Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Bible is a book of truth communicated – Part 2

Okay, here's a silly example, but I think it'll get the point across.

If you read the sentence, "The pitcher had a ball," what would you think of?

Would you wonder why a ball was floating around inside a container of lemonade? Or, would an image of a man in a baseball uniform about to throw a strike come to your mind? Or, maybe the same guy in the same uniform joyfully busting some moves in an awesome discotech? (You know. . . having fun. . . )

The answer will probably depend on several personal factors such as your familiarity with the Great American Pastime, where you happen to be at that moment, or whether your mother ever used frozen tennis balls as non-diluting ice cubes in summertime drinks. (Note - mine did not.) Etc.

But whichever image you conceive, with no other information at your disposal you've got a decent chance of being right - and a decent chance of being wrong.

Now, if you really didn't care which was right you could stop there.
But if for some reason you actually wanted to know, you would be wise to consider the source.
- Where did you read it?
- Who wrote it, and who were they writing to?
- What is the context of the rest of the piece?
This kind of research would increase your potential tremendously.

So then, what's the point this silly example hopefully helped get across? It's just this: All communication, especially written communication, is dependent on interpretation.

Something may be easy to interpret (e.g., "My hand is big!"), but that doesn't make interpretation unnecessary - just easy.

If you do not interpret you will not understand. Period.
And if you do not interpret correctly you will misunderstand. Period.

And this leads me smoothly and naturally into my "real" topic: Exegesis.
So, what exactly is exegesis, and why do I go to such lengths to make it a topic? I'll explain more of that next week. But for now, let me leave you with this question.

What is the Bible?

Here's my answer: The Bible is God communicating with mankind. It is God taking information that He knows but we do not, and feeding it to us through written language.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Bible is a book of truth communicated – Part 1

The very first recorded words out of Satan’s mouth set the tone for the rest of history: “Did God indeed say. . . ?”

Never terribly subtle, his meaning is perfectly clear: “Really?!”

Did God say that? – Are you sure you understood it correctly?
Did God say that? – It was actually your imagination, wasn’t it?
Did God say that? – He said that? Huh! Wow! That’s pretty bad!

It’s genius! Because their aims are polar opposites, the best way for Satan to get people to trust him was to make them doubt God.

From the very beginning Satan’s goal has been to put doubt on the Word of God. It was true then, and it’s no different today. Consider the modern attitude regarding God’s Word.

Based on a presupposition that the Bible is not true, skeptics go on to deny that it could be true. Yes, I typed that right. The argument is essentially, it can’t be true so we know it’s not true. The trouble is, that argument is no different than my wife's famous "Stinky Pillow" logic which ran thus:

Her: Your pillow stinks.
Me: How do you know it's my pillow that stinks? (Our pilows were identical.)
Her: Because your pillow is the stinky one.

The problem was she had a presupposition about my stinkiness (which may or may not have been accurate).

Definition Break: What exactly is a presupposition? It's something you assume to be true based on feelings not facts. And presuppositions are often used as the foundation for other opinions, which are then likely to not be true either. For example, if I have a presupposition that the plus sign ("+") means "take away", then no matter how good I am at math my answer to almost every problem will be wrong.

So, with the presupposition that the Bible cannot be true (remember, this is their starting place and everything else builds on it) skeptics construct these leaning towers of logic.

The Bible is only spiritually true (Did God say that?)
This argument confuses Scripture:
It denies the clear meaning of many passages
It denies God the authority to speak plainly
It gives humans the false authority to explain what God "really means”

The Bible is not in any way true (Did God say that?)
This argument minimalizes Scripture:
At the best it’s just fairy tales and myths
At the worst, it’s all lies and fabrications
Either way, it’s a human creation and fully ignorable

The Bible is a barbaric document (Did God say that?)
This argument despises Scripture:
It's full of primitive, ignorant & brutal concepts
It's not worthy of the enlightened modern world
Only fools take it seriously

What began in the Garden continues today, and the goals are exactly the same:
1) to make you doubt God and His promises,
2) to undermine your faith, and
3) to leave you in darkness, without God and without hope.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Followers of Christ are called to live righteous lives

Remember my previous married/unmarried imagery? I'm going to go back to that for a moment:

What do you suppose my wife would say if, after the wedding, I insisted on living my life as if I were still single?

I heat up tater tots for dinner, eat them alone in front of the TV, belch wildly, then throw the dishes in the sink. (And then, probably, scratch myself – maybe. I don’t know for sure.)

I leave for a few days without saying anything.

I date lots of women. . . .

Such behavior might lead her to seek a divorce, but our married-ness does not depend on those actions alone. So why do I not do it? Because I’m not an idiot!

Now that I’m married, I have the obligation and privilege of acting like I’m married. My ways of eating, sleeping, thinking, travelling, cleaning up, planning, etc all change because my state of reality has changed.

It’s the same thing with the Christian life, but even more so.

* * * * * * *

Okay, let’s begin at the beginning. I say that Christians are called to live righteous lives, but what do I mean by “righteous lives”?

A righteous life is a life characterized by righteousness, honesty, integrity, kindness, selflessness, generosity – we have all kinds of words for it. And righteousness is simply doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason. It's really not all that mystical or otherworldly a concept. It’s as practical & this-worldly as it ould be. (Although when you try to do it you will discover very quickly that without the help of God’s Spirit, this kind of life is impossible to live.)

Okay, then, what exactly is the “right” thing?
This is where followers of Christ and the secular majority part ways.

The unbeliever or nominal believer usually says it depends on laws, cultural norms, and (most often in our society) whatever you want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else. In a word, it’s relative.

The Christian, though, says civil laws are irrelevant, culture is increasingly warped, and merely avoiding harm to others is a pathetic substitute for doing things God’s way. In short, the Christian would tell you that none of those things matter – it’s God who decides, period. That is, it’s absolute.

So what does God say? A lot! But, thankfully, it can all be summed up in one word: Love

Back in the first century, one way to test a rabbi (a teacher of the law of God) was to ask him his opinion on which of the hundreds of divine commandments was the greatest. You could then base your opinion of the rabbi on what you thought of his answer. This happened to Jesus once. He was in a crowd, teaching, and someone came up and asked Him that very question:

And Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22)

Not only did Jesus answer that love of God and other people is the greatest command, but He also made it clear that all other commands are fulfilled by it. You can try to memorize and act out hundreds of laws – or you can just act with love at all times.* As the Apostle Paul put it:

The one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13)

A Christian not acting in love is not much different than a foolish husband who forgets he's not a bachelor any more. He needs to stop, think, readjust, and begin again - this time, in the right direction.


* - Definition reminder: Love in the Bible = not a feeling but the attitude that you will do whatever is best for the one you love no matter what

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saved by faith in Christ – Part 2

Where in the world did we ever get this idea that you have to be good to go to Heaven - or that if you are good you will go to Heaven (and nothing else is required)?

The more I think about it the more baffled I get, because it's definitely not in the Bible.

But then again, there are hundreds of misconceptions about what's actually in the Bible, and this could just be one of them. Perhaps it's like the "biblical" promise that "God helps those who help themselves," which is not in the Bible. That one comes instead from the decidedly un-Christian Benjamin Franklin, who ridiculed the idea that God would take an active role in people's lives.

So, if the idea that we are saved by behaving ourselves is not in the Bible, where did it come from? I've managed a few theories.

1. A couple of the usual suspects are blissfully-ignorant pop culture and misunderstood Sunday School lessons. They're an odd couple perhaps, but these two seem to work very effectively together - each inspiring the other to increasingly ludicrous obsurdities. Take, for example, the impression many have that deceased humans become live angels complete with harps and wings. And how about the vague popular belief that Satan has horns and a pointy tale?

2. If not ignorance & confusion, maybe it came from the debate among the early Christians over whether or not a person had to obey the Law of Moses to be saved. But that was never really about being good. It was about being Jewish. The question was, does a non-Jew need to become a Jew (and follow the Jewish law) in order to be a Christian and thus be saved.

3. For centuries the Church taught that works done in church or for the Church were the key to salvation. Things like tithing, ceremony, perfect attendance, unthinking obedience to Church leaders, etc were held up as requirements for eternal life. Do them, and you will live. Fail in them, and hell awaits. Sadly, God's way of salvation was taken hostage and warped to control God's people. It took men like Martin Luther to re-discover the biblical truth of salvation by faith alone.

4. A sloppy reading of the Old Testament could also be to blame. The Old Testament is full of promises to those who are faithful and righteous - but they are promises of physical, emotional, material, and spiritual blessing - not salvation in the Christian sense. Salvation like that only appeared when Christ did, and to my knowledge, it is never linked with "being good". (It is, however, very often linked with "righteous living" - see below.)

5. Or maybe it's a result of the desperate desire we humans have to see a recognizable relationship between what (other!!) people do and what happens to them in the end. And it's true that the New Testament does recognize a direct correlation between righteousness and salvation. It's just not in the direction people normally expect, so they miss it.

It is not: If righteous, then saved.
It is: If saved, then righteous.

More on this last topic next week.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Saved by faith in Christ – Part 1

For by grace you have been saved through faith.
(Ephesians 2:8)

I believe that we are saved by faith in Christ and nothing else.

At first glance, this concept seems both uniquely Christian and entirely spiritual. But the more I think about it, the more normal-every-day-life-ish it becomes.

For example, just over 21 years ago I became married to my wife. (I’m throwing the number of years in there so that I know that she knows that I know. It’s a husband thing.)

If you ask me how I became married to her I could tell you all about the wedding we planned and the reception where I tried but failed to get any cake. I remember signing some document and something about vows (but they were all in Japanese, so I have no idea what I agreed to).

And then, all of a sudden, we were married.

As a Christian couple, we believe that means we have been joined together into one creature and nothing but death or infidelity can legitimately separate us. And that all happened just because of a signature and a ceremony?

I used to think so. But the older I get, the less I think so.

So, what made us married? What exactly was it that took us from being not-married and an instant later moved us into a state of married?

By now you may see where I’m going with this.

Yes, there was a ceremony. Yes, there was a legal notification to the state (mostly for tax purposes, no?). Yes, there was the pronouncement of the pastor that we were “now husband and wife”. But none of those made the difference.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that what made us married was our faith. We met, we dated, we fell in love, we looked at our future together and apart, we prayed, we knew, we committed, we planned. And then when the moment came, we believed that we were married - and we were. And every day, every moment since that day over 21 years ago (I still know the number!) we have continued to believe that we are married - and we are.*

But what if we somehow stopped believing we’re married? Would our union no longer exist?

No. It’s still there, because it's no longer dependent on our belief. Our faith gave it birth, but it immediately become an entity all its own. In short, it exists.

Now I can bring it back to Christ, and maybe it will make a little more sense.

Christ has asked each one of us to enter into a relationship with Him.

If we have the ceremony (baptism), that is a good step.
If we sign the documents (join a church), we are moving in the right direction.
If we profess publically that we intend to live in relationship with Him, we are wise.

But to make it fully real we have to believe that it’s real, and act like it’s real, and fully experience that realness in our lives.

And when we do, in an instant and for eternity, we have gone from being not-saved to saved.


* - It's important to note that I am consciously oversimplifying here. Although I am mentioning only one, in both marriage and salvation there are two distinct actors - us and God. We can have all the faith in the world, but if God doesn't do His part, nothing will come of it. To keep it fairly simple, I think it's safe to say the following statements are equally true.
- I am saved (and married) because of what God has done for me.
- I am saved (and married) because of my faith that makes it real - I mean real as opposed to potential.