Eat This Book!

I’m the leader of our Wellness Team at work, a group of people called “Vitality Champs” because we develop programs and encourage people to become involved with Vitality, a website oriented wellness program where you do a variety of things to gain points, qualifying for a lower health premium and hopefully improving your health in the process. At least that’s the goal.  One of the things emphasized in Vitality is eating good balanced meals and paying attention to your nutrition.  No matter how much you exercise, if you don’t eat nutritional things, you will not be in good health.

In the Old Testament book of Ezekiel we find an interesting account of God telling Ezekiel to eat a scroll. Here’s what is recorded: “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here.  Eat this scroll, and go speak to the house of Israel.’  So, I opened my mouth and he gave me this scroll to eat.  And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’  Then I ate it and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”  (Ezekiel 3:1-3) do

Eat This Book 2
How do we eat this book?

There is an old Jewish tradition that says when the rabbis teach their students, before the lesson begins they will put a drop of honey on the student’s tongues, to remind them of the sweetness of studying God’s Word and what it provides for them. Not a bad idea (dad and mom, with your kids).  Ezekiel’s account is not the only place we see God’s Word compared to honey.  Psalm 19:9, 10 says, “The rules of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”  But, if we neglect them, if we claim to follow the Lord but disregard his teaching, we see something else.  “And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it.  It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.” (Rev. 10:10) Here John has a revelation that is similar to what Ezekiel experienced, but for those who hear God’s Word and don’t do anything with it, God’s Word turns from life to death, from sweetness to bitterness.

Do we truly “hear” God’s Word? It’s more than just allowing words to go in our ears.  In fact, the Hebrew word “Shema” is what precedes what Jesus called the greatest commandment.  “Shema (hear), O Israel, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might.”  For the Israelite, “to hear” meant more than words going in your ear, it meant truly hearing, resulting in heeding the words and obeying the Lord, truly loving him.  Are we exposing ourselves to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, and are we meditating on what we learn and acting in response?  Only when we do so have we truly heard.  Only then are we spiritually nourished.  And such defines real faith.

The writer of the book of Hebrews continues the metaphor by saying that we need the meat of God’s Word, not just the milk of a new Christian, as we mature in faith (Heb. 5:12). Yes, we need the spiritual nutrition that only comes from study and application of the Bible.  Don’t neglect to eat this book!

“Your words were found and I ate them; and your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.  For I am called by your name, O Lord God of hosts.”  (Jeremiah 15:16)

Happiness and Hedonism

An old story goes like this: A Texas sheriff was pursuing a bank robber who kept crossing the Mexican border to hide out. Finally, the sheriff crossed the border himself and the posse tracked the robber to his hideout, where the robber was cornered. The sheriff needed an interpreter since he spoke no Spanish, and one was found. “Tell me where you’ve hidden the loot?” he asked. The robber wouldn’t answer. After several tries the sheriff got tough. “If you don’t tell me this time, I’m going to shoot!” He was serious, and it was obvious. The robber spilled his guts, admitting to his fault, telling where the money was hidden with detailed directions. “What did he say?” the sheriff asked the interpreter. After a few seconds the interpreter replied, “He says, ‘Go ahead and shoot.’”

The pursuit of happiness can take many avenues. If being happy is truly our deepest concern, we’ll rob for it, we’ll lie for it, we’ll do whatever it takes to be happy. Such is the Happiness & Hedonism Picture2life of the hedonist. They plunge into the experiences of life with one goal – enjoy! Sex in any form, lifestyles to please self, whatever it takes. A recent academic book suggests that, if the acquisition of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are our chief desires, maybe we’ve got the evolutionary theory backwards. Animals actually score highly on the pleasure scale, yet have few of the complex psychological pains, such as anxiety and disappointment, that are built into the human psyche. Yes, pleasure and happiness are good things, but they are not the only good things, and without boundaries they can enslave us. C.S. Lewis once said, if happiness was all he was after in life, a good bottle of port would do the trick.

If this life on planet earth is all there is, if the Bible’s promise of an eternity somewhere is not true, then hedonism makes some sense. Enjoy life while you can! The only boundaries you need are those that provide some level of safety, otherwise do whatever it takes to be happy. The trouble is, creating those boundaries is a fuzzy target. They vary with the individual’s background and worldview. And that’s exactly what we see in our culture, which has largely adopted the hedonistic philosophy. People stake their ground, then fight for their view of what can create happiness for them. Yet sexual fulfillment never really fulfilled anyone; financial security never really made anyone secure. Break God’s law for the sake of happiness, you end up proving God’s law, while breaking yourself.

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:1)

There was one person who could have taken this approach and been completely successful. Jesus. All he had to do was not create the world and the people who inhabit it. Then he could have stayed away from such craziness and rested in the fellowship of God, only pleasure, the absence of pain. But he didn’t. He wanted to have fellowship with humans. He gave them free choices of right and wrong. He even allowed them to accept him and follow his way, or reject him and do what they wanted. He spelled out consequences, but there was always a choice. Because humans chose the sinful path routinely, rather than push them away, Jesus chose to come to earth and suffer, and die, a ransom price paid to win us back. Isaiah 53 tells us, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain…surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…he was led like a lamb to the slaughter…for the transgression of my people he was punished.” This is the life Jesus chose. During his life on earth he healed the sick, provided direction for the downhearted. What is it that motivates our choices?

The Christian life comes with a cost of discipleship. God provides boundaries in his word. More than that, he provides a reason to follow joyfully. Purpose in life, finding it’s true meaning, helping others know the love of God. Hope for an eternity where the real reward comes, where the burdens of life can be laid down. Meanwhile we take up our cross and live a life of self-sacrifice for the good of others. Happy? Yes, deep down. But it’s not the same as the hedonistic type. It comes as an unsought side benefit of this God-centered lifestyle.