Category: Bible (page 1 of 7)

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

Retrieval Theology

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If, as we have noted in this space this week, the Church cannot escape its past and if the Church is influenced in both negative and positive ways by its history and tradition, it seems like we ought to embrace this history in order to examine it. It’s ours anyway; we belong to it. Why not learn from it? Why not study the things we find misguided so we can avoid them in our time today and incorporate the things that might actually benefit our spiritual formation and our passing on of the faith?

I’ll conclude my thoughts on Dr. Keith Stanglin’s article “Restorationism and Church History: Strange Bedfellows?” with today’s post. Honestly, this has been much more a re-hash of his work — not too much original thought from me.

Keith suggests we engage in what a lot of people call “retrieval theology.”

“This is not a call to re-create or ape the faith and practice of a specific time or place from the past; not every thought or practice in church history is equally good or relevant for us. It means learning from the wisdom of our ancestors and appropriating the best that it has to offer for the sake of the church today.”

There are many valid and good reasons for embracing all of church history. One, it gives us our identity; knowing our past helps us know who we are and from where we came. Two, it gives us wisdom; most of the questions and debates we face today have been handled or anticipated at some point in the church’s history. Third, we could gain some needed perspective from the study of church history; the history calls us to a holy balance. Knowing the history of our practices and traditions will help us recognize the swing of the pendulum over time. Then we can start to get a good idea of the pendulum’s position and direction and momentum. Then we’ll be better equipped to take the pendulum where it needs to go or, as Keith puts it, “to stand in its way and push back before it goes too far.”

Studying church history can confirm or challenge our interpretations of Scripture. Maybe this is one of the main reasons we resist it. We like to think our interpretation and practices are pure and strictly biblical and come from an un-biased heart. I know that’s what a lot of us have thought. I remember being told at an early age that if everybody in the world would just read the Bible with clear eyes and an open, honest heart, without any preconceived notions, then everybody would believe and worship just like we do. I still occasionally hear versions of that today! When will we admit that a lot of our “distinctives” in Churches of Christ are not born of slam-dunk biblical arguments or unambiguous passages of Scripture? Most of our distinctive practices are not wrong — I think I’d argue they are all faithful and good and beneficial to a life of discipleship to Jesus. But our arguments come from history, not from Scripture. Every Sunday communion and acappella worship and baptism for the forgiveness of sins comes from what our own guy Everett Ferguson calls “historical foreground.” It’s the historical norm that confirms no baptizing for the dead AND observing the Lord’s Meal every Lord’s Day.

Finally, this concluding section from Keith’s article, with which I strongly agree and advocate:

“Restorationism and church history need not be an odd couple, but can be more like the dynamic duo. I personally applaud and support the genius of Thomas Campbell’s restoration vision: The unity of all Christians by means of restoration based on Scripture. Thus articulated, I stand behind the restoration vision. But I must take leave of any interpretation and application of Scripture in the church that seeks to bypass nearly two millennia of church history, or tries to read the Bible as if no one has read it before, or tries to do theology and worship as if they have not been done for the last 1,900 years. The “Bible only,” in this sense, has never worked.”

Retrieval theology is about embracing and knowing our past — all of it —in order to benefit the Church today and into the future. It requires the discipline of learning from our mistakes, the stamina to refuse to repeat bad decisions and bad practices, and the hard work of incorporating the good and faithful from our past into our present. It also demands a humility in the knowledge that we’re not the first ones to attempt to follow Jesus, we’re not the only ones, we’re not the only ones who have done some really good work by God’s grace, and we’re not the only ones who need God’s grace to cover us in the things we’ve really messed up.

Peace,

Allan

Tradition Informing Scripture

DoleHulaBefore we continue our discussion of Dr. Keith Stanglin’s article “Restorationism and Church History: Strange Bedfellows?” I must wish my beautiful wife Carrie-Anne a very happy birthday. Today is Wednesday so, with our church schedule, it’ll be impossible for the family to celebrate together with our traditional birthday dinner. That’ll have to wait until tomorrow evening. It’ll be our typical Sharky’s burrito tonight and the birthday steak dinner tomorrow. But, Carrie-Anne, I love you, darling. I hope you have a fabulous day.

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BonoPetersonAlso, if you’re a Eugene Peterson fan or if you’re a fan of U2 or, especially, if you’re a fan of both the Irish rocker and The Message translator you might spend 21-minutes today checking out this video. Fuller Theological Seminary has produced a very short and very high-quality documentary on how Peterson and Bono engage the Psalms. Apparently, once Peterson finished the Old Testament “Message-style,” Bono began reading the Psalms in a whole different way. He reached out to Peterson and the two have become pretty good friends. The short film documents a visit Bono had with Peterson at the author’s mountain home in Montana in which they discussed together the Psalms, honesty and dishonesty in Christian art and music, and violence. It’s good. Really interesting. It’s funny listening to Peterson butcher the name of “Rolling Stone” magazine and refer to the floor near the stage at a U2 concert as the “mash pit.” It’s also really cool when Peterson, while discussing the imprecatory psalms, tells Bono, “We’ve got to learn how to cuss without cussing.” Bono replies, “Yeah, I like that. That’s going to stick with me.” You can watch the video by clicking here.

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Though we in the American Restoration Movement have been intentional in ignoring and resisting any church history before the early 19th century, we cannot deny that all of us are influenced and shaped by all church history. We don’t acknowledge it, mainly, because we take it for granted. Keith points out that the New Testament table of contents in our Bibles is taken for granted as some kind of unquestionable truth as if it came straight from the apostles at the end of the first century. So, we make an exception to Thomas Campbell’s “nothing not as old as the New Testament” when we accept the New Testament itself (see yesterday’s post).

Keith argues for making these exceptions, which we all make, “with clear eyes and full awareness.”

We could spend several days talking about the things we believe and practice in our churches that are not “as old as the New Testament.” The separation of the Lord’s Supper from an actual meal didn’t begin to happen until late in the second century and into the third. Nobody thought to refer to God as a three-person Trinity until the second century and it wasn’t made an official church position until the fourth. The idea of translating the Old Testament from the original Hebrew instead of the Greek came from the fourth century. The use of unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper didn’t happen until the eleventh century. Congregational singing in harmony wasn’t practiced until the twelfth century. These are all beliefs and practices (innovations?) that are not “as old as the New Testament.” Yet, instead of throwing them out, we take them for granted in our faith and worship.

Let’s also acknowledge that there are plenty of practices which are as old as the New Testament, commands and examples written in our holy Scriptures, that we don’t practice, and would never consider practicing, because of church history and tradition. To move the conversation along, allow me to concentrate today on two very obvious ways Keith observes that we adhere to church tradition and actually use church history to interpret Scripture and inform our practice.

The first is with baptism for the dead that the apostle Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:29:

“Whatever this practice was, we do not practice or endorse it. Why don’t we practice it? It is not because Paul expresses disapproval, because he does not. In fact, he raises the issue to show the Corinthians how, though they deny the resurrection, their practices are undergirded by a belief in the resurrection. Far from being negative about baptism for the dead, Paul is neutral or perhaps positive. So why doesn’t the church now baptize for the dead? The reason we do not baptize for the dead is because the historic church has not baptized for the dead.”

Imagine if we had nothing else in Scripture about baptism for the dead other than this one verse in 1 Corinthians which, by the way, is indeed the case. But what if the historical record were different? What if there were written documents from the second and third centuries attesting to and approving a ritual for baptism for the dead? We would probably be practicing it today! But with the exception of Latter-Day Saints, no one in the history of Christianity has practiced baptism for the dead. So we interpret the verse in 1 Corinthians 15 as an aberrant practice. We’re convinced that if Paul had been writing a sacramental theology, he would have clearly condemned the practice in unambiguous terms. Why? Because no one’s ever done it. As Keith points out, Sunday School classes have a lot of questions when they study 1 Corinthians, but they never seriously consider the thought of restoring this practice. So, we’ve got a first-century New Testament practice left completely out of our faith and worship today based solely on church tradition and history.

Let’s do one more: the Lord’s Supper. The way we observe the meal today bears almost zero resemblance to the ritual as it is understood and taught and practiced in the New Testament. The very fact that we eat the cracker and sip the little swallow of juice separate from a full evening meal is enough evidence to acknowledge that we are influenced and shaped by church history and tradition. Our insistence on the use of unleavened bread is a relatively new innovation that helped split the Eastern and Western churches in the eleventh century. The early church didn’t use unleavened bread for the same reasons it didn’t use bitter herbs, lamb, and multiple cups of wine. But we demand unleavened bread today. Why? Because the Roman Church made the change about a thousand years ago.

So, let’s look at Scripture. What does the New Testament say regarding the day to eat the Lord’s Supper? According to Acts 20:7, the church in Troas met on the first day of the week to break bread. This is the only reference we have in Scripture for Sunday. And it’s tricky because they wound up eating it after midnight. The Last Supper took place in the middle of the week. The church in Jerusalem did it daily (Acts 2:46) and Paul doesn’t give us a day in 1 Corinthians (11:26). We don’t have a whole lot on the day itself.

On the other hand, there’s a much more clear and consistent Scriptural testimony regarding location. The Last Supper was eaten in an “upper room.” The early church also celebrated the meal in an “upper room” (Acts 20:8).

So why do we insist on Sunday as the day to observe the Lord’s Supper but we place no guidelines at all on where the Supper can be taken? Based on Scripture alone, it’s not clear that the day is any more or less important than the location. If anything, there’s more testimony about the location than the day. Why do we dismiss any discussion about where we’re supposed to eat the Lord’s Supper as irrelevant while, at the same time, we spend a ton of time and energy searching the Scriptures to make a strong case for the Sunday timing?

“Tradition — a tradition that extends unbroken back to the second century — repeatedly attests to the importance of the day, not the location. The historic tradition supports the theological case for the importance of resurrection day and, therefore, the possibility of celebrating other significant times and seasons. Celebrating the Supper in an upper room has always been, according to this same tradition, an indifferent matter, as it rightly is for us. But despite all the vast changes in the theology and practice of communion, a Lord’s Day never passed in the first fifteen centuries without celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Whether we realize it or not, the church’s history is a decisive factor that influences our faith and practice.”

Rather than attempting to run away from church tradition, which we cannot; instead of ignoring or resisting church history and tradition, which would require we deny most of our formation influences, why not embrace the history and examine it? Why not search for the centuries of wisdom that are available in acknowledging our past: the good and the not so good, the faithful and the not so faithful?

Peace,

Allan

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