Top Seven[ish] Things People Think Are In The Bible (And They Totally Aren’t) [Except some totally are]

A friend shared an article on facebook the other day, and asked for feedback. These are my thoughts; they are probably not complete, but they get the job done. You may want to read the original article before diving into my response. I think two overarching things need to be clear about my response, so keep these in mind as you read:

  1. The author addresses an URGENT problem in our churches. There are so many platitudes floating around in our churches that we rarely stop to examine, many of which we have either spoken ourselves, or heard others speak. Maybe we’ve thought them to ourselves or watched/heard something and thought, “that makes sense.” MANY SUCH STATEMENTS AND CONCEPTS ARE BLATANTLY UNBIBLICAL. We need to be “wise as serpents” and “examine every teaching” to make sure that we are not being led astray by the evil one.
  2. I see this as pretty indicative of where faith in much of America stands. To be clear, I would not call the author a non-Christian, but several of the ideas put forward here are not biblical, as I hope you will see. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN FOR FALSE TEACHING.

Without further ado, we press onward.

First, the premise:

The opening paragraph and the link in it reveal that this person is probably coming from a relatively liberal position toward Scripture. By that I mean, they probably don’t believe it to be the inerrant word of God, but rather “stories” (a word he uses), with morals, kind of like Aesop’s fables. To correct thisopening paragraph, the Bible IS the only written word of God. To challenge that would be to suggest that other “holy books” should be held with equal weight. No time for that in this discussion. Let’s just say that’s a cliff I’m not willing to dive off.

Onward…

Number 7: The Rapture. Not Biblical!

The Rapture, especially as portrayed by Jenkins and LaHaye in the “Left Behind” series, is not biblical. The article is right that it is a relatively recent view (dispensational pre-millennialism–look it up) of the end times. This view takes a couple of verses and elevates them over the larger body of apocalyptic biblical passages, but even more so, I feel like this view adds so many judgment events that it muddies the waters and fuels the “no one can understand it” fire. Regardless, on this point, many scholars disagree—even professors at the seminary I attend—and it is healthy not to break fellowship over something like this. A more healthy view of the end times is: “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:44, 25:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:2). Christians have been given passages about the judgment not so we can “crack the code” and have some special knowledge, but so that we will prepare ourselves today for the day Jesus comes again.

Number 6: God hates _________. Biblical!

I don’t know if the author is looking for a specific reference to homosexuality (i.e. Westboro Baptist Church) to fill in this blank. If so, that is a much longer discussion for a different day. Allow me to simply address the unpopular notion that God hates things. The Bible is clear that God hates certain things. He hates pagan worship rituals (Deut. 12:31), altars set up to other gods (Deut 16:22), and divorce (in some translations of Malachi 2:16). He hates sin and all who do wrong (psalm 5:5; Psalm 11:5; Lev 20:23), in Proverbs 6:16-19 there is a list of six things “God Hates.”

What’s more bothersome is that the article’s author tries to write off Scripture pretty flippantly by excusing anything that is “judgment, damnation” or Levitical codes…you know, the parts where you might expect to find the things God hates. It is dangerous to pick and choose portions from the Bible we like, because it leads to worshiping our preferences rather than God Himself.

The point here is that God is a holy God, perfect and blameless in every way and cannot be in the presence of sin. Therefore, we are all deserving of punishment, but out of his love for us, he gave us a way to restore relationship with him, namely, letting Jesus become our sin (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) so that there would be no more penalty for us.

NUMBER 5: Everything happens for a reason. Not Biblical!

I actually agree with this one. This can be a sensitive topic because this very line may have provided you comfort in a very rough time. But this is simply not in the Bible. Some things happen for a reason. When that is the case in the Bible, it says so. Also, when that does happen, there isn’t any “I think” language going on. When God speaks, he speaks clearly. God Speaks (Gen 3), Burns a Bush that doesn’t burn up (Ex 3) and then ten plagues (Ex 7-12), Wets a fleece, then wets the ground around the fleece (Judges 6), Sends unquenchable fire (1 Kings 18), Speaks through prophets (“This is what the Lord, The God of Israel Says”), sent his son, and then his spirit, struck men blind (Acts 9), healed the sick and maimed, etc. You get my drift. When God does something “for a reason,” he doesn’t “whisper.”

A better understanding is that there is an evil one. He wants to deceive and discourage those who live in the Truth, and he is “the prince of this world.” Since sin entered the world, it is broken and “subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). That is why there are natural disasters, broken relationships and pain all around us. However, God works all things (even the bad things that he didn’t cause), for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. . . to be conformed to the likeness of his son.” (Romans 8:28-29). Stuff happens, even things God allows to happen, but they are opportunities for us to trust in him for our peace, which brings me to…

NUMBER 4: God Is In Control. Biblical!

I can kind of get on board with this one not “being in the Bible,” except not really. God is never out of control. HOWEVER, he is not a puppet master, pulling strings. God has two major ways of expressing his will: prescriptive and permissive. Prescriptive will are the things he causes to happen (miracles, creation, the incarnation of Jesus, etc). But other things he Permits to happen. He allows us free will to live our lives because without the freedom to choose, a relationship with him would be meaningless. Anyone who has ever loved someone understands this. Love cannot be compulsory. As a result, God lets things happen and has given us as much evidence as he saw appropriate to point every human back to him (Romans 1-3).

The problem I have with this one is the idea that God was “bested” at the cross. Jesus’ prayers in the garden (for starters) and his many predictions to his disciples of what was to come are are evidence that this was the plan. Not to mention Psalm 22, Isaiah 9, Isaiah 53 just to name a few significant places where Jesus’ life, teaching, death by crucifixion and resurrection is prophesied several centuries before any of it happened.

Yes God’s “will” can be changed, if he wills. He did not set us in action and then sit back to watch the pins fall, but he is active in our lives. The author really tips his hand here to call the Bible a “Story,” because the word implies fiction, which the Bible is not. But that’s probably something we could discuss more in a separate post.

NUMBER 3: “Jesus is my personal savior.” Not Biblical [but let me explain].

I have trouble with this one. To be fair to the author, there is no “magic prayer,” as many, many, many pastors and churches have led Christians to believe. I think that is at the heart of the author’s point. “Accept the Lord into your heart” and “Accept him as your personal savior” are not in Scripture. But Jesus doesn’t just say, “follow the leader,” either. The gospel call is to give our undying allegiance to Jesus as not just our savior but Lord and King. That means he gets priority over everything—literally everything (Luke 14:26)—else. That allegiance is not a decision parents can make for their children. Everyone has to personally choose to die to themselves and follow Jesus. The point he makes here is a good one, though. “Come forward, say a prayer, and be saved forever, whether you ever think about this night again or not” is a seriously anemic message that probably causes more problems than it solves.

On a more theological level, I have become increasingly aware of the corporate nature of the Gospel. Not that individuals are not saved, but the fact that Christ died for the Church (his bride), and many of the verses quoted and claimed for personal peace of mind are not, in fact aimed at a person but a population (Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you” is a plural you. Better to read it, “I know the plans I have for y’all.” Or John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that those who believe…” Not to take away personal salvation, but the individualism that the author hits on here is a legitimate concern. Worship is not “Just me and God,” but Jesus and his Church, of which we are all members. God didn’t send Jesus to die for ME and MY sins, he sent him to die for the CHURCH and the sins of the WHOLE WORLD.

But I digress.

NUMBER 2: Jesus died for my sins. BIBLICAL!

No, No, No. This is heresy, and I don’t throw that term around lightly. If there is one item on this list that is “a hill I will die on,” this is it. To say this questions the very bedrock upon which Christianity is founded, and it will lead those who believe it away from Christ.  If he wanted to emphasize “MY,” see the discussion on number 3 about the corporate nature of Jesus’ redemption. But it doesn’t seem this is his point. His argument seems to be that the very idea of Jesus dying to take the penalty for sins is not in the Bible.

Here he goes again, taking the verses that say specifically what he says IS NOT in the Bible, and says we can’t use them to say that it IS in the Bible. This is absurd. Jesus is our atonement (Romans 3:25; 1 Cor 15:1-4), but I don’t need those verses to say that. Look at Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, or 1 John 4:10. What’s really fascinating is to read the account of the passover (Exodus 12, Leviticus 16) and then consider the ways that Christ is called the “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7), the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and is portrayed as a lamb through much of Revelation. Also reading Hebrews will help to understand why Christ is the only sacrifice that could cancel the debt in our sins.

Questioning the atonement, which he puts off to another post but makes clear he disagrees with it, is in vogue right now. One author called it “Cosmic Child Abuse.” The more I study the more convinced I am that the Penal (punitive in nature), substitutionary (he died in our place) atonement is the only view that makes sense of the cross. Arguments that Jesus died to set an example are weak, and fail to recognize that he could have more effectively accomplished that purpose without dying and living on instead. This is a complex issue that deserves more space than I can give it in this post, but the crucifixion (specifically) makes no sense without the context of penalty for sin. The cross had to happen so that the wrath of God, his perfect holiness, could be satisfied, while providing a way for his perfect love for his creation to be satisfied as well.

And finally:

NUMBER 1: God only helps those who help themselves. Not Biblical!

This one is spot on. He hits the nail on the head. The gospel is about coming to God in humility and brokenness. Not—as one of the elders at one church where I have served proposed—about us living our lives without “bothering” God and turning to him when we get stuck. That would make God some kind of Genie, or lucky rabbit’s foot or something.

In summary, he’s a little better than 50% right, with four of his 7 (1, 3, 5 and 7) are not in the Bible, at least not explicitly, and the author should be credited on this account.

But 2, 4 and 6 are in the Bible—explicitly—and at least 2 and 4 are central to the Gospel. Take those away and your idea of Christianity become paper-thin, relativistic moralism.

I hope this helps. My point in posting this is to challenge you: when you hear Christian teaching, do you accept it as spoken, if it “hits you right,” or “seems to make sense?” OR do you saturate your life in the Word of God so that you are able to refute those who oppose true teaching (Titus 1:9). To close, I will leave the following thought from Paul to Timothy:

“If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to Godly Teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing

My prayer is that we won’t be seduced.

God Bless.

Condemning George Zimmerman: Be Careful What You Wish For

I can’t believe I’m doing it. I promised myself I wouldn’t. I should just close my laptop and walk away. Resist the urge. Despite all my best judgment and a true desire to stay above the fray, I just can’t ignore the flood of terrible theology coming from supposed “Christians” in the wake of the George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

There is a LOT of anger out there over a life that ended too early. There is anger about injustice. I will not state my opinion here. What concerns me are the statements like the one Juror B29 made about the case this week:

In fact, there has been a very loud “God’s gonna getcha,” mob on social media and in the court of public opinion. Here are a few more:

God’s. Gonna. Getcha. Now if any Christian is angry about the verdict of this trial, this is the last thing he or she should be saying. It completely misses the point of the gospel. Think about what it is saying. “God is going to punish his sin with eternal Hell (what this argument is truly ordering for Zimmerman).” The problems are too numerous to count, but allow me to try.

First of all, it assumes Zimmerman’s guilt after he was found not guilty.

Second, it wishes eternal punishment on someone, which is exactly  the opposite of the kind of heart that Jesus calls us to have. Wishing someone literally go to Hell is the most hateful thing you could feel. Conversely, John writes, “If anyone says, ‘I love God.’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

Third, despite the Catholic Church’s teaching on the “mortal” or “deadly” sins, there is no biblical evidence that any single sin can separate you from the grace of God. I know the concept of this special class of sins, of which homicide is included, is deeply ingrained in the moral foundation of many people’s hearts. It is part of the Ten Commandments. This poor theology, without biblical backing, stinks of mere moralism that suggests, “as long as I’m a pretty good person and avoid certain sins, I’ll be ok.” Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment.” In Jesus’ book, holding angry grudges against others is just as detestable as having the gall to carry out that grudge to its full logical conclusion.

Fourth, and most importantly, such moralistic views spit in the face of Jesus’ saving work on the cross and it stomps all over the gospel he asked us to spread. It ignores the fact that ALL sin is punishable by death. You don’t have to commit murder to live a life far from God. But let’s not forget that the sentence some are calling upon Zimmerman is the one that we all deserve.

Now let’s imagine

Let’s imagine that George Zimmerman really was guilty of racial profiling and coldblooded murder. Let’s imagine that you have no moral issue with wishing someone an eternity in Hell. Let’s assume that the doctrine of Murder as a deadly sin is accurate (even though not found in Scripture) and that there is a theological and moral basis to this “God’s Gonna Getcha” argument.

EVEN THEN, the gospel response is to “love your enemies.” EVEN IF you were convinced of all those things and you saw George Zimmerman as your enemy, the Christian thing to do is to serve him. To seek him out, to minister to him, to show him the grace that Christ has shown you.

We’ve got to challenge this “God’s Gonna Getcha” theology. It’s just not biblical — but more importantly — I am unspeakably thankful he didn’t “get me” when I lived a life opposed to him.

Hey, Mr. Theologian, Listen Up!

That’s right, I’m talking to you!

Yes, you!

I understand the confusion. Perhaps you didn’t know that you were a theologian. Perhaps you just thought of yourself as a “normal” Christian who doesn’t pay attention to theology and stuff. Maybe you’re not even a Christian, and so you think you are exempt. 

But let me be very clear: You ARE a theologian!

We all are – every one of us!

“Theology” simply means “God Knowledge,” and the field of theology is really just the study of what we know or believe about God. 

Sure there are all sorts of theories out there and complex arguments. There have been volumes and volumes written about the nature of the atonement, about predestination and free-will, and about eschatology (the study of the end times). 

But I’m not talking about any of that right now. 

We are all theologians on a MUCH more foundational level. Whether you’ve given much thought to it at all or not, you have a basic set of beliefs about God. You believe him to be a certain way, or to want certain things from you. And here’s the thing:

We shout our theological stances from the mountaintops by the way we live our lives. 

It’s one thing to go to church and verbally affirm the things that we hear. Living them out is another challenge altogether. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

It’s one thing to say you believe God is a God of forgiveness and grace, that the gospel is all about mercy. But if we are unmerciful and unforgiving of others or ourselves, we reveal that we don’t believe that. What we really believe is that the cross of Christ was insufficient and so we must further punish ourselves or others for their shortcomings.

It’s easy to say that you believe the Bible is the Word of God, but if we never pick it up, never read it, never learn it, then the theological statement we are really making is that we believe it is a suggestion book that we will get around to “if we have time.”

It’s easy to say that Jesus is the only way to salvation. But if we withhold that message from our neighbors who are bound for eternal separation from God, we act most unlovingly. In that moment, we reveal that we hate our neighbor, or at least love our emotional and social comfort too much to jeopardize it. 

It’s one thing to affirm that you trust God, but when we hoard our things and kill ourselves working 90-hour work weeks, all for the sake of “providing for our family” or “good stewardship,” we reveal that we don’t believe God is capable of providing for us.

You can agree that God has a heart for the poor, but your reaction toward everyone from the down-and-out man on the street corner to the down-and-out orphans in the slums of developing nations reveals your real beliefs. 

Our lives reveal our theology. 

We are all inconsistent. We all have areas that we struggle to surrender to God. We are all in the process of being sanctified. 

But what the New Testament makes abundantly clear is that true faith leads to action. True belief leads to changed behavior. 

You know the type of plant by the fruit it produces.

We are all theologians. We tip our hand and reveal our beliefs with every word we speak and every action we do (or don’t) take. 

So the question is, what do you believe about God, REALLY?

When Faith Doesn’t Work

Have you been through a time when you felt like your faith was "broken?"

Have you been through a time when you felt like your faith was “broken?”

Life is tough.

It gives you lemons.

It throws you curve balls.

<Insert your own unpleasant life metaphor here>

Sometimes even the strongest Christian can look around at his or her life and wonder, “How in the world did I get here?” or “This is not what I had planned.” In some cases, there may be a pretty valid answer. In others, it would seem like simply bad luck. Regardless, when bad things happen to good people, the question is always raised, “Why do bad things keep happening to good people?”

The world seems to be broken. On first appearance faith (especially what we experience in American Christianity) doesn’t seem to be working to fix it.

This is the first post in a series where I hope to answer this question in a biblical and understandable way. Disappointment can be a stumbling block, a hurdle to faith and a reason to justify unbelief, which makes it just the kind of question that the ChurchlessPastor wants to take on!

Here are the topics we’ll discuss (These will become links as the series continues):

  1. What do you mean, “doesn’t work?”
  2. When Prayer doesn’t work
  3. When Playing by the Rules doesn’t work
  4. When Going to Church doesn’t work. 
  5. When Baptism seems to be broken.
  6. Buried Alive (Baptism #2)
  7. Why it doesn’t “work”
  8. Fixing what’s broken

Did I leave something out? What question would you like answered? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

“The Bible” on the History Channel

Image

The Bible is a 10-hour epic miniseries on History Channel that portrays the Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation. It premieres March 3 at 8pm EST.

You don’t want to miss this.

In the weeks following this post, a good portion of America might actually be engaging in conversation about the Bible. Let that sink in. Your coworkers may watch. Conversation started. Maybe your kids may tune in. Ice broken. Maybe you even invite someone over to watch, or just invite them to watch. groundwork laid.

I’m talking, of course, about History Channel’s new miniseries on the Bible, produced by Reality TV mogul Mark Burnett, and his wife, Roma Downey. There has been a lot of press around this miniseries, hitting from all angles, to be sure. Without going into the critical analyses (especially having not seen it yet, myself), suffice it to say you cannot produce a 10-hour epic portrayal of the Bible without some push back.

God’s Word, The Greatly Abridged Version

But what should Christians think about such a series?

Glad for the conversation

As Christians, we ought to be very glad whenever discussions are started around what we believe. Heck, we ought to be thankful for conversations about the opposite of what we believe as well! People are about to watch the story of God’s chosen nation, Israel, and his loving provision for them. They will watch and learn about not just Jesus’ crucifixion but his resurrection. They may get a visual of what it means to be a disciple.

It’s time we just got excited about the conversation.

But what if it’s all “Hollywood?”

This is probably true. There will probably be inaccuracies. I’m sure there were some “punches pulled” so that various people groups wouldn’t be offended by the content (see this CNN writeup). But the real question is why are we trying to “punch” people with the Gospel?

It’s Hollywood! Ultimately, Burnett and Downey, as well as the History Channel and the A&E family of networks are after ratings! Liberties will be taken, stories that you and I might consider “crucial” will probably be left out. It is possible that this will be one big 2nd-grade Sunday School lesson, just portraying the biblical stories.

But they’re still portraying biblical stories.

So what do Christians do?

We embrace this, full force. This will be 10x more visually engaging than any sermon, and we live in a visual culture. We live in a world that loves story. To prove it, complete the following quotes:

  • Go Ahead, _____ ______ _____.
  • You had me at _________.
  • Life is like a _____ __ _________.

Most likely, you don’t just know the rest of the quote, but you can picture the scene, context and dialogue surrounding the quote. This is great for our culture.

When we do have conversations, we must “have an answer for anyone that may ask” about the Hope we have, the faith we claim. And we need to “do it with gentleness and respect.”

Let’s embrace this advancement of God’s Kingdom and use it to point people to Christ!

Three Lessons for the Start of Lent

[Credit where it’s due: The inspiration for this post comes from a recent sermon from Pastor Tim Lucas at Liquid Church in New Jersey. Listen to/watch their Lent sermon series HERE]

With yesterday’s celebration of Ash Wednesday, the season known as “Lent” has officially begun. Lent is a 40-day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter, meant to represent the 40-day period that Jesus spent in the desert at the onset of his public ministry (Read the story here).

While in the desert, we are told that Jesus fasted, and so one of the most notable markers of Christians celebrating Lent is selective fasting for forty days — giving up any number of things for the forty day period. Some examples of the most common items are listed below (based on twitter #lent hashtags, source: Christianity Today):

Most common things being given up for lent; size represents frequency.

Giving something up can be a great thing. Denying our fleshly desires and using that energy to focus on God can be a great spiritual discipline. But I think this story teaches a couple other lessons, and that all believers would do well to glean some wisdom from this narrative. (For reference purposes, I will be following Matthew’s account of the story).

THE SPIRIT DID THE LEADING (4:1)

The first fact we see in this story is that Jesus was led by the spirit, for the purpose of being tempted. If the Spirit would lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, he might similarly lead us into times of dryness. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in your weakness.” We shouldn’t live our lives focusing on staying within a comfortable situation, assuming that trouble is always the Devil’s doing. The devil doesn’t show up in this story until the end of the 40 days. Before that it was just a time of hardship. Times of dryness and periods in the “valley,” offer Christians opportunities to feel their own weakness and rely on God’s strength.

SATAN USED SCRIPTURE (4:6)

We need to be seriously watchful against this. Satan knows the Bible, and probably better than you or I. He knows his opponent, has advanced scouting reports and has watched lots and lots of game film. Don’t take him lightly.

Seriously, though, it needs to be pointed out that Satan knows what the Bible says, and in this story he shows that he is okay with mangling it to serve his purposes. He doesn’t say anything that’s unbiblical, but he tries to apply it to meet Jesus’ personal desires. Likewise, as we approach all kinds of cultural issues, we can see many people support their agenda with Scripture but often times they don’t take into account what the whole of Scripture has to say on the topic.

Sometimes it can be a great thing to challenge the “establishment.” But we must be cautious of Scripture being used to push our own agendas. Lies are simply false statements, but deceptions are lies wrapped in truth. Satan is a master deceiver. Be wise in how you accept these arguments and ground yourself in the Biblical text first.

JESUS DIDN’T HAVE A BIBLE WITH HIM

This isn’t explicit. But it doesn’t say that he said, “Wait a minute, Satan, let me look up what the Bible says about this before I respond.” Jesus had internalized Scripture. He knew the tempter’s schemes, and he had Scripture ready to go at every turn. When temptation strikes, it can be a great thing to turn to the Word. If it’s not available, though, you’re in trouble. Believers should know what they believe. We should be ready to combat Satan and his lies. We should invite God’s spirit to speak through us by verbalizing his Words on our lips.

Lent would be a great time to start building an arsenal for just such occasions. There will be times when you feel exhausted from the desert you’ve been going through, and that is when Satan will wish to deliver your final blow. God’s wisdom is the sword with which we fight back.

I hope these lessons give you something to think about  as we start this Lenten season this year.

What about you — how are you celebrating Lent this year?

You’re too worried about YOU! (And I’m too worried about me!)

WorldRevolvesAroundMe

One of the exciting things about being in seminary is that I have access to lots of books and ideas that I would not have otherwise ever pursued. As much as possible, I would like to share these thoughts with you. Today’s post us just such an occasion. Rediscovering Community by Daniel Overdorf is a great commentary on what the Bible says about the Church — what it was meant to be, what it stands for and what it represents in God’s plan. Check out what he says:

 We risk disregarding our place in God’s grand story and inviting Him only into our smaller stories. While God’s story certainly manifests itself in the smaller stories of each congregation, these are but pieces of something much more grand.
Overdorf is talking about our tendency to want our churches or denominations to be autonomous of one another. But that is not the way God intended fellowship to be.

Jesus didn’t die for YOU, so much as he died for Y’ALL

This is a touchy statement. But I believe it is true. He didn’t die for Stephen, or Melanie or eve, (gulp) Nick. When the Bible says he died for your sins, this your is almost universally plural. Jesus’ bride is his church. The body of Christ. He died to make his bride — the church — holy (Ephesians 5:25-7).

One of the most dangerous evolutions in the Church in recent decades/centuries is the rise of individualism. God’s purpose is not to make YOUR life make sense, but to make Y’ALL’s life a witness. The Bible tells a story of community. It tells a story of a nation, a people set apart for God. God’s heart is for his people, not his persons.

When we all stop worrying about ME

What is God’s will for ME?

What does God have in store for ME?

What is God doing in MY life?

As the quote above suggests, We are to see ourselves as part of God’s bigger narrative and part of Jesus’ larger body. Our passion should be for the rest of the body. It should concern us when we start to view every single thing that happens as some part of God’s plan for us (individually).This kind of thinking leads us to thinking that everything is “part of God’s plan for me, that God has a reason for everything that happens to me.” It leads to self-centered revolutions focusing on the Prayer of Jabez, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:13, and on the list goes. It leads to athletes that preach an “If you’re a Christian, God will make your team WIN!” (A sentiment that more and more people believe). It leads to us making God out to be a mystical “lucky rabbit’s foot” of sorts, carrying him around in our back pocket to bring us luck.

God’s plan is BIGGER than YOU or ME. His purposes span all of history, not just this little slice of time that we call the present (James 4:14).

When Joseph was beaten by his brothers, sold into slavery, treated poorly and thrown in prison, it would have been only natural for him to say, “God has forgotten me.” Or to say, “What is God’s will for my life?”

While God’s promises to Abraham did not come to full fruition through the Joseph narrative, God sovereignly and significantly advanced toward the fulfillment of these promises through Joseph and his family. (Overdorf, 126)

God worked out his plan for Israel through Joseph’s little part of the story. Joseph never wavered in faith. He never claimed “God is testing me.” He never said, “God has a purpose for me.”

He just said God had a purpose.

Stop worrying

God has a plan.

It could mean misery for some of us. It could mean riches for others. Suffering or riches might be the works of  his hand. They might simply  be allowed by him (if not caused). It might mean times of suffering or times of celebrating. But God has a purpose for his church, his people that is bigger than his purpose for any individual.

It’s time we let go of our own interests and trust him. He sees a bigger picture than we do.

Do you think the church is too individualistic?

Sinking your boat is not catching fish!

Sunken Row Boat

I’m not a fisherman. But I don’t think that scuttling the boat you’re in counts as a legitimate fish-catching strategy.

Jesus calls his disciples “Fishers of Men.” One of the most important ideas in fishing is that of bringing the fish up out of their world and into one distinctly different. The last century has been defined by Christians sitting in their metaphorical boat pouring water into it, trying to “make it attractive” for all the “fish” they’re hoping to catch.

But here’s the thing: If you scuttle the boat, you didn’t catch the fish — they caught you!

CHANGING TIMES

The Church at large is facing challenges. These aren’t new challenges, they just look new. As we move forward, we must figure out how to be relational and relevant to the world around us, without sinking the boat. I think the key here is the difference between modifying practice and modifying theology.

To change the instrumentation we use in worship is to modify practice. Changing the look and feel of our worship service is changing practice. Changing the methods by which you communicate, or collect offering, or dress for church are all cultural. WHY? Because musical style, communication media and fashion norms are all culturally bound and change with culture.

To change what we believe the Bible to be (i.e. to renounce it as God’s word) is theological. To deny the deity of Christ and make him simply a great moral (read: only human) teacher is to change our theology. These types of changes give more “wiggle room” to those we hope to reach, but it ceases to pull anyone up out of their worldview and into new life. It fails to fish. Softening our theology to reach unbelievers is essentially scuttling our boat and calling the presence of more “fish” around us a successful fishing endeavor.

SHORT DOES NOT MEAN CONCISE

We live in a culture of soundbites. You have 140 Characters to get your point across. Therefore, we must be careful about the message we are sending out. Just because it is short doesn’t make it concise. Concise implies brevity with a successful communication of ideas.

Christian communicators in this century have to take more care to use Lexical Finesse. We must give thought to exactly what it is we mean to say, and then say it well.

The church is facing many, many challenges in its future; we must rise to the occasion to fish for men, rather than scuttling the ship and coming to rest where the fish already are.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the church?

On Gun (Out of) Control, Politics and Faith

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Image from Google Images

“There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Almost everyone has heard this phrase at some point or another. Some may even know its origins. But every time a big story breaks, everyone with a keyboard thinks that they have something unique to say, something that hasn’t been driven into the ground over and over again. We are still seeing the fallout of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, CT — posts about gun control, Piers Morgan and mental health blowing up facebook news feeds across the nation.

Allow me to add to the fray.

What I will say here comes from a heavy heart. It comes from weeks of wondering if I should voice my thoughts on a very volatile topic. It comes from knowing that what I have to say is not new, but feeling pained that I have not heard more of it in recent weeks. What I have to say is mostly to Christians, but I hope would resonate with all.

In a culture where religious beliefs and political ideals have become far too intertwined, I have been deeply bothered by the reaction of the Body of Christ to a horrific crime. Many have used this as a springboard to the “10 Commandments will fix everything” platform. Others have used this as an opportunity to draw connections between gun regulations and the government telling people not to be Christian. Some have said hateful things and ascribed a vengeful attitude to God that, at the very least, cannot be proclaimed with any real certainty (although these pundits would like you to believe otherwise).

I don’t have answers for why terrible things happen. But I can tell you that the answer is not in legislation, and it’s not in gun rights, either. Christians seem to have forgotten that at the core of what we call ourselves is CHRIST. Our goal is to point back to HIM. Our goal is to be set apart as a part of HIS body. HE is worthy of all glory and honor and power. Our trust is to be in HIM (See how Paul puts it)!

As I see it, the debate at hand is between Christians who just want to cling to their precious firearms and Christians who want to say God sent divine lightning from heaven to judge America for _____________ (feel free to fill in the blank — you’ve read their rantings). We wonder why the Christian voice has lost credibility in our society.

I have seen so many of my Christian friends on facebook posting meme after meme of 2nd-amendment propaganda that in some cases I seriously begin to wonder if they worship the God of the Bible or the Bill of Rights. I have to wonder whether their trust is in God to provide for them or their hope for the future actually rests in their firearms.

Jesus called his disciples the light of the world. His church is the salt that will preserve the Earth (Matthew 5:13-16). The problem here has nothing to do with gun control. It has everything to do with the fact that we live in a world that is broken. It has everything to do with the fact that humankind is plagued with a heart condition called sinfulness. It has everything to do with the fact that we do not know what tomorrow may hold and that Jesus called himself the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE (John 14:6). This has everything to do with loving God before loving anything else.

The Christian position should be to honor our government as God’s ordained means of order in our world (Romans 13). The Christian position should be to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and show the world that we are people who understand, respect and celebrate authority (note: if you would like to say that the early apostles all stood up to the government, those were all in situations where they were being told to not proclaim the gospel, and it was most commonly the religious leaders they stood up to, not the state). Until the day when you are actually told by a government official to stay silent because of your faith, focus your energy where it matters: showing those around you the amazing and unmatched love of Christ.

What happened in Connecticut is deplorable. There’s no doubt about that. But to use it as a means to step up on a second-amendment soapbox is supremely unloving to the families whose lives have been changed forever. Pray for those families. Engage in conversations whenever you can about the reality of good and evil, holiness and sin. Talk about our need for a Savior and how Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).

But please, please, please stop missing the point.