The Air I Breathe

After a long winter of closed windows and recycled air blowing through the vents, a breath of fresh air is … well … a breath of fresh air! I feel this way when I read John Frame’s Doctrine of the Word of God. I feel that I am doing more than studying one very important doctrine. More than anything, I feel that I am breathing the air of faith, and it carries life into every cell of my body. Implicit faith is inspiring — I feel alive. Frame trusts implicitly in God’s ability to communicate. He trusts the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of God’s word to us. He trusts God to preserve his word in tact to each new generation of believers. He trusts the truth of God’s word against any opposition because it is just that — God’s word. And nothing else can be trusted more than God’s word. Here are just a few snippets of what I’m talking about:

“When God speaks, our role is to believe, obey, delight, repent, mourn — whatever he wants us to do. Our response should be without reservation, from the heart.” (p. 4)

“So our response to God’s personal words is nothing less than our response to Christ himself.” (p. 43)

“The power of the word brings wonderful blessings to those who hear in faith… It is so important that they hear in faith, lest the Word actually harden their  hearts and become a fire of judgment to them. God’s Word never leaves us the same.” (p. 52)

“When God shares his love with us, we have the obligation to treasure it. When he questions us, we should answer. When he expresses his grace, we are obligated to trust it. When he tells us his desires, we should conform our lives to them. When he shares with us his knowledge and intentions, we ought to believe that they are true.” (p. 56)

“Everyone who hears the authentic word of God knows that God has spoken to him.” (p. 85)

“The elect will not ultimately be deceived. How can that be? Evidently because assurance is supernatural. We know that the false revelation is false, just as we know that the true revelation is true — by God’s sovereign self-testimony.” (p. 86)

about the certainty of the Canon of Scripture: “we must approach our present problem with a presupposition: that God will not let his people walk in darkness, that he will provide for us the words we need to have, within our reach.” (p. 136)

“We are to be satisfied with what God has given us, and not long for more. In every age, God has given his people all the written words we need to live faithfully before him.” (p. 138)

I could go on and on, but I recommend that you read the book yourself. Breathe the air of faith as Frame exudes confidence in God’s word and God’s ability to communicate clearly with us. To all the nay-sayers and curmudgeons, he bids a hearty farewell like Jesus did in Mark 5. When Jesus raised the little girl from the dead, he first sent away the people that were ridiculing him and did not believe that he had power to heal. The unbelieving have no place along side of the faithful. It’s time to banish the noxious effect of unbelief and breathe the pure air of faith. Aaahhhh….

Say Anything!

In the iconic 80’s movie Say Anything, the teenage Diane Court and her single parent father have the kind of relationship that many of us wish we could have with our own parents or children — the kind of relationship where we can both ‘say anything.’ Of course, in the movie, we find out that this openness was pretty one-sided when Diane learns that her father has not been as forthright as she has been about the important stuff. And that is how it is with our fallen relationships — we cover ourselves, we leave things out and ‘yada yada’ over the embarrassing bits, and we often just can’t handle the truth when it comes our way. And then I think — how do I respond when God says stuff? Can He ‘say anything,’ or does He have to pull punches with me? Am I the kind of person that needs to be handled? Do I need a buffer like Israel in Deuteronomy 5 when they pleaded with Moses to hear from God for them so that they would not have to risk hearing from God themselves? Are the communication lines open between me and God, or are certain channels blocked?

I think about some amazing things God said to some of our brothers and sisters in the Bible and wonder if I would have believed that this was in fact God speaking to me in those strange circumstances. I wonder how Abraham knew that it was God speaking to him when God told him to sacrifice Isaac on the mountain. This does not sound like a thing God would require, especially since Isaac was a miracle baby, and God had promised to fulfill His promise to Abraham through this miraculous, chosen child. When I have read this story in the past, I have tended to focus on Abraham’s willingness to obey the command when it cost him so much. But lately, I’ve been more struck by just how Abraham knew that this was God speaking. The voice of God was clear to him even if the content was inscrutable.

Sometimes God tells people to do very odd things. In Ezekiel 4, He told Ezekiel to do a visual prophecy of the siege of Jerusalem by playing with pots and pans and heaping up dirt. And he is supposed to lie there for 430 days in the middle of this diorama. This is not something you take lightly — I start thinking of bed sores and how uncomfortable this would become for a whole year. And then God tells him to eat food that is cooked over a fire that is fueled by human dung. Ezekiel is game up till now, but this is just too much for him. Could an idea like this really come from God? I’m not really faulting him for questioning because it turns out God was okay with it and granted him his request for animal instead of human dung. There was a limit to what even Ezekiel could wrap his head around. The prophets had it rough. God tells Jonah to go to their worst enemy and preach judgment, but Jonah resists because he knows how merciful God is, and it was hard to want mercy for his enemies. But in the end Jonah does as God asked. Some were more willing than others, but all of the prophets heard things from God that were hard to accept at first blush. Am I willing to hear such things from God?

In my church, our pastor is in the middle of a series preaching through 1 Corinthians. This week, we got to probably the most uncomfortable part of the whole book, chapter 11. You’ve got to deal with gender roles, headship, angels, hair length, and head coverings — all of which pose unique challenges in our context. Modern commentaries tend to glide over this section lightly, and I know that other pastors have simply skipped this section, probably thinking that ‘discretion is the better part  of valor’ (a coward’s excuse spoken by Falstaff, Shakespeare’s notorious coward). But I am thankful to be in a church where our pastor takes scripture seriously, and in spite of all the difficulties associated with the passage, he will cover the text. We approach the text believing that there is something there for us — now — or it wouldn’t be in the Bible. He didn’t answer every question, and maybe more questions were raised than answered, but we are taking the text seriously and listening.

So how truly open-minded are we when we hear God’s word? I remember fondly a family we knew  10-15 years ago. The teenage daughter was a committed Christian with an obedient heart that looked at scripture and wanted to obey everything God said. When she came to this sticky passage, it seemed clear to her that God intended the head covering as a command for all time — and she started to wear a scarf. Her mother then looked at the passage, came to the same conclusion, and started to cover her head too in support of her daughter’s obedience. Are our hearts this open — that we would change our lifestyle and habits in response to God’s word? In time, both mom and daughter came to a different understanding of the passage and have left the scarves behind, but I still admire so much their willingness to listen to whatever God was saying and act on it. Yes, we may misunderstand, but God will keep speaking and move us in the right path if we are willing to listen.

So, let’s keep an open mind and not be like the rich young ruler. For him, all the other commandments were no problem, but Jesus knew what he was holding out on. When Jesus told him to sell all his stuff and give it to the poor, he couldn’t take it. He shook his head sadly and walked away. Jesus couldn’t ‘say anything’ to him.

Let’s be faithful to God’s word like Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice the thing he held most dear. And the boy Samuel. At first he didn’t even recognize the voice of God, but when God continued to speak to him, he learned to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10).