Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Bible is about...?

     I still remember. It was pouring down rain in Malawi, and with the roads washed out and without power, four young men interested in the ministry sat down with two older pastors with nearly 100 years of experience in the ministry between them to listen to these men's wisdom. I'll never forget the first thing Dr. Gillespe addressed as he talked to us young guys about the ministry.

     His first point was one that the remainder of the afternoon hinged on. He was giving us tips on reading, studying, and exegeting the Bible for the purpose of preaching, and he started off by giving us a very wide concept that was and remains striking to me. That's what I want to talk about here.

     Before I go any further, I just want to ask a simple question. What is the Bible all about? There are a lot of answers for what the Bible is. A revelation of God's will for His creation. A practical manual for living. A wealth of information and wisdom. We could give a lot of answers that have at least an element of truth in them.

     But Dr. Gillespe's statement was clear. "The Bible is a book about God." Short, simple, and clear, but oh what a a world of difference this little concept could make to our evangelical churches, sermons, quiet times, Sunday schools, VBS's, and just home devotions.

      Does the Bible contain knowledge about science, history, and medicine? Does it contain very practical, moral truths for every day life? Does it contain instructional wisdom and information for life? Absolutely! But go to a modern evangelical church today and look at the sermons. "Building better marriages". "Wise spending". "Practical insight for home management".

     But the sad, glaring truth is that I don't need God or the Bible to build a good marriage, manage my money wisely, or use practical common sense in home management; and a step further than that, I don't need God to apply wisdom, even Biblical wisdom to my marriage, my finances, or my home. I am perfectly capable of doing that without the Bible and certainly without God. Muslims, Mormons, cultists, agnostics, and atheists do it all the time.

     The problem with this thinking is that the Bible was never intended to be a practical guide to life. The results of the Bible's teaching can lead us toward good money management, a happy marriage, or a good home life, but that is not the point of the Bible. Reading the Bible as a practical guide to life, while it may lead to a morally upright life, leaves us empty and as good moralistic people, not believers in Jesus Christ. Reading the Bible for practical guidance for life builds legalistic mindsets that focus on our behavior patterns rather than on Jesus Christ.

     If I read the Bible as an instruction book for life, it is about do's and don't's, rules and guidelines, yes and no's. You can find that in the Koran, the Book of Mormon, any number of motivational books, even ancient philosophies. The Bible is not alone in its practical wisdom. It is alone in its unique claims about the character of God. The Bible, though it contains them, is not about practical guidelines. It's about God.

     If I read the Bible as the revelation of God, a book describing God, detailing the character of God, explaining God, revealing God, then the emphasis changes. Rules direct my thinking to me, what I should do, what I should think. Practical guidelines without spiritual or logical grounding lead me to legalism. My starting point in studying the Scriptures must be that the passage I'm reading points me to Christ in some way, shape, or form. In some way, shape, or form, it reveals Him, His character, and His ways, for His ultimate greatness, not mine. In understanding Him more AND falling deeper and deeper into love with Him, I am conformed to his likeness.

     As you read the Bible, keep it constantly in mind that this is a book about God, not about humans. It is a book to reveal His character, His attributes, and His desires for mankind to His greater glory. In studying the central character of the Bible, we realize more and more of the practical and applicable parts of the Bible... but we realize them through the lens of the God I serve rather than the lens of what I need to do to do to please God. It's about the relationship, not the laws. The obedience naturally follows the love; love doesn't necessarily follow the obedience.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Question Authority

    That phrase raised some eyebrows, didn't it? Many of us in conservative circles were told that that was not true. Authorities know more than we do, and because of that, we obey them and we do not rebel by questioning. Yes, I was told that several times. To say anything other than agreement was to rebel.

     Yesterday at a taekwondo tournament I was both a judge and a competitor at, one of the guy's I've coached mom came up to me and asked me a couple questions about procedure and what some of the people running the tournament were thinking when they planned to do this particular thing or bracket these people in this way. I told her that honestly, we judges don't know what's going on, we're just better at pretending we do. I was obviously joking, because in that case I did know what's going on, but there's an element of truth in what I said.

      Remember when you were a kid and you wanted to be an adult so you could do whatever you wanted? Or even as a teen you couldn't wait til you were older so you would beat that temptation or defeat that struggle? Remember how disappointing it was when you looked up and realized that that's not how it worked? Maybe you became an adult, maybe something else opened your eyes, but you realized that, "Hey, I'm an adult, and I'm still really, really confused."

     We've heard the talks, whether they about church authorities or parents or particular church speakers or a courtship girl's dad. We've heard them talked about as if they're miniature gods sometimes, with special insight from heaven and greater wealths of knowledge. I've gotten my share of lectures of even asking questions of those in authority when they make a statement.

     Seeing a bumper sticker that said, "Question authority" got me thinking earlier this week. Is that a sentiment that I as a Christian young man should consider good, because it certainly describes my life. I have been told I question everything, and I honestly can't argue with that synopsis. I truly do question everything, and I intend to continue doing so.

     One particular passage stuck out to me in thinking this over. Acts 17:11 says, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." 

     It's a very interesting verse. One message is clear from this: the Bereans were concerned about truth. They were very eager to hear this new teaching from Paul; literally excited to hear this truth. But, they didn't blindly accept something coming from the formerly respected son of a Pharisee and student of Gamaliel or the present day apostle. They immediately took the message of this respected speaker and turned back to Scripture to check about what he said, and since Luke knew about it to write, it apparently was no secret. It wasn't hidden that they were double checking what Paul said.

     Paul's response to that is maybe not what we would expect from a respected church leader based on how I've been addressed after asking questions and so on in my circles. He calls them "noble-minded" for doing this. Here they are being questioning of him and he's pleased about it!

     True leadership doesn't mind questions, even hard questions, most of the time even challenging questions. Blind followers are for cults, not Christianity. So as believers, we should be actively pursuing what the apostle Paul commended in the Berean church; that is, actively holding ourselves and our authorities to the Word of God, not blindly swallowing what they tell us. We are accountable for our beliefs, and blindly believing our church authorities, our parents, or our friends is, to state bluntly, inexcusable.

     Question authority. That's not to say defy it or rebel against it (though questioning it will sometimes lead us to do those things if necessary). But asking questions in pursuit of truth is NEVER wrong, particularly if we look for those answers from the Bible. Never be bullied into silence or complacency.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016


    I remember the times my Christian walk was like a jog, a run, or a full-on sprint. Times I grew by leaps and bounds, times I had questions, ideas, and theories daily. I remember those times like times of spring and summer, like sunlight. I remember them vividly, individual places I was when I thought of this idea that altered my life or that theory that shaped my thinking or what not.

     Other times, my life truly is a walk. It's a steady, progressing walk, not quick, not remarkably, but constant and moving. I'm not sitting still, I am following Christ and I'm learning... but other stuff gets in the way and it's hard to go on sometimes.

     But then, there's the times where even a day at a time, it's a struggle. No, the struggle isn't to wrestle with deep philosophies and theological concepts. The struggle is to just put one foot in front of the other and trust in the goodness of God. Some days, the stepping is just too hard. Tonight, I can't even step. All I can do is crawl.

     I remember running through the sunlight of new ideas and new theories of my faith... and now I'm crawling through the dark and the mist of the grittiness of my faith when it meets the real circumstances of life. When the theories cease to interest and the trust ceases to amaze, and it's all we can do to slide forward another inch without collapsing and screaming at God, "Why?!"

     Come to think of it, maybe collapsing and screaming "why?!" is part of the journey. Maybe it's not the exception... maybe it's not the time when I rally don't grow. Maybe, contrary to my first thoughts, just maybe, this is where God grows me the most. Because here, in the dark, without the sun and without the light, is where I learn the hardest concept in Christianity: blind faith.

     There's faith and then there's blind faith. Maybe we all use a measure of faith to believe anything we do about anything we didn't personally witness, whether it be evolution or creation, historical data, or archeological finds. But there's times when the evidence and the feelings of my heart scream in my face that God doesn't know, He doesn't understand, He doesn't care... and that is when faith ceases to be enough, and we're forced into the arms of blind faith.

     I can't trust God when I'm trudging forward in the mud, a step, a slide at a time, based on evidence and theories. This isn't a time for jauntily debating with a friend the complexities of God's sovereignty or the meaning and sufficiency of the atonement (though those times do exist). This is the time for me to cling with blind faith to Christ as I crawl along the Christian life.

     Heaven will be full of saints with a worn robes in the front from the time spent in the dark, prostrate on the ground, done, with just enough strength to take that next push forward. Heaven will be full of the scarred, the beaten down, the bruised, the survivors... the ones who didn't jog their way to heaven or coolly whistle their journey toward Christ. It's full of the sinners and the failures and the exhausted and the ones who struggle to take one. more. step.

     "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.' Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, 'These who are clothed in white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?' I said to him, 'My lord, you know.' And he said to me, 'These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

     We have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. That is who we are. Yeah, those of us who struggle. The failures? The ones who get bested sometimes, who get lonely, who feel loss? Those of us who sin? Those of us who fall short? Us?

     Yes, us. We are the they who are clothed in white robes, who have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! And I want to raise my voice to a victory shout when I say that, because we have no washed them to a dinghy gray or a creamy ivory, almost clean, but not quite. No, have washed them white! Pure. Clean. Perfect. New. Justified. Spotless.

     Sometimes the journey is a crawl. We don't have the strength to run or jog or even walk. But we serve a God who sees us and makes us pure, clean, and perfect before Him, even in our journey. It's not too long or too hard. It's not too much. Even in the darkness, the hard times, He is there... and He is enough. He is always enough.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Why Did Jesus Come to Die?

     As a kid, I remember asking my dad why God had to come to die in order to take the punishment for our sins when He wrote the rules for what the punishment for sin was going to be. His response was that that was just how God did it (probably in part because I was too young to understand any more complex answer), but then, as now, "just because" is an answer I hate. I want a reason for why a rule is in place or a belief is taught. In this case, I wasn't satisfied with God wrote the rules that way "just because".

     Think about it for a moment if you never have. Why did Jesus come to die? Well, to take the punishment for our sin and to make us righteous. But why did He have to die that way in order to do that? Because the Bible says only with the shedding of blood is there forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:21). Generally, that is where the conversation stops, even in church circles. But that was never enough for me. Because quite literally, God wrote the rules. If God had said it took four yellow petunias offered while standing on your head in Denver on April 5 to forgive sins, He could have. So because God wrote the rules, there should be one more why in our line of questioning: why did God make it that way?

     I remember asking my dad that, and again, the answer was "He just did", which was probably as much as my young intellect could handle at the time. But I think it's a valid question. Why did God write the rules that way? The way it's taught far too often in our churches and our VBS's, God is the cosmic victim of His own system. Before you start taking issue with that, think of how often you've heard it said this way.

    "Adam and Eve sinned, so they had to die, because sin brings death. (Again, did none of us ever wonder why God designed the world in such a way that sin would enter it and thus bring death when he could have left the tree of the knowledge of good and evil out of the garden and thus left the world without it?) So in order for them to become right with Him, God had to send someone perfect (again, God's rule) to die (also God's rule). The only perfect one was Jesus, so Jesus came to die for us..."

     But do you see what we just did? God just became the victim of His own rule system. God builds a system, man screws it up, and because God loves us so much, He becomes the victim of the system in order to save us. Poor God. The rules were against Him, so He had to find a loophole in order to save us.

    That idea (and thus what is far too commonly taught) is utterly nonsensical in that it leaves out God's complete omniscience, to say nothing of His sovereignty. If God in distant time past knew Adam and Eve would sin, why did He make the rules so hard? Why did He draw such a rigorously high standard someone had to fulfill? Why did it have to be blood and death? Could it be like... saliva? Or, I don't know, your right pinkie finger? He wrote the rules, so why make it so chillingly agonizing?

     If you've never thought about this before, take a second before reading further and think about it. God wrote the rules that drove Him to the cross. He is the One who instituted that blood had to be shed. This wasn't a cosmic rule somewhere that God had to conform to; God came up with the rules, rules that would ultimately result in a tortuous death of His Son, and He knew it when He wrote them. Why? Think of your answer in your head, because I could only think of one.

     He did so, in my opinion and if you have an alternate one, please leave a comment and let me know, in order to make plain, obvious, and irrefutable the vastness of His love for His creation. He could have forgiven our sins with a word, right? He's all-powerful! But no, He didn't. He chose to become the greatest, most brutal picture ever. He chose to personify love through His own bloody, gruesome substitution... that He designed from before time.

     Remember when Revelation says that the One who opens the scroll is a "Lamb as though He had been slain"? Jesus is identified as "the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world" in 1 Pet. 1:20. So the death of Jesus Christ is seen and even considered accomplished before the creation of the world. Clearly, Jesus' death is not God's secondary plan in response to man's screwing up his initial Plan A. The death of Jesus was in fact God's initial plan, the culmination of the system He brought into being.

     Rather than forgive us through words or our own deeds or anything else, God chose to forgive us through His own sacrifice and in so doing, show us beyond a shadow of a doubt His enormous, individual love for His creation. This was not His secondary plan or his reaction to mankind's failure, but His original plan from the beginning of time. He would create a race who would become hopelessly separated from Himself... in order to give Himself as the greatest sacrifice and greatest symbol of love the world has ever seen or will ever see.

     When you look at the cross, this is the culmination of eternity past. It's not a knee-jerk reaction to mankind's failure. It was the plan of God to demonstrate undeniable love by saving us through the most brutal, agonizing means possible, showing just how deep and abiding His desire for us was, and glorifying Himself through that. When you see the cross, it's not just ordinary love. It is quite literally the greatest love the world has or ever will see. And if we are partakers in that cross, then we are beneficiaries of that love.