When in a Crunch


The following is the content of an old post I wrote near the end of my first year in seminary. After a recent conversation with a young man on the topic, I thought this might be helpful for others.

imagesI am a whole-hearted advocate of Bible reading plans. But as we all discover, not only is it hard to keep on track, but after 4 months of reading it becomes very difficult to read with any sort of vigor and depth. Our eyes begin to haze over stories of the Old Testament and fly past the familiarity of the New Testament.

One of the most helpful pieces of practice I’ve received in combating this inevitable tendency is to ask three simple questions anytime I read a text, especially of the Old Testament.

  1. What is this text saying about God?
  2. What is this text saying about me?
  3. What is my response in light of these two realities?

Here is a small example from my reading in Isaiah yesterday.

Isaiah 41:10
‘Do not fear,
for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you,
For I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

I’ve kept all the statements asserting something about me to the left, and all the statements regarding God, I’ve indented. The first thing to notice is this. In this small verse, there is way more being said about God than me. This should give us a clue as to what our focus should be.

As a side note, this is the lens through which we should read the entire Bible. There is always way more being said about God than we think, and we should make it our duty to have an eye for those things. Understanding God first and fully, as he has revealed Himself, is the only way we will be able to make sense of our condition and what our proper response should be.

Notice the first two lines. First, what is God saying about Himself? He is with us. Second, what does the text say about me? It asserts that I am fearful—“Do not be afraid.” These two lines form a small argument. God is with us and therefore we should not be afraid. In other words, the ground for not being afraid is the knowledge that God is with us. Notice, it’s not a promise of delivery. It’s a statement of reality. God is presently, actively with us, and this is the reason we should not be afraid.

So when I’m sitting in the back of my Greek class with an intensely large knot in my stomach and a pounding heart because I am about to go up front and give a 45 minute presentation in Greek, the command I have from God is not to be afraid. Why? Because He is with me. Though my hands will still shake, my voice will still waver, and the class will notice, God is with me. I don’t have to be afraid.

The second statement made about God is that He is our God. Meanwhile, the second statement made about us is that we anxiously look about ourselves. It is an interesting argument. Apparently, the cure for anxiety is the reality that “God is our God.” On the surface this seems unhelpful. God is no more my God now than He was five minutes ago. So by this reasoning I should never have been anxious in the first place. Was not God still my God five minutes ago?

I think the answer is this. The subsequent statements supporting the claim that “God is my God” give the rational for the command. As such, the command is to believe that God is able to strengthen, help, and uphold. And this God is my God.

Without becoming too tangential, the God who is saying, “I am your God,” is the same God described in the rest of the Old Testament. If we would even begin to understand the “I AM” statements of the Old Testament when we hear God say, “I AM your God,” then it takes on a whole new meaning. Therefore the force with which we understand God’s ability to strengthen, help, and uphold are significantly exponentiated. When we truly begin to see and believe His ability to strengthen, help, and uphold, we should rejoice. We are starting to understand “I AM.”

Given the context of Isaiah, my anxiety of public speaking is rather minute. But in accordance to the book of Romans I am a beneficiary of these promises. So as insignificant as a 45 minute Greek presentation is in the basement of a chapel in Deerfield, Illinois, He is no less MY God and no less the “I AM” of the Old Testament. He is faithful to His promises. He will strengthen, help, and uphold this anxious student.

Did you forget this was about Bible reading? Here’s the point. I have found it very helpful in Bible reading plans to take the time and ask those three questions. We don’t have the time to do an in-depth word study and syntactical diagram while throwing back the milk from our cereal bowl before rushing off to work. This practice does not and cannot replace rigorous Bible study, but when in a crunch I have found these three questions to be insightful and helpful. I hope you do too!

A Simple Way for Dads to Connect with His Children

Yesterday, I had a short post pointing fathers to a longer post on how to disciple their sons.  I hope those who read it took the time to read the longer and better post that elicited it.  If not, take the 10 minutes to go and do so now.

Mentor2Today I want to throw out another little thing that I did as a father that I found to be very helpful.  Remember that we had four children and I had a crazy schedule during my college and seminary days and that schedule did not change when I took on the pastorate.  I tried to always give my children at least a half an hour of just dad time when I got home before their bed time.  When they were younger this just meant getting on my hands and knees on the floor which signaled to them all to pile on and begin to try to defeat their papa.

But the best thing I did was a simple thing, but it meant that I could not have time to myself.  Every time I went to a store to do something I took one child.  Very few exceptions to that rule.  I leave to go somewhere, one of my children is sitting next to me in the front seat.  During the drive and during the walk through the store I would just talk to them.  Sometimes I could ask them very personal questions right away, perhaps one of them had been struggling in obedience at home lately or messing up with school.  But many times I would just talk, letting the conversation flow and listening very, very carefully.

It is that last part that is key.  I refused to just “chat” though I did a lot of that regardless.  I listened for a hesitation in their voice where perhaps they were about to ask something and changed their mind.  I listened for vague questions that might lead to more specific ones if I didn’t mess things up by over-reacting or blowing off the question.

It was amazing the way conversations would turn to things “eternal.”  Honest questions about God, life, and the future.  Times where they could toss out basic conclusions they were coming too about reality and truth, even though some of it was scary.  Times where I could share with them my failures as a young man that mimicked theirs, letting them know that I was a fellow sinner.  Opportunities to talk about the glory of salvation in Jesus Christ where our sin is dealt with for all eternity.

I am not saying that every conversation was like that.  But I am saying that by purposefully taking a child out with me every time I went somewhere I gained opportunities to have those conversations.  Dads, think about it.

Oh, and by the way, unless it is impossible, take them for a quick bite of french fries or ice cream.  Teach them how to lick a cone properly.  Pause for a bit and kick over an ant hill with them or climb down the embankment to a stream.  Just you and them.

Raising A Son Does Not Have To Be Difficult

bible readingI read a great post today that described what one man, now a pastor, decided to do with his son.  Basically, he had watched other young men walk away from the faith and there he was, a father with a twelve year-old son.  His decision?  Carve out an hour or two each week for the two of them to go out together and simply read the bible.  Wow!  Pretty tough stuff right?  Nope.

Here is one of my favorite parts of the post:

“The way we did it was to trade off chapters. I led us through the first, Josiah the second. Whoever was leading was responsible for doing his best to guide us through the chapter. Having Josiah lead a chapter gave him some ownership, some responsibility, and ideally some added incentive to dig in and ponder before we met to study.

The times were delightful. And discouraging! More than once we came on a verse that I’d sweat over, in Hebrew and multiple tools, before figuring out what it meant — and, seemingly without effort (and none of that struggle), Josiah would just hit the right meaning. As if it were the easiest thing in the world. I kinda hated him.

No, that’s not true. I’m his dad. I loved it.”

You can read the rest of the post here.

My point in this brief post of my own is to encourage each father to mark out a time each week for his son or sons.  Be that man who simply shows what it looks like to submit himself to the Word.  Not to preach, not to demand or upbraid.  Just two men looking at God’s Word together.