Category: Bible (Page 1 of 7)

Knowledge of God

According to the Bible, Bible knowledge is not having a grasp of the facts. It’s not being able to recite the names of the apostles or Israel’s kings or knowing how many generations are in the various genealogies. That’s not it. Biblical knowledge, according to Scripture, is a very specific thing: knowing who God is, what God is doing, and how he is doing it in Christ Jesus. That’s knowledge.

“We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God… for he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~Colossians 1:9-14

Knowledge is understanding who God is and what God is doing and how he is doing it in Jesus. It’s knowing that salvation is available for all people in Jesus. It’s understanding that God is bringing all people and all things together in Jesus. That’s the kind of specific knowledge the Bible is talking about. We are told to pursue that knowledge, to gain that knowledge, to grow in that kind of knowledge, what the Bible calls “the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).

Having that knowledge will keep us from being sucked in to the world’s forms of knowledge and understanding. What the world is doing and how the world is doing it – the values and beliefs and practices of the world, how the world gets things done – those are powerful forces. They are opposing forces. And without the knowledge of God, we can wind up following a mushy K-LOVE kind of shallow sentimentality we can buy at Mardell or a pathway of power and success reinforced by the herds at political rallies and stockbroker meetings.

Christians may not know more than others, but we ought to know better.

Knowledge of God changes everything. Isaiah 11 says when the Kingdom is finally perfected, when God’s holy will has all been finally fulfilled, there will be righteousness and justice and peace for the whole world, because “the earth will be full of the knowledge of God.”

Peace,

Allan

Live Into This

The Bible is not a moral code that says “Behave like this.” It’s not a system of doctrines that says, “Think like this.” The Bible tells a story and invites us in: “Live into this.” This is what it looks like to be a human being in a righteous relationship with God and others. This is who God is. This is what God is doing. Jump into this. Live it.

“Come and see,” the Bible says. “Come and eat.” This is how Jesus talks. This is how he shapes us, how he invites us to participate in the grand story. “Suppose one of you has a sheep,” he says. “Suppose one of you has a friend at midnight.” Jesus talks in stories and wants to know how you would live into it. “Which of these three was a neighbor? Now, go and do likewise.” Live into this.

The Bible gives us the words and the attitude and the perspective to help us engage our experiences and make sense of our lives. The story helps put our circumstances into the context of “God and Us.” So we read the Bible and interpret it and apply it like a story, not like a rule book or a science text or an instruction manual. Like a story. Because we’re living it.

Here’s the story.

God lovingly created men and women and placed them in a world to be in perfect harmony and righteous relationship with him, with themselves, with others, and with all of creation. That’s what God wants. That’s what he did.

But then we tried to go our own way. We believed we knew better than God how to enjoy his lavish gifts and we blew it. We became slaves to sin and trapped by our own rebellion. But our God stepped in to save us. He made promises to his people that he would send a Savior to rescue us from the bondage of sin and death and bring all of creation and all men and women back together with him.

Then God used a covenant community, a people he chose, and the Messiah came through that community to bless the whole world. Jesus the Christ willingly gave up his very life, he submitted to the very worst we could throw at him, and he died for us. He loves us that much. He loves you that much.

And on the third day, God’s Holy Spirit brought Jesus back to life from the grave to defeat once and for all the forces of sin and death and Satan and anything else that might separate you from God and from one another.

And now, today, we are that covenant community. The Church – that’s us. And our God is working in us and through us to share his grace and love and salvation with every corner of his creation. And someday soon, very soon, he’s coming back. And we are all going to live in his face-to-face presence forever. No barriers. No walls. No sin. Perfect righteous relationship with our God, with ourselves, with others, and with all of creation forever.

Isn’t that a beautiful story? That’s the Bible. That’s our story.

So many people today are crushed. And scared. They’re tied up in knots and hopeless because they’ve lost their vision. They’ve lost their imagination for what is and what is going to be. They don’t have the story to help them make sense of their lives and the world we live in.

The Bible is our story. It’s got our God on every page. It shows us our God who loves us intensely and saves us completely and will not be stopped or slowed down in his faithful determination to live with us forever. The Bible’s got all that. And you’re in there, too. It’s got you, too. Now live into it!

Peace,

Allan

The Bible is Your Story

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul tells the old story of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness and they way they complained and rebelled and how God faithfully provided. Paul says they were all baptized when they passed through the waters, just like us (10:2). They ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink from Christ Jesus, just like us (10:3). These things are examples for us, Paul writes (10:6). He says these things were written down for us as warnings (10:11). What happened to them, he writes, is common to all people, it happens to all of us (10:13). And, he says, God is faithful in all of it (10:13).

You see what Paul’s doing. He’s telling our story. The Bible is our story.

Story doesn’t just tell us something and leave it there, it invites us to participate. A good story drags us in. We feel the emotions, we get caught up in the drama, we identify with the characters, doors and windows get flung open, and we the nooks and crannies of our lives and our world we had missed.

The Bible as our story brings us into the vast wonderful world God creates and saves and blesses and offers us a place in that world. It shows us where we are. Good stories show more than they tell. And the Bible is the greatest story of all time.

“From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the child of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ~2 Timothy 3:15-17.

The Bible is a story. If we read it and interpret it like a book of rules and regulations or like some kind of constitution, we won’t get it. We’ll respond to it in the wrong way. If you mistake a recipe for chicken enchiladas for a manual on putting a vacuum cleaner together, you’re going to wind up hungry in a very dirty house. If you misread a highway sign that says “Speed Limit 65” for a randomly posted bit of information and not the stern law of the land it is, a police officer is going to pull you over and give you a brief, but expensive, lesson in hermeneutics.

The Bible is not a moral code that says, “Live up to this.” It’s not a system of doctrines that says, “Think like this.” The Bible tells a story and invites us in. “Live into this.” This is what it looks like to be a human being in righteous relationship with God and others. This is what God wants. This is what God is doing. And here’s where you are. Now live into it.

“You accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:13

Sometimes I am blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road near Jericho. Calling out to Jesus in my pain. Surrendering my life to the Lord. Yielding to his will. And he mercifully heals me.

Sometimes I am Naaman, covered with sores, dying of disease, and wanting to be saved, but on my terms. I try to dictate just how God needs to deal with me. He needs to do it my way. So arrogant. And he heals me anyway.

Always, I am Peter. Always shooting my mouth off, always wanting to be up front, always wanting to be the leader. One minute I pledge my allegiance to the Lord — Even if I have to die with you, I will never leave you! — and the next minute I’m a shrinking coward, warming myself at the world’s fire and denying that I even know who Jesus is. And then Jesus comes to me and asks, “Do you still love me? Then, come on, let’s keep going.”

Is that you? Where are you right now in the Bible’s beautiful story?

Are you Martha? So busy. Way too busy. Running around like a chicken with your head cut off, taking care of all the urgent stuff that needs to be done. Family. House. Chores. Neglecting your most important relationships. Maybe avoiding your relationship with Christ. And Jesus knows it. He’s sitting right there in the next room, waiting for you to slow down and pay attention to him. Even though you haven’t talked to him in months or even years, he keeps coming over. Have you noticed that about Jesus? He keeps coming over.

Are you Zacchaeus? You’ve got a great job, lots of money, wonderful benefits, more than enough security. But you’re alone. You’re not close to anybody. You’re just watching all the church people do all their church things and you don’t understand it at all. But here he comes. Here comes Jesus, walking right up to you. He pulls you down out of your tree and says, “I’m coming over. I’m coming to your house right now.”

Maybe you’re being torn apart by a terrible storm. The flood waters are rising, the things you love and the people you know are being destroyed. It’s dark and people are dying. It’s scary, this flood. And you know that God uses these times to cleanse and renew and recreate and make things right. But you don’t know if you’re in the ark with Noah or out in the water drowning. Listen as God’s Church reminds you, “You’re with us. You’re safe. You’re saved.”

Are you David? The King of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. What did God see when he looked at David that day and chose him and blessed him? David was just a kid, kind of an afterthought, just a boy hanging out with the sheep. Remember the story? What did God see in him that day? Did he see David’s fierce violence or his fierce loyalty? Did he see David as the great psalmist or as the notorious outlaw? Did he see David’s prayers and humility or the adultery and lying and murder and all the sin? God saw all of it. Every bit of it. And God still picked David. He chose David. And he chose you in Jesus Christ before the foundations of the earth.

The Bible is our story. It’s got our God on every page. It reveals our God who loves us intensely and saves us faithfully and who will not be stopped or even slowed down in his determination to live with us eternally. The story’s got all that.

You’re in there, too. It’s got you, too.

Peace,

Allan

Underdog

During Bible times in the Ancient Near East, where and when the Scriptures were penned, the oldest son inherited all the wealth. That was the culture. The practice ensured the family would keep its status and place in society. The second and third sons got very little, if anything at all. The first-born male got everything.

Yet, all through the Bible, when God chooses to work through somebody, he chooses the younger sibling. Abel over Cain. Isaac over Ishmael. Jacob over Esau. David over all eleven! God doesn’t choose the oldest, the one the world expects to get the glory. It’s never the one from Jerusalem, always the one from Nazareth.

Back then, women who had lots of kids were considered heroic. Very valuable. Highly prized. A good wife. Lots of children ensured economic success for the family business and military security and success for the village. It also carried on the family name. Women who had no children were shunned. Shamed. Yet, God continuously chooses to work his salvation through barren women, females who were despised by the culture. Sarah. Rebecca. Hannah. Elizabeth. God always works through the men and women nobody values.

OK, great. God loves the underdog. So what? It’s like a Disney movie. It’s like ALL Disney movies.

No! The point is that God himself — transcendent, immortal, holy, righteous — became an underdog. God came to earth and became weak and vulnerable and despised. For us. He did it for us.

This is what makes Christianity different from every other religion in the history of the world. Every other religion says if you want to find God, if you want to improve yourself, if you want to achieve a higher consciousness, if you want to connect with the divine, you have to DO something. You have to gather up your strength, you have to keep the rules, you have to free your mind and then fill it again, you have to strive to be above average. Every human religion says if you want to live the right life and make the world a better place, summon up all your strength and reason and make it happen.

Christianity says just the opposite. Christianity says you CAN’T do any of those things. God came to earth and has done all those things for you. Those things are already done in and by Christ Jesus. Every other religion says they have all the answers to the big questions. Christianity says Jesus himself IS the answer to all the questions!

It’s not: If you’re strong and hard-working enough this religion will save you. Christianity is not just for the strong and smart. It’s for everyone, especially for people who admit that, where it really counts, they’re weak. It’s for people who admit they’re broken and incapable of fixing themselves.

The genius of Christianity is that it’s not: Hey, here’s what you have to do to find God!” Christianity is: “Hey, God came here in the form of Jesus to find you!” That’s the unique and radical truth of Christianity. That’s what Christianity has contributed to the world. All the world’s ideas about caring for the weak and needy, living for love and service instead of power and success, loving our enemies, sacrificing for others — all of that flows directly from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Core Scripture

Our elders and ministers here at Central have carefully and prayerfully selected ten passages of Scripture we believe are core passages, foundational words that are intended by God to shape us. These are Bible passages that speak to the nature of our God and his work for us in Jesus Christ. They declare the truth of the Gospel. They remind us how to live in light of that Good News. They help us keep The Story straight.

And they form us.

These are formational passages that, when they get inside us, when they become a part of who we are, will shape us more into the image of God’s Son.

We’re going to read these passages each Sunday, week after week. We want to hear them again and again when we’re together. We want these verses to be familiar, to be highly valued, to be embedded deep into our souls.

We’re not going to be afraid of repetition; in fact, we’re going to embrace it. We want to be shaped into a certain kind of people. Forming Gospel habits works. Repetition works. Here are the passages:

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Philippians 2:1-11
1 John 4:7-12
Mark 8:34-38
Exodus 34:5-7b
Colossians 3:12-15
Romans 8:28, 31b-35, 37-39
Revelation 21:1-7
Micah 6:6-8
Ephesians 3:14-21

May God bless the reading of his Word.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus is Judge and You Are Not

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.'” ~Romans 12:17-19

JudgeMosaic4When people hurt me, my gut instinct, my sinful human instinct, is to hurt them back. When someone does something that causes me pain or causes pain to someone I love, I want that person to suffer some pain, too. Even when that person apologizes, even when that person asks for forgiveness, even after I forgive that person, my gut thinks, “but he needs to feel some pain, too. He can’t get away with this and nothing bad happen to him. It’s his fault this bad thing happened to me or this painful thing happened to my family; he needs to have something bad happen to him, too. He needs to feel this, too.”

We know that justice will be served. We know that God’s children will all be vindicated. We know that evildoers will be punished. But that is not your job. Or mine. That’s not our job. Judging and taking revenge and seeking that kind of justice is the Lord’s job. And it’s his job alone. As followers of Christ Jesus, we do not ever seek to punish the people who hurt us. Ever.

God is the perfect judge. He knows all things, he sees all things, and he has all righteous power. He is a perfectly just God who will not allow evil to go unpunished. So we can trust him. If we try to exact any kind of revenge, we’re trespassing into territory our God has reserved only for himself. So we let him handle it.

Surrounding the above text from Romans 12, Paul quotes from the teachings of Jesus to make his point:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:14).
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (12:17).
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21).

We believe that God in Christ is ultimately going to make all things right. God is going to right all the wrongs and avenge all the evils. In the meantime, Christians respond to wrongdoing and to evil with kindness and love. This is one of the most distinctive things that sets Christianity apart from Islam and Buddhism and all the other world religions: we do not live tit-for-tat. Harming or killing our enemies is not an option for Christians. Our job is to love and forgive, to bless and to pray. Our job is to faithfully trust God. Trust God that he will judge and avenge.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” ~1 Peter 2:21-23

Our Lord Jesus did not retaliate. He didn’t seek to punish or act to avenge the injustices he suffered. Look at Jesus. He refuses to lift a finger in his own defense. He rebukes his followers who try to defend him with a sword. He doesn’t call ten thousand angels to destroy his enemies. He prays for their forgiveness. The people who are killing him — Jesus prays for their forgiveness.

I know this is hard. I know this is counter-cultural, counter-natural, almost anti-American. But this kind of thinking and acting, this way of living, is not just for Jesus. Loving our enemies and being kind to people who do you harm and leaving all retribution to God is not some unattainable ideal or something only for super Christians or the spiritually elite. This very hard thing is required of all who confess Jesus as Lord. When Jesus says “teaching them to obey all I have commanded,” this is part of it.

There are people who say they don’t believe in the God of the Bible, the God who judges and punishes people, because they believe in a God of love. Now, what makes them think God is love? Can they look at the world today and see anything that proves God is love? Can they see anything in history, is there any evidence out there, any proof at all at that God is love? Where does that come from? Where do people get the idea that God is love?

The Bible. The Bible tells us over and over again that God Almighty is a God of deep and eternal love. And the same Bible also tells us that because of God’s deep and abiding love, he will judge and avenge and ultimately make everything in the world right.

Peace,

Allan

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