is no resurrection, then Christians are to be pitied above all people. Yet, because Jesus did rise from the grave proving not only his divinity, but the veracity of all he said, we can cling to what the Bible shouts about eternity as well.
So many times this past year, I have been drawn back to the first followers of Jesus. The original Christians in the book of Acts and those in the early centuries come to mind. Quite often in the Roman Empire, while others fled the plagues of death, many Christians remained behind to serve those who suffered. They physically and practically overcame the evil around them by doing good.
Is that not what we need more of today? Regardless of what 2021 brings, how can life not be better when regular folks, like you and me, live with faith above fear in our sphere of influence?
For me, yes, I am looking forward to 2021 and am attempting to map things out on my wall calendar with hope. However, real hope is with Christ ruling in our hearts regardless of what is unfurloughing around us. Yes, there have been many reasons for fear in 2020, and there will probably be many more to come. But we can live differently, and that is my hope for you and me.
As we wind down this study on fear, I am reminded of another Civil War illustration. While fear reigned in so many during those years, one General stood out as an example of courage. His troops began to refer to him as Stonewall after one early battle because he would not flinch in the face of danger. Thomas Jackson was from the south though not a supporter of slavery. He was a man of deep faith, which influenced every area of his life. Shortly after the battle of Bull Run, where his courage shined, an adjutant asked him for this source of bravery. The short exchange went as such:
“General, how is it that you can keep so serene with a storm of shells and bullets raining about your head?”
Captain Smith, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all men would be equally brave.”
Wow – that is the way all Christians should live. When our hope is placed first in Christ, we can live differently from the world around us. The Bible notes that perfect love casts out all fear. There is no greater love than what Jesus did for us on the Cross. Because of that, we can indeed journey into 2021, turning our fear into faith. That is my hope for the new year. So be strong, my friend, be strong!