words of great effectWe underestimate the power and effect of words today. Hypocrisy and inconsistency have become the chupa-cabra, the blood-suckers of words. Skeptics say that it’s easy to speak words, but the challenge is in the doing. Nor are they completely wrong, but still it is not so easy to speak well and to effect great results through our words.

I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away.
John 16:1 NET

Jesus speaks words that preserve the hearer, that keep us from losing our faith. His divine and inspired words transform the soul and secure God’s purpose in the heart.

When we use his words, when his truths become ours, our words also acquire the power of great effect for good, to conduct people to eternity. Continue reading

to whom does the writer speak?Are you talking to me? There are times when the wife talks to the dogs in another room of the house, and I think she’s talking to me. (No jokes now, you hear?) And two or three times now I’ve sent an email to the wife with some information (or a declaration of love) without noticing that my email service, which does an auto-complete on the name of the recipient, has sent it to a friend of ours with the same name. Fortunate for us that she is an old friend who’s not shocked by my mistakes.

In the same way, we must understand to whom Jesus speaks in John 13-16. Note this:

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me, and you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.
John 14:26-27 NET

In this block of teaching, Jesus is speaking mainly to the Twelve. His promises about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit are made to those who have been with him “from the beginning” of his ministry. This promise is not for all.

A basic rule for interpreting the Bible, and one of the most neglected, is to note who is speaking or writing and to whom one is speaking or writing. Any principle or truth gleaned from this passage must be a secondary application, and some things, like the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, do not apply to us today.

Be careful when you read the Bible. Maybe God is not talking to you.

 

good or evilDoing two things at the same time can be dangerous, like driving a vehicle and texting. Other things are impossible to do at the same time, like, say, driving a vehicle and swimming the breaststroke. (But there’s always someone who will try, right?) Here are two things impossible to do simultaneously:

Stop doing evil. Learn to do good.
Isaiah 1:16-17 GWT

Doing good must be learned. Man has his definition of what is good, but his ideas, in the spiritual realm, are almost always wrong.

It is not enough to stop doing evil. We will do one or the other. The doing is always present, for man is not inactive. If we’re not doing good, as God determines what is good, then we are doing evil.

This applies to the people of God, as much as to the pagan. For Isaiah writes these lines to Israel. The church must learn also to reject evil in order to embrace the good.

Which are you doing right now?

 

don't play with temptationThe scoundrel escapes once, twice, three times, until one day he meets his match. We play around with sin, thinking that this time, nothing will happen. And we keep going back to it. Until the day when we’re caught and destroyed.

He woke up and thought, “I will do as I did before and shake myself free.” But he did not realize that the LORD had left him.
Judges 16:20b NET

Samson was a strong man who thought he was always in control. In the end, however, his arrogance and his lack of self control delivered him up to his enemies.

If we play around with sin, thinking that we’re going to get the upper hand as before, we will wake up one day bound by the devil, under the control of the Evil One, with our life destroyed and useless for God’s purpose.

 

serving othersWe learn by repetition of movements and information. Jesus teaches us by repeated words and actions throughout the course of his ministry. And, although he is Master, he wants us to be like him.

For I have given you an example – you should do just as I have done for you.
John 13:15 NET

The emphasis today is on the distance between us and Jesus. The Biblical emphasis is the closeness between us and him.

Jesus performs a miracle and the disciples follow him from a distance. Jesus serves, and has their feet in his face.

Be like Jesus, give the example of what a Christian should be like, and people will get close to you.

 

Jesus ended historyWhen the Soviet Union fell, a historian of limited vision, unable to see any significant movement beyond the Cold War, wrote a book declaring the end of history. He almost got it right.

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
John 12:31 NET

The hub of history is the Cross of Christ. The “now” was Jesus’ crucifixion. Everything before that moment moved in its direction. Everything after it looks back to it.

The ruler of this world, Satan, has been deposed. He still hoots and hollers, still wins followers, but he is finished.

He and his have already received the sentence.

So in a way, history has ended. The King has assumed the throne and from it reigns. What remains now is to put ourselves under his Lordship and call everyone to come running to his protection.

For the world has been judged.

 

A Pew Forum poll reveals attitudes of evangelical leaders in the two great divisions of the world. Their attitudes are quite the contrast.

In addition, most leaders in the Global South (58%) say that evangelical Christians are gaining influence on life in their countries. By contrast, most leaders in the Global North (66%) say that, in the societies in which they live, evangelicals are losing influence. U.S. evangelical leaders are especially downbeat about the prospects for evangelical Christianity in their society; 82% say evangelicals are losing influence in the United States today, while only 17% think evangelicals are gaining influence. via National Post.

What might be the percentages among Christians in the Lord’s church in those two areas? That would be a fascinating study.

One American evangelical leader says they don’t have greater influence in society because they worried more with making converts than with making disciples. I’ve heard brethren say the same thing of us.

American churches of Christ are full of baptized people who have yet to follow Jesus. Discipline is nigh to non-existent. Immorality is rampant. Adultery is tolerated. Church baseball gets more time than evangelism. The old criticism about shepherds being the board of directors is still true in many places. Preachers are pastors, and evangelism mostly consists of dragging people to hear Sunday sermons. Preachers “preach for” churches; that’s the very language they use, and no one thinks it strange. Nobody has much idea any more of what the mission of the church is, so just about anything gets pitched under that umbrella, from orphanages to disaster relief. Church attendance is the gauge for membership in good standing. If you don’t have a building, you’re not a viable church.

Is this a caricature? Yes. But accurate enough, in enough places, that it sticks. You can consider it a missionary rant, but hold it up against your congregation and do the comparison.

Why doesn’t the Lord’s church have more influence in society?

Because the salt has lost its saltiness.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its flavor, with what will it be salted? It is then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men.” –Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:13 NET

Is there any value to offering the random selection of a Bible verse on a website? It’s the virtual equivalent of letting the Bible fall open and pointing a finger, with eyes closed, to a verse on the page.

The obvious drawback to random selection is the loss of contextual meaning.

Wasn’t it Spurgeon who told the joke about the man who opened his Bible at random, pointed his finger, then read the verse about Judas hanging himself? Not finding much edification in that, he decided to try again, and this time he got Jesus’ command, “Go and do thou likewise.” (Spurgeon used the KJV, so we make a concession here.)

That drawback is real. We won’t find the will of God for us today by doing something to that effect.

An example of no context

Stumbling across a random-verse page, 1 Kings 13:20 appeared, “Now it came about, as they were sitting down at the table, that the word of the LORD came to the prophet who had brought him back;”

Without the full context, the verse doesn’t say much, does it? Who was sitting at the table? Who was the prophet who received the word of the Lord, and whom had he brought back? From where? What was the Lord’s word? Was it a good word?

Rather than a shot in the arm, a thought for the day, or a truth to ponder, the verse raises questions, if that. Probably, your average Joe would either refresh the page to try again, a la Spurgeon’s poor victim, or browse on in hopes of finding the needed jolt.

Values of the random verse

Still yet, a script, service, or application that posts random verses might have its value. I can think of three positive values:

  1. It gets before people scriptures from books and chapters that might not otherwise be considered. We tend to gravitate toward our favorite passages. A random verse challenges us to get outside our comfort scriptures.
  2. It may create curiosity to explore further, just as the verse cited above is an open invitation. As part of a narrative or greater work, a random verse may spur the eyeballer to research the context and draw out the meaning.
  3. It reminds us that all of the Bible is God’s word and deserves study and meditation. A random verse invites us to ask what truth it holds, what application for us, if any, there might be. If it’s in the Bible, it’s there for a reason.

Just because it’s a random verse, shown apart from its context (which is different from being out of context), is no reason to reject such a service. After all, many a preacher and televangelist ignore the context and the plain meaning of Scripture while waving the entire Bible at the hearers or viewers.

The ideal random-verse service

Here are one man’s ideas about making random verses work best, and what to look for when you search for or create such a service.

  1. Some sites offer random verses only in the sense of appearing in no predetermined order. The owners, however, have chosen a restricted number of hand-picked verses, not an ideal offering to my mind. Why not use the whole Bible?
  2. With the random verse, a link to the entire chapter in which the verse occurs would provide instant access to the context. No disadvantages to that, are there?
  3. Most really random-verse pages use the KJV, apparently, for copyright or technical reasons. But copyright is not really an issue. A good version like the NET Bible would be ideal. Please don’t make people furrow their brows over thees and thous.

It’s impossible to know if many services like NET Bible and ESV.org use the entire Bible or if they belong to the group in #1 with hand-picked verses. It seems the former use the whole Bible in their random verse.

Perhaps you can think of other drawbacks and advantages to such a service. In a follow-up, with the Lord’s help, we’ll talk about who we’re trying to reach with such services.

On the whole, it would seem that any effort to get the word of God in front of people would be a good thing.

lazarus come forthThey say that shouting solves nothing, that it only worsens things. So they say. And they’d not be far from the truth. But we have the Shout of Ipiranga, of Brazilian Independence, to go against this piece of popular wisdom. And the Shout of Bethany.

When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44  The one who had died came out, …
John 11.43-44a, NET

The act was the Word. The word in itself made Lazarus come back to life. Divine power contained in a pronouncement, in an order, in a shout!

Rhetorically, shouting gives emphasis, raises the term above the common conversation, highlights the proclamation among other sayings.

Jesus didn’t need to shout. He could have whispered, with the same effect. But the solemnity of the moment deserved an emphasis on the re-creation of life.

Which reminds us of the promise of the Shout of the Last Day, when all will be raised from the dead (1 Thes 4.16).

 

hearing is obedienceMany children hear their parents, but ignore them. They pretend they don’t hear them. They do what they want. Or what their friends want, who convince them to do something prohibited or harmful.

All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
John 10:8 NET

Jesus is the true Messiah, sent by the Father. The religious leaders of his day did not represent the will of God. Whoever listened to Jesus was actually the spiritual flock, the real followers.

The Lord calls us. Will we hear? Will we answer?

To hear means more than just listening. It’s a term from the Old Testament to indicate discipleship and obedience.

When we listen to today’s religious figures, instead of Jesus, we don’t belong to his flock.