Your Guide to Being Guided (Part 1)

“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” (Exodus 13:21-22)

I always used to feel sorry for the newspaper reporter who had to write the obligatory annual piece on the meaning and origin of Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, etc. (i.e., the 500-word guide to Columbus).

Since I’m 63, there have been—hang on, let me doublecheck—63 Columbus Day profiles I’ve heard. Granted, at age five months I didn’t retain much from the first one. But to be transparently and brutally honest, the same could be said for age 25.

I was watching a football game that day instead of standing in front of a statue of Columbus thanking him for sailing west into the unknown and paving the way for Guglielmo (I had to Google that) Marconi, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, Phil Rizzuto (Holy cow!), and Tony Soprano. I missed my chance. Now there’s just a stalk of steel pipe where the great explorer used to stand (and btw, he was a great explorer).

The Guide in the title is sort of poking fun, because any real guide to guidance would be a book, not a blog post. I don’t write about things better summarized by finding the Wikipedia article on it or reciting sections of some major confession of faith (e.g., Westminster might be the best known, but there are lots of them). I don’t paraphrase what someone has said in their latest book. (If you want to know, I assume you’ll buy the book yourself.)

So my guide is like the criteria Nehemiah used in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. He surveyed the damage, divided up the overall task into small sections and set them to work. And where special attention was needed he “stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places” (Neh 4:13). This is about enduring misconceptions, holes in what has been taught and improper application—all “low points” and “exposed places.”

OK, for starters, how do you decide what and how to write about specific subjects?

Yesterday morning it started when I got up to use the bathroom at 4:30 a.m. Not with a shower of words and ideas coming down from heaven but, as usual, a couple of biblical illustrations come to me with an additional salient detail or two that puts it in a new light.

Let me clarify what I mean by “new light.” Illumination doesn’t always mean some brand-new notion arrives fully formed, like a packaged meal delivery from Nutrisystem. Light simply reveals something already there.

This is what happens when you climb into your dark attic and pull the string to turn on the light. (Don’t step on the end of that loose 2 x 10 lying across the joists!) The contents of the area don’t change, just your perception of them. Over there is a dark shape and indistinct contents protruding from it; turn on the light and you can see it’s a box of Christmas decorations.

This is what often happens to me. “The unfolding (entrance AMP Version) of your words gives light” (Ps 119:130). Light which illuminates what I may have spent years already walking in, but which reveals even more. New doesn’t have to mean never existed before.

Do Christians know how to feel guilty?

The guide here is not a list of “spiritual principles,” it’s the Guide himself, the Counselor Jesus promised. Not only will he “guide you into all the truth,” but more specifically he will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:9-13). I think that about covers it as far as jurisdiction is concerned.

I sometimes hear believers pray as if they’re afraid some sin in their life will escape their attention and leave them in darkness or hobble the ministry of the gospel. Or they walk around condemning themselves in every third sentence that issues from their mouth. Flagellants used to lacerate their own flesh; now we “cut ourselves down” with words.

Enough already. What do you think would happen if you called the local police every few days to ask if you had committed any crimes? (I just want to be a good citizen!) They would probably block your number. If you do commit a crime, they’ll find you.

The Counselor, don’t forget, is the Holy Spirit. He will “find” you in the same way God did when Adam and Eve hid from him. By asking “Where are you?” he was showing them where they were (i.e., for starters, hiding), not satisfying his curiosity.

When’s the ‘I Just Can’t Decide Study Bible’ going to be available?

I honestly don’t know how many study Bibles are out there, every single one promising to “make the word come alive.” Because I believe the promise about “coming alive” literally, before I go to bed I put my study Bibles in portable kennel-like containers so they can’t wander out of the house and get hit by a car.

The trend is ridiculous, patronizing and counterproductive. We have been given the ministry gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher so that we might “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13), not so we could get recommendations about which study Bible is the oracle of God and then spoon-feed ourselves from it.

The what of guidance is not remote, shrouded in mystery, perceived only by a select few or copyrighted content in some book. Every scriptural picture of guidance reveals something approximating a billboard.

When the children of Israel entered the wilderness, “the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.” No chance of losing the GPS signal there. The pillars were visible for miles.

When the imprisoned John the Baptist sent word to ask if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Mt 11:4-5). What else do you need to know?

When I hear someone lamenting loudly that “they just don’t know what the Lord wants,” the real issue is usually, “Do you know that what you want is the reason the transmission is scrambled?” It’s not what to do, but the will to do it.

“Today, if you would hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Ps 95:8). When you “harden” in response to the word, something inevitably happens if you do not reverse course presently: the light you still have grows dimmer and dimmer.

“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away” (Mt 25:29). Included in the “talents” we’ve received–bags of gold NIV, which avoids the confusion from the contemporary sense of talent as a skill or ability—is wisdom. If you bury it, it’s gone.

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