Understanding The Bible


I confess, I didn’t realize how many different ways people view the Bible until the Internet exposed me to a wide variety of perspectives. I knew there were higher critics who deconstructed Scripture, essentially shaping it into their own image. But apart from those liberal thinkers, I was unaware of the diverse beliefs about the Bible.

Since I’ve been on the internet, I’ve learned that there are people who see the Bible as myth that contains truth. Others think it is myth, and anyone who believes it is foolish. Others see some parts to be true—the gospels, primarily—but the other parts to be filled with false ideas created by the Jews or by Paul.

On the other side of the Bible equation are those who see Scripture as primarily rules to live by. But again, a good many of these are individuals or denominations which are selective in what they say the rules are. For instance, one blogger I encountered railed against an individual because of his departure from Scripture but saw no problem in treating him without love or even honor, regardless of the number of times commenters confronted him with direct commands in the Bible for Christians to love neighbors, enemies, brothers and to honor all men. Clearly that blogger was selective in the Biblical commandments he felt he needed to follow.

I realize I’ve been fortunate to attend a church my entire adult life that believes in the Bible in a different way. My first pastor, Chuck Swindoll, taught the Bible is the inspired word of God, which means through it God is speaking to me.

I learned it is inerrant and infallible—that there are no mistakes in its individual parts or in its overall message—so the places I see confusion or contradiction actually reveal my lack of understanding, not a problem with the Bible.

I was learned that the Bible is complete. We’re not waiting for a new or better or additional revelation. God didn’t send golden tablets for someone to unearth and translate. He doesn’t speak infallibly via the Pope or the church prophet.

I also learned the Bible is determinative—how we respond to what we hear determines our eternal destiny. Further, it is authoritative. Its truth propositions have the final say, and by them all other truth propositions are to be measured.

Finally, I learned that the Bible is sufficient. I don’t need any other revelation to lead me to God.

Those foundational principles actually undergird my understanding of the Bible, but there are other important essentials that go along with them. Some years ago another pastor, Mike Erre, laid out six questions he asks about passages of Scripture that bring forward the meaning of the text. These can be helpful, I think.

1. What is the historical meaning? What did this passage mean to the original audience? Before it was written for us, it was written for or spoken to them.

For example, when Jesus said, Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest, to whom was He talking? And what were the circumstances that surrounded that statement? In other words, what was the context?

2. What is the literary setting? The Bible is a collection of various genres and as such, not all accomplish the same thing. Some are historical, some poetry, some prophecy, some letters. Understanding their genre helps uncover their intention.

3. How does a particular passage fit into the Big Story? It’s possible to pick and choose parts that make the Bible say something it never intended to say. For example, Scripture says more than once, “There is no God.” But without the context, a person will not know that this is the statement of a foolish person.

Pastor Mike gave an illustration of this. First he showed promo for the movie Mary Poppins, a musical, starred Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews that told the story of a magical nanny who taught a stuffy banker how to truly love and care for his children.

Next Pastor Mike revealed that someone made a movie called “Scary Mary” which edited the original musical to show Mary Poppins pushing the children, making mean faces and threatening gestures. The children responded with fright, and in the background soulful music played. Occasionally shots of a dark and bleak setting came on the screen.

So which is the “real” Mary Poppins? Every frame of “Scary Mary” is in the original, but large, large parts have been left out so that the re-cut version bears no resemblance to the original. In fact it so distorts the movie that someone who didn’t know the story could easily be so concerned by what they saw, they would refuse to see the actual movie.

In the same way, someone coming to the Bible must see how a passage fits into the big picture.

4. What is the gospel dimension? The Bible is the story of God coming near. It is not a self-help book or a list of do‘s and don’ts or a collection of religious traditions to follow in order to earn points in God’s estimation. Rather, the Bible reveals Jesus.

5. What is the subversive element? Every verse of Scripture is ahead of its time. The Bible isn’t merely culturally relevant, it subverts the world order which calls for people to watch out for number one, go for the gusto, get yours while you can. The Bible shows us God’s contrary approach to life—the last shall be first, you gain your life by losing it, you love your enemies, you do not return evil for evil, you take up your cross, and on and on.

6. What is the experiential dimension? The Bible is to be lived, not just learned. “American Christians have been educated far beyond our willingness to obey.” Whenever that is true, it’s to our shame. We may not understand everything in the Bible, but the main things that are plain, that don’t take a seminary degree to comprehend, ought to be our mission statement, our focus, our To Do list.

That point is the one that brings the Bible home. It is at the level of living out what the Bible says that a Christian shows himself or herself to be a Christian. Can we say we love God and hate our brother? No. Can we say Lord, Lord and not do the deeds of righteousness? No. Can we experience God’s forgiveness without turning around and forgiving others? No.

The Bible, for all the important foundational truths that undergird the reason we can and should rely on it, still boils down to a matter of trust—believing God, being reconciled with Him, and then learning all about His heart and what we can do to please Him.

This post is a revised edition of one that appeared here in May, 2014.

Dealing With Logs And Specks


logSunday my pastor Mike Erre preached on grace in the Church. He rightly pointed out our salvation is by grace and involves the past, the present, and the future. We were saved at the point of time we passed from death into the newness of life in Christ. We are being saved as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). And we will be saved when we are raised incorruptible (Col. 3:4). We are, he said, in process.

We use phrases like life is a journey and we are growing. We say we are being conformed to the image of God’s Son. In other words, we recognize that none of us have arrived yet. Even the apostle Paul said so about himself:

Not that I have already obtained it [conformity to Christ’s death leading to resurrection] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12)

The point of my pastor’s message, however, was this: we are eager to accept the fact that we are a work in progress, and less eager to do so about everyone else. We have reached, let’s say, point D on the continuum of spiritual growth and the tendency is to expect to find other Christians at least at point D—as if our level of spiritual maturity defines what it means to be a Christian.

He concluded that the Christian life needs to be more about taking logs out of our own eyes than looking around to see what specks we can find in others.

It’s a good point. Except this week I read the book of Galatians. It’s a pretty hard-hitting book. In part Paul confronts the people in the church—Jewish believers, you’d have to think—who were insisting that a real Christian had to be circumcised. Apparently, and understandably, this was a big issue in the first church. The Jewish believers rightly saw Jesus as their Messiah. They weren’t thinking they’d taken up some new religion.

But Paul and the elders in Jerusalem wrestled with this issue earlier and clearly determined following the law was not what saved and therefore Gentile believers did not have to start keeping Jewish law. Yet here was the issue again, in a different church.

Paul, however, didn’t sit back saying, well, they’re not as far on the continuum of salvation as those of us who understand that circumcision is not necessary. We’ll just be patient with them and let God show them the truth.

Uh, no. God’s means of showing them the truth was the Church and the man who was their spiritual leader.

Paul was not particularly gentle here, either. He encouraged the church, but he came down hard on the one dumping false doctrine in their laps:

A little leaven [the person teaching false doctrine] leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision [the need to follow the law instead of trusting in the grace of God], why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. (Gal. 5:9-12)

The word translated “mutilate” here carries the connotation of castration. I told you, Paul was not being particularly gentle here. He goes on to list out stuff that he says are deeds of the flesh, then adds, “I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

In contrast he lists the fruit of the Spirit and concludes that those who belong to Christ have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24b-25).

The next chapter is more hard hitting confrontation.

So which is it? Are we to be extend grace to the weaker brother, understanding that he’s in progress just like I am, that he doesn’t have to be where I am spiritually because God is bringing him along in His time? Or are we to confront sin and chastise whoever is teaching false doctrine and admonish the brethren to walk by the Spirit?

As I write this, I think a couple things come clear. First, Paul was criticizing the Galatians for thinking a legalistic act and not God’s grace meant they were Christians. Today, it seems as if Western Christians are more apt to think like the Galatians than Paul. Yes, I can hear some say, there are things you have to do if you’re to be a Christian—as if we need to clean up in order to stand before God rather than run to God with the stench of the pig-sty still clinging to us and let Him clothe us with His righteousness.

Second, it seems as if Paul reserved his harshest language for the false teachers—the ones responsible for leavening the lump of dough.

Third, we are to restore one caught in trespass with a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1). Confrontation is not intended to separate the sheep from the goats. It is intended to restore, bring the straying lamb back into the fold.

And during the restoration process, we are to take a good look at our own lives, so we don’t think we’ve got it all figured out, only to fall ourselves.

As I see it, there’s tension here. We are saved by grace and we are to live by grace. But we are to crucify the deeds of the flesh and restore one caught in trespass. All the while checking our own lives.

It’s the logs. We’ve got to constantly be checking for logs. But when specks pop up, we need to deal with them too. Gently!

Upon This Rock


Mount_Hermon_IsraelMy pastor, Mike Erre, just got back from a trip to Israel. Sunday he began teaching a special sermon series on the Church and started by looking at the text containing the first of the use of the word, ekklēsia in the Greek—Matthew 16:18. Here’s the background Pastor Mike shared.

Jesus took his disciples to the area around Caesarea Philippi—a city at the base of Mount Hermon once known for the worship of Baal but later, of the fertility god Pan. One notable landmark was the temple Herod built to honor Caesar. This was situated at the foot of a large rock face with a cave, out of which flowed the headwaters of the Jordan River. The rock itself was called the Rock of the Gods and the cave was known as the Gates of Hades because the traditional understanding of the river source was that it came from “down under,” the home of the gods.

I’m not sure about that last part. From my study of Greek and Roman literature, I don’t remember any god but one being from down under, but setting that aside, apparently the name of the cave is accurate. Why it was called that . . . still up for grabs, I think.

At any rate, in this pagan place, known for orgies that included bestiality—the copulation of humans with “sacred” goats (Pan, you may recall, was half human and half goat, and he is pictured in any number of archaeological findings seducing nymphs, or minor female deities)—Jesus chose to make His pronouncement about His Church:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matt. 16:13-18)

Down through the centuries there’s been much discussion about this passage of Scripture, mostly hanging on Jesus’s meaning of “this rock.” It’s almost as if Jesus pointed to the rock that he was referring to, but we’re left to wonder, was He saying Peter was the rock, which is the view of the Catholic Church. Or was He saying the confession Peter just made that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is the rock? Or something else. The Greek word means “a rock, cliff or ledge; a projecting rock, crag, rocky ground; a rock, a large stone; or metaphorically, a man like a rock, by reason of his firmness and strength of soul.

Pan's_CaveSo, was Jesus perhaps saying, as my pastor suggested, that the rock face in front of them, known as the Rock of the Gods, was where He’d found His Church—on the very pagans, the Gentiles, if you will, that seemed so far from God at that time.

I tend to think the location does add a great deal to understanding what Jesus was saying, but it seems to me, He generally used objects as metaphors to convey a deeper spiritual meaning.

So he talked about wheat and tares, but they were metaphorical for people, some who followed Him and some who didn’t. He talked about a fig tree (which He cursed), but it was metaphorical for those who didn’t bear fruit. He talked about a vine and branches, but that was metaphorical, referring to those who are His followers. He talked about providing living water when He was standing at a well discussing the needs of the Samaritan woman. Immediately after feeding the crowd of thousands with a few loaves of bread, He declares Himself to be the bread of life.

On and on, Jesus made these kinds of connections between the physical thing and the spiritual truth He wanted people to understand.

So I’m thinking, in front of them was the Rock of the Gods, but Jesus says, This rock—the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as opposed to that rock—is the foundation of the Church. We have other scriptures that refer to the Church as a building, with Christ as the foundation or as the cornerstone, so I think this understanding makes a lot of sense.

What’s more, with the cave in front of them, the one known as the Gates of Hades, Jesus said this metaphorical image for the entire pagan belief system of worship of these false gods would not prevail against the Church.

I think He wanted to get this across to His disciples because He then began prepping them for His death. He wanted them to know that when He was crucified, that was not the enemy winning. That the Church would still be built.

Too often today we Christians wonder about the future of the Church. We see false teachers and false religions growing and flourishing. We see people mock God without fear. We see persecution on the rise—both the violent kind that takes the home, freedom, and lives of some believers; and the shaming kind that turns people against Christians who stand for what they believe. Our tendency might be to think that the Church is crumbling.

We hear this more and more frequently. Attendance is dropping. Young people are leaving the church. One atheist even said as we evolve, humans are renouncing the idea of a god because we no longer need such a crutch, that in the future religion will become obsolete.

But no. We have Christ’s word that the Church is built on a rock.

Throughout the Psalms God is referred to as a Rock:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
My shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Ps. 18:2)

Perhaps in the instance in Matthew Jesus was referring to something else besides Himself as a rock, but I don’t think so. For one thing, I think Scripture not only made sense to the original audience, but it makes sense to all the rest of us, too. Yes, understanding the place and time can only enhance the meaning, but I don’t think it turns the meaning on its head.

Second, understanding Jesus as the rock is consistent with the rest of the Bible. A key to interpreting Scripture is to understand verses that have several possible interpretations in light of passages with clear, straightforward meanings.

Clear, straightforward: The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer!

Published in: on May 4, 2015 at 6:49 pm  Comments (4)  
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Why I Told My Story


First Century GalileeSome time ago, I realized that I had a habit of starting blog posts with “backstory,” something you should not do if you’re writing fiction. I’d begin my article by stating why I was writing on that particular topic—as if most readers really cared why I decided to write on Ebola instead of King David.

So yesterday without preamble, I wrote a post entitled “My Story,” a piece which fills in the gaps of a couple other articles which tell how I became a Christian.

But it’s bugging me that I left out the backstory, the why I was writing My Story. So now I’m backtracking.

Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preached from Luke 9/Mark 5ff. As usual, he connected lots of dots until a whole picture emerged, and there was one particular picture that is memorable and beautiful.

Part 1: Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to an area known at the time as the Decapolis, an area populated primarily by non-Jews who were pagan, worshiping various gods. They were heavily influenced by Greek culture, so many of those gods came from the Greek pantheon.

When Jesus arrived in the Decapolis, He went to a place where there was a demon-possessed man living in a graveyard. He was out-of-control violent and had superhuman strength. The people of his community apparently tried to restrain him because Scripture mentions his breaking chains that bound. Chains!

Instead of going the other way, Jesus held a conversation with him and eventually ordered the demons (there was a group of them) to come out of him. Chaos ensued. The demons, with Christ’s permission, entered a herd of pigs (which were apparently used in the sacrifices to those pagan gods) which rushed into the sea and drowned. The herdsmen fled the scene and apparently told anyone who would listen what had just happened.

Soon a crowd arrived. They found the man who’d been demon-possessed clothed and in his right mind. Instead of showing gratitude that this crazy man was sane and sober and lucid, they were scared to death and told Jesus he needed to leave. At once.

The former demoniac told Jesus he wanted to follow Him. Well, of course, why wouldn’t he? And Jesus was in the business of telling people to follow Him, so it was a perfect storm, right? If I were writing the story, I’d have the man packing his bags and climbing into the boat with Jesus.

But thankfully, God is better at figuring out what’s best than I am. Consequently, Jesus told him to go home instead and tell the people “what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19b) As a result, the man “went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20).

Part 2: Jesus went back to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee where he performed a number of other miracles—healed some people, raised someone from the dead, fed the 5000 using just a few loaves and fish, walked on water—then he returned to the Decapolis.

This time things were different: “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd,” and healed him (Mark 7:31ff).

In the area where the man freed from demon possession had gone to tell of the great mercy God had shown him, now people weren’t asking Jesus to leave. They were bringing to Him people who needed healing. They were coming in crowds so great that Jesus had to say, enough. Not that they listened: “And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36).

The point is simple: though we can’t know for sure, there’s a good possibility that the one man who went home and told people about God’s great mercy and what Jesus had done for him, turned the Decapolis to Christ.

Before the man told his story, the crowd was frightened and told Jesus to go away. After the man told his story, the crowd came to Him and were astonished.

It’s not a leap to think the man freed from the legion of demons made a difference because he was willing to tell his story.

And isn’t that what God has asked each of us to do? Which was Pastor Mike’s point. Jesus delivered the great commission to one man as an example for us that we might also go and tell.

Published in: on November 19, 2014 at 7:38 pm  Comments Off on Why I Told My Story  
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What God Says About Wealth


Worship the dollarFriday, because of a verse in Scripture I’d been thinking about, I wrote my post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about greed. Then Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preaching from Luke 6 talked about what Jesus meant when He said those who are poor are blessed. Today I reviewed a portion of 1 Timothy which contains some pointed words about wealth.

I tend to think, when God brings the same topic to me from various sources, He’s trying to get my attention. Often I can figure out why, but not this time. So in all honesty, I’m writing this post (as I do a number of others—I just don’t usually announce it) to explore the things I’m learning about wealth. I have no end game in mind, so this article could come to an abrupt end at any moment. 😉

As I look over 1 Timothy 6 again, I’m reminded that the passage about wealth is part of a warning against false teaching, something Paul brought up in both his letters to “his son,” the young pastor he was instructing. People who advocate for a different gospel, one not in agreement with the words of Christ, are conceited, Paul says, but are raising up controversies and stirring up strife for one main reason: they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5b). The implication seems to be, financial gain, as if these false teachers could preaching godliness as a means to get rich. That idea is born out by what comes next:

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But flee from these things, you man of God (6:6-11a)

Contentment, Paul says essentially, should replace the desire to get rich. If we have food, if we have “cover”—clothes and shelter—then what’s to keep us from being content? After all, we came into the world with nothing, and we’ll leave the same way. So if our needs are met right now, why do we work so hard to get rich?

Here’s where my pastor’s sermon kicks in. I can’t trace the path through Scripture he took us, but the conclusion he brought us to is this: Poor and poor in spirit are not the same thing. Those poor in spirit are the contrite, the humble.

Zaccheus, a chief tax collector, was undoubtedly rich, but when he encountered Jesus, he humbled himself and repented. The rich young ruler, on the other hand, went away in sorrow.

Both men were rich, both sought Jesus out. One was changed, the other unchanged. The issue was not their money. It was their heart. One released his riches, the other hung onto them for dear life.

Pastor Mike’s point is that wealth can become the thing some people look to as that which makes life work. Instead of God.

Paul picked up the thread about wealth again in his letter to Timothy:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Clearly Paul is implying the rich can become conceited and can fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches rather than on God who gives us what we have for our enjoyment.

But they don’t have to.

Being rich doesn’t equate with ungodliness, and poverty isn’t the answer to an inappropriate dependence on wealth. News flash: poor people can be greedy too.

I saw a short clip on a TV show, something about What Would You Do or something like that. They had an actor go to a place where pizza was served and move from table to table, asking if he could have a slice of pizza. Not a person gave him a slice. Then he went to a homeless person who had a pizza (I wonder how that man got a whole pizza!) and the actor asked him if he could have a slice, and the homeless man gave it to him at once.

The conclusion the show wanted us to draw was that people with little are more generous than people with much.

Except, that isn’t necessarily true.

Poor people can be generous, surely (see the widow who put her last coin into the temple offering), but so can rich people. Poor people can be greedy (see Elisah’s servant who lied to get money from Naaman the Syrian Elijah healed of leprosy), and so can rich people.

Money, riches, wealth, then, is not the problem. Rather, it’s our attachment to it.

I wonder if any of us can know what riches would do for us. Or to us. We can think, Money won’t change me, but is that true? How can we know? How do we know how strong our love for God is, how deep our trust, how great our commitment, how total our dependence?

Have we ever stripped down to the bare essentials and walked forward in obedience to God, saying as Queen Esther did, If I die, I die. Or do we have to hedge our bets, have a fall-back position, craft a Plan B?

Paul had two options: to live is Christ and to die is gain. His attachment in both was to God, not to “fleshly lusts that wage war against the soul.”

That last is from Peter in his first letter. Interesting that his focus was also on the heart attitude—the fleshly lusts.

But back to the pizza story. If I’m right, the TV producers gave the homeless man a pizza. He was willing to share what he’d been given because all of it was an unexpected, happy provision he didn’t deserve. So of course he was willing to share what he didn’t actually perceive to be his.

That, I think, might be the place God wants His children to come to in regard to wealth. Whatever we have isn’t ours. It’s a gift from our good God, so of course we should freely share what we’ve been freely given.

Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Jesus Shared His Father’s Wrath


Jesus_and_Children019Progressive Christians dismiss the part of the Old Testament that reveals God’s wrath. For instance one writer at Pathoes, in explaining the views of Progressives says they do not believe God wrote the Bible and therefore do not see it as infallible or inerrant, which leads to this:

While we’re aware of the many inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible; and while we’re abhorred by, and reject, the various instances of horrible theology that appear here and there within the texts (e.g., passages that posit God as wrathful, vindictive, and condoning of slavery, and even “ordering” rape and genocide, etc.), they don’t cause us to reject the Bible, rather, they endear us to the Bible.

There’s so much error in that statement, but setting all else aside, I wonder in light of their rejection of God’s wrath what they do with Jesus Christ’s anger?

Sunday my pastor Mike Erre preached about Jesus’s anger. He started with the account of Jesus healing a man’s withered hand recorded in Luke 6, but he expanded to include Mark’s account which adds a key detail:

He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (Mark 3:1-5, emphasis added)

According to Pastor Mike, there are two words in the Greek that mean anger. The one used here is not the one that would equate with a sudden flare of emotion. Rather, according to Strong’s Concordance, this word, orgē, means

I. anger, the natural disposition, temper, character

II. movement or agitation of the soul, impulse, desire, any violent emotion, but esp. anger

III. anger, wrath, indignation

IV. anger exhibited in punishment, hence used for punishment itself

A. of punishments inflicted by magistrates

The King James Version translates the word wrath 31 of the 36 times it appears.

I admit, I’ve overlooked this instance of Jesus being angry. Yes, I knew He was pretty ticked off at the money changers and the people buying and selling in the temple those times He turned over tables and chased out those who didn’t belong, but I thought that was pretty much it in the anger department.

How silly.

Here Jesus became angry at the Pharisees because they would rather have seen Jesus honor their definition of work, which they’d made up, than heal the man who had a useless arm. They loved their religious pretense more than they loved the needy.

And this incident was not the only one of its kind.

Pastor Mike pointed out Christ’s “indignation” at His disciples for turning away the children instead of letting them come to Him (Mark 10:14).

And then there was His . . . scolding, I guess would be the best term, of the Pharisees. Some might call it an extended warning, and that seems right, but in the process, Jesus was calling them names: blind guides, sons of hell, hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, foolish ones. And He was accusing them of things they understood to be horrible: complicit in the death of the prophets, worse than those destroyed in Sodom and Gomorrah, full of robbery and wickedness and lawlessness.

Yes, I think this passage qualifies as an instance when Jesus was angry. And what prompted His reaction? A Pharisee had invited Him to eat at his house, but when Jesus sat down without going through the ceremonial cleansing the Pharisees had added onto the Law, His host was surprised. The rebuke was Jesus’s response.

In some ways it seems disproportionate to the offense, but not when we take into account the fact that Jesus was reflecting God’s heart. We see God’s attitude toward religious activity that is void of a heart of compassion in Isaiah 58. God tells the prophet to declare to the people their sins. They were fasting, He said, and crying to God, asking Him why He wasn’t paying attention to their spirituality. God says through Isaiah that they missed what He wanted:

“Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (vv 6-7)

Isaiah 1 gives another instance of God telling His people He doesn’t want their religious activity when they aren’t doing what He’s told them He wants:

What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?”
Says the LORD.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle;
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.
“When you come to appear before Me,
Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?
“Bring your worthless offerings no longer,
Incense is an abomination to Me.
New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
“I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,
They have become a burden to Me;
I am weary of bearing them.
“So when you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Yes, even though you multiply prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are covered with blood.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow. (vv 13-17)

Pastor Mike wrapped up the sermon in a powerful way. He pointed out two key things. God’s wrath is actually a positive. It is His declaration that there will come a time when He says enough to all that should not be: murder, envy, greed, abuse, illness, betrayal, fear, rape, self-righteousness, slander—all of it.

What’s more, God’s immense love which caused Him to send His Son into the world, collides at the cross with His wrath. Wrath meted out to stop sin, to say, the evil in this world isn’t going to win. Love given to satisfy His wrath.

Praise God for His love and for His wrath. Not, either-or, but both-and.

Published in: on June 30, 2014 at 6:54 pm  Comments (4)  
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Understanding The Bible


Bible-openI confess, I didn’t realize how many different ways people view the Bible until the Internet exposed me to a wide variety of perspectives. I knew there were higher critics who deconstructed Scripture, essentially shaping it into their own image. But apart from those liberal thinkers, I was unaware of the diverse beliefs about the Bible.

Since I’ve been on the Internet, I’ve learned that there are people who see the Bible as myth that contains truth. Others see some parts to be true–the gospels, primarily–and parts to be filled with false ideas created by the Jews or by Paul.

On the other side of the Bible equation are those who see Scripture as primarily rules to live by. But again, a good many of these are individuals or denominations which are selective in what they say the rules are. For instance, one blogger I encountered railed against an emergent church individual because of his departure from Scripture but saw no problem in treating him without love or even honor, regardless of the number of times he was confronted with direct commands in the Bible for Christians to love neighbors, enemies, brothers and to honor all men.

I realize I’ve been fortunate to attend a church my entire adult life that believes in the Bible in a different way. My first pastor, Chuck Swindoll, taught the Bible is the inspired word of God, which means it is God speaking to me.

I was taught it is inerrant and infallible–that there are no mistakes in its individual parts or in its overall message–so the places I see confusion or contradiction actually reveal my lack of understanding, not a problem with the Bible.

I was also taught the Bible is complete. We’re not waiting for a new or better or additional revelation. God didn’t send golden tablets for someone to unearth and translate. He doesn’t speak infallibly via the Pope or the church prophet.

I was also taught the Bible is determinative–how we respond to what we hear determines our eternal destiny. Further, it is authoritative. Its truth propositions have the final say, and by them all other truth propositions are to be measured.

Finally, I was taught that the Bible is sufficient. I don’t need any other revelation to lead me to God.

Those foundational principles actually undergird my understanding of the Bible, but there are other important essentials that go along with them. Recently my current pastor, Mike Erre, laid out six questions he asks about passages of Scripture to bring forward the meaning of the text. These, I think, encapsulate those “other important essentials.”

1. What is the historical meaning? What did this passage mean to the original audience? Before it was written for us, it was written for or spoken to them.

For example, when Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me, to whom was He talking? And what were the circumstances that surrounded that statement? In other words, what was the context?

2. What is the literary setting? The Bible is a collection of various genres and as such, not all accomplish the same thing.

Mary_Poppins3. How does a particular passage fit into the narrative dimension–the Big Story? It’s possible to pick and choose parts that make the Bible say something it never intended to say.

Pastor Mike gave a great illustration of this. First he showed a short trailer used to promo the movie Mary Poppins. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the movie, a musical, starred Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews and was a story about a magical nanny who taught a stuffy banker how to truly love and care for his children.

Mary_Poppins-children's_reactionNext Pastor Mike revealed that someone made a movie called “Scary Mary” which edited the original musical to show Mary Poppins pushing the children and making mean faces and threatening gestures as the children responded with fright, all to soulful background music, and interspersed with shots of a dark and bleak setting.

Every frame of “Scary Mary” is in the original, but large, large parts have been left out so that the re-cut version bears no resemblance to the original. In fact it so distorts the movie that someone who didn’t know the story could easily be frightened away from seeing it if they relied on “Scary Mary.”

Yes, seeing how a passage fits into the big picture matters.

4. What is the gospel dimension? The Bible is the story of God coming near. It is not a self-help book or a list of do‘s and don’ts or a collection of religious traditions to follow in order to earn points in God’s estimation. Rather, the Bible points to Jesus as our representative.

5. What is the subversive element? Every verse of Scripture is ahead of its time. The Bible isn’t merely culturally relevant, it subverts the world order which calls for people to watch out for number one, go for the gusto, get yours while you can. The Bible shows us God’s contrary approach to life—the last shall be first, you gain your life by losing it, you love your enemies, you do not return evil for evil, and on and on.

6. What is the experiential dimension? The Bible is to be lived, not just learned. “American Christians have been educated far beyond our willingness to obey.”

Ouch!

The last point is the one that brings the Bible home. It is at the level of living out what the Bible says that a Christian shows himself or herself to be a Christian. Can we say we love God and hate our brother? No. Can we say Lord, Lord and not do the deeds of righteousness? No. Can we experience God’s forgiveness without turning around and forgiving others? No.

The Bible, for all the important foundational truths that undergird the reason we can and should rely on it, still boils down to a matter of trust—believing God, being reconciled with Him, and then learning all about His heart and what we can do to please Him.

Satan Has A Plan


Mike Erre, not Satan

Mike Erre, not Satan

My pastor, Mike Erre, is really good about connecting Biblical dots. In other words, he pulls together points of truth to show the bigger picture the Bible tells. After all, the Bible is one story with many parts. Too often we read it as sectioned off or even piecemeal. So his ability to pull it all together is fantastic.

Recently, as part of our study in the book of Luke, he showed something critical about Satan. But it starts first with why Luke said he was writing his book:

it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4, emphasis mine)

The central purpose was so that Luke’s target audience, originally a man named Theophilus, but now the rest of us, would know the exact truth about the things “accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1b-2).

He then launches into an account of the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, interspersed with the angel’s announcement to Mary about Jesus’s coming birth, including this statement: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35b, emphasis mine).

Fast-forward thirty years and both Jesus and John are grown men. John was baptizing people in the Jordan and Jesus came to him to be baptized also. When he came out of the water, “the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased’ ” (Luke 3:22, emphasis mine).

Curiously, or so it would seem on the surface, Luke follows this account with a genealogy of Jesus. One thing His lineage shows is that He was a descendant of King David. But it doesn’t stop there. Rather it traces His heritage back to Abraham and beyond, until we get to this: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38, emphasis mine).

So in these opening chapters, Luke shown the angel telling Mary her child would be the Son of God, the Holy Spirit announcing that Jesus is the Son of God, and that by lineage He is the Son of God.

Enter Satan. Behind the particulars of the three recorded temptations Satan threw at Jesus is a central theme: “If You are the Son of God” (4:3b); “if You worship before me” (4:7a); “If You are the Son of God” (4:9b, emphases in all three are mine). Satan was calling into question Jesus’s identity—the very thing Luke had clearly established in the first three chapters.

This strategy is not so different from what Satan used in the garden with Eve. He suggested that God was holding back from her, that if she would eat of the fruit, she would be like Him. Satan’s key question was, “Indeed, has God said . . .” (Gen. 3:1b). Satan’s tactic, then, is to call into question God’s words and God’s Word.

I suggest Satan’s plan of attack has not changed over the years. He still wants people to doubt God Word and His words. Surely God didn’t really mean . . . And Jesus is The Way? Really?

The issues with which we’re confronted in our postmodern culture fit nicely with Satan’s strategy. Nothing can be known for certain, our society tells us, least of all the Bible. It’s gone through so much copying and translating, not to mention interpreting. How can we know what He really said? The best we can do is identify the particular truths as defined by a particular faith community, understanding that someone else with a different mindset may well see things differently.

So “do not kill” doesn’t necessarily include abortion; “men with men committing indecent acts” because God turned us over to our “degrading passions” due to our exchanging “the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1) isn’t a statement against homosexuality; belief in creation instead of evolution is foolish dismissal of science; loving people is more important than loving a “wrathful tyrant God”; believing that hell awaits anyone is barbaric; and many more such belief.

Satan is working the audience. He’s getting applause, and he’s winning people to his side. He has the culture now asking, Did God say . . . And if the answer is, Yes absolutely, the accusations fly. How foolish to believe that, how hateful to say so, how cruel to claim it, how bigoted to think such. Accuse, accuse, accuse. But that’s what Satan is—the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He finds it intolerable that we cling to what God has said.

Published in: on April 4, 2014 at 6:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Which Comes First?


gatesSunday my pastor, Mike Erre, discussed a study of the book of Psalms by Walter Bruegemann in which he categorized the various psalms in three groups: Orientation, Disorientation, or Reorientation.

The Orientation psalms view the world based on an orientation toward God. They praise Him all-out. They speak of His mercy, His wonders, His glory. There are no shadows in those psalms. Psalm 100 would be an example of an orientation psalm, I believe.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.

They “express a confident, serene settlement of faith issues.” They “give expression . . . to the reality that God is trustworthy and reliable.” (Quotes from Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Bruegemann).

As you might guess, then, the Disorientation psalms view the world as broken. They are the psalms that Job might have written at his lowest point. They could be considered laments. They mourn for what is lost and plead for God to hear and answer. And then they end. Psalm 88 is an example of a Disorientation psalm.

Then come the Reorientation psalms. These are songs that begin with questions, with a focus on the broken world, and then reach a turning point in which the psalmist sees the world more completely because he’s now taking God into account. Psalm 73 is a good example of a Reorientation psalm:

When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end. (vv 16-17)

The Reorientation psalms seem clearly to begin with a problem–affliction by enemies or an observation of the prosperity of the wicked or an unanswered prayer. As the psalmist cries out to God, he finds the answer to his situation in God.

But what about the Orientation and Disorientation psalms–which comes first? The implication from what Pastor Mike said is that Orientation came first, then “reality” set in–or at least hardship did. All is well, so people praise God unreservedly. Then all hell breaks loose and people lament. At some point there’s a realignment of perspective that takes into consideration both the greatness of God and the disappointments of life.

But must it be so? Why couldn’t the order be Disorientation, brought on by the Fall, Reorientation, when the truth of God sinks in, and Orientation, when all is seen as under His sovereign ordering, so praise is not dependent upon circumstances in the least.

I’m mindful of this because of something I read this week by literary agent Lee Hough who has been battling cancer for a year or more. As he awaits to learn the effect of the latest treatments, he wrote in part

So, again, the cancer is back. Now what?

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is good.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is faithful.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is merciful.

Whether I’m healed of cancer in this life or not – God is loving.

His life has been disoriented, but his faith is firmly oriented. What private laments did he and his wife express? I couldn’t say. God has been the hero of Lee’s story since he first began writing about his experience with cancer.

It is in reading his praise of God, his unswerving trust in God, his undiminished confidence in God’s character that my faith grows. Obviously, Lee did not write out of a naive trust in God when all was bright and sunny, with his future here on earth looking rosy. He wrote from the unknown, from the valley of the shadow, caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. He wrote as one “going, not knowing.”

And his words make me think of Paul’s:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)

It seems to me, the clearer we see God–when we no longer put our eyes on the enemies chasing us or the friends betraying us or the cancer, the famine, the lost income, or the prosperous cheats–when we see God without distractions because we know nothing can separate us from His love, I think our praise will be like Orientation psalms, like the praise of the angels around God’s throne. The more nearly we understand Him, the more clearly we’ll sing His praise–not because of ignorance of suffering or out of naiveté. Rather, because of an awareness of suffering and evil, knowing that God is greater than all of it. Therein lines the purest praise, I think.

Published in: on February 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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Systematizing A Relationship


The nugget my missions pastor passed on to us on Sunday referred to “high theology.” I know what he was talking about. The previous sermons in the book of Ephesians looked at what Paul was telling the believers about their faith, or more accurately, the result of it.

In chapter one, for instance Paul gives a number of “in Him” statements: He chose us, redeemed us, sealed us. Of course he elaborates some on each of those, so that we can understand them and the great gifts we have.

In chapter two Paul gives several “you once were … but now” statements, tied together with a couple “remember” passages. Again he is clarifying who the believer is: what he was saved from, how he was saved, and what he now enjoys as a result of salvation

This is theology.

As Pastor Mike Erre, our soon to be new senior pastor, said when he preached from Ephesians, the first half is full of indicatives–expressions of simple statements of fact.

Theology.

Paul undergirded a number of his letters in this way. First the indicatives, then the imperatives.

In other words, before he addressed what instruction he needed to give the church, what things they should do to live up to their calling, he first wanted to be sure they understood that calling, especially God’s provisions and promises attached to it.

What struck me today, though, as I was reading a book about the Church, is that today we seem to be systematizing our theology to the point that it would be easy to forget we as believers in Jesus Christ primarily have a relationship.

The particular chapter I was reading followed a discussion of what the kingdom of God meant and whether the kingdom of God is synonymous with the Church (no), whether it has come as Jesus said from time to time or if it is still to come.

The discussion reminded me of the interviews I heard with Rob Bell when his book Love Wins first released (see “If Love Wins, How Come Earthquakes Happen?”). He made much of the fact that Jesus said the kingdom was near, was within, and he ignored any statements that indicate the kingdom is something yet to come.

As I’m thinking about this, I suddenly thought, maybe these scholars are being too scholarly. Maybe they’re trying too hard to understand something, to systematize something that is really easy to understand if you get the fact that it is relational more than it is rational.

Rational things can be analyzed and categorized. Relational things are harder to do so. But to a great degree, relational things are easier to figure out.

Jesus made it quite clear: “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). He expanded on that moments later:

He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:21-24)

Interestingly, John also records a conversation the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ had with Peter. His repeated question was, Do you love Me? (see John 21:15-17)

I don’t think it requires some kind of understanding of primary languages or a degree in theology to get what Jesus is saying.

If you’ve ever loved someone, you know that you want very much to make them happy. You want to do things they will appreciate, give them things you hope they like. Even if it means giving up what you want. The desire to please them is greater than the desire to go to the movie you want to see or whatever else might be at issue.

Our relationship with God is much the same, Jesus is saying. If I love Him, I’ll want to please Him. It’s not really an academic study, not something we need to understand as much as commit to.

If you’ve been by A Christian Worldview of Fiction before, you probably know that I really like theology. I love studying the Bible and understanding what it says. But I think sometimes we can get so caught up in our study we forget we are dealing with a Person, that we are in a relationship, and that it’s not an overly complicated one–unless we make it so.

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