2000 years ago Jesus said to experts of the law. “Woe to you if you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry. And then you yourselves will not lift a finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46) Little has changed in the intervening years.
A prominent minister in our day confided to me, “If I want my people to read the Bible for 15 minutes a day – I multiply my demand on them tenfold.” What was he really saying? He was telling us that, in his experience, people will only be motivated to do what you want them to if you lean on them. If you do the math, you will find that he was saying if you want the people who have been entrusted to your care to be in the Word for 15 minutes a day, you should put them under the burden of reading the Word for 2.5 hours every day!
I’m sorry, but I can’t let this go unchallenged. First of all, the individuals that this pastor is putting under bondage are NOT “his” people; they are God’s people; secondly, demanding more of people than what God legitimately requires is no more than stinking legalism.
So, you have heard it said, “If, as a leader, you want people to adopt a certain standard of Christian behavior, double down on your requirements.”
But I say to you, “If you believe the Lord wants people entrusted to your care to read God’s WORD for 15 minutes a day, perhaps you should ask for a minute and a half or better yet, just pray that God gives them such a hunger for His word that they just can’t put it down.
You have heard it said (based on Hebrews 11:1 – KJV) Faith is a “substance” – as if faith were some kind of commodity.
But I say to you, the passage in question would be better translated. “Faith is the foundation (or the basis) by which we are made sure of the things we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. FAITH IS THE KNOWLEDGE OF REALITY WE HAVE NOW FROM GOD’S WORD. God’s Word is both the Word of faith that we find in scripture and the Word made flesh and dwelling among us in Christ. BTW, I have found that these two (written Word and incarnate Word) always agree.
You may have also heard it said, “Faith is the coinage of the kingdom.” I actually heard this on TV just last week. Our friendly televangelist (who was not shy to tell you that he desperately needed your money just to stay on the air) went on to say that, “All you have to do in order to succeed in life, is to extend your faith — just as you might by reaching out with a handful of coins — believing that if you deposit a certain number of them in a Coke machine, for example, you will see a can of Cola appear – in accord with your faith.”
But I say to you, this is nothing more than bowing to a god who is more like a red refrigerator than the sovereign King of the whole universe. Rather, receive faith as a gift from our Faithful God. Reject the temptation to try to manipulate God. Simply ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks (and keeps on asking) will receive, and he who seeks (and keeps on seeking) will find, and to him who knocks (and keeps on knocking) the door will be opened. The Father is poised to give good gifts to all those who ask. (see Matthew 7:7-11)
I saw a bumper sticker last week. It said, “DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK.” Whatever they may have meant by this, it reminded me of the fact that hearing God’s word is an important part of renewing our mind. In the Bible we are encouraged to think in a new way not just about sin but about God, ourselves and our shortcomings. The process of discipleship therefore starts with renewing our minds to accept the fact that unless God enables us, we can do nothing.
As we draw on His Word we gain the courage to believe that God is real and really for us. This confidence leads us in turn to a confession of faith in the faithfulness of God – in spite of any and all appearances to the contrary. In light of this, if you find yourself thinking that God does not love you or that He is a hard taskmaster, I say to you, “Don’t believe everything you think.” The Bible says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. If you have found it otherwise, maybe it is not his yoke you are carrying.
To sum things up, you have heard it said, in the face of overwhelming odds, “ Just try harder; “ or maybe “You just need to get to the bottom of your problem by asking, Who has fallen short of God’s ideal, you or your parents?” or “Just buck up and lift yourself up – by your own bootstraps.” Finally, if you are really in dire straights, “Just tie a knot in the end of your rope and hang on.” etc., etc. ad infinitum – ad nauseum.
But I Say to you … “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Jesus words to us in Matthew 11:28 -The Message Bible)
(Bruce Norquist graduated with an M-Div. from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena in 1979. Following this he and his wife served as missionaries in the Philippine Islands and as pastors in Tacoma. After this he and his family moved to Scotland where Bruce was educated at King’s College in the University of Aberdeen. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology in ’92. Since then, he has taught in colleges, universities and seminaries both here and abroad. Presently he lives in Seattle, where he and his wife, Kathy, serve under-shepherd to God’s flock. They have 3 grown children. www.theevergreenchurch.org)
Excellent and timely!