Seven Habits to Becoming a Highly Effective Bible Reader

Each December, many scrupulous Christians gear up for the new year by thinking about how they will spend time in God’s word in the coming year.  For many, myself included, this is a time of self-doubt and disappointment.  Thinking back on the previous year, it becomes apparent that our goal for reading the Bible all the way through crashed on the rocks of 1 Chronicles 1-9 or petered out in Acts 11.

Yet, with a new year comes a renewed sense of hope and the prospect that this year we will finish the course.  Thus, there are many extensive plans out there.  And truly, there are many good and biblical reasons to adopt one of them–just ask John Piper.  Yet, with such an admonition comes a perilous danger–the promotion of self-sustained discipline that puffs up the strong and deflates the weak.

Thus, in what follows, I want to give seven ‘balanced’ principles for reading your Bible this year.  They are meant to give clear principles for reading your Bible well, and they are meant to give you sure promises that should be remembered if reading does not go as planned.  With tongue in cheek, you might call them “Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Bible Reader.”

Seven Bible Reading Habits 

1. Find a good translation.  Choose a translation of the Bible that is faithful to the text and accessible to you.  The New International Version is a good place to start if you have never read the Bible before. Although, beware, if you have the new updated version of the NIV, you have an edition with some gender neutral translations–see Denny Burk’s CBMW article for more information. Likewise, beware of paraphrases like the Message.  They are more like a commentary on the Bible than Scripture itself.  Still, the revised New Living Translation is paraphrase that does correspond with the original Greek and Hebrew.  For me, I have been sold on the English Standard Version since Wayne Grudem handed out a free copy in class (circa 2003). Seriously, it is a readable translation that translates the original languages word for word.   See Kevin DeYoung‘s little book for why your church should adopt this translation.

2. Use a Bible reading plan. There is no right way to read the Bible–provided you read it to behold the beauty of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Some people do better reading Morning and Evening.  Others once a day.  For some younger believers a single chapter a day would be growth in grace; for seasoned saints one chapter is not enough; and for seminarians it may be that a few verses slowly digested offset the lengthy reading required in class.  Whatever the case, find a plan and stick to it.  We never drift into spiritual disciplines.  Discipline yourself to read your Bible by finding a good plan sticking with it.

(This year, I am going to follow the “Bible Eater” by Trent Hunter.  The name makes me think of a mythopoetic monster and may seem a little silly, but the language flows straight from Scripture (Ezek 2:8ff; Matt 4:4).  This plan includes 2 OT chapters and 1 NT chapter a day, plus 6 “extended reading days,” with plenty of catch up days each month. Justin Taylor has also provided a number of helpful Bible reading plans).

3. Write in your Bible.  When I first read the Bible, I NEVER wrote in it.  I venerated my manufactured copy as much as the stones Moses inscribed and put in the tabernacle.  Somewhere in that first year though, I acquired a gold-colored pen.  It was the perfect gilded ink to underline in my Bible.  Since then, I have marked up innumerable Bible’s.  Cross-references, sermon notes, key verses and words, all get marked in the margins.  What I failed to understand at the beginning of my Bible reading was that the purpose of my Bible is not for me to look spiritual carrying down the church hall, or to feel good that I have multiple versions; the purpose of Bible reading is to get God’s printed word into my heart (cf Ps 119:9, 11).  Thus, pick up your Bible and your pen.  You will be a much more attentive reader and the notes will help you later understand God’s word better.

4. Know where to go when you don’t know.  Inevitably, you will find passages, chapters, and even books of the Bible that make little sense. In those instances, what will you do?  You can take on the belief that a time of devotion should only touch the heart and not inform the mind; or you can have a plan for finding an answer.  Picking up a one-volume Bible commentary would be a good place to begin.  Using a Study Bible, like the ESV Study Bible or the HCSB Study Bible, is another option.  With the advent of technology, you might be able to download a couple Bible references works to your phone, iPad, or computer.  Or, you could simply shoot email, text, or call a friend or pastor about it.  Few things delight a pastor’s heart more than an earnest question about Gog and Magog or the other people raised to life at Jesus’ crucifixion–plus, it will make them do some research, too.

5. Preach the gospel to yourself on days you fail to read.  The goal of reading your Bible daily is not reading your Bible daily; it is meeting with the living God as you hear his voice in the pages of Scripture.  Thus, if you miss a day, do not feel that you have missed God. In my life, God’s grace has been most evident on days I have “failed” to have a “quiet time,” because it has forced me to trust in God’s unmerited grace, and not my religious consistency.  God has called us to experience him in all of life, not just in Bible study.  Thus you should not feel guilty for missing; instead you should feel desirous for the next time you spend with him.

6. Congregate.  Don’t be a “Bible and me” Christian.  You and your Bible are not enough. Your Bible reading should be part of a lifestyle that orbits around the life of a local body of believers.  If you are weak at reading the Bible regularly, you need to be around the teaching of God’s word and the accountability and fellowship of other believers.  If you are strong at Bible reading, you need to share what you have learned with others, and then invite others to read with you.

7. Pray for God’s mercy.  Becoming a faithful reader of Scripture does not come by following these or any other seven steps.  You must have an appetite for the Word of God and eyes that behold Jesus as beautiful and not boring.  And the truth is, you cannot give yourself either.  If you have a hunger and thirst for God’s word, if you have understanding into its riches, if you love hearing, singing, and conversing about it; it is attributed to the grace of God alone.  To paraphrase 1 John 4:10, “If you love God’s word, God’s Word first loved you and died on the cross to give you such love!”

Thus, in the exact same way, if you struggle to read the Bible because you don’t see its relevance and place in your life, if you would rather workout, watch TV, or twitter away on Facebook, then pray to God to have mercy on you!  It may be that such a distaste for God’s word is evidence of your spiritual separation from God; but it also could be the corrosive effects of the world on your heart.  Go to God in prayer, asking him to give you an unquenchable desire for God’s word.  He does not turn away such requests!

Feast on the Bread, No Matter How Long It Takes

Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  These words of Moses (Deut 8:3) quoted by Jesus (Matt 4:4) are a good reminder that the abundance of our living in 2012 is not measured by our physical well-being, our financial gains, or even our ability to read the Bible.  The abundance of our living depends solely on Christ.  Reading the Bible is an essential part of abiding in him, and one that is both the fuel (we live on God’s word) and the goal (we live to know God’s Word) of our Christian living.

Therefore, as you read God’s word in 2012, may our gracious God confirm the work of your hands.  As you clutch his life-giving word and strive to read from cover to cover, may you be reminded that the goal is not just to master the book, but to be mastered by the Author of the book.  To that end we labor together, with the strength that He supplies.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


The Word of God: Written, Eternal, and Incarnate

Three times in the first verse of John’s gospel, the beloved disciple speaks of the Word, “the Logos.”  It is quickly seen that this name or title describes Jesus.  John 1:14 unmistakably unites the eternal Word with the babe born in the manger.  But why does John use this term?  What does Logos or the “Word” mean?  Today, we will examine this term in brief to help us better understand the son born of Mary, who was eternally the Son of God.

The Word (Logos)

John uses a word that would have been familiar to his hearers.  Interpreters of John have pointed to all kinds of influences: Greek philosophy (Stoicism), Jewish theology (Philo), or mystery religions (Gnosticism).  However, it is speculative that he depended upon any of these other views.  While the idea of the Logos was “trending” in John’s day, it is unlikely that the apostles derived such terms from extra-biblical sources.

Jesus followers were men of the Hebrew Scriptures, who were taught by Jesus how to read the Old Testament (Luke 24), and who were moved by the Spirit (John 14:26).  They were not students of culture, they were not writing for peer-reviewed journals, nor were they attempting anything novel.  They were simply writing for the edification of the saints and proclamation of the gospel.  Thus, the content of their words was the person and work of Christ and its earlier explanation in what we call he Old Testament.  So we should ask, what does the Old Testament say about “the Logos”?

Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the word is a central feature because God does everything by his word.  John Frame, says: “God’s word . . . is involved in everything he does—in his decrees, creation, providence, redemption, and judgment, not only in revelation narrowly defined.  He performs all his acts by his speech” (The Doctrine of God, 472-74).

The quickest glance at just a few verses show this is true.  Some of things that the Word does include the following:

God spoke the world into existenceBy the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host (Ps 33:6)

God’s word effected salvation.  He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction (Ps 107:20)

God’s word governs and energizes all of creation.  He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.  He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel (Ps 147:18-20).

All together, “the word of God enlivens and kills; it sustains the world humans live in; it never fails in its purpose” (Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 256).  Thus, two things emerge in Old Testament that inform John’s theology. 

First, the Word is presented as divine. In the Old Testament, we that the word does a number of divine things—it creates, it kills, and it saves.  More than that, it is given divine attributes: eternal (Ps 119:89, 160), perfect (Ps 19:7-11), omnipotent (Gen 18:14; Isa 55:11), life-giving.  Nearly 300 times it is called God’s word. In many ways it is one with God.

Second, the Word is distinct from God.  In the Old Testament, the Word does not fully describe all that God is.  Rather, it is an instrument by which God works (cf. Prov 8:22ff). It is used by God, and sent out by God, and thus is not one and the same with God.  Even as there is unity between God and his word, there is difference.

But this should not come as a surprise.  God’s inscripturated Word is unified.  The Old anticipates the New, and the New depends (i.e. quotes, alludes, echoes, and builds) upon the Old.  Thus, John’s trinitarian theology of the Word in John 1:1 is not a new invention that comes from outside the Scriptures, but comes from the very Scriptures that the eternal Word inspired as he sent the Spirit to the prophets who wrote of his coming.

In the end, John 1:1 is one more evidence of how God’s progressive revelation prepares the way for Jesus Christ.  And how the eternal Word is the incarnate Word is the written Word.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

On the Incarnation: How Should We Talk About Christmas?

Yesterday, I preached from John 1:1-5 on the eternal Son of God who came to be God with us.  One of my main points was the fact that while Jesus had a beginning, the Son of God did not. The Son takes on flesh to become fully human, but in no way does God the Son lose or set aside his deity.

Today, Matt Smethurst says something very similar in his post at The Gospel Coalition.  In his article, “God Plus or Bust: Lose the Incarnation, Lose It All,” he helpfully points to an article by J. I. Packer called “The Vital Question” which articulates two kinds of Christologies.  Matt’s synthesis of Packer’s article points out that “All Christologies . . . can be boiled down to two basic brands: “Man Plus” and “God Plus.”  He unpacks this saying,

“Man Plus” Christologies almost unanimously agree that Jesus was an utterly unique figure. He was no ordinary man. He was man plus a number of things—a unique sense of the divine, uncommon personal charisma, unfettered religious devotion, God-given insight, and so forth. Jesus of Nazareth was a godly man, perhaps even the godliest man ever to walk the earth. Nevertheless, the idea that Jesus was God is a myth. It doesn’t correspond to space-time fact, nor does it really need to.

“God Plus” Christology, on the other hand, is the orthodox position. It’s the view that Jesus of Nazareth was actually—that is, historically, publicly, objectively, necessarily—God incarnate. He was divinity plus humanity. Wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger was the eternal second person of the Trinity.

Understanding the nature of the Incarnation is vital–not just for the seminary lunchroom–but for all believers.  Knowing who God is and how he has come to rescue us is vital for our faith.  Celebrating Christmas as a holiday that commemorates a special child born in a manger who just happens to be divine–whatever that means–sets the believers faith in a vulnerable position. Such a belief is true as far as it goes, but it is little different than the “man plus deity” of liberal theology.  By contrast, knowing that God himself took on flesh–that he added something to his deity, namely a human nature–in order to save his people with the full power of Deity Incarnate, gives vitality and endurance to believe that what God started two millenia ago, he will finish at the end of the age.

Much praise is due to God for all that he is especially for the fact that Jesus is not just “man plus.”  He is “God plus,” “God with us!”

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Lottie Moon: Further Reading

For Further Reading

Much of the information, anecdotes, and theological considerations in these blog posts about Lottie Moon have come from Tom Nettles eminently helpful chapter on Lottie Moon. Fuller treatments can be found in Catherine Allen’s book and Keith Harper’s edited volume of Lottie’s personal letters and memoirs.  Daniel Akin also preached a sermon on Lottie Moon at SEBTS, and it has been transcribed in his little book, Five Who Changed the World.

If you know of other good resources, please let me know.

Books

Catherine B. Allen, The New Lottie Moon Story, 2nd Ed. (Birmingham, AL: Women’s Missionary Union, 1980).

Lottie Moon, Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings, ed. Keith Harper (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2002)

Chapters

Daniel L. Akin, “The Power of a Consecrated Life: The Ministry of Lottie Moon” in Five Who Changed the World (Wake Forest, NC: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 57-80.

Tom Nettles, “Lottie Moon (1840-1912)” in The Baptists: Key People Involved In Forming a Baptist Identity, Vol. 2 (Ross-shire, UK: Mentor, 2005), 363-94.

 

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: In the Huddle with Tim Tebow

Matthew 12:34 says that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  Sadly, when professional athletes are mic’d it usually shows that their hearts are full of selfishness, pride, and anger.  Tim Tebow shows something else.  How many times have you heard an explicative when some broadcast listens in on the sidelines!

Not so with Tim Tebow. One more reason why my respect for Tebow continues to increase is listening to this 10 minute recording of his words on the field against the Chicago Bears.

Whatever you might say about his skills, his prospect as an NFL athlete, or the way he uses his platform to proclaim Christ, it seems evident that what comes out of his heart in the heat of battle is the heart of a Spirit-filled Christian, one who prays without ceasing and whose heart and mouth are filled with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Pray for this grid iron warrior to keep contending for the faith, as he presses for the end zone and uses his influence to tell others about Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Lottie Moon: Lessons From Lottie

Lottie Moon was a changed woman, from the teenager who once told people her middle name was ‘devil.”  But her life in Christ also shows sanctification, for coming to China was racial superiority in her heart, she prepared for her next voyage to heaven consumed with seeing the Chinese come to Christ. In truth, she was a disciple of Christ that had left every thing in order to follow her Savior.  Like Jesus words in Mark 10:29-31, she embodied the call of discipleship, and she was rewarded handsomely for all that she left.

Consider Jesus words again, in light of Lottie’s life…

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel [Lottie had done all of those things], who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Lottie’s name lives on in missions history and in the Southern Baptist’s yearly Christmas offering which goes exclusively to fund missionaries all over the world.  Her life is filled with examples of God’s providence and favor, even as she endured many trying times.  Overall, she is an inspiration to missional living, one who gives us many lessons for following her faithful example.  Let us consider six of them.

  1. She was a constant student.  She loved learning about her master and how to reach others with the message of Christ.  While she was predisposed towards learning even before her salvation; it is evident that salvation fueled her love for knowing more about her Savior.  In this way, she was a true disciple.
  2. She accepted the tragedies of life as means of sanctification and guidance in her life.  It is easy to grow embittered by the things God’s brings into our life, but in Lottie we see how God turns the poisons of life into useful medicines to cure her of deadly heart diseases.
  3. She constantly inquired into how she might best use her life for the service of her king.  She teaches us to not grow satisfied with this life, but to improve our lives with a greater zeal for Christian service.  At all times, we ought to be willing to leave everything behind and follow Christ.  Lottie did, and she challenges us to do the same.
  4. She found her treasure in the unseen realities of life.  With such heavenly treasure in her heart, she exhausted her life for the sake of the Chinese and for the sake of the missionary endeavors of Southern Baptist.
  5. In Lottie Moon, we see an example of a genuine follower of Christ.  She did not arrive in China as the perfect specimen of missionary service.  She was disgusted by the culture and the primitive conditions of the Chinese, and yet, in time God grew her to be Christ-like in her service.  She became a living sacrifice, one that we do well to consider and imitate the faithfulness of her life.
  6. Finally, her life in comparison to Crawford Toy is striking modern-day parable.  Like the contrast between the rich young ruler and the children who sought Jesus presence, Toy and Moon reflect two kinds of people.  In Toy, we see someone who gained the whole world—he achieved academic success, he was Harvard professor beloved of students and acclaimed as a brilliant scholar—but who in the end forfeited his own soul.  He lost is luster for Christ and he died as a mere theist.   In Lottie Moon, however, we see someone who lost the whole world—she forsook her pedigree, received scorn for leaving US, suffered greatly, experienced innumerable hardships, and she died weighing less than 50 pounds—but gained an eternal reward in heaven.  She was or rather became the least, in order that Christ might be prized the most.  She left Toy, in order to pursue Christ and his church in China, and accordingly she is an example of someone who gladly counted her life as nothing compared with the exceeding joy of knowing and serving Jesus.

These are only a few of the lessons available from Lottie Moon. During this season of missions giving, may we consider Lottie’s life and imitate her faith.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Lottie Moon: Service and Solicitor for Missions Giving

Service

When Lottie evaluated her ministry in China, she felt that the first 18 years of the work were just sowing with very little reaping.  From 1873-1890, she labored to learn the language, the customs, and the best ways to do evangelism.  And it was only after 2 decades that she began to see much fruit. Part of this was the way Lottie conceived of conversion.  She was not looking for numbers but transformed lives.  But also, it was the providence of God.  Sometimes in God’s perfect timing, the fruit takes much longer to form than we would want.  Yet, this should not have been a surprise to Lottie, for 18 years was the same amount of time it took for her own conversion.

As the years turned into decades, the focus of her ministry changed.  In 1873, Lottie began as a school teacher to young girls, but after ten years, she requested a permanent change to a ministry comprised of personal evangelism. She wrote to her supervisor, “Under no circumstances do I wish to continue in school work, but I long to go and talk to the thousands of women around me” (387).  This adamant statement was not a disgruntled complaint, but a heart that had traded in her intellectual pursuits for more personal ministry.  She continues, “If I am to devote myself to evangelistic work in the city and country I must be free from the school” (387).  This change would prepare the way for her most fruitful years of ministry, still eight years away.

It is worth noting the conditions that she endured in China. Her reports describe “long days of teaching, traveling, enduring poor weather and verbal abuse, uncomfortable accommodation, and nauseating food” all of which “had no romantic appeal for her.”  Remember, Lottie was a Southern Belle who used to skip church to eat heavy meals.

Like Jesus, she would often go days without personal times of quiet and solitude.  While she experienced a kind of loneliness in China, there were other times she could not be left alone.  When she would travel into the countryside, the Chinese women and children would badger her with questions, fondle her clothing, and interrogate her manners.  They had a childlike inquisitiveness that never failed to verbalize what they were thinking, and there would be times when she would nearly crack under the pressure of constant scrutiny.

For 30 years, this was the majority of her work.  Going house-to-house, village-to-village, introducing women and children to the gospel.  There were times when she would “preach” to mixed audiences (men and women), because she feared for their souls.  She did not want to miss the opportunity to tell the good news, but her standard ministry target was the women and children.

Missions Fund Raiser

Teaching and personal evangelism did not exhaust her duties, because she also served as a valuable reporter from China back to the United States.  A compelling writer, she held regular correspondence with the Foreign Mission Board back in Virginia, and her stories were widely circulated among the women’s missionary societies that were springing up in the late 1800’s.

This written correspondence is perhaps what has left the greatest legacy among Southern Baptists.  And among all her letters, her plea for funds during the Christmas season in 1887 is the one that has had the longest lasting effect.  Writing to Southern Baptist women, she says,

How many there are among our women, alas! Alas!  Who imagine that because ‘Jesus Paid It All” they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should following the footsteps of Jesus Christ in bringing back a lost world to God, and so aid in bringing the answer to the petition our Lord taught his disciples: ‘Thy kingdom come”’ (383).

She would later say,

Should we not press it home upon our consciences,’ she asked, ‘that the sole object of our conversion was not the salvation of our own souls, but that we might become co-workers with our Lord and Master in the conversion of the world? (383)

Lottie Moon’s Enduring Legacy

Such was the boldness of Lottie Moon.  She picked up her cross and daily followed Jesus Christ, and she was glad to call others to do the same.  Indeed, she did so because of her love for her Savior and for the people of China.  Her joy was increased as she saw the Chinese come to faith, and she called others to increase their joy as well.

This is the reason why today Southern Baptists take up a missions offering in her name.  The goal is not to guilt people into giving, but out of the overflow of the heart, men and women might give funds so that more people might hear the gospel and the chorus of praise around the world might increase.

For a view on gospel-motivated giving, see my Gospel-Motivated Generosity is a Mark of True Obedience.

Check back tomorrow to consider a number of lessons from Lottie Moon’s life.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Between Darkness and Light: The Lord Who Ordained the Darkness

On Monday, we observed seven ways in which the setting for Christ’s birth was full of darkness.  Today, we will continue to look at the birth of Christ, but now from the angle that it was the Lord who creates light and darkness (Isa 45:7) that brought about the darkness so that the light of Christ might be ever more brilliant. Notice how in each of these instances, God is the sovereign author behind the darkness.

1. God is the only free person in the universe.  Our free will is limited and confined by innumerable factors; location, money, knowledge, and most importantly spiritual life effect our freedom. Not so God, nothing inhibits him.  He is in heaven and he does as he pleases (Ps 115:3).  Since Malachi, he chose to be silent.  No one muffled his voice. Conversely, God is never forced to speak, and so the spiritual darkness of the Intertestamental Period is a result of God’s free choice.

There is a lesson in this. God does not create darkness, so much as he pulls back the light.  In this case, the spiritual darkness is not something God speaks into existence; it is his intentional lack of speech.  This is often how God controls calamity and evil.  He never does evil, but he will permit evil men or evil spirits freedom to act according to their natures.  This is different from every aspect of goodness in the world—in that God is the active speaker.

2. God put Israel under Roman rule.  Israel’s captivity was in God’s full control.  As the one who raises exalts and humbles nations (cf. Ps 33:10-11; Isa 40:15, 17, 22-23), God placed Israel in the darkest period of their history.  This was in part due to his judgment upon their idolatry; this was in part to prepare the way for Jesus; and this was in part preparing the way for the gospel to travel along the Roman roads. Israel could not see it at the time.  Neither could the Roman Emperors.  But one major reason why Rome flourished as it did was because God himself was building the infrastructure necessary for the message of the gospel to travel.

I wonder if we think like that?  Do we think that giftedness of men like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates was only for their Silicon Valley companies? No, even though men like them may deny the Lord, God gifts them so that their innovations and productivity can be used for the advancement of the gospel.  This is how God works in history.  One way that advances in technology are being picked up and used for the gospel ministry is found in the ministry of Mark Overstreet and T4 Global ministries.

3. Even in the case of the false religions in Israel, it was God who permitted it.  His spiritual absence, created a vacuum where all kinds of Jewish religions rose up.  Many in Israel, instead of simply trusting God’s word—like Mary, Joseph, Anna, Simeon—came up with all kinds of contrived ways to gain God’s favor—Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes, Zealots were all human solutions to the spiritual and political problems of the day.

4. It was God’s eternal intention to bring Jesus into the world through a virgin.  In order for God to take on flesh, a natural union could not take place.  The virgin birth is necessary, because without it Jesus could in no way be divine and human.  So from Isaiah 7:14 on (maybe even before if you read Genesis 3:15 as promising a virgin birth), God’s word predicted that a virgin would give birth to a child.  Isaiah 9 explains the kind of child this would be—one born in darkness who would bring light, one that would bring peace, the kind that would never be taken away.  Thus, the near divorce of Mary, the isolation from her family, the insults from strangers, and the lifelong accusations that Jesus mother incurred was God’s doing!  God blessed Mary by afflicting Mary with this child.  He does the same in our lives, too (2 Cor 1:3-7).

5. In order to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies, God moved Mary and Joseph by way of Caesar’s census.  There is great irony in God’s redemptive story.  In this case, it is a king who takes count of his kingdom, all the while the king of kings comes with no accounting from the world (John 1:9-11).  In Caesar’s census, this mighty king thought that he was proving his power to the world.  But really, he was taking a census because God wanted to move two people from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  The prophecy in Micah 5:2 needed to be fulfilled, and God used the mightiest man and the world as a pawn, in order to bring his scepter-wielding Son into the world in the right place.

There are so many lessons in this.  For one thing, what we think is important in our lives, may be the most meaningless thing that we do.  Likewise, what the world deems as important may not be.  The way God works in history should free us from the approval of men, and should recalibrate our lives to live for his purposes. After all history is His Story, and the only lasting part we have is what comes from him.

6. Mary and Joseph’s poverty was ordained by God, so that it would accentuate the gift of the wise men. Matthew 2:10-11 records the exceeding joy of the wise men, and how when they found the babe, they offered gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  But these are not just gifts like we give on Christmas morning, they are sacrifices of praise. Matthew records that these travelers came from a far to worship the king of kings.

And the gifts they give are significant.  For one, it is likely that the gifts would finance the travels that Jesus’ family would make to Egypt in the coming months.  But even more significant, they fulfill prophecy.  In Isaiah 60, the great prophet gives an oracle describing the nations coming to worship at God’s dwelling place, and it just so happens that Isaiah develops the them of light coming into the darkness–darkness ordained by God, so the light of the world would be perceived by all nations.  Listen to what Isaiah says in verses 1-6

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, young camels of Midian & Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold & frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.

The picture of light dawning on God’s Holy Dwelling Place includes men (and women) coming from the nations, bowing down before the Lord, and offering gifts.

7. Finally, even the killing of the infants was part of God’s plan.  Oh, don’t misunderstand.  God is not the cause of such evil.  He is never tempted to do evil, nor does he ever do evil.  However, that is to say that in his blameless holiness, he has not ordained evil to be done.  Just think of the murder of Jesus on the cross, Acts 2:23 and 4:27-28 records that this was God’s plan and purpose.  So, according to God’s inspired word, do we find that God blamelessly ordains the slaughter of infants, such that all that Herod does is according to the  Script that was given to him.

To say it another way: Herod is not acting outside of God’s jurisdiction.  Oh yes, he is breaking God’s commandment—thou shall not kill.  But in another way, he is fulfilling the will of God. Like Satan in the book of Job, Herod only does what God permits him to do. He is on God’s leash, and cannot extend his hand any further than God allows. Like the lying spirit in 1 Kings 22, the one that God sent out to deceive Ahab, king of Israel—God does not lie, but apparently he does send out lying spirits.  In the same way, Herod does what is in his nature to do—to deceive, manipulate, and kill.

Still unsure?  Consider the fact that Matthew shows us that Herod’s fanatical attack on the children in Bethlehem actually fulfills Scripture, and thus at the same time that Herod is breaking God’s will, he is in another sense fulfilling God’s unfailing Word. Matthew 2:16-18 records,

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

In the end, the fulfillment of this prophecy shows how dark the period was.  Israel’s sin brought God’s judgment, and thus they lived in gloomy darkness.  Yet, in his covenant love, he had not abandoned his elect people.  Rather, he was quietly working behind the scenes to bring his Son into the world.  The birth narrative of Jesus shows us this, and as we will see in our next installment how God’s light shines brightest when it is contrasted with the darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Lottie Moon: Sovereign Suffering and Sanctification

In China (1873-1912)

When Lottie arrived in China her attitude was not so Christ-like.  Raised in a home of great means and education, Lottie displayed great sophistication and intellect.  However, she also held a racial superiority over the Chinese, a way of thinking prevalent in the slaveholding South.  As a result, she entered China very prejudiced against the people she was going to reach.  Her own words reveal the darkness of her enlightened heart.  Reflecting upon a visit to Shanghai, she says, “Where the Caucasian goes he carries energy and an inferior race [the Chinese] is aroused by the contact” (368).

Yet, Lottie’s Darwinian view of the Chinese would soon be crushed in the hands of the great potter and reshaped for more useful service.  Like Peter and the other disciples, her four decades in China purified her for more useful service to the king.  For Lottie, and for us, discipleship is not a point in time, but a process of sanctification and greater obedience to God and His Word.  God certainly used his word to refine Lottie, but he also used painful circumstances.  There were at least 3 events that made her a more usable disciple.

Edmonia’s Return.  First, within five years, Lottie’s sister and partner in gospel ministry returned home.  After suffering severe ailment for two years in China, she would be afflicted in her health until the day of her death.  Despite her illness, she was a constant supporter of Lottie’s, maintaining a regular correspondence with her and the mission board.  Nonetheless, in time, her ailments became too severe and in January 1909, she put a gun to her head and committed suicide.  While the tragedy struck only 3 years before Lottie’s own death, assuredly the troubles Edmonia felt half-a-world apart would have grieved Lottie for years prior.  She missed her sister deeply and when her pen reflected about her personal struggles often she recounted the loneliness she felt after her departure.

Crawford Howell Toy.  Second, Lottie Moon’s relationship with C.H. Toy served as a severe disappointment for Lottie.  In 1877, when Lottie Moon returned with her sister to the States, she rekindled a relationship with her former teacher from the Albemarle Female Institute.  Like Lottie, C.H. Toy was educated, sophisticated, and a product of the Antebellum South.  He had received his masters from the University of Virginia.  After which he taught at Lottie’s school, before receiving his ordination in 1860 from John Broadus.

Toy himself for a season was a strong proponent of missions and even sought to go to Japan for missionary work.  Yet, his steadfast pursuit of missions would soon change towards a more academic route.  Toy’s personal testimony is a sad one, because when he went to Germany for doctoral studies, he returned steeped in the liberal influences of the day.  And it appears that he sought to influence Lottie Moon, as well.  After Lottie’s death, it was noted that she had quite a collection of books in her library devoted to the errors that Toy supported.

Still during all these doubtful seasons, Lottie remained hopeful.  While the Baptist papers disparaged Toy and Southern Seminary removed him from the faculty for his heretical views, somehow, Lottie Moon remained hopeful that some kind of marital union was still possible with Toy.  Alone on the mission field, without her sister, Moon surely fancied the idea of a partner in marriage and ministry.  However, in 1881, these hopes would be finally dashed.

In that fateful year, two of Toy’s students, T.P. Bell and John Stout, were rejected from missionary service because of the views they held concerning the Scriptures.  Under the influence of his teachers in Germany, Toy had developed a system of thought that denied the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and other portion Scripture that related to science, history, or geography.  In this way, Toy denied Scripture’s full inspiration and with it, he denied its truthfulness and ability to speak about all matters of life.

Such news caused a crisis in Lottie Moon’s life.  Her immediate reaction was to leave the mission field and to go to Harvard, the school to which Toy was now employed.  But shortly, she reconsidered.   Nettles again is helpful, “It was at best impracticable and at worst disloyal to her Redeemer.  The critical need for laborers in China, the fatigue and debility of her missionary colleagues, and the clarity of God’s prerogative over her life, as well as her increased love for the Chinese people, shoved aside this last shot at romantic and domestic fulfillment” (380-81).

Think about it: Here is an unwed women, whose intellectual gifts were shaped by Toy and who was deeply enamored with him.  Yet, she rejects the joys that she could attain in this marriage, because she counts faithfulness to Christ as more valuable.  And I think, it was this decision that God used to solidify Moon’s lifetime of service in China.  For her this decision to abandon the love of her life set a course for Lottie to abandon herself to the bride of Christ in China. This is how disciples are made.  What we affirm on paper means nothing until we are put into the trials of life—personal allegiances are often some of the most difficult trials.

Halcomb. A third development during this time was the defection of another missionary on theological grounds.  In 1886, N.W. Halcomb resigned his post because of a theological struggle with the Deity of Christ.  Lottie worked relentlessly to convince him from the Scriptures of Christ’s eternal and divine nature.  But despite her best intentions, prayers, and efforts, Halcomb left the field, depleting the number of laborers in China.  You can imagine the effect this had on Lottie Moon, both in regard to her spirits and in regards to her commitment to the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.

It seems that in these three trials, God showed Lottie Moon the folly of intellectual attainment and the radical need to simply follow him.  She had lost much to serve him in China, and yet she did not go unrewarded.  Despite the loss of a sister, the loss of a spouse, and the loss of a co-laborer, she never lost the one thing she must retain—her faith in God and passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We also see in her life the relationship between doctrine and missions.  There are many today who would want to minimize the importance of doctrinal precision, saying that: “All that matters is ministry or mission.  Do evangelism, preach, pray… don’t bother yourself with doctrine.”  Yet what we see in Lottie’s life is that in at least two instances doctrine destroyed missions—this was the case with Toy and Halcomb.

This is true at the level of churches and denominations, but it is also true individually.  If you are going to grow in Christ, you must rightly understand his Word.  Emotions, feelings, and experience can only carry you so far and for so long. No true disciple of Christ can sustain a lifetime pursuit without a growing knowledge of God in his word.

God’s Goodness and Mercy

Reflecting on the tragedies in Lottie’s life, it is evident that God was in control of them all.  Nothing happened to her that God himself did not ordain and use for her sanctification and greater service. As with Joseph in Genesis, what men and devils meant for evil, God meant for good.  Through pain, he purified Lottie.

This is a vital lesson for any Christian, but especially for those who are going onto the mission field.  Unless believers learn to see all things–good and evil–as sovereignly ordained by God and thus merciful provisions from the Father’s hand, it is unlikely that such ambassadors of Christ will endure the onslaught of afflictions that can easily overwhelm.

May Lottie’s experience steel those who are suffering to endure, and may we learn from her what she surely learned–to trust God’s goodness in good times and bad.  He is working all things for the good of those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Lottie Moon: Her Conversion and Call to China

Conversion

Just before Christmas of 1858, Lottie Moon was converted.  And I say converted because it is evident that God acted upon her.  Like Romans 3 says, she was not seeking after God.  As she was pursuing vain things; God’s grace broke into her heart.  By God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, she was born again.

Still, while God converted Lottie, the sovereign Lord used means, and she was converted under the ministry of John Broadus. This is the same Broadus who would go on to become one of the four founders of Southern Seminary. Broadus was the pastor of Moon’s church and a principal at the school she attended.  In the fall of 1858, Broadus called for a series of evangelistic meetings and prayer services.  He called his congregation to come together to pray for the lost.  And certainly with family and friends in the church, they were praying for the proud skeptic, Lottie Moon.

During that week, there was a night in which Lottie Moon could not sleep.  A barking dog kept her awake, and her mind raced with thoughts of her eternal destiny and the state of her soul before God.  This sleepless night prompted her to go to the meeting the next evening.  While intending to scoff, she left that service to pray in her room all night.

She was baptized a few days later after professing faith in the God she had spent her life opposing.  And her profession was more than just a verbal testimony.  A family friend remarked about the immediate change in Lottie:  “She was different… in those details of the daily life which at last afforded the most delicate test of Christian character.” (W.E. Hatcher quoted by Nettles, 365).

Upon her conversion, she returned to school, to not only finish her degree.  While she had taken many courses in religion before, she now pursued them with a renewed vigor.  So passionate was she to study, she took every single course that the school offered!  And when she graduated in 1860, John Broadus remarked that Lottie Moon was the most educated woman in the South.

A Teaching Life (1860-1872)

Now if you are following along, you know that her graduation came one year before the Civil War.  During that time she participated in the life of the Confederate army, assisting where she could.  After all, she was a Virginia Belle.  But during the Civil War, she also served as a tutor for a family in Georgia.  This would lead her into a lifetime of teaching service.

In 1866 she moved to Kentucky to teach in the female academy operated by the First Baptist Church of Danville, Kentucky.  Four years later, she would move again to Cartersville, Georgia where she taught for less than a year.  Hearing the news that her mother’s health was failing, she returned home to care for her mother.

During the remaining days of her mother’s life, the two women spoke often about the call of God to use one’s short life in the service of the gospel (Nettles 367).  This burning question—How to best invest one’s life for Christ?—would have tremendous effect on Lottie, for in every future season of her life, she was always asking how she could best use her short life for advancement of the gospel.

And it seems that while her mother lay dying, God birthed in Lottie a desire to reach the nations for Christ.   In these maternal conversations her eyes were lifted from the women of the South, to the nations abroad.  Moved to action, Lottie began supporting two missionaries as she continued to teach in Georgia.  For the next two years she would support these gospel ministers while inquiring herself into service in China.

During this period, she was greatly influenced by her sister, Edmonia, because it was not Lottie’s initial idea to travel overseas. She had received great commendation for her work as a pioneering educator in the years after the Civil War, and she was content to stay.  In fact, most around her strongly discouraged Lottie from wasting her life upon the foreign mission field.  Thus, it took the strong pleading of her sister who had previously sailed to China and the prayers of the Chinese missionaries to dislodge her from her successful field of labors.  Yet, through it all, it was the Lord who was calling, and Lottie as a genuine disciple, simply followed his command.

The result of following Christ, for Lottie, meant that for the next 40 years, she would walk with the people of China, and in the end, she would literally sacrifice her life for the sake of their eternal souls.

If you are interested in learning more about Lottie, see yesterday’s post on her upbringing and education.  And check back tomorrow for her missionary career. 

Soli Deo Gloria, dss