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One of the more dominant themes I see in society (increasingly in younger generations though it can be evidenced in some form or fashion in all) is the complete comfort of asserting to be a Christian while being well at-odds with the clear ethics of Scripture. I don’t mean coming to different conclusions because of honest exegetical work. That kind of sincere dissonance is par for the course in the church and witnessed throughout her history. I’m talking about individuals or groups who consider themselves part of the historic, orthodox Christian faith but reject the historic, orthodox teachings of Scripture (e.g., sexual ethics) and have no substantive answer to the challenge of their positions outside of the regularly subjective speak-your-own-truth retort – which is packed with terminology and phrases from culture but absent of Scripture in any substantive sense.

This came to mind while reading a selection from Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, which is a systematic theology of the Christian faith. Writing about the Holy Spirit and the Bible, Bavinck notes,

And the testimony of the Holy Spirit with respect to Scripture as Scripture consists in the fact—not that believers receive an immediate heavenly vision of the divinity of Scripture, nor that they immediately infer its divinity from the marks and criteria of Scripture, or, even less, that on the basis of the experience of the power that is unleashed by it they conclude that it is divine, but – that they freely and spontaneously recognize the authority with which Scripture everywhere asserts itself and which it repeatedly expressly claims for itself. In this connection it is not the authenticity, nor the canonicity, nor even the inspiration, but the divinity of Scripture, its divine authority, which is the true object of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. He causes believers to submit to Scripture and binds them to it in the same measure and intensity as to the person of Christ himself. 1

Bavinck asserts that the Spirit of God not only testifies to the authority of the Word of God for Christians but “causes [them] to submit” to it as he does them to Jesus himself. One implication of such thinking is that a frank unwillingness to submit to the clear ethics of Scripture, and even more so an outright rejection of them, might less indicate a Christian’s hardness of heart as much as a lack of authentic faith to begin with.

This seems to be the same line of reasoning Scripture itself takes. For example, 1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments…” Recognizing and submitting to the authority of Scripture is a mark of a person’s love of God in Christ – a characteristic of genuine faith. This isn’t some kind of slavish or forced submission for the Spirit recalibrates our hearts to obey our new king in Christ. This is why the rest of v.3 says, “And his commandments are not burdensome.” This doesn’t mean followers of Jesus won’t struggle to obey or need to grow in their obedience. They most assuredly will. But that is far different than someone who professes to be a Christian yet refuses to recognize, much less submit to, Scriptural authority.2 That type of “Christian” is like a unicorn: non-existent.3 No wonder Jesus himself said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

It’s because of the clear biblical teaching about authority, the Bible, and faith, that I so deeply resound with this thought from Bavinck:

…far from gradually outgrowing this authority, Christian believers rather progressively learn to believe God at his word and to renounce all their own wisdom. On earth believers never move beyond the viewpoint of faith and authority. To the degree that they increase in faith, they cling all the more firmly to the authority of God in his word.4

Recognition of and submission to biblical authority may be seen as optional for many who claim to be followers of Jesus but for those who have been genuinely converted, a growing submission to the Word of God isn’t just part of their initial step in the faith, but of every one afterwards. Bavinck reminds us this is so because the Spirit has promised to work in us for these things. And it is also why you can’t claim Jesus if you won’t submit to the Scriptures that proclaim him.

Okay. I’m writing down and posting right now how I think about this (so forgive the half-baked nature of the writing, no image header, typos, etc.) because I don’t want to miss out on what’s going through my mind as I experience this. While I want to abide by the counsel I give, I’ll risk losing where I’m at in this specific sermon in order to help my fellow preachers for the long haul. Here’s the counsel:

If in sermon study, you find your heart beating faster, tears of joy/sorrow/excitement forming, and you feel led to worship God, stay right there! Don’t move! For you stand upon the ground whence the heart of the sermon should flow.

This is happening to me right now as I’m preparing the message on Luke 8:22-25. I’m not even in that specific text but doing work to help unfold that text for modern hearers. I’m working through a biblical theology, if you will, of God, water, and chaos.

The Bible is clear: God is Lord over chaos! And to see the litany of works where Yahweh not only conquers the waters but uses them to do his bidding (and looking forward to the day where “the sea was no more”) – has overwhelmed me. I’m in tears. I’m overwhelmed with the greatness of God (and him in Christ!), the goodness of Jesus to me, the grandness of the plan of redemption being workout out in history, and more things that I can piece out from what my heart is aflutter with.

It leads me to worship right now! To put on music that gives a soundtrack to what my heart is feeling and my head is awash in.

And I don’t want to leave my computer. I want to stay here. I want to preach whatever this is as the emotional heart of my message. Whatever I say on Sunday (which is obviously connected to what I’m studying), I want my hearers more than to know what I’m feeling, I want them to feel what I’m feeling. I want to share it. I want them to also experience the wonder and glory and grandeur of God in Christ.

If you get these moments in study. Stop. Don’t move. Stay right there. Soak up every feeling, every tear, every hand raised, every knee dropped on the floor, whatever the response, just know you’ve hit upon the greatest emotional center that you can discover in a sermon – your own!

Now, pray that God would be as gracious to the congregation in the preaching of the message as he’s been to you in the preparation for it.

Preacher, seek to be overwhelmed in your study and be grateful for the gift that it is.

Okay…back to the study.

I love to read. Over the years I’ve seen a consistency of certain attitudes and actions concerning the things I read. Here are some of my quirky unwritten rules of reading:

  1. I confess that I must read every footnote or endnote in a book or I feel like I haven’t really read the book.
  2. Don’t buy books (that have been made into movies) with movie poster covers. Buy the literary cover if available.
  3. Reading the inside flap of a novel’s dust jacket is like taking the risk of watching a movie trailer: it may give away too much of the story and ruin it for you. This is also why you absolutely don’t read guest author ‘Introductions’ that preface books until AFTER reading the novel.
  4. Never watch the movie before you read the book.
  5. If I lend you a book I expect it to be returned in the condition it was given. Additionally, if you write in it, we may never be friends again. In fact, I may contract a hitman.
  6. If I don’t return your book as I received it, get ready to receive a new book from me.
  7. For getting a good novel my first move is the library not Amazon. Why pay for something (online) that you’ve already paid for (in taxes) at your local library? Plus, my local library is awesome.
  8. If the cover has permanent badges which say Oprah Book Club or Soon to be a Motion Picture, etc., I look for a different cover.
  9. Don’t ask for any of my Cormac McCarthy 1st edition books. They’re not on the loan list. But feel free to add to the collection.
  10. With rare exceptions, I don’t buy a book unless I’m going to read it within a few months if not weeks.
  11. If I start a book I have to finish it. No matter what. No incomplete reads (unless a reference book).
  12. Use bookmarks. Dogearing a book is like keying your own car.
  13. I don’t read two novels at the same time. Only one kid on the diving board a pop.
  14. I kinda judge a book by its cover.
  15. If you read the end of the book before actually getting there by reading it from the start…GET OUT
  16. If you see me reading a book you’ve read, it’s great that you tell me you loved it (and generally why) but if you reveal plot-wise why that was the case you’re dead to me.

#myunwrittenrulesofreading

 

Technically, now #myformerlyunwrittenrulesofreading