What if the Bible Is Not Our Guide?

This Book Doesn't Have Any Answers

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – the B.I.B.L.E.  Have you heard the Bible explained that way?  It’s clever.  But is it accurate?  

I said in my teaching Sunday that I used to think the clever acrostic is accurate.  But not anymore.  Let’s be honest.  The Bible isn’t really a very good instruction manual or guide book.  

I know.  That rubs us the wrong way.  But, as Billy Sunday said, and I paraphrase:  “If something rubs you the wrong way, maybe you need to turn around.” 

I needed to turn around.  Maybe you do too. 

Think with me:  The Bible tells us, for example, to “Be kind to one another,” “Love one another – even our enemies,” “Give generously to the poor.”  All good. 

But next to these good things are some bad things- really bad things:  

Rape (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; Numbers 31:15-18); 

Slavery (1 Peter 2:18; Titus 2:9) 

Genocide (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Deuteronomy 20:15-17) 

…are all commanded – by God.  At least the writers pass the buck to God for these commands.  Are those instructions ones that we should follow?  I hope you’’ll answer “No”.

One more thing. It doesn’t make much sense to claim that the Bible is an “infallible” guide in what it says if we cannot agree on what it says.  “But we agree on the essentials,” I hear someone saying.  We really don’t.  Go to amazon.com  and type in “four views” in the search bar and get ready to “turn around.”  We’re given page after page of books about various ways of interpreting key Christian doctrines:

Four Views on Hell

Four Views of Atonement

Four Views on Divine Providence

Four Views on Eternal Security

These are not peripheral issues.  These are some “big rocks” of Christianity.  In each book we find opposing views in which each proponent is absolutely certain that their particular interpretation of the Bible is the right one.  

If the Bible spoke clearly on these issues then why isn’t there a “The Only View” series.

So, if we remove the Bible as our guide, what do we put in its place?  Are we just free to do whatever we want – to do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:5)? 

I offered, Sunday morning, an option given to me by mother throughout my junior high and high school years.  Here is the question she told me to ask myself when considering the rightness or the wrongness of an action: “When you consider this action, ask yourself, ‘does the life of Jesus well up inside of you?’”  

That’s good.  

Denise and I went to Little Rock after Sunday’s service to see my dad.  Drinking a glass of wine and eating Girl Scout cookies, (what are the rules for pairing wine with Girl Scout Cookies) with dad, my sister and Denise, around dad’s kitchen table, I asked dad about mom’s counsel to me.  He told me mom read that in a book by Watchman Nee, an author that greatly influenced my parents.   

For 52 years I’ve been under the impression that mom came up with that on her own!

So, this morning, I did a quick Google search trying to find the exact quote.  I didn’t find mom’s version of it but I did find the following statements by Watchman Nee.   

Read them with an open mind.  Contemplatively. And get ready  to “turn around.”  

“Brothers and sisters, as we live before God, our actions must not be determined by good and evil, but by the life within.”

Hmm. “Actions determined…by the life within.”  Let’s go on…

“When we have the life within and feel life rising up, we are doing the proper thing.” That sounds a bit like Mom’s version. 

Then there’s this from Nee: “Many problems arise because we only have a standard of right and wrong.  Many mistakes are made because we do not have the standard of life.”

Then Nee, a mystical Christian,  offers this prayer,

“Grace me so that I live by the tree of life, not by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  I want to constantly pay attention to life…”

Mom was telling me, and I’m just now really hearing it: “Don’t live by an external rule book (the Bible), instead, live by an internal life – the life that is “graced” by  the Spirit of Christ.  

Have you been indoctrinated into seeing the Bible as your guide?  

Yes.  We need a guide.  No doubt about that! 

But have we settled for an external law when we have within us an internal life?  

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives and you will not obey your selfish desires (Paul to the Galatians, found in 5:16).

“And when that one comes, the Spirit will guide you into all truth” (Jesus, to his disciples, recorded by John, in 16:13).  

“Pay attention to life” the Christ-shaped life within (Watchman Nee to Mom; then Mom to me).  

I will live in the awareness of the presence of life in me and I will pay attention to it.

That will be my guide.

Trying to Keep Up

Can't Keep Up 2

The above pic is from a classic episode of the classic “I Love Lucy” TV show in which Lucy and Ethel take a job in a candy factory. Watching them trying to keep up with the conveyer belt is hilarious.  
Watching John MacArthur’s response to a question at the “Truth Matters Conference” held at his church October 16-18 is distressing.  

The very influenctial pastor, leader, author, was asked to give a gut reaction to a one- or two-word phrase.   The phrase was “Beth Moore,” the name of a well-known Southern Baptist Bible teacher.  MacArthur’s response was “Go home. ” 

The attendees at the conference “Amened” applauded and laughed their approval of his response.  

MacArthur went on to accuse the Southern Baptist Convention of no longer believing in biblical authority because they were, in his opinion, taking a “headlong plunge” toward allowing women preachers at its annual meeting this summer. 

Oh my. You can read more about his statement here.

Christians have been beating up each other and others for centuries. But for MacArthur to pick a fight with the SBC kind of makes me laugh – maybe to keep from crying.  The SBC and MacArthur’s organization are two of the most conservative Christian groups on the planet.  I guess the SBC isn’t conservative enough for John MacArthur.  

I don’t see the SBC allowing women preachers. Maybe I should not be so pessimistic.   They did, afterall, abandon their views on slavery.   On the matter of women-preachers/pastors, right  now, the following views of these SBC leaders represent, I think, the view of the SBC.  

“For a woman to teach and preach to adult men is to defy God’s Word and God’s design,” wrote Owen Strachan, professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. 

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky, piped in with, “There’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice.”  

So, I don’t get the beef MacArthur has with the SBC.  I guess he just really, really, does not like Beth Moore preaching.  

From this whole, sad mess, let’s create something happy and helpful. Let’s approach it with the philosophy of Bob Ross: “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents,”

The “happy little tree” that comes out of this for me is a new way of determining my ethics. 

Some friends and I were discussing this morning through our “Theology through Texting” group my teaching from yesterday in which I spoke of the evolved ethics regarding Domestic Violence.  I showed pictures of print-advertisements that were horribly offensive yet, in the 50s, must have been perfectly acceptable.  

We’ve evolved. Thankfully.  

Tragically, much of the misogynistic views and subsequent treatment of women came from a “biblical ethic” – an ethic that sees women as property, as “under” a man (1 Corinthians 11:3), who is to “obey” her husband (1 Peter 3:6) in the same way that slaves “obey” their masters (Ephesians 6:5) or children “obey” their parents (Ephesians 6:1). It is a view that women are “not to have authority over a man” (2 Timothy 2:12).  

Most of culture has evolved beyond this ethic.  Much of western Christianity has not.  Why not?  

Why have Christians been so slow to evolve in regard to science, in condemning and abolishing slavery, in embracing the equality of the races and gender equality?  

Here’s a thought.  Just a thought.  Christianity – at least the Protestant version of Christianity – has been shaped by a book more  than a spiritual connection with God within, the spirit.    We see it in phrases such as “Biblical worldview” “Biblical authority” and so many other things to which the prefix “biblical” is attached.

Maybe there’s a better way.  The way of the Spirit.  

In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus tells him that “the spirit moves (blows, changes) where it wishes (wills, desires, wanting what is best)” – John 3:8.  The Spirit moves –  is fluid – is active.  The Greek of John 3:8 is literally, “The pneuma pnei.”  “The spirit spirits.”  “The wind winds.”  

The spirit (wind) moves.  

A book is stagnant.  It sits on a shelf.  

Maybe that’s why the writer to the Hebrews says the Word is active – living (Hebrews 4:12).  The “word” here is not a book.  It is the Christ of John 1:1.  Still speaking of the “word” in 4:13, the writer uses the masculine pronoun and says, “no creature is hidden from him.” The word is not a book.  The word is Jesus (see also 4:14-15).

If Christians took their cues from the spirit rather than a book, maybe we’d be quicker to evolve (move, blow, change).

 I have 7 of MacArthur’s books in my library that I purchased, read, and from which I preached in what seems to be another life.  I liked him.  But today, I’m sad. I’m sad for him. I’m sad for the state of Christianity. 

I want to evolve.  To move with the spirit.  To change with the spirit.  To, as Paul says to the Galatians in 5:25 of his letter, “keep in step with the spirit.”  The spirit is moving.  Am I keeping up?   

Seeing Through Jesus’ Glasses

Aniumal glasses

I was raised in a culture that taught us to develop a “Biblical worldview.”  If we break that down, I guess it means to see the world through the lens of the Bible.  Or, to allow the Bible to  inform and influence the way we:

 – see the world.

 – talk about the issues in the world.

 – respond to the issues in the world.

 I appreciate the intent of the instruction. But, I wonder if the instruction falls short? If it is misguided?

You see, The point of the Bible is to guide us to Jesus – at least that’s what Jesus himself says (John 5:39)

So, why settle for a Biblical Worldview when Jesus invites us to a Jesus Worldview?  

Honestly, we don’t really follow the Biblical worldview of stoning disobedient children, sacrificing animals to appease God, slavery, silencing women, and on and on.  So, I really don’t get the “Biblical Worldview” thing.  I can more easily grasp a “Jesus Worldview.” 

Jesus invites us to “Follow me”(Matthew 4:19).  Not a book.  Him.  

“All authority has been given to me,”  Jesus says as an introduction to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  Did we catch that?  Jesus did not say all authority was given to a book that some guys were going to write.  All authority is given to Him.    

At the close of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged the hearers not with “The one who hears the words of Moses, or Isaiah and acts on them is like the wise man, but “The one who hears and acts on (does them, practices them) my words is like the wise man” (Matthew 7:24).

I want to wake up each morning with the thought – “Jesus, let me see all things, all people, through your eyes. Give me your worldview.”

I’m teaching a series called “What Would Jesus Say About…”.  We’re diving headfirst into a deep pool.  One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the discussion about these issues from Christians sound similar to the discussions about these issues from people who don’t claim to follow Jesus. We tend to repeat the views and even prejudices of whatever news source we listen to or group we hang out with.  

I’m inviting people to join me in discovering a Jesus perspective of what is going on today. 

I’m asking myself, and encourage others to ask as well:  

“If following Jesus does not influence or transform the way I see and talk about the issues of our day, I wonder what good religion is?” 

Kissing Goodbye…

Joshua and Shannon

I read with sadness last week that Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne were splitting up (I didn’t see the word “divorce”in their announcement).

Joshua is the famous author of the influential book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

The mega-hit had mega-influence on teenagers and college students.  The book, a love manual for a generation of conservative Christians, was foundational in youth and college ministries as leaders sincerely worked to help those under their care to build healthy relationships.  

It didn’t work out so well.  Josh began to have regrets about the advice he had offered.  In 2016 Josh participated in a documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”  In 2018, Josh released a statement disavowing the concepts in the book and calling for a stop of its publication. 

This morning, I read this from Josh, 

“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus.  The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away’.  By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”  You can read Josh’s full statement here. 

I kissed dating goodbye.

I kissed marriage goodbye.

I kissed Christianity goodbye.

While these announcements have sent shockwaves through the evangelical community (and garnered a lot of criticism) the waves I’m feeling are ones of understanding and sadness.

I understand the deconstruction. It has been a necessary but sometimes painful part of my spiritual journey.

I am sad about their break-up but absolutely respect their decision and approach to their future relationship. I don’t know them.  I don’t know their story.  I don’t judge them.  I am for them. 

Maybe Josh, Shannon, my wife Denise and I are learning some of the same things – we’re just taking different paths in the education process.  

*I’m learning that “formula faith” is empty and dangerous.  You know, the “if/then” formula.  If you do this, then you will get this.  If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate then you will get $1000 back. That’s called the “prosperity gospel.”

Well, there is also “prosperity dating”.   If you stay a virgin until you’re married (Josh took it further by suggesting boundaries of no kissing, no holding hands, no being alone together before you tie the knot) then God will bless you with a good spouse, great sex and a lifetime of marital bliss. 

When the “tit for tat” way doesn’t pan out, we not only question the “way” but we question the goodness of God.  

*I’m learning that legalism is lethal and fear-based faith is scary.  Josh relates in an interview with SOJO that he and his staff started to “recognize a lot of legalism and really unhealthy patterns.”  

*I’m learning to trust the inner voice of the spirit within. Shannon puts this so well in her Instagram post when she says she was taught in her fundamentalist conservative church  “that my heart was deceitful above all else and therefore, someone else knows better what’s best for me” – describing a culture of authority figures knowing more….

We’ve been taught to listen to others but not taught very well, if at all,  how to listen to the divine image of God within us (1 Corinthians 2:11-13, John 10:27).

*I’m learning that deconstruction is not just ok, it is good.  Is deconstructing what Jesus did?  “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.”  Or, exchanging old wineskins for new ones that can hold the new wine of his way? 

But deconstruction is hard. Do you know how hard it is to question and challenge what our culture of family and church has taught?  It’s gut-wrenching stuff.  Our world seems to collapse.

Josh says that he’s no longer a Christian.   Josh goes on to say that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not not a Christian.” I so get that.  I have felt the same way.  How many times have I said, “Well, if that’s what being a Christian is, I’m not one.”  

What is the measurement of being a “Christian?”  Is it Christ? Maybe? That kind of makes sense.  The early Christians were “followers of the way” (6 times in the book of Acts).  

Maybe a Christian should be defined as a person who follows in the way – the pattern – the values of Jesus? 

I admire Josh and Shannon.  They are expressing publicly, at high risks of being judged and ostracized, their spiritual and relational journeys. They didn’t have to do it.  They could have kept it to themselves.  But by doing it like this, they are helping others like us. 

I hope for Josh and Shannon a steady move through the process of de-construction toward re-construction in which they discover a religion that indeed “re-aligns” them with the God of love in them.  

 

Jesus and Yoga

yoga 2

“To yoga or not to yoga,” that is the question. 

It’s at least a question that I’ve been asked a half-dozen times over the last few days.  The questioners had been told that yoga was demonic – and that yogis would be opening themselves to demonic power. 

(Just for clarification, a “yogi” is a person who practices yoga.   It is not referring to Yogi Bear, Yogi Berra, or Yogi Tea).

I’ll start with a quick answer to the question:  “I’m not good at yoga, but I am definitely good with yoga.”

Now, let’s upack why I’m good with it.  

1.  I have grown weary of Christians being known more for what we’re against than what we’re for.  Let’s see, just in my lifetime, there has been rock music, movies, cards, wine, dancing, long hair, tattoos, swimming with the opposite sex, kissing someone before you are engaged, reading “Harry Potter” or “DaVinci Code.”

Have I missed one?  Probably.  You can add your own.  Well, Yoga, for some people, is on the list.  

Each of these activities, we were told, can lead to your spiritual downfall. Wouldn’t it be nice to be known what we’re for – love, kindness, goodness.

2.  Because yoga has Hindu roots, a lot of Christians condemn it.  Two things here -First,  “All truth is God’s truth.” – Thank-you, Augustine.  Just because something does not have a “Christian” label, doesn’t make it untrue or unChristlike.  The universal Christ is much bigger than our culture.  Second, will the good folks who condemn yoga based on its Hindu roots have a Christmas tree in their house in a few weeks?  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and other sources, that Christmas tree in our living rooms has its origin in pre-Christian worship of trees and pagan customs.  Throughout history, Christians have taken something from the culture and re-framed it, re-interpreted it, giving it new meaning as a symbol of Christianity. 

Maybe people are doing that with yoga.  Why not? Christmas trees and yoga.  I like them both.  

3. Is yoga like the meat offered to idols which Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 8:1-8? Maybe so.  “Can I put this meat that had been used as a sacrifice to an idol on my sandwich?”  That was the question asked by Christians in Corinth.  

Here’s Paul’s answer:  “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one…Food will not bring us close to God.We are not worse off if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat,” 

“But,” Paul adds, some people’s consciences are so weak they can’t separate the meat from the idol.”  So, to them, Paul seems to say, “Don’t eat the meat.”  To others? “Pile it on the sandwich and enjoy.”

Maybe there are some “weak consciences” when it comes to yoga. Maybe for Paul, and others, yoga is just fine.  

4.  The term “yoga” is from the Sanskrit word yuj, which has three meanings:

  1. To “unite” or “yoke” as in uniting/yoking together our mind and body and spirit. 
  2. To be aware.  Nothing exists except awareness.  
  3. To have control or focus.  

Those things don’t seem too scary, do they? In fact, they sound kind of spiritual – not too different from the spiritual disciplines many of us have been taught.

See how these expressions of yoga fit with our connection to Christ:

a.  It is God’s purpose to “bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him” (Ephesians 1:10). Yoga recognizes and releases the interconnectedness between our mind, body, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). 

b.  Awareness. Oh my goodness, I need this.  How many distractions there are in life! The notifications buzzing, ringing, vibrating on my phone.  Non-stop news.  Incessant talking. 

I need something that helps me tune out everything except my awareness of the present – of my breathing – of the peace that comes from being still. 

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Yoga helps make that real. 

c.  To have control or focus.  Wow. I need that, too.   I need to control my thoughts, my desires, myself!  Isn’t that kind of a part of the whole Christianity thing?  

“I discipline my body and keep it under control so I won’t be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27 – Paul was a sports fan).

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).  

Yoga can help us move toward a sense of union with God…

…union with ourselves.

…union with all of God’s creation.  

Yoga can create an environment in which I intensify my awareness of:

….wow, I’m tight!

…my breathing.

…God’s presence in me and love for me.  

You know that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” thing (Matthew 26:41)? Yoga helps make both strong.  It combines both to make both strong.  

I’m good with that.  

 

“You Smell Good”

Smelling

 

“You smell good.”

 … is what the little girl told me.

My time with my lunch buddy was over.   As I walked out of the school building I saw, among some students eating their lunches outside, a 4th grade girl who attends the church I pastor. So I stopped by to say “Hi!”   I sat across the table from her. We talked school, Halloween costumes, her hair (“She did it herself!” chimed in a girl sitting next to her). I wasn’t surprised.  Her grandmother is a hairstylist.  

 While we were talking I felt something on my left arm.  I looked over and saw that the girl I was sitting by had her face pressed against my shirt.

She looked up and said, “You smell good,” and put her nose back on my arm.  

“Well, thank you,” I said.  “You’re a very nice person.  I’m glad I smell good.”

I love so many things about that.

A kid’s honesty.

A kid’s unreserved expression.

And, I love that I smelled good – not sure if it was my cologne or laundry detergent. But, with her honesty, I don’t think she would have hesitated to tell me if I didn’t smell good.  

I talked Sunday about:

– “sin as the violation of shalom” (Cornelius Plantiga, Jr, Phd; Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).”

  • sin as the failure to do “good” – “kalon” – “good” – It means “that which is beautiful.”   

“If anyone, then, knows the good (kalon) they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).

Sin is failing:

to do the beautiful thing,

to say the beautiful thing,

to think the beautiful thing.  

“Good” is how God described creation (Genesis 1:31).  It was  “shalom” – it was how God wanted things to be. 

“Good” is what God has shown us to do (Micah 6:8).  The “good” that God has shown us is to act with justice (fairness), to love mercy and to walk in humility with our God.

“Good” is how God wants us to smell. 

Beautiful.

Beautiful not in clothes or cologne, but in 

Character and 

Conduct and 

Conversation.

Yes, I’m glad that something about me smelled good.  I left the school hoping that the most important things did too.  

Jerusalem: Politics, Peace or Prophecy

Jerusalem2

The US officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Monday, May 14, and opened there the US Embassy.

On hand were two preachers:  Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, and John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, both asked by President Trump to offer prayers at the Embassy’s dedication.

The preachers were bookends to the event – Jeffress doing the invocation and Hagee the benediction.  

A political event?  A church event?  Which one was it?  

Confused?  The flash-back in my mind upon hearing the news may clear it up. It was a conference room at Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin, MO.  Wednesday night – Church night. Youth Bible Study.  Our Youth Minister, as they were called then, was George Jones. 

The book we were studying?  The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. The book had just been released (1970) and it was hot.  It remained hot, selling more copies in the 1970s than any other work of nonfiction in the United States.  It’s still in print.  

The youth group, of which I was a part, was really into it.   There’s nothing like end times, mayhem, judgment, escape, to grab your attention; to build a crowd; to get people “saved” as the only way to escape the coming Tribulation.  

We saw the “end times” in terms of 5 events: 

First, Jesus will “rapture” the church – His true followers (which was basically defined as members of our church and churches like it) will be “caught up” with Jesus and swooshed off somewhere to be with Jesus where, from that vantage point, we will watch the:

“Tribulation,” the second event.    The Great Tribulation is 7 years of global chaos where all those who were “Left Behind” because they did not accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior will go through unimaginable horror. The Tribulation ends with:

the third event: The Second Coming of Jesus.  At this event, Jesus bursts through the clouds on a white horse ready to give Satan, and everyone who didn’t become a Christian during the Tribulation, what’s coming to them in the epic Battle of Armageddon.  At the conclusion of the battle, Satan is put in chains, thrown into a bottomless pit for 1000 years, ushering in the 4th event:

The Millennium. With Satan locked up, and Jesus ruling from a Throne in Jerusalem, kids fly kites all day, lions play with lambs, Republicans hang out with Democrats, Cardinal fans sit next to Cub fans.    There is peace.  After the 1000 years of peace, God cuts Satan loose for one last hurrah to see who will follow him and who will follow God.  Finally, there is:

The Great White Throne Judgment.  “Here comes the Judge.”  After a big courtroom scene, Satan and all the non-Christians will be thrown into a lake of fire where they will be tormented night and day, forever, for eternity, no ending.  

That was the view we were taught.  That is the view many if not most Evangelical Christians still hold.  Not me…but that’s for another time.  What does the U.S. Embassy moving to Jerusalem and Jerusalem being recognized as Israel’s capital have anything to do with this view of the “end times”?  

Back to Hal Lindsey.  In Lindsey’s drama, Israel played the leading role.  He believed that as the world moved toward the end, three events would occur:

1.  Jews would retake Palestine. That happened 70 years ago this week – May 15, 1948.

2.  They would repossess old Jerusalem and its sacred sites.

3.  They would rebuild King Solomon’s temple on its original historical site, where the Dome of the Rock stands presently.  

The role of Israel in making the “end times” happen is expressed by John Hagee – the guy who said one of the prayers at the Embassy Dedication, “I believe at this point in time, Israel is God’s stopwatch for everything that happens to every nation, including America, from now until the Rapture of the Church and beyond.”  

The other pray-er, Jim Jeffress, said this about Jerusalem: “It is the place where Jesus, a Jew himself, was crucified and where he was resurrected, and the place where he will set foot again on earth at his second coming.”

The thinking is: the more established and recognized the government of Israel is and the more closely its borders resemble the borders of biblical Israel, the closer we get to the Rapture.  

The motivation of many Christians is not a desire to bring peace to a turbulent region, but a belief that moving the capital to Jerusalem will hasten the end of the world. 

It’s not about politics.  It’s not about peace.  It’s about prophecy.

Judge Jeanine, a commentator on Fox News, said on her broadcast last Saturday that by moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, President Trump “fulfilled Biblical prophecy.” 

At a rally on December 7, 2017, Florida State Senator Doug Broxson introduced President Trump to the crowd and spoke of the President’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a win for people of faith, declaring,  

“Now I don’t know about you, but when I heard about Jerusalem – where the King of Kings, our soon coming King is coming back to Jerusalem, it is because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be capital of Israel.” 

How much influence did the “praying preachers” have on the decision of the United States government to move the embassy to Jerusalem? 

How much influence does a certain “end times” view have on the policy of the United States?  

What should be our concern?  Peace or Prophecy?

Where is God’s temple today?  It’s not on a rock.  Not in a building.  Not in a city.  It’s in us: Acts 7:48, Acts 17:24, 1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Corinthians 3:16, Luke 17:21.

The two preachers are living out their beliefs.  I guess I need to be careful what I believe.

“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves” Part 3 of “Shoot Christians Say”

I-NEED-HELP-GUYS-meme-29959

 

“God helps those who help themselves.”

Most frequently, I hear the phrase from people in relation to the poor and/or homeless.  “Well, as the Bible says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”

Except it doesn’t say that.

Benjamin Franklin said it.  And others before and after him.  But Jesus didn’t.  No one in the Bible did either.

Paul did say something like it.  What he said is recorded in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If anyone is not willing to work, he should not eat.”  

In some people’s minds, the two phrases go hand in hand.  Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica are even heard on Capitol Hill in debates on funding for the poor.  

I get amused by those debates.  People use the same Bible to support their completely contradictory views.  A person who wants to cut aid to the poor quotes the “don’t work don’t eat” text.

A person who doesn’t want to cut aid to the poor quotes verses like Leviticus 23:22.

Using the Bible can be so confusing!    

Back to Paul.  Obviously, Paul wasn’t writing to Americans.  He didn’t see a homeless person on the street and say, “If you don’t work you don’t eat.”  What he did see were church members not working because they thought Jesus was going to come back any minute.  “Why go to work when Jesus might come back?”  

I like N.T. Wright’s take on that:  “Jesus is coming- plant a tree!” 

Back to “God helps those who help themselves.”

Using this phrase to avoid helping the poor misses the whole point of Jesus and the Scripture.

Those who enact unjust polices are as good as dead, those who are always instituting unfair regulations, to keep the poor from getting fair treatment, and to deprive the oppressed among my people of justice (Isaiah 10:10-2).  Let’s put that on a plaque and hang it in the halls of Congress!

Don’t mistreat widows or orphans or foreigners or anyone who is poor…(Zechariah 7:10).

If you don’t help the poor, don’t expect to be heard when you cry out for help (Proverbs 21:13).

The Lord’s Spirit has come to me…to tell the good news to the poor…to free everyone who suffers (Luke 4:18).  

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing.  What good does that do (James 2:15-16)?

So, let’s forget about this phrase absolving us of our responsibility to help the poor. 

Let’s feed and clothe. 

Let’s challenge and change unfair legislation and structures.  

Let’s identify with the poor. 

What’s good about the phrase?

*It reminds us that God uses people to change the world.  We’re partners.  ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  It’s a “God plus us” thing.  

*It reminds us that we do have some responsibility.   It doesn’t make any sense to ask God to help me not eat so many potato chips unless I quit buying potato chips.   

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”  J.K Rowling

Here’s my biggest problem with the phrase:  It seems to me to go against grace – you know,  “unmerited favor” – as I learned in Sunday School.  

God gives me love and acceptance when love and acceptance are undeserved.  

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Paul writes. 

I love this from Philip Yancey, “There’s nothing I can do to make God love me more.  There’s nothing I can do to make God love me less.”  

Now that’s something we should be saying!

“Shoot Christians Say, Part 2 -” “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It.”

holy shit 2

“The B-I-B-L-E.  Yes that’s the Book for me.

I stand alone on the Word of God.

The B-I-B-L-E”

That little song, learned and sung around snacks of Kool-Aid and Animal Crackers, flannel graph Bible stories in the Sunday School of my childhood, formed the foundation of my understanding of the Bible.  

It’s dangerous to mess with someone’s foundation. 
It’s uncomfortable.  Scary. Risky.

But that’s what I did with last Sunday’s phrase in our “Shoot Christians Say” series.  Here it is:  

“God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” 

The teaching, for some, was tantamount to messing with motherhood, the flag and apple-pie. 

A bit unsettling.  

Think it through with me:  “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”  Except it doesn’t.   Settle it, that is.  If it settled it, why do we debate it?  If it settled it, how do we explain books like Zondervan Counterpoint Series – “indispensable for understanding different views on Christianity’s vital issues” (Zondervan’s description of the series)?  

If “that settles it” why are there “different views” not just on side issues, but on “vital issues?”  

We want to be settled.  We want to be sure.  Being settled is a basic need. The two largest Christian groups have addressed the need to be settled.

Protestants, the folks that protested the Catholic Church developed the infallibility of Scripture.  

Catholics developed the infallibility of the Pope.  

“Infallibility”- the inability to be wrong.

Both the Bible and the Pope speak for God – depending on if you are Catholic or Protestant.  

And what is spoken is infallible. That is settling. 

 Both positions come from a need for security, for something strong on which to stand.  These positions give us that, “I’m secure with ‘the Bible tells me so, ‘“ or “I’m secure with ‘the Pope tells me so.’”  Standing on this foundation, I don’t have to think, wrestle, or try to figure things out.  I just go with what is said.  

This position meets our need for security, but does it meet our need for truth?  Maybe not.

The Pope “said it” but got it wrong about the sun orbiting the earth.  Ask Galileo.  The church admitted it was wrong 359 years later.

The Bible “said it” but got it wrong about slavery.  

 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5).

 “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them” (Titus 2:9).

“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate,  but also to those who are harsh” (1 Peter 2:9). 

The Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination into which I was born, raised and educated, admitted in 1995 that it got it wrong, apologizing for its support for slavery and segregation.

The Bible did not “settle it” when it came to slavery.  In fact, what the Bible says about slavery is unsettling.  

Jesus did not operate on the basis of  the “God said it, that settles it…” position.

Do you remember all of those, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…” verses?
Compare and contrast the following:

Deuteronomy 6:13 and Matthew 5:33-37

Deuteronomy 19:21 and Matthew 5:38-39

Numbers 15:32-36 and John 5:8-10

If  it were “settled” why did Jesus challenge and change it?

The apostles didn’t stick “God said it, that settles it” on the rump of their horse or the bumper of their chariot.  Acts 15 tells us that the apostles debated how the Bible applied to their lives and situation.  When they set aside circumcision as a requirement for following Jesus they reinterpreted the Bible for their times, recognizing that some of what “God said” was not God’s will for all time, all places, all people.

Even those today who say the phrase, don’t practice the phrase.  How many of you give other church-goers a “holy kiss” each Sunday?   You don’t? Why not?  Paul commanded it 4 times in his letters.  Try it next Sunday and see how it goes. 
“God said it”  but with that command, and others, it’s not settled.  How many other things did “God say” aren’t settled?  “Welcome interpretation.  Come on in and let’s get to know each other better.”

This post is already too long, kind of like my teaching last Sunday – 35 minutes! So, I’ll cut to the chase ( a phrase used in the movie world by directors to get past the boring dialogue and to the excitement of a chase scene).

I don’t call the Bible the Word of God.  I call Jesus the Word of God.  So does John.  A “word” is an expression of an idea.  It is my understanding that Jesus is the “exact expression” of God. 

Not the Bible.  Check out Hebrews 1:1-3 and note the phrase “exact expression.”  Does that mean that the Bible (Hebrews 1:1) is inexact?

Maybe the problem is not the Bible.  Maybe the problem is how we use the Bible – what we expect out of the Bible.  Again, let’s take our cue from Jesus.  Seems to me like a good idea.

John 5:39. No one knew the Bible better than the Pharisees.  They knew it up and down, in and out, forward and backward.  Yet they missed God in the flesh who was standing right in front of them.  

Is it possible to be so busy following the Bible that we miss Jesus?  The Bible is a sign that points to Jesus – to his life, to his way, to his values.  

Why do we settle with the sign instead of going on to the destination?  

I’ve written too much.   If you’ve stayed with me, you’ve read too much.  Let’s both stop. 

Let’s spend some time looking at Jesus. Appreciating him. Following him and his way.  

 

“The Good Ship Jesus”

Slave Ship Jesus

 

One of the most popular church songs during my teen years had these lyrics:

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; there’s just something about that name.”

Master, Savior, Jesus; like the fragrance after the rain…”

The song was one of the hundreds of holy hits put out by the Gaithers – sung in churches all through the South.

The song reminded us of many attributes of Jesus.

Jesus:  Love, kindness, justice, gentleness, humility.  These are the words that come to my mind when I think of Jesus.

But how about these words?

Jesus:  Horror, suffering, injustice, slavery, torture.

The name of the first slave ship to kidnap Black Folks and take them to America was…are you ready?

“The Good Ship Jesus”

Yep, there was a slave ship named “Jesus.”  A place of suffering, injustice, slavery and torture, named after Jesus.

“The Good Ship Jesus” was captained by Sir John Hawkins.  Hawkins was considered to be a “religious gentleman” who insisted that his crew “serve God daily” and “love another.”  Worship services were held on board twice a day.

I’m pulling out my hair, right now.

A “religious gentleman”?

“Serve God” by enslaving people?

“Love another” except people of another race, I guess.

That was 1562.

Let’s move forward 300 years and look at and listen to Frederick Douglass – America’s most famous abolitionist.  According to an article in the January/February 2018 issue of Christianity Today, Douglass escaped slavery when he was 20.  Standing on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay one Sunday morning he cried out, “I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God save me!”

“I will run away…God helping me, I will.”  He did.

Douglass settled in Bedford, Massachusetts.  In 1841 he became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.  His assignment was to convince the American public of the immorality of slavery and the necessity of the anti-slavery cause. Douglass had a catchphrase.  You know, a catch-phrase is a well-known statement or phrase from a famous person or character, like these:

Harry Carry – “Holy Cow!”

Jack Buck – “That’s a Winner!”

The Terminator – “I’ll be Back.”

Han Solo – “May the Force Be With You”

Sheriff Brody in Jaws – “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”

Here is Douglass’ catch-phrase – a line he repeated in almost every address:

“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible differences.”

In the Appendix of his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass condemned “corrupt, slaveholding women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity.”

Quoting from the Christianity Today article, “As Douglass knew from direct experience, the cruelest slaveholders were also often the most ardent church goers. ‘The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.’”

Douglass continues with words that break my heart, “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master…The slaveholder…covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

Douglass lays it out there pretty plainly doesn’t he?

Here’s our “come to Jesus” moment:

What “infernal business” are we covering with the “garb of Christianity”?

Is there a difference between our Christianity and the Christianity of Christ?

What are we doing that Jesus wouldn’t do?

What are we doing to which Jesus would never attach his name?

I’m pretty sure Jesus would not want a slave ship to be named after him.

How did people in the past, who called themselves “Christians,” do things that, today, we so easily and readily recognize are nothing like Jesus?  Is anyone else besides me asking, “How could they have done that?!”

What things are we doing today, that people in the future will so easily and readily recognize are nothing like Jesus? Will someone in the future ask about us, “How could they have done that?!”

Jesus gave us some pretty good guidelines, which if followed, will keep us from today’s version of naming a slave ship after Him.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

“As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.”

“Do not neglect the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith.”

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

“…he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…to set the oppressed free…”

So, by our lives, by our values, by our words and actions, what characteristics do people who know us attach to the name of Jesus?