Oh, I still read it nearly every day. I even make sure it’s on top of my stack of books, out of reverence for it (or is it just habit now?).
But my hunger and reverence for it has waned. There are a myriad of reasons for that, but here’s a big one.
As you probably know, Christians disagree about how we hear from God today. I have Gospel-believing friends on both sides of the fence—some who claim to be led by God’s Spirit as they listen to Him throughout their day, and other Gospel-believing friends who claim that the Word of God is the only way God speaks to His people today.
As a communicator, I’ve had to learn how to carefully nuance how I talk about hearing from God. That, for a girl who’s naturally more of a feeler than a thinker, and more gray than black and white, has felt stifling and rigid at times.
It has been confusing, too. Which is it? Is it the Spirit who leads us . . . or is it the Word?
This past Sunday, my pastor preached on the Word of God. This stood out,
The further I move from the written Word of God, the less confidence I can have that I’ve heard a word from God.
After his sermon, I went back over my notes and looked up all the Scriptures (one of my favorite Sunday “rhythms”), and I stumbled on 2 Peter 1:21 where we’re told how the Book was written,
No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Oh, yea! I was reminded that the Word IS the Spirit’s personally-breathed-out words. Oh to treasure and revere it more.
Then this morning, my ears perked up when Nancy Guthrie unpacked Nehemiah 8:1,
All the people [50,000 of them] gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.
Picture Times Square on New Years Eve, except this crowd was gathered to hear a book read rather than to watch a ball drop. We don’t know for sure, but maybe one piped up, “Bring out the Book!” And another and then another pitched in until the whole crowd cried, “Bring out the Book! Bring out the Book!”
Oh, that God might raise up women in our day who are hungry for the book,” Nancy said.
Yes, Lord. I want to return to the Book. I want to be a woman of the Book. Not a rigid, puffed up woman, but a God-knowing, God-fearing, God-hearing woman.
I still don’t have all the answers, but this I do know. The Spirit still speaks today through His personal, living words in that Book.
I admit it. When I saw the theme of this year’s Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, I wasn’t overly enthused. Nehemiah? And I care because . . .? (Okay, I didn’t consciously think that, but I might as well have!)
And I Care Because . . .?
Despite being raised on the Bible and attending Bible college, I struggled to remember anything significant about Nehemiah.
So once I’d cleaned the house (Dad taught me well: it’s always worth it to come home to a clean house!), emptied the fridge, set up my “Out of office” messages, washed my laundry, packed my suitcase, and made it through security with minutes to spare, I bypassed my borrowed copy of Grapes of Wrath and dusted off the ancient book of Nehemiah instead.
After re-familiarizing myself with his story, I began to get excited. Still, I was skeptical. Would the speakers really be able to show us the gospel through this old book? I prayed they would.
Kathy Keller was up first, and . . . she did it! I wish I could share more, but let me give you an oh-so-brief synopsis:
I Care Because . . .
The book begins with Nehemiah receiving horrible news:
The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Neh. 1:3).
Whoop-de-do, you say. But it was more than just a longing for his national homeland that made Nehemiah weep and mourn for days. Nehemiah understood what this really meant. What was really at stake.
Without a secure wall to defend themselves, there would be no permanent restoration of Israelite culture. They would be assimilated into other cultures, and there would be no more Israelite nation to bring forth God’s promised Messiah.
Nehemiah understood God’s Word. He knew the restoration of Jerusalem would one day climax in the Messiah prophesied since Genesis 3.
So, because of his understanding of and confidence in God’s Word, he took radical action.
After four months of prayer (yes, months!), He risked his own position—and even his life–by asking his employer (King Artexerxes) to reverse his decision to halt the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah decided to leave the world he’d known, the privilege and security of serving in the king’s palace, and head out on an uncomfortable, dangerous, opposed mission. But he did it based on God’s redemptive promises and plans.
If Nehemiah hadn’t left the privilege and safety of the palace for back-breaking labor, Jerusalem wouldn’t have been rebuilt. Nehemiah was God’s instrument at this period in history, but his story is submerged in the greater story.
Jesus is the greater Nehemiah who left the right hand of the King to join the blue-collar labor force as a carpenter, a builder. He came not just at the risk of death, but at the certainty of it. If he hadn’t done it, your salvation and my salvation would not have been accomplished.
So please don’t hold it against me. Turns out I do care! I care about Nehemiah, not ’cause it’s about Nehemiah, but because it’s ultimately about God’s grand redemptive plan.
Nehemiah understood God’s Word, and he acted in confidence based on God’s Word, in spite of the dismal state of current affairs. I wonder . . . Do you and I know God’s Word in such a way that we will act boldly and confidently—even when it looks like God’s purposes have been thwarted?
I think these words of Jesus are the scariest I’ve ever heard:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matt. 7:21–23).
Check out the résumé of these people to whom Jesus will refuse entrance into heaven:
They claim that Jesus is their Lord, the One who rules their lives.
They publicly teach about Jesus with passion and authority.
They cast out demons in Jesus’ name (something I definitely haven’t done!).
They do miracles—actual miracles—all in Jesus’ name.
Jesus says people will be shocked when He’ll ask, “Who are you? I never knew you.”
News flash: hell is for good people, too. People like you; people like me.
Tell me, do you:
Read your Bible?
Volunteer at the soup kitchen?
Tell people about Jesus?
Rescue helpless animals?
Go on mission trips?
Help in the church nursery?
If so, you’re good enough to go to hell.
You’re headed to heaven not because you were good enough, but because Jesus was good enough for you.
But if good people go to hell, then who on earth is good enough for heaven?!
And if your hope is in being good enough to get into heaven, you’re headed straight to hell.
I’ve heard Mark Vroegop say it like this: “Works don’t work.” Check out Romans 4:5 to see what he means:
To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
In case “does not work” sounds like a permission slip for a lifelong vacation, let me clarify. In 2 Peter 1:5–7 we’re told:
Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
“The gospel is not opposed to effort but [it is opposed] to earning,” the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible explains.
There’s nothing wrong with good works—as long as they flow out of gratitude for the grace you’ve been shown by Jesus. You’re headed to heaven not because you were good enough, but because Jesus was good enough for you. He bore God’s wrath toward your filthy and your “good” works, and He gave you the record of always having been 100 percent good.
If you recognize that you’re good enough to go to hell, please, oh, please, would you stop counting on your “good works” to earn you a spot in heaven? Turn to and trust in the only One good enough to secure eternal salvation for you—Jesus.
Have you ever stopped to think about what makes a good day . . . good? Is it an A on your World History quiz or a Facebook “like” from that guy who’s never far from your mind?
How about a crummy day? Is it waking up ten minutes before the bus comes or spilling orange juice on your favorite shirt?
Well, what if . . .
What if a good day has nothing to do with your circumstances?
What if a good day is waking up alive?
What if a good day is knowing you’re never alone, no matter how lonely you feel?
What if a good day is remembering that the best is yet to come?
Most of the time, our definition of a crummy day isn’t really all that crummy in light of God’s goodness to us.
What if a good day is not based on how much you accomplish, but on how much Jesus accomplished for you on the cross?
What if a good day is knowing that every crummy circumstance that crosses your path is something God promises to work together for your good and His glory?
What if a good day isn’t attention from a guy or affirmation from your boss, but the steady, constant love of your heavenly Father?
What if . . . what if this day isn’t all that crummy after all?
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps. 118:24).
(Interesting timing . . . just as I was polishing off this post, I heard of a friend’s son who lost thousands of dollars after unknowingly buying a stolen vehicle. Turns out there are crummy days. Really crummy days. I don’t mean to downplay that. I just think that most of the time, our definition of a crummy day isn’t really all that crummy in light of God’s goodness to us.)
How about you? How do you usually define a “good” or a “crummy” day?
Thirty-three foster kids and six adopted children later, I joined Dan and Melissa Jarvis’ family for a few weeks. The stories I have learned since have boggled my mind.
The four-year-old who lovingly laid his head on my lap the night I arrived had a breathtakingly awful beginning. He came to the family as a nine-week-old baby, having been mercilessly shaken and brutally beaten. He had twenty-seven broken bones (and no, that’s no typo) and his brain had been severely damaged.
Her life was so deprived and desperate that redemption looked . . . well, impossible. But God.
The doctors predicted he would not progress beyond a nine-week-old mental state, if he lived at all. But God. Last night I put together an A–Z puzzle with him and learned that he not only knows his alphabet, he can say it backward. He’s one of the most cheerful kids I’ve ever met!
Another three-year-old had been so neglected that she operated in pure survival-mode, with almost no knowledge of the outside world. After arriving in the Jarvis home, she thought she was in heaven when she first visited Walmart and saw the milk jugs lining the cooler.
Her life was so deprived and desperate that redemption looked . . . well, impossible. But God. Last night this little girl helped me make a fruit salad, and after dinner we all feasted on homemade popcorn while watching the movie Frozen.
I can’t begin to fathom the cost Dan and Melissa have incurred over the past nine years. Not only the financial costs, but the much-more-expensive emotional costs.
The pain of choosing to love others’ children for a short time and then giving them back, the pain of adopting children who may never recover from their broken beginning. (This, I’ve learned, is often tied to how well they “bonded” emotionally just after birth. Without a parental bond, it’s incredibly difficult for kids to grow up and trust people, bond with others, or love fully, even if they’re later placed into a loving home.) It makes my insides hurt just thinking of the excruciating pain of Dan and Melissa’s one-way love.
Only the Father’s love can thaw our sin-frozen hearts and warm them to embrace and heal this broken world—one heart at a time.
And yet . . . as I ponder this mind-blowing love, I realize it really isn’t one-way. They first received God’s one-way love for them, and now they pass it on. It’s more like a beautiful circle. They were first adopted into Father God’s family, and now they’ve opened the doors of their own home and family to welcome in new sons and daughters.
The same is true of you, you know. Whether you had a father who shook you and abused you and trash-talked you, or whether your father fed and clothed and comforted you, you too are one-way loved by the Father God and can be (if you’re not already) adopted into His family:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved (Eph. 1:3–6, emphasis added).
Our Father sent Jesus to be broken and bruised so you might be accepted and welcomed—accepted and welcomed when your life was a wreck, when you had nothing to offer Him.
It reminds me of the movie I watched last night that said, “An act of true love will thaw a frozen heart.” Only the Father’s love can thaw our sin-frozen hearts and warm them to embrace and heal this broken world—one heart at a time.
How has the Father’s one-way love for you opened your heart to one-way love another?
I wish you could meet my sister. In addition to being a downright awesome friend and woman of God, she has a great sense of humor. Growing up, she’d often ask outlandish questions like:
Would you rather only eat green olives dipped in mayonnaise for the rest of your life, or would you rather never bathe or shower again?
Her questions were always so "out there." Both options seemed hilariously . . . horrible!
Today let’s play a more obvious version of "Would you rather." Here are four questions you shouldn’t even have to think twice about:
Would you rather:
Live in Ahwaz, Iran (the city filled with the dirtiest air in the world), or would you rather . . .
Live in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada (boasting some of the cleanest air you’ll find of any city in the world according to the World Health Organization)?
Would you rather:
Fill your Nalgene bottle with water from Lake Karachay in Russia (the world’s most polluted spot thanks to the Soviet Union dumping nuclear waste from their largest nuclear production facilities into the lake from 1951–1953), or would you rather . . .