What, Then, Is The Bible?

As I see it, the Bible is at the crux of Christianity. Unfortunately, it has been misused, misinterpreted, whittled away by Higher Critics, and whittled apart by legalists.

Many who do not claim to be Christians declare the Bible to be mythology. One person wrote a comment recently railing about the “66 books that King James assembled,” then proceeded to rip the apostle Paul: “do not take Saul’s word as the ‘Word of GOD’ it is NOT!!” This individual, therefore, is discounting two-thirds of the New Testament.

Still others treat the Bible as a how-to for living. Do this, this, and this and you will have a successful and happy life. For some, the happy life is linked to eternity; for others it is your best life now.

Recently postmodern, emerging church-goers have brought a new set of criticisms. For a summary and my critique, see Rebutting Postmodern Thought. You may also be interested in A Look at Postmodernism—Part 10a and A Look at Postmodernism—Part 10b. Also relevant might be my critique of the postmodern view of God: A Look at Postmodernism—Part 9.

So maybe I shouldn’t write any more today … just let you go read those old posts. 😉 It’s tempting.

But I want to emphasize what I view to be key. The Bible is revelation—not myth nor propositions, though it contains stories (most historical) and laws. As such, it is what God wants us to know. Some of it seems trivial or outdated or inapplicable, so it’s easy to ignore or discount those passages. But appearance is not actuality.

Rather than ignoring the passages that seem to have no relevance, it seems to me to be more important to pray over those diligently. After all, as Christians we have the Holy Spirit who will guide us into truth.

But here’s the key for understanding the Bible: it reveals God—His person, His plan, His work in the world. In other words, it’s not really about us, though it involves us, because His plan includes Salvation and His work includes His sacrifice on our behalf.

In addition, the Bible needs to be seen as a whole. While I might isolate one passage for meditation or memorization, while the Holy Spirit might call to mind a particular verse for my encouragement or admonition, I nevertheless must understand those in light of their context and in light of other verses and passages on the same subject.

I’ve heard analogies used to help people see the Bible—it’s a map, a manual, a love letter, and so on. The truth is, it is unique.

It is God-inspired and God- (not King James 😉 ) collected. He is the author, the interpreter, the major player, the central theme. He gave it to us for our instruction, reproof, correction. From it we can know Him and the power of His resurrection and the gift of His grace.

Without it, we are left to our own wisdom, which amounts to foolishness, and our own understanding, which is clouded by the deception of our hard hearts.

This article is a repost of one by the same title from August 2009

Published in: on July 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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After I lost the start to my original post, I decided I’d save that one for another day and send you all to your television sets to enjoy the Olympics. It’s a great time.

I’ve loved the Olympics for as long as I can remember, even before I had the privilege of attending a few events in the 1984 Summer Games held in Los Angeles.

My favorite so far this year are the women’s and men’s indoor volleyball matches. I’ve also enjoyed the water polo. The announcers explained some things that I’ve never understood before, so the game makes more sense to me now.

I watched cycling on the first day–just because that was on, and it was The First Day! I would watch all the US basketball if I had cable, but it’s probably a good thing I don’t.

Gymnastics–I watch, but I hate every recital of the horrible injuries these young people have sustained on their way to reaching this phase of their career. It’s horrible hearing about their concussions, torn ligaments, broken collarbones, sprained ankles, knee surgeries, and more. If any other kid had the collection of bruises and medical issues these athletes have, we’d be calling social services to investigate whether or not they were subject to abuse.

To make matters worse, the media praises “pushing through” or a quick recover. They make heroes of the kids that take the punishment in order to win.

But a good spanking to help shape their character? My no! How can you suggest such a thing?

Just a little inconsistency there.

So gymnastics isn’t my favorite sport, to put it mildly.

I’m sad that the media builds up athletes to be heroes before they’ve done anything. There’s the girl that was to win the gold medal in the women’s gymnastics all around who didn’t even qualify. And the men’s team slated for the gold medal that didn’t even get on the podium.

Then Michael Phelps and the anticipation that he would come away with the most medals of any US athlete ever. So in his first event, he barely qualified for the final and didn’t medal.

Or how about the man the media has been building up to replace him–the one whose time is now, but who couldn’t keep the French swimmer from overtaking him in the relay?

The question is, what happened? The implication is, you let us down. But it was the media who built the expectations and made us viewers think these are scripted sure things that we have but to sit back and watch.

Well, no, the other athletes who have worked and dreamed just as much as the media darlings just might have something to say about the outcome.

It’s time the media started reporting instead of trying to predict.

Now go, watch, and enjoy. 😀

Published in: on July 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm  Comments (2)  

Fantasy Friday – The Kingdom Review

As part of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, I received a review copy of The Kingdom by Bryan Litfin from the publisher, Crossway. This is the final book in the Chiveis Trilogy, following book 1, The Sword and book 2, The Gift.

The Story. Continuing where The Gift left off, The Kingdom tells the story of Anastasia and Teofil, two exiles from Chiveis living in a post-apocalyptic Europe.

For the most part Christianity had vanished because the Bible had been lost, but through Ana and Teo’s efforts, that changed, and in The Gift the entire Bible was recovered. Now, in The Kingdom their mission is to take the Holy Writings first to lands of the Beyond, but ultimately, back to their native country.

Evaluation. Writing an epic story is hard and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion, harder. There are only so many times that the hero can overcome the antagonist before these confrontations lose power. Without the stakes being raised, each new conflict seems predictable and redundant.

Unfortunately, The Kingdom falls prey to these lurking predators. At the same time, the characters are much the same as they were in the first volumes of the story–not actually a good thing since I found them to be “thin. Their motives are clear but not in the least complicated. The changes in their goals or moral fiber happen quickly, even easily, and often over night.”

Plot problems are solved in the same quick, easy way, which is why the stakes remain low–there is no sense that failure is actually a possibility.

There’s inconsistency in the intriguing setting, too. While the Bible had been lost for decades, once its found, there is no trouble translating it into various languages in a matter of weeks and of printing out multiple copies, though their world is without basic technology.

And while the Bible had been lost in the post-apocalyptic age, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the Pope, and various abbeys survived. Yet apparently nowhere among these was there knowledge of Jesus, His death and resurrection, or promised return.

In many ways I feel a little heartbroken. I am still excited that another Evangelical Christian Publishing Association house chose to invest in a fantasy series. I’m also happy that they chose a post-apocalyptic story since this side of the genre has been popular in the general market. At the same time, the story had many elements that made it feel like familiar fantasy–a good thing for fantasy lovers like me.

However, the sharp edge of promise was dulled by mediocre execution. As much as I want to be a fan, as much as I have prayed for Mr. Litfin to do well and to succeed, I find myself more relieved to be finished than pleased I read the trilogy.

Mine is just one opinion, of course, and I know for a fact that others who read the book in conjunction with the CFBA tour had a much different take on it than I did. See for example Megan who reports that she loved the book.

You can also read the first chapter of the book and/or watch the impressive trailer Crossway put together to showcase the book:

Eve’s Way or Adam’s

In discussing people who profess Christ but who don’t actually know Him in yesterday’s post, “But Lord, Lord …,” I posed a question early on: Are they lying?

I thought about that some more and have come to the realization that there are two ways to sin: Eve’s way and Adam’s.

According to Scripture, Eve was deceived. She herself reported this to God:

Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen. 3:13)

But the New Testament agreed with her. Paul alluded to her being deluded when he wrote to the Corinthian church

But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (2 Cor. 11:3)

He was more pointed in his remarks to Timothy:

And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Tim. 2:14)

A quick look at the Genesis account shows Eve talking with Satan in the guise of a serpent. The tempter took a tack he still uses today: “Indeed, has God said …”

On Eve’s behalf, unless God repeated the command, He gave His “don’t eat” warning to Adam:

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17)

So yes, God commanded the man, before He’d even created the woman.

Could it be that the Fall was nothing more than a communication problem? That men and women didn’t know how to talk to each other even then?

Well, no. Eve clearly repeated God’s command to Satan in response to his question. Has God really said … Yes, here’s what He said. When she concluded by conveying the consequences of disobedience, Satan countered by saying, “You surely will not die!” In fact, he continued, if you eat of the tree you’ll actually be like God.

So what was Eve thinking? She was deceived, deluded. In other words she didn’t make a conscious decision to disobey. She made an unconscious one. She decided, without realizing she was doing it, that God was not to be trusted, that what she wanted was more important than what He said.

She didn’t purposefully set out to rebel against God. Rather, she thought she was getting more reliable information than what she’d had before.

Remember, unless God repeated His command, she got that information from Adam. I’ve often wondered why Eve would believe Satan over God. The truth is, being deluded as she was, she didn’t think she was disbelieving God. She thought she was now operating on more knowledge than what she’d had before.

Adam’s was a different story. God told him directly what he could and could not eat. He had no misconception. Satan wasn’t pulling the “has God really said” trick on him. But Adam ate anyway. What was he thinking?

I can’t believe he hated God or determined to be His enemy. But that’s where he ended up. In essence he said, I understand God told me not to eat, but I’m going to anyway. Eyes open, he did want he wanted rather than what God wanted.

Scripture doesn’t say this, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that the man who had no other fitting companion among all of creation, didn’t want to lose the one person that was the perfect helpmate for him. If it’s true he took that stand, then he didn’t trust God to provide for him in light of Eve’s sin as He had since the day He put Adam on earth.

One way or the other, Adam walked into sin with his eyes open whereas Eve did so in a haze of delusion.

The important thing is that they both died. The consequence of their sin, while carrying some slight differences, in the end was one they shared–the one God warned them against, the one Satan called into question.

Here we are today, with Satan still saying loud and louder, Has God really said … Surely, NOT!

If he can delude people into thinking they’re getting some new piece of information from better scholarship, he’s fine with that. Or if he can get them to say, I know what God says, but I’m going to do what I want anyway, Satan is fine with that.

A deluded heart or open rebellion–Eve’s way or Adam’s? The means may be different, but their end is the same.

Published in: on July 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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But Lord, Lord …

They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. (Titus 1:16)

I find that verse of Scripture chilling. They profess to know God, but they don’t. So are they lying? Or do they really think they know God and they’re just missing the mark?

But how can you think you know someone when you don’t? There has to be a fair amount of self-delusion. I think of movie-star stalkers. People who follow and photograph stars often think they have a real connection with that famous person. But they’re deluded. They know about the star, but they don’t have a relationship. The truth is, the star has no idea who they are.

God, of course, knows who we are, whether we are His children or not, but the reverse is not true for everyone. These people who profess Christ don’t actually know who He is.

Jesus pointedly asked those who followed Him this:

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)

So the first clue that people don’t know God is that they don’t do what He says. John makes this same point:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4).

Matthew addresses this issue, recording what Jesus said this way:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves . . . So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ ” (Matt. 7:15, 20-23)

So these people Jesus was addressing were doing things in God’s name–they weren’t sitting idly by. What “fruits” then was Jesus referring to? The fruit of obedience–doing the will of the Father.

Apparently these people were doing what they thought constituted service to God–prophesying and casting out demons and performing miracles, all the while producing “bad fruit.”

Paul gave a fairly detailed description of what this bad fruit looks like in his second letter to Timothy:

For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these . . . But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Tim 3:2-5, 13 – emphasis mine)

The thing is, considering these verses seems to bump up against Scripture’s command not to judge “lest we be judged.” Too often, I think, we Christians give a shrug when we hear false teaching and say, well, I think they’re wrong, but who am I to judge?

The truth is, we’re not judging anyone. We’re recognizing a fact: people who claim to be Christians but disavow God’s Word can’t really know Him. If they claim the Bible isn’t God’s word and therefore they don’t have to obey the Bible, how can they know the Author?

They’re pretty much calling God a liar when they claim the Scripture He inspired isn’t actually from Him. They set themselves up as the authority, not God, and tell Him what He’s like rather than listening to Him reveal His own character.

What a sad day awaits them when they stand at the judgment seat with a pile of burned up wood, hay, and stubble, saying, But Lord, Lord, …

Shouldn’t we warn them?

Published in: on July 25, 2012 at 6:54 pm  Comments (10)  
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The Real Secret To Happiness

For the most part, people want to be happy. In fact the US Constitution says the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right given by God. Nevertheless, happiness seems elusive.

Some say happiness is appreciating what you have, others that is is to stop caring about anything. Some say happiness is surrounding yourself with family and friends, and some economist theorizes that embracing the rat race–not escaping it–makes us happier.

I heard this from my pastor not long ago.

A truck driver stopped at a diner for lunch. Three bikers, covered with tats and piercings and dressed in studded leather, watched him take a seat at the counter. When the trucker’s food came, the bikers left their table and sauntered up to the counter.

One grabbed up the trucker’s burger. “Just the way I like it,” he said, and took a big bite.

The second scooped up the trucker’s fries. “I need a little something to snack on,” he said.

The trucker glared at the two men downing his food but said nothing.

The third man swooped up the trucker’s cola. “I’m a tad thursty,” he said, and gulped down half the drink.

Slowly the truck driver rose. He motioned to the waitress for his check, followed her to the register, and paid.

As he walked from the diner, the bikers howled with laughter as they finished off his lunch. “Not much of a man, is he,” the first one said to the waitress.

“I don’t know about being much of a man, but he’s not much of a truck driver, that’s for sure. He just ran over three bikes.”

Some people think happiness lies in good old revenge. Part of me likes payback, too. It makes me feel justice has been served, and I like that.

Unless I’m the one due justice. The times I mess up, the last thing I want is justice. When it’s me waiting for the sentence to fall, I want one thing–forgiveness.

Believe it or not, forgiveness is the secret to happiness, and not just receiving forgiveness but giving it out as well.

As I’ve written here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in the past, we all stand in need of forgiveness–hence the adage, Nobody’s perfect.

We can rationalize our sins as quirks or foibles or character flaws. We can promise we’ll do better, we’ll make things right some day, we’ll compensate with acts of kindness and generosity. We’ll try harder. And we hope it’s enough–that the people in our lives won’t get sick of us or tired of waiting for us to get our act together.

But honestly, we give up on ourselves from time to time. So we hide out–in work or sex or a bottle. Of course that puts us in need of more forgiveness, and the burden becomes heavier.

God has provided the forgiveness we need.

The reality is, God knew all this, loved us while we were in the midst of the mess we were making, and gave His Son Jesus to pay for every lawbreaking, rebellious thought, attitude, or action in our lives. Nothing for you to do, God says. Jesus took care of your debt. You just confess your sins, and He is faithful and righteous to forgive them all (1 John 1:9).

So that’s the magic word: forgiveness.

When we receive forgiveness, we have the impetus to go out and forgive others.

Rather than living with debilitating bitterness and desires for revenge, we can be as free from the wrong others do as if we sat in their trial and saw the judge hand down a just sentence against them.

Why? Because God said He would repay.

If they confess their sin, then Jesus’s blood will be their payment. If they cling to their rebellion, they will face ultimate judgment.

My holding a grudge? I’m the only loser. My repaying evil for evil? I’m the loser.

Look at Christians who survived horrible things and forgave those who caused them–Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, Gracia Burnham, Kent Whitaker (author of Murder by Family, see “The Compelling Quality of Love”). Their lives of joy and service speak volumes. They reaped ten-fold, and counting, the benefits of their forgiveness.

Who wants to be happy? Pretty much everyone. The real secret to happiness is accepting God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and then forgiving those who are just as imperfect as we are.

Published in: on July 24, 2012 at 6:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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Telling People They’re Good

Some time not long ago Western society started lying to kids. You can do ANYTHING, parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures all say in unison. ANYTHING. Except that isn’t true.

Case in point. When I was coaching, I had a seventh grade girl who made the basketball team as an “understudy”–a player who would practice with the team, sit on the bench during games, but who would not play. This particular girl hadn’t played before, so had no bad habits to break. What’s more, she was sharp, attentive, and willing to work. But she was also slow and weak and not particularly quick.

Nevertheless, all her hard work earned her a spot on the team the following year. In fact when she went into high school, she made the freshman team of her fairly large public school, all because she had great fundamentals. But she still wasn’t fast or quick or strong. No matter how much that girl may have wanted to play pro basketball or make the Olympics (I have no reason to believe she wanted either) that was never going to happen. Never.

Her story repeats itself time and time again, and yet all these parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures continue to lie to kids.

What bothers me so much is that at the same time, those influential people are missing what kids really need to hear: the truth. They need to hear what they need to improve and they need to hear what they do well.

I wrote a post today over at Spec Faith about writing reviews. I’m a big believer that we need to be balanced in what we say about books–and that would apply to movies, too, or songs, or people.

Yes, people.

We are all a mixed bag. We were created in God’s image, with a sin nature. How much more mixed can we get? We have talents and character strengths and physical prowess and mental capacity. A lot of that is wired in our DNA. We did nothing to make ourselves as tall as we are or as creative or adventurous. We have those things because God gave them to us.

At the same time, we are prideful, lazy, greedy, selfish, vengeful, dishonest, and a host of other things–not stuff we had to learn, but stuff that is innately ours as sin baggage we’re born with.

How great, then, if the influences in our lives told the truth about us. Things like, You are such a gifted athlete, but your pride will stop you cold from ever being a good teammate.

I’m not sure people need to hear both sides of the equation at the same time, but hear it, they should.

Also over at Spec Faith, I ran a writing challenge, and one of those posting an entry remarked that the environment created by commenters as they gave feedback was positive and encouraging. I honestly hadn’t thought about it until he mentioned it, but he was right.

Good, I thought. Writers get bad news ALL the time–rejections from agents, contest entries that don’t place, critiques from partners pointing out what needs to improve. All of that is fine and legitimate and part of the process of learning and improving.

But what happened to telling people what’s good? We learn that way, too. Peter in his first epistle points to Christ and His suffering on our behalf and says, that’s the way to do it. He didn’t sin, didn’t lie, didn’t hurl invectives back at those who jeered Him, didn’t threaten payback while he was suffering. That’s the way to live, Peter says.

Paul does the same kind of thing with the Thessalonians. You’re doing well, he says, but now excel still more.

Maybe it’s time for us to start telling the truth to each other, not just to our kids. We can’t do everything. But what we do well, shouldn’t we tell each other? Shouldn’t we be happy to sing the praises of those in our lives when they show kindness or work hard on their job or pick up their socks? Sometimes I think we’re waiting for great things. But maybe we need to mention the every day things, then at the appropriate moment let them know they can excel still more.

I have my suspicions that telling people they are good at filing or being on time or taking out the trash without being reminded will go a lot farther than telling them they can do anything.

Published in: on July 23, 2012 at 6:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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Tornadoes, Drought, Fire, And Death

Some years ago, a handful of Christians infamously claimed that hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans, or later that the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti was His judgment on the culture of voodoo and the occult practiced there in times passed.

What are we to make, then, of the events in Mid-America this year? That would be the area of the US famously known as the Bible Belt. This spring tornadoes, numbering more than a hundred strong, tore through Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, over to Nebraska and Missouri, and up into Indiana, killing and destroying.

At the beginning of this summer, wildfires devastated Colorado, and drought has consumed crops throughout the Great Plains and over to the Appalachians. In fact, the USA Today reports that 64% of the US is experiencing drought conditions.

If all that isn’t bad enough, the Denver area experienced another horrific shooting event last night. Some reports say more than seventy people were hit and twelve died.

All this, of course, comes in the midst of the feeble recovery from the Great Recession that has our spend-happy nation reeling.

In the after-math of the natural disasters, news cameras caught survivors picking through the ruins, thankful that they had lived and vowing to keep going. Some way. Some how.

After last night’s shooting, there’s talk of the gun culture and insane people trying to grab the spotlight so that the world will look at them for a few fleeting days. Undoubtedly gun legislation is on the horizon.

All of it is white noise to the real issues that we need to talk about. God works in the world today, as He has throughout history. Because we understand and can predict weather patterns does not mean God has no part in them. Because a psychotic killer picked up a gun and attacked a theater full of people does not mean God is indifferent or uninvolved.

These events remind me so much of the things Job experienced, all engineered by Satan, but permitted by God, used by God. Why do we think He has changed?

No, He did not cause the shooting suspect to open fire on those theater-goers last night. That was an act of evil, and God doesn’t tempt anyone to do evil (see James 1:13). But He works His will in and through these circumstances. And He does so in order that we will look to Him rather than to our own supposed strength and goodness.

God allows fires and floods and wind and drought so that we can see we are weak, not strong. He allows evil men to kill and steal and destroy so that we will see, Mankind is not good.

Only God is strong. Only God is good.

When will we look to Him instead of looking to ourselves for answers?

We are so much like Israel of old. They were a religious people, keeping their feast days, offering sacrifices in their holy cities, and God said, I’m not interested. Instead He brought war and famine so that they would turn to Him.

Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened,
And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known.
For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord GOD.
“But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.
So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water,
But would not be satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
I smote you with scorching wind and mildew;
And the caterpillar was devouring
Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt;
I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses,
And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:5-11 – emphasis mine)

Are we somehow beyond God’s reach, that He would not be at our shoulder, calling to us, telling us we need to return to Him? Are we so oblivious to our egregious behavior, putting to death thousands and thousands of unborn babies year after year; calling evil good and good, evil; giving credence to false prophets who lie about God and His character, that we think God is pleased with us and will continue to bless us as a nation?

What will it take for us to realize, God might be trying to get our attention because He wants us to look at Him, listen to Him, bow before Him, and recognize that He is God and we are not.

Putting The Bible Puzzle-Pieces In Place

Once upon a time, I was a child. 😀 Not startling news, since we all were. But I remember as a child, then as a teen, being told that I should read the Bible every day. I tried for a little while and was actually quite surprised at how interesting Genesis was. And the beginning of Exodus. It bogged down in the middle chapters of that book, then came Leviticus. Need I say more?

I was in college when I actually had to read the Bible through for a class. We were quizzed over it every day without fail. Still, there were passages that … you might say, I didn’t stay awake well as I was trying to dash through them late at night, nor did I exactly pass those quizzes with flying colors. 😕

Fortunately, after college I became a teacher in a Christian school where I was required to teach a Bible class. Fortunately, I say, because I had a principal who laid it on the line–how could we teach the Bible if we ourselves weren’t reading the Bible? It made sense to me.

A fellow teacher told me she read the Bible through each year and had been doing that for ten or so years. I was impressed. She gave me the schedule–three chapters a day during the week and five on Saturday and on Sunday.

I started out, convinced I should do this, equipped with a method to do this. As before, I was pleasantly surprised by stories about creation, the fall, the flood, Abraham and God’s promise of a son, all the way through to Joseph and his forgiveness of his brothers. Exodus followed suit for the most part, but then came Leviticus. It was still there, like a roadblock, bringing my resolve and good intentions to a halt.

Slowly I pushed through, but one thing became clear: I was no longer on the path to finish the Bible in a year.

This scenario repeated itself a time or two before I realized that reading the Bible through in a year was not mandatory. I could go at my own pace. No one was holding a gun to my head. If it took me a year and a half, two years, so be it.

Suddenly I wasn’t feeling quite so beholden to a method.

Not long afterward, I also came to the decision that I didn’t have to read the hard passages–starting with Leviticus. What a burden came off my shoulders. Genesis, most of Exodus, parts of Numbers, all but the begats in Deuteronomy … that became my pattern.

I can’t even tell you when it began to change. I know I fell in love with Deuteronomy. Yes, Deuteronomy. And I even stopped skipping the begats. Eventually I started looking for ways of understanding the hard parts. How was Leviticus organized, what benefit or protection did all the laws give the Israelites, that sort of thing. Before I realized it, I had begun to study the hard parts, and gradually they stopped seeming like they actually were hard.

Why do I detail this process? Yesterday in “The Bible Puzzle” I made a case for looking at the entire Bible, without any missing pieces, so that we can see the entire picture.

And picture it is–God’s word-picture showing us His character, His plan for us and the world, His work. But it is a picture that is layered and it’s not presented entirely in sequential order. Poetry is interspersed with history, letters are bumping up against prophecy. And then there are the begats, not to mention the laws and the sacrifices and the feast days and the parts of the tabernacle and the order of marching in the wilderness and ….

Quite honestly, a jigsaw puzzle is an apropos comparison, but so is putting a jigsaw puzzle together, at least how my family worked puzzles when I was growing up. We first started by finding the edges, especially the corner pieces. Once we had the edges fit together, we had a frame for the picture. Then we could start gathering similar colors.

The point is, we started with the easiest part first and gradually worked our way through to the harder sections–the field of grain or the solid blue sky. But by then, the part of the puzzle we were working on was much smaller and we could concentrate on shapes, since the colors were so similar. In the end, unless we’d lost a piece, we always finished our puzzles.

To complete the analogy, a Christian’s goal should be to complete the picture God has given us. He wants us to see how all the pieces fit together. But it’s not a bad thing to start with the edges. It’s not shameful to wait to do the sky last. In the grand scheme of things, it is much more important for us to start and to make progress toward the goal of understanding God’s revelation than it is to declare it too hard or boring or irrelevant, and stick with the favorite parts we think we can solve even without the edge being in place.

Anyone might be able to put together the snow cap, but does it fit into the picture as part of the mountain or part of the reflection of the mountain? If all you have are parts of a puzzle then you have a distorted picture, not a complete one. So too with the Bible.

But we may take some time getting all the pieces in place, and that’s OK.

Published in: on July 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Bible Puzzle

I don’t think there’s anything more important than understanding the Bible. The problem is, there’s a whole lot that seems confusing, contradictory, and if we’re truly honest, boring.

I mean, have you read this passage in Numbers 7?

13 and his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; 14 one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; 15 one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; 16 one male goat for a sin offering; 17 and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old.

The thing is, this exact same list is repeated eleven more times, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Then the totals are all given for each item, just in case we can’t do the math, I guess.

So are sections of the Bible that seem uninteresting and irrelevant ones we can ignore? To the larger question, can we focus on those passages that we “get”?

That’s kind of like a college student saying to a history prof, Can I read about the historical figures I connect with? First, these would be ones the student already knows about. Second, they would be ones he approves of or agrees with. How, precisely, would this be considered learning?

When it comes to the Bible, I think a lot of people approach it with the idea that it is full of material they already know. And what they don’t know, they don’t care about because it is outdated and irrelevant.

Why, then, would anyone want to read a tired old book over and over? After all, today’s generations want fresh and page turning. We want stories, not lists of do’s and don’ts, not verses and verses naming the sons of this man, who was the son of that man who was the son of that other man–all names that are nearly unpronounceable.

What most people don’t realize is that the Bible is a jigsaw puzzle. It all fits together to make a remarkable, unified picture. You have pieces that are full of color, and shapes that give you a hint at what the finished puzzle will look like, but you have lots and lots of sky pieces or water pieces or leaves pieces that by themselves seem uninteresting and hard to fit in with the whole.

But what would a seascape be without puzzle pieces of blue water? What would a forest scene look like without leafy trees? The hard pieces play a vital role in creating the whole picture.

So too with the Bible. Much of what seems hard connects the colorful pieces together to create a complete picture. But when we don’t read the whole, when we study only a piece here or a piece there, we get a skewered view of the Bible and of God and His work in the world.

Could this be the reason a growing number of people are following after false teachers?

Published in: on July 18, 2012 at 5:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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