Archive for the ‘Serious Stuff’ Category

The problem with Bible verses

Posted: December 1, 2011 in Serious Stuff, Words

On a pretty regular basis, I have people ask me something along the lines of, “Where’s that verse in the Bible that says _____?” Though I can’t prove it, I feel like most of the time I’m being used to help show a friend or relative the error of their ways. The problem with trying to do this, though, is that there usually isn’t a Bible verse that says whatever it is they’re wanting it to say. The Bible wasn’t written like that, and was never intended to be used that way.

Think of it like this: We live in a very image-saturated society. Photos are used so much because they’re easy to understand. The subject is clear, the intent is evident, and it doesn’t take a lot of critical thinking to see what’s happening in a photograph. But if you take a picture and turn it into a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, suddenly things aren’t so easy. It’s hard to see what’s going on because you have to take time to see how it all fits together, putting together small sections at a time before putting the small chunks together to form a bigger picture.

Biblical living is more like a jigsaw puzzle than a photograph.

Often, what people want is a snapshot of God. “What does God say about this?” But that’s not what he gave us. Granted, there are a few verses that spell out how God feels about a particular subject. “Don’t murder” is a pretty clear cut one. So are, “Don’t commit adultery” and “Don’t steal.” Everybody knows those things are wrong. (If you’re trying to convince a loved one not to murder someone, don’t go to you pastor, go to the police. We didn’t take any crime prevention classes at preacher college.) But for the most part, the Bible is a collection of stories from which we are supposed to draw conclusions and understand principles to live by, and you don’t usually get those principles from single verses.

It’s a complex book with hundreds of characters that span thousands of years. It’s got history, parables, census-taking, genealogies, private letters, essays, narrative- have you ever read the Bible? There’s a lot going on there. And when you try to reduce it to single verse, dogmatic statements, you’re doing it wrong.

You can’t understand God and faith by memorizing or relying on single verses. You have to take into account the breadth of scripture, and piece together your understanding of God like a huge puzzle. One piece at a time, see where it fits in the larger context, grab another small piece, figure out where it fits… It’s a lifetime’s effort.

People don’t like that. It’s hard work and it takes time. When we’re in the heat of theological or moral battle, we want to be armed and ready with that silver bullet verse.

Sorry, kids. Most of the time they don’t exist.

That’s why it is so important for Christians to study the Bible. So that when those things come up, you can say, “This happened in 1 Samuel, and Paul mentions this in Romans, and Jesus said this- so I think what God is saying about this issue is…”

If you claim to be a Christian, and you want to understand the will of God better, there’s no way around it: study the Bible.

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Our God of Hope

Posted: November 29, 2011 in Serious Stuff, Words

This Sunday marked the start of the Advent season, and even though my lifelong stance has been that Christmas celebrations should wait until December, you just can’t argue with the liturgical calendar. (Actually, you can, and a lot of Protestant denominations have, but that’s beside the point.)

Each Sunday of Advent has a different theme or focus, and this week we talked about Hope.

As I was studying for my sermon, reading scripture, and praying for our church, I was struck with the fact that over and over again in the Bible, God gives His people something to hope in. He really is a God of hope.

When he first spoke to Abram in Genesis 12, he promised that Abram would become the father to nations, and that the whole world would be blessed because of his family.

When the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, God used Moses to come and bring a message of deliverance and freedom, and to remind them that God hadn’t forgotten his promise to them.

Moses led them toward the promised land, and Joshua assured them that it would be theirs.

And even after Israel fell to the Assyrians, God sent another message of hope through the prophet Isaiah:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Is. 9:1, 6-7)

To a nation that had been overrun, scattered, and oppressed, this was an incredible message of hope. They were being reminded, once again, that God had not abandoned them. He still loved them, had plans for them, and was going to send them a savior.

And then he did. (Spoiler alert: Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy.)

And since God doesn’t change, he is still a God of hope. Let me show you two passages that provide hope for us today:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Yeah, I like that. And I look forward to the day when those words of scripture become a reality. I look forward eagerly to those events coming to pass. I know that God is honest, and faithful, and good.

And his words give me hope.

This is why I blog

Posted: November 21, 2011 in Serious Stuff, Words

Last week, I asked people to leave their addresses so I could mail out Thank You cards to my readers.

Today, I’m mailing cards to lots of places in Texas, as well as Wisconsin, New Mexico, Georgia, Alabama and California.

One of the cards I’m sending is to a person I’ve never met, and probably never will. They left their name, address, and this comment:

Happy Thanksgiving, Jared! I’m thankful I found your blog. I’m a new-ish Christian and still struggle to spend the time I should in reading the Bible. Your goofy drawings give me an added incentive to look up those passages, since I almost never get the reference myself.

Doing BDB is a lot of fun, and I’ve gotten to know some great people (online), but that comment? That’s my goal. Thanks, guys.

The Sin of Silence

Posted: November 9, 2011 in Serious Stuff, Words

Unless you live in a media-free bubble, which I’m sure isn’t the case if you’re reading this blog, you’ve heard the news coming out of Penn State this week. (If you haven’t heard, here’s the story on cnn.com)

I think public reaction to the story has been fair, for the most part. People are outraged- first, that a man would abuse and take advantage of children in such a deplorable way, and second, that people with information about the crimes didn’t speak up more. The people who knew about it mentioned it to their supervisors, who mentioned it to their supervisors, and ultimately the whole thing kinda got glossed over for years.

Those who had the information should have spoken up because for years, children were being abused. Those who knew about it and kept silent are guilty, too. Maybe not of the same crimes, but they are responsible to a degree for what took place.

In the first chapter of Isaiah, God is angry with Israel for this very thing. He says that Jerusalem, the faithful city, has become a harlot because the people there refuse to speak up for orphans and widows- the victims of oppression and extortion.

In Matthew 25, when Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and goats being separated, he says that the “goats” get cast out of God’s presence for their lack of action. “I was hungry, and you did nothing. I was thirsty, and you did nothing. I was sick, in jail, alone, in need- and you did nothing.”

You did nothing.

You took no action.

You were silent.

Today, in your corner of the world, there is action that needs to take place. There is someone lonely who needs a friend. There is someone helpless who needs an advocate. There is someone hungry who needs a meal.

Speak up for those who have no voice. Reach out to those who have no help. Comfort those who have no hope.

Do not remain silent.

Quitting

Posted: October 25, 2011 in Serious Stuff, Words

When I was six years old, my parents signed me up for little league flag football. Now, I’m not sure who’s idea this was, seeing as I’ve always been kind of a wuss, but regardless of how it happened, it did. And I was always a pudgy kid, so they put me on the offensive line. That’s where the fat guys go, because when you put four fat guys side by side, they naturally turn into a wall.

It’s science.

I don’t remember practicing, and I barely remember my first game, but one thing I do recall very clearly is that the first game was also my last game. I hated it. I remember going home after it was over and telling my dad I wanted to quit because everybody kept pushing me down and pulling my shirt. I’m a gentle person, a kind soul. Those other boys were mean. Looking back, I know it disappointed him, but Dad let me quit.

And it wasn’t long before I got very bitter toward the other boys on my team. After I quit, they never once came to my house on a Saturday morning and forced me into my pads and dragged me back to the field. In fact, it affected me so deeply, the way they let me down, that I’ve never thrown a football again since. I can’t even watch it on TV because they disappointed me in such a huge way. We were on the same team, and they should have done things differently.

Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? I didn’t really react that way. In fact, I never missed it at all. But that’s what pastors, ministers, church leaders, elders, and active church members hear on a regular basis from those who have quit on us. It happens all the time.

Someone gets busy, or gets their feelings hurt, or just plain gets lazy, and they stop coming to church. Or, as I like to put it- they remove themselves from our fellowship. They make the choice to no longer be an active part of the community and ministry that our  congregation is working to cultivate.

Then they blame us.

In the four years that I’ve been the pastor at my current church, it’s happened a handful of times. An active member or family misses a week or two, we check on them, we encourage them to come back, they don’t, so we stop asking. Months go by, then I hear that they’re mad because they feel like we’ve done something wrong.

“They let me down. I’m so disappointed. How could they do that?”

Unless you’re a kid, it’s your responsibility to set your alarm, put on something besides pajamas, and join the fellowship of believers when they meet together. We can’t make you do it. It’s all on you. Now, if you can’t make it because of your health or something, that’s totally different. But if you can and choose not to, your church has not let you down.

In fact, it’s more likely that the opposite is true. As members of a church, we each have a unique combination of talents, abilities, personalities, and gifts. And when you quit on your church family, you probably left a hole that they’re still trying to fill, because no one else is like you, and no one else can do it like you can.

Here’s my point: you can’t run away from home then get mad at your mom for not bringing you dinner. You can’t quit the football team and be bitter that the coach won’t let you play. You can’t quit church and hold the members responsible for your bitterness toward the church. Go back. Be reconciled. Hug it out. Reattach yourself to the body of Christ and be useful to God’s kingdom again.

Angry Evangelicals

Posted: October 19, 2011 in Serious Stuff, Words

Once a month, I get a “news journal” in the mail from our Baptist state convention. There’s always a theme, usually related to a hot button issue or current debate.

This month, the topic is Genesis chapters 1-11. In case you’re not familiar, these chapters cover the creation story, Adam and Eve, the fall of man, the flood, Noah’s ark, and the tower of Babel. Classic stuff, right? That’s like the Bible’s Greatest Hits: Volume 1. So, the debate (and it’s not a new one) is whether these chapters record literal, historical events about the origins of the world and mankind, or are they fictional stories from an ancient civilization who was trying to make sense of their world.

I’m not going to tell you what to believe- there are intelligent, well-read, brilliant people on both sides of the debate. But I do want to say this:

I think you and I can disagree about some issues and still both escape hell.

Too often in theological debates, we turn minors into majors, molehills into mountains, and teddy bears into blood thirsty gorilla dogs. We leave no room for compromise, and demand that an extreme stance must be taken. For example, the articles in this month’s publication mention a seminar titled “Foundation or Fairy Tale? Preaching Genesis 1-11.” The implication there is that these chapters must be literal and therefore are pivotal to the entire gospel story, or they are silly, make believe bedtime fodder, on par with Hansel and Gretel. Either/Or. One or the other. There is no middle ground.

Another example: One professor says that we must understand these chapters to be literal because “if we don’t get the doctrine of creation right, then we’re probably not going to get anything else right.” In other words, “My opinion on this is right. Therefore, any other interpretation is wrong. And if you’re wrong about this, you’re probably wrong about everything.”

So divisive. Such a huge leap to be make. “If you’re wrong (you disagree with me) about this one, uncertain, highly debated issue, you probably don’t understand the gospel at all.”

Christian brothers and sisters, I implore you: Calm down.

There are some issues that are non-negotiable to our faith, (Jesus Christ is the son of God. His death on the cross atoned for sin. Anyone who puts their faith in him will be saved.) but there are countless areas and issues that we just can’t be certain about, and we need to be willing to show grace in those areas. Or, as the saying goes, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”

Stand your ground on the issues that are essential. Lovingly agree to disagree on the ones that aren’t.

And in all things, stop yelling at people.

Do anything

Posted: October 16, 2011 in Serious Stuff, Words

It seems like every day, there is another chance to support a cause.

There are countless opportunities to get involved in good causes.

Water, AIDS, orphans, hunger, justice, slavery, sex-trafficking.

Some people think, “Oh, God. I wish I could support them all!” But since they can’t they don’t support any of them.

The tragedy is not that you are unable to help with everything.

The tragedy is when you choose to do nothing.

Pick a cause. One that you can be passionate about. Then, get behind it. Give to it. Pray for it. Get others involved.

But for crying out loud, don’t do nothing.