Saturday, February 19, 2011

Knowing The Bible And Knowing The Truth, Part 3

Before I address "call no man father", I want to say again that my intent is not to sway anyone's beliefs or to change anyone's mind. My goal is simply to demonstrate how, more often than we think, we read the Bible through the lens of our already in-place belief systems and interpretations. I am using the passage where Jesus said to call no man father because, for me, it was a big issue with me. I was taught in the early days of my new life that this was heretical and that the Roman Catholics used it to control their people, so forth and so on. When I finally began to look into it, I discovered that my approach to the Bible was much like eating off from a buffet: I was picking what I liked and skipping what I didn't like. So, my goal is to demonstrate how God is humbling me in my reading of Scripture.

"Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven" (Matthew 23:9)  

In the past, anytime I would read this verse, I instantly interpreted it as addressing the Roman Catholic practice of calling priests "father". (There are other denominations that have priests and address them as fathers; but, early on in my new life, I was taught "Romo-phobia" - the fear of any and all things that are Roman Catholic or even look Roman Catholic.) So, without ever questioning my automatic interpretation and application, I marked this verse down as clear and convincing proof that Jesus believed just like I did. 

But, one day, someone pointed out to me that Paul, Peter, Stephen, James, and even Jesus called men "father(s)" (Acts 7:2, Rom. 9:10, Luke 16:24, 30; John 8:56; James 2:21, Acts 3:13, 5:30). The word in the Greek is "pater" - it's the word that we get "paternal, paternity" from it means one's biological male parent. So, that being the case, if Jesus meant what He said, then we are forbidden to call our biological dads "father". 

Along with that prohibition, He also said (pulling from several renderings here) call no man Rabbi, Teacher, Master, and Leader. The Apostles used all of these in their epistles, speaking of men in the church. They called Jesus "rabbi" (remember, even though Jesus was God in flesh, they knew him only as a man). 

Finally, I sat down with a concordance and looked the words "father", "teacher", "rabbi", "master" - and all their variants. (I encourage you to do the same. It's time consuming, but it's worth it.) Once I saw how the Apostles freely used these words in their writings and addresses and sermons, I realized that I had been reading these scriptures (even the scriptures where the Apostles used the words) through my own arrogant pre-approved beliefs that I had learned and regurgitated without feeling any need for self-examination or humility.

So, what did Jesus mean? I believe if you will start in Matthew 22:15 and read through the entire chapter of Matthew 23, it will be self-evident. But here are some keys that I believe clarify Jesus' words: "Do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them" (23:3). The Pharisees and Sadducees had exalted themselves to a position in their own minds that God never gave them. Jesus acknowledged their place or office of authority as God-given and told the disciples to obey them. But then, He told them, "Just don't be like them." Then, in verse 4 and in verses 13-33, He explains what they would do that was so horrible. But, ultimately, I believe verses 11 - 12 sum up the attitude that Jesus disliked in them: "But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." That was their problem.

And it was mine, too. 

And it was evident in how I approached the Bible...

Knowing The Bible And Knowing The Truth, Part 2

Before I begin telling my story, I want to say that I'm not in any way trying to do violence to anyone's belief in the Bible as the inspired, infallible, inerrant word of God. My beliefs in these three characteristics of God's word has not changed in the least. What did change was how I approach and read the Scriptures. In a nutshell, I approached the Scriptures assuming that they said and believed what I said and believed. I came to the Bible, not to meet with a Person and to be taught by Him; instead, I came to simply prove and affirm what I already believed. Now, mind you, I didn't realize that I was doing this, until God began to humble me. So, with that being said, here's my story.

I grew up partly in the Southern Baptist expression of Christianity and partly within the Assemblies of God. Both of these had different interpretations of certain scriptures and doctrines, but both were grounded in the Bible and emphasized the centrality of the Bible in importance. I was between the ages of 7 - 10 years old. I wasn't a Christian at this point, but it was time of God sowing some seed into my heart that would later come forth. By my early teens, I had begun to entertain the idea (though I didn't fully believe it) that God was a man-made concept. At age 15, I had a living, personal encounter with a real, living Person, Jesus Christ - and I was born again and baptized that very night, July 16, 1979. For the most part, I knew very little scripture. But one thing I did know (and still know): God and I had officially met, and a real transaction had taken place. 

As I grew in my new life, I discovered different traditions and expressions of Christianity with their distinctive doctrines, beliefs, and interpretations of certain scriptures. Anything that made sense to me in their explanations and interpretations, I absorbed and embraced. Within the first 5 years of my new life, I had been exposed to non-denominational churches that emphasized weekly observance of the Lord's Supper (as a memorial, not a sacrament), the independent charismatic groups, and the Southern Baptist expression. All of them were Protestant and Evangelical in basic doctrine. I gleaned wonderful truths from all of them and am very thankful for them to this day. Now, that being said,....

Most of us, I think, approach our Christian life and the Scriptures with much more inherited baggage than we realize. Some of it is passed on through well-meaning family, some of it is fed to us by well-meaning Christians who simply regurgitate what was fed to them by well-meaning Christians. But much of it has been handed down to us through various traditions and expressions of Christianity by well-meaning Christians who, like myself, never approached the Scriptures as a learner but as a knower. So, with that in mind, I want to begin sharing with you the beliefs and interpretations that God used to challenge my approach to the Bible.

I want to start with one that was huge for me: "Call no man father"....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Knowing The Bible And Knowing The Truth, Part 1

There was a point in my Christian life that I believed that ALL Roman Catholics were going to Hell (regardless), that you could lose your salvation, and that ALL written prayers, liturgy and formalities in worship was "dead religion", and a host of other misguided beliefs. I'm glad to say that I was wrong - and that God is merciful!

In those days, I proudly called myself a "bible-believing" Christian. I was known as one who "knows his bible". Any question or topic was answered with chapter and verse, strictly.  And I really, sincerely thought that I knew the bible...but what I really knew was the explanations and interpretations that I liked and/or felt comfortable with, and the verses that I thought supported them. 

Since those days, I've changed my approach to Scripture. First, let me say that I believe the Bible to be the inspired, ineerant, infallible, written word of God, and that it contains all things necessary to salvation. Therefore, I approach the bible much more humbly now. Although Scripture is infallible, my understanding may be fallible. I also read the Scriptures prayerfully and prayerfully seeking His truth. I try not to read seeking justification or proof of my existing beliefs (although sometimes for discussions this may be necessary). I approach the Scriptures with predetermined intent to be honest with what I may find. If I come across something which brings something I currently believe into question, then I prayerfully seek out the Truth (which is His truth), even if it means that I admit I was wrong in my former belief and embrace the new one. And I must approach the Scriptures with submission and obedience already affirmed - if I am unwilling to obey the truth, God in His mercy will withhold the truth, if necessary.

Humility and dependence upon the Holy Spirit are crucial. They are crucial to knowing the Truth of God; they are not crucial to "knowing the bible".  The Pharisees knew the Old Testament scriptures very, very well - but they didn't know the Truth.  Truth is a Person, Jesus Christ. But, even in relationship with Jesus, we must never assume that we know Him through and through, inside and out. We must maintain humility and dependence if we are to ever grow in the knowledge of Him. Too many times as a Christian, I have been filled with false confidence and arrogance, claiming to know His heart or mind on a matter, only to discover that I didn't know Him or the matter at hand as well as I thought I did - if at all.  Thankfully, God is merciful and humbled me, so that He could give me grace (He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble). 

In the next part, I want to give examples of the erroneous beliefs that I dogmatically held at one time. Perhaps, someone reading this may hold to some them at present. That's fine. I'm not trying to change anyone's mind or heart. "Let each one be convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). But I will share how and why my mind was changed....

Monday, January 3, 2011

Matthew 4:23-25 What Is The Gospel?

Most of my Christian life, I've been taught that the gospel, the good news from God to us, is that our sins are forgiven on the basis of what God did through Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. I was taught that it's a free gift and that we can know it and possess it experientially simply by faith. And that's all true - and it certainly is good news to the likes of me, a sinner. However, this scripture passage reveals that that is only a narrow slice of a much bigger pie! And the question that every Christian must face up to is this: Is the gospel that I possess and profess the same gospel that Jesus possessed and professed? So, let's have a look.

What was the specific message of Christ's gospel? The Kingdom of God. When we hear the word "kingdom", we usually picture something like Camelot with castles sitting atop green hills with spires rising high into the sky and banners unfurled, waving in the wind. But the word here for kingdom means the rule and realm of a king that is being advanced and enforced. The idea behind is less about a physical realm and more about the King being the king, enforcing His authority and kingship over every circumstance within His kingdom, His realm. This is the specific message of Jesus: God is King over all and is now enforcing His kingship against all false kings and rulers, natural and supernatural.

What did the gospel "lived out" look like in the life of Jesus? Healing. Now, in Scripture, healing applies to physical, emotional, and mental sickness. But it also covers deliverance from habits, hurts and hang-ups; wounds from the past and even demonic oppression and harassment. John Wimber used to say that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God AND demonstrated the kingdom of God. It's my belief that we are called to the very same. Our lives as followers of Christ should display God's healing in our own lives AND cause us to be instruments of God's healing in the lives of others.

In closing, one of my spiritual fathers, Major W. Ian Thomas used to say, "The Christian life is simply this: the life He lived then lived by Him now in and through us." Therefore, the gospel He proclaimed and demonstrated then will be the same gospel proclaimed and demonstrated now by Him in and through us. And wherever the King is, there also is the kingdom, so that we can boldly say, in any and every circumstance and situation, "The Kingdom of God is here! Now!"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Review: "Love & War" by John and Stasi Eldredge

This is, by far, the best book I've ever read on Christian marriage. John and Stasi Eldredge both have an incredible gift for writing with such vulnerability and transparency that it's like listening to life-long trusted friends sharing their hearts with you at your dinner table. The book is refreshing and practical, but more importantly, the wisdom on its pages doesn't flow from the latest statistics, recent surveys, or psychological journals. Instead, it flows from the personal journals and stories from the raw experience of learning how to love on the front lines. It's wisdom flows from the heart of God Himself, the Creator of marriage, spoken to both of them over their 25 years together. 

I usually don't like to use a highlighter in books. But with this one, I could not help myself. Even now, as I peruse the pages again, I see portions of bright yellow on nearly every page and I can not help but read it again. And as I do, I'm refreshed again...and again.

My wife and I have been married for nearly twelve years. We have a good marriage. But as I read this book, I realized that we can have a great marriage. And that's the other great thing about this book: it nurtures and inspires hope. I have come away from this book with a renewed belief that a good marriage isn't God's best; a great marriage is. But with that renewed belief, I have also been given insights from the heart of God - not principles to apply - that breathe life and courage (an important virtue in marriage) into my own heart.
And I will read this book again...soon.

It's easy to settle for being "comfortably numb" in any relationship, but it can not be permitted in Christian marriage. John and Stasi, as always, faithfully remind us that we are part of a bigger story and that our marriage, the success of our marriage, is instrumental in winning the war within the story. A vibrant, healthy Christian marriage advances the Kingdom of Heaven in the earth as much as (if not more than) casting out demons and moving in spiritual gifts. As God spoke to me one time, "What good is being able to cast out a demon if you act like one at home?" We are part of a great and epic story. And without a healthy marriage, we will break ranks and become spiritual POWs or casualties of the war.

I highly recommend this book to any Christian couples, thriving or surviving. You don't need someone to tell you what you need to do, what principles to apply, or where you screwed up. You need someone to come alongside you and to encourage you with wisdom from God, hope from His heart, and the promise of healing and resurrection. You need this book, because John and Stasi do just that. It's what they do best, I think.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

On Being Radical...Really.

"Nothing perpetuates ignorance worse than unenlightened enthusiasm," said Major Ian Thomas, one of my major influences in the Christian life. When Christians (or anyone, really) run around talking about things they have no real understanding of, this creates misunderstandings of the truth and perpetuates ignorance, the lack of real knowledge. 

C.S. Lewis, another major influence, warned about the dangers of words that are misused, meaning words applied in a way that isn't in agreement with their true definition. Thus, the misuse of the word alters the definition in the public mind. An example of this would be the word, "gay", which once meant light-hearted, carefree, cheerful, happy. But, due to misuse and misapplication, the primary definition has changed in public understanding to mean "homosexual". Whereas the word at one time meant only one idea, now it has been truncated from its original definition and is rarely ever (and maybe, can never be) used in that way. "Gay", in its original sense, has been lost, by and large. 

Lewis foresaw the dangers of misusing words and warned that once we begin to use words outside of their true definition, the result would be confusion and a communication breakdown, creating multiple definitions which could be used to fit one's own tastes or group agenda. In other words, there would be no absolute definitions; words would mean what one wanted them to mean. As a result, truth and understanding would become relative and muddied with no clear meaning at all.

I believe this has happened with the word "radical". Most Christians, upon hearing the word, think of ideas like extreme, "on fire", extraordinary, unfettered, maybe even "revolutionary". But the original meaning of the word means something completely different from all of these. Radical means "rooted". It's where we get the word "radish" from. So, to be radical means to be "rooted". Not quite as glorious and exciting as "extreme" or "on fire", is it? But the true meaning of the word teaches us some important truths about living a vital and real Christian life, truths that we need to seriously consider.

Radical means "rooted; i.e., to be like a root". A root is buried in its source of life. "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him..." (Col. 2:7). If a root is ever pulled up from the life-source, it dries up - and so does everything that depends upon it.

Another characteristic of a root is that it's stationary. A root doesn't "unplug" itself and go somewhere when it wants. A root is "put" - it's where it's at because someone (really, Someone) wanted it there. Roots that get uprooted too often usually do not thrive. Roots are satisfied with where they stay put. 

That being said, the sign of a good, healthy root is that it will produce life and ultimately fruit wherever it's planted. A healthy root will "bloom where it's planted". One of its secrets is this: when things get tough, they don't uproot themselves and go somewhere else. They quietly go deeper into their source of life. When it's dry up top, they reach even deeper; they become even more "rooted" in their surroundings.

A radical Christian is a "rooted" Christian. This doesn't mean they won't be sent out from time to time. But that's the key: roots never move themselves; the gardener moves them - or they won't move at all. 

Now that we know what the word "radical" really means and implies...

Be radical!