Friday, February 20, 2015

Scripture, or just What People Say About It?

Dan loves to dig into faith issues.  He listens to several podcasts each week from his favorite
speakers.  He just started the newest religious book that everyone is talking about online.  He checks in regularly with popular blogs.  Twitter points him to great articles about the new ideas in biblical scholarship and what the younger generation wants from churches.   He can tell you all about the latest doctrinal issue that’s splitting American churches and about mission trends in Africa and about whatever N.T. Wright just wrote and about the newest “we got big quick” church.  

We would love Dan’s enthusiasm, and we would hopefully share his zeal in seeking to understand our religious context.

But there is one problem with Dan’s faith, and it’s a big one: he has left Scripture behind. 

It’s not that Dan doesn’t believe in the Bible.  He read through the New Testament (more than once!) years ago, and he even made it through the Old Testament one time.  Dan believes in Scripture; the problem is that he hasn’t been spending much time with it lately.  Scripture has faded into the background, and he now fills his mind and heart with the voices of people talking about Scripture.  Those voices are often helpful, but they are most certainly not the same. 

3 quick reasons why we need to make sure we keep spending time with Scripture and not just be experts in ‘what others say about Scripture.’

       1)      God’s word is where the true spiritual power is.  It is only God’s word that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12).  It is only Scripture that is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16).  It is only the word of God that gives life (John 6:63).  It is only the word of God that is the Spirit’s sword (Eph. 6:17).  If I want true spiritual life, shaping my soul in the way God wants it shaped, I need a lot of time alone with God’s word.

        2)      Every human voice is slanted, intentionally or not.  We all have blind spots.  We are all still in the learning process.  I suspect we are all influenced by the world’s ideas more than we realize.  So when people put together books and blogs and sermons, we have limitations.  The tone may not be right.  The idea may not present a fully-balanced view of Scripture.  It is not enough to just hear others talk about faith ideas; by itself, that will result in a people-slanted version of Christianity.  We need to hear Scripture itself on these issues to get a more well-rounded perspective of what’s important, what’s true, and what’s just trendy. 

        3)      There is a personality within Scripture that we need in our life.  If you’re a reader, you know the experience of reading an author long enough that you find yourself thinking or talking in the author’s writing style.  Similarly, as we spend time with Scripture, we find its personality sinking into our mindset.  And we need that! 
          We need to not only hear people tell us what Jesus was like, we need to actually read the gospels and see Jesus the full range of Jesus’ teaching and talking to people.  We need to spend time hearing David’s love for God in the Psalms.  We need to feel Paul’s passion for truth, for saving souls, and for avoiding false religious ideas.  The best way to really let God shape us is to spend enough time with His word that its personality becomes part of our own.

We are blessed with so many wonderful faith resources today.  Personally, I could spend half a day just looking through the religion section at Barnes and Noble, reading back covers and tables of contents.  I could easily spend the other half-day exploring the internet to hear great speakers and to learn how other churches start effective outreach ministries. 

So if you love to look into religious ideas, I’m right there with you.  I hope you keep using those resources to grow in your faith.  But make sure you don’t just become an expert in ‘what other people say about Scripture.’  That’s leaving the real foundation behind.   God is real, and He has spoken.  To know Him, I need to get deeper than the human voices can go.  I need to make sure God’s word has the loudest voice in my faith.   

Spend time with God’s word today!  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why He Didn’t Give Up On The Church

“One woman at church said something critical and rude to me…I will never go back to a church again.”

“I knew too many of those guys, and I knew some of them were complete hypocrites.  If that’s what Christians are, I don’t want anything to do with it.  You won’t see me in a church ever again.”

“I used to go to church.  I watched a church split over personality issues.  It was the biggest mess you’ve ever seen; people yelling, gossiping, lying.  I promised myself I would never set foot in a church again.”

 You’ve heard stories like this, haven’t you? 

From Barna Group's 2014 Book Churchless
There are at least 2 reasons stories like this are so common:
  1. First, the church is made up of people.  People will eventually fail us, because they are all sinful.  So if you are in church long enough, you will see people do things that are against the spirit of Christianity.  They will disappoint you, and you will be tempted to give up on church altogether.
2. Second, we hear these stories so often because 1 in 3 Americans are now “de-churched,” according to a Barna Research study released in November 2014 (see graphic on right).  For every 3 people you pass in the grocery aisle, 1 of them used to be actively involved in church before deciding to just stop going.  Something happened, and they quit church.  If that survey is right, there are well over 100 million “de-churched” people in America.  No wonder we all know people who tell these types of “why I quit the church” stories. 

If Anyone Should’ve Quit Church…

But if anyone had a reason to hate the church, it was Paul.  He could’ve told his own stories:

“When I went to church in Jerusalem, no one would even talk to me.  They all whispered behind my back that they didn’t believe I was a real Christian.  All they could talk about was my past.”  
(Acts 9:26)

“I helped start the church in Corinth.  Now all they do is criticize me when I’m not around.  I’m just trying to follow Jesus and help others, but they keep badmouthing me.  They say I’m weak.  They criticize my speaking ability.  They say I’m not trustworthy, and that I’m not even a real apostle.”  
(2 Cor. 10:1,10)

If Paul were like most people, he would’ve followed those stories by saying: “so I will never go back to church again.” 

But instead, do you know who absolutely loved the church?  Same guy.  Paul.  How?

If you look in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, you see Paul speaking about the church in majestic terms.  The church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23).  The church is the place where God lives (Eph. 2:19-22).  The church is God’s voice in the world to proclaim His wisdom (Eph. 3:10).  The church is the bride of Christ, who Jesus was willing to die for (Eph. 5:25-27,32). 

And in those descriptions we find the secret to Paul’s love for the church…

The Connection That We Often Miss

Image from:
In all of those passages, Paul connects his high view of the church to his high view of Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t say he loves the church because the people are always polite and the preacher is always excellent and the worship is an entertaining experience.  It’s not human perfection that made the church special.

Paul loved the church because he loved Jesus Christ.  And since Jesus Christ loved the church, Paul wasn’t going to quit on it, in spite of the imperfect – and sometimes downright mean – people he found there. 

It reminds me of what Jesus said to Peter.  In John 21:15-17, the resurrected Jesus is getting Peter back to the mission of being an apostle.  Jesus asks 3 times if Peter loves Him.  All 3 times Peter says yes.  And all 3 times Jesus replies: then feed My sheep.  Who are His sheep?  His people.  His church. 

Notice the train of thought: Peter, if you love Me, then join My mission to help My church. 

“But Jesus, they were hypocrites!” we might say.   “Yes, but you’ve been a hypocrite at times also, and I still love you.  If you love Me, feed My sheep.”

“But Jesus, didn’t you hear what they said to me?!”  “Yes, but I’ve heard you say some pretty mean things too, and I still love you.  If you love Me, feed My sheep.” 

A Deeper Foundation for Loving the Church

If you and I truly love Jesus, we will look at the church differently.  Loving the church because of the people will only go so far.  We must go deeper than that. 

If we love Jesus, we will feed His sheep.  We will join Jesus in pouring out our lives to help make His church a little more like the majestic bride He wants it to be. 

Christ’s church needs you.  It needs you not to give up on its failures.  It needs you to show others what it means to love Jesus.  It needs you to help it serve and grow.  Paul believed in that mission, because his Savior believed in that mission.

Do you love Jesus?  If so, don’t ignore what He calls us to do: let’s keep loving His church. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Rapid Response: Women and Church Leadership

Rapid Response: Women’s Roles

Image from: timedotcom
Rapid Response is intended to be a brief Q and A on a debated topic.  Rapid Response articles reflect my best current understanding on the issue, held hopefully with the spirit of honest truth-seeking. 
This time: 13 questions on women’s roles in God’s church…

1)      What is the Bible’s view of male and female roles?  The Bible teaches that men and women are equal in value, equal in salvation, different in roles.  Among those different roles: God expects men to be the spiritual leaders, in the church and in worship.

2)      If God chooses men to have a leadership role, is God saying that they are better in value, talents, or superiority?  Not at all – God’s leadership choices do not imply superiority judgments.  God chose Moses to lead the Israelites.  God chose the tribe of Levi to be priests.  Jesus chose the apostles.  God gives characteristics for elders and deacons.  None of these leadership choices had anything to do with talents or superiority.  If we don’t understand this principle, it warps how we view this issue and tempts us to desire that biblical teachings be different than they are.