READING THE BIBLE (6): As God’s (Crazy) Family Album

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In this series of posts we’re exploring the different ways the Bible confronts the reader and the appropriate response to each.

#6 – READING THE BIBLE AS OUR FAMILY ALBUM

Ever look back at your parents’ year books and laugh and gag at how ridiculous they appear? Ever read the embarrassing notes your friends scribbled in the margins of your year book? Acne covered faces, scrawny legs and awful hairdos. Many of us would like to bury or burn ours. Yet they are a part of us. That is our past and those are the people who shared our journey.

The Bible is our family album, the diary of our ancestors, the carefully preserved yearbook of all of our long-lost relatives in the faith. These are the men and women who have gone before us, paving the way, testing the waters, making mistakes that we will hopefully learn from and, most importantly, providing examples of imperfect yet real faith in God. I am so grateful that God didn’t sugarcoat the Bible and airbrush all the players. We find ordinary people — warts and all.

Let’s see: There’s David the murderous adulterer “after God’s own heart.” The dishonest schemer named Jacob. Abraham sends his wife Sarah into Pharaoh’s harem to save his own neck. Moses has a speech problem. Solomon, the “wisest man who ever lived”, had a womanizing problem and lifestyle that would make Hugh Hefner blush. Yet God still used him to pen a lot of wise proverbs.

The prophets are like our crazy, embarrassing uncles from down south who we’re ashamed to claim. You know: Isaiah runs around naked for a couple years. Jeremiah is on prozac in his constant battle with debilitating depression. Ezekiel was cooking up food over a fire of human excrement. Jonah gave God the finger and ended up getting in a big fishing accident… Continue reading

READING THE BIBLE (5): As Practical Guidebook for Life

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In this series of posts we’re exploring the different ways the Bible confronts the reader and the appropriate response to each.

#5 – THE BIBLE AS GOD’S PRACTICAL GUIDEBOOK FOR LIFE

The most popular approach to Scripture in modern-day America is to search it for practical principles for daily living. The Bible is God’s “Handbook for Life”, “Survival Manual”, “Guidebook for Living” or, even more basic, the acronym “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”. Well, the Bible certainly does serve this purpose.  Consider the Proverbs for starters:

“Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young” (Prov 1:2-4).

Here we have an entire collection of inspired God-fearing nuggets of practical wisdom to apply to our lives. As we examine the culture around us few would argue with the claim that good old-fashioned wisdom, discipline, and insight are a rare commodity. And who wouldn’t benefit from some fresh pointers on how to “live disciplined and successful lives” and do “what is right, just and fair”?  Such Scriptures speak marvelously to the nitty-gritty details of life — money management, parenting advice, healthy conflict management skills, work ethic and a storehouse of moral guidance and sexual warnings.  As a youth pastor I believe the emerging generation is overstuffed with knowledge and information but lacking the wisdom to rightly filter and apply it to their lives.

Besides the so-called wisdom literature (e.g., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job) we find much practical teaching and personal exhortation within the Letters to the churches.  The power of Scripture to be one’s guidebook for righteous living is clear in the pastoral epistles: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Tim 3:16).  In this way the Bible provides us with a moral compass, a standard of right and wrong to measure things by. Continue reading

READING THE BIBLE (4): As God’s Grand Story

Lifechurchindy-YourLifeGodsStory119In this series of posts we’re exploring the different ways the Bible confronts the reader and the appropriate response to each.

#4 – THE BIBLE AS GOD’S GRAND STORY

The Bible is God’s Grand Story of his dealings within history — the grand metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. We are all characters within God’s unfolding plot, playing supporting roles that either further the divine Author’s purposes or rebel against them. As I have often said, our primary posture toward God is one of humble submission to the His goals for his story and an eagerness to find our role within its pages.

Many, however, have disregarded the basic “narrative structure” of the Bible, refusing to read it as story. Clark Pinnock says it well:

“Even though the Bible is basically a storybook, theology has not bothered to orient itself in that way. It has preferred to play intellectual games and to adopt a rational order for itself, with the result that the story remains in the background as a presupposition that does not call the shots. Theology has been enamored by the rationalist ideal on the (dubious) assumption that people are basically rational beings who need to be appealed to with abstract arguments. This is not only untrue in relation to people, it refuses to take seriously the plain fact that in Christianity truth is in the story.”

Not only does this deny the narrative form of the Scriptures, it fails to see that humans all tell ourselves a particular story in order to make sense of our lives and interpret reality.  N. T. Wright argues that stories are a “fundamental characteristic of worldviews”, which he broadly defines as “the basic stuff of human existence, the lens through which the world is seen, the blueprint for how one should live in it, and above all the sense of identity and place which enables human beings to be what they are.”

As John Eldredge notes in his small book Epic,

“Life doesn’t come to us like a math problem. It comes to us the way a story does, scene by scene… Each day has a beginning and an end. There are all sorts of characters, all sorts of settings. A year goes by like a chapter from a novel. Sometimes it feels like a tragedy. Sometimes like a comedy. Most of it feels like a soap opera. Whatever happens, it’s a story through and through.”

Yes, we are all living our lives within some controlling story — whether we are conscious of it or not.   Continue reading

READING THE BIBLE (3): As the Revelation of God’s Majesty

Isaiah in the Temple (Isaiah 6) 

Isaiah in the Temple (Isaiah 6)

In this series of posts we’re exploring the different ways the Bible confronts the reader and the appropriate response to each.

#3 – THE BIBLE AS REVELATION OF GOD’S MAJESTY

Christians often take the mind-blowing fact of God’s self-revelation for granted. Our faith stands or falls on the foundational belief that God has stooped to reveal himself to his creatures through the limited mode of human language and speech. The Scriptures are the very Word of the God who spoke and the entire cosmos came into being.

How can this stunning belief not continuously leave us with jaws dropped and hearts gripped? And the more we read what God has revealed in Holy Scripture, the more we realize that God does not desire to be hidden from his creatures. His majesty and glory are intended to be beheld by those who are “pure in heart.” His divine attributes are on display in lofty psalms of praise, vivid theophanies that shake the earth and strike people dead, poetic descriptions of God’s creative handiwork, God’s mighty power and mercy revealed in his salvation acts on behalf of his people.

When the reader encounters the Holy God at Sinai, coming down in thick cloud accompanied by fire and thunder, the reader should be struck with holy, paralyzing fear and awe. Likewise, when we read of Isaiah’s encounter with God in the temple (Isaiah 6) the appropriate response is to, like Isaiah himself, stand speechless and overwhelmed by our own sin in the presence of such a holy God. When Scripture paints a picture of God’s train filling the temple, high and lifted up, we ought to join the Angels in crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Continue reading

READING THE BIBLE (2): As God’s Book of Promises

In this series of posts we’re exploring the different ways the Bible confronts the reader and the appropriate response to each.

#2 – THE BIBLE AS GOD’S BOOK OF PROMISES

The Bible is a treasure trove packed full of the enduring promises of God. When life’s troubles trip us up and get us down, when despair sets in and hope grows dim, the reader of the Bible can find assurance and hope in the many promises of the Bible.

Some promises were made to specific people for a specific time, but most don’t have an expiration date and apply to every person under any circumstances at any time or place. The trustworthiness of God’s promises are made certain by the faithfulness of God to his people in the past.  “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

The source of our hope comes from the future secured for us by Christ’s death and resurrection.  Yes, we have an eternal inheritance that awaits us:

“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

What is the appropriate reader response when reading or hearing of God’s Scriptural promises?  Answer: They should fill us with HOPE and COURAGE. So, let us draw daily from God’s big book of promises. Their number is almost endless. Here’s a few to get you started.

 Christ accepts us : Revelation 3:20John 6:37

Sowing in Tears

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I recently preached a message from Psalm 126 which mentions “going out weeping” and “sowing in tears.” I used that message to encourage those of us who may be battling depression or facing difficult times to keep on “sowing” and “planting” even when you don’t feel like it, or when you don’t see immediate results. Keep planting God’s promises into the ground and keep getting out of bed, and to “not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time you’ll reap a harvest if you don’t give up” (Gal. 6:9). Keep sowing, even if that means sowing in tears. Keep getting out of bed, and going out to face the new day, even if that means going out weeping.  We carry with us pockets full of God’s ripe promises — His seed that will not return void without accomplishing His purposes. Listen to message here. My friend Danny has a poem along these lines. Enjoy! -JB

INNER STRENGTH by Danny Evans

The day starts, which is the hardest part. At the crack of dawn, people without depression give a yawn, get out of bed, and give their wings a spread.

They head out the door ready to explore. However, I lay with my eyes closed not tired, but my brain is racing, feeling wired.  I want to get up, but my body doesn’t allow. What do I do now? I think about putting my feet on the bedroom floor and exiting through that door. Now, I’ve got a goal in mind. It’s that inner strength that I need to find.

READING THE BIBLE (1): As Divine Encounter

Embrace_WordsI want to repost a series exploring the many different ways the Bible intends to speak to us. Depending on the genre or book, style or authorial intent, the reader should be mindful of what response is most appropriate for the particular message at hand.  Not all scripture is designed to evoke the same response. For example, some portions of scripture display God’s glory and majesty (e.g., Isaiah 6; Job 38-39) where the proper response is worship and adoration; while other scriptures (e.g., Proverbs, Epistles) provide practical advice for godly living where the appropriate response is personal application, and so on. Let’s get started.

#1 – THE BIBLE AS DIVINE ENCOUNTER

There is a significance difference between examining God’s written Word on the one hand and having a personal encounter with the Living God through our reading of His Word on the other. It’s the difference between going through an old shoebox full of love letters from your spouse and sitting across the table with them for dinner and intimate conversation. We should be carefully how we approach the Holy Scriptures. When we treat the Bible only as an object to be examined, analyzed, probed, mastered, digested or applied to our lives, we have to some degree placed God’s Word under our control. If we’re not careful, the Word that is said to be “living and active” can become for us merely lifeless ink on a page.

I believe it is a good and healthy practice to approach our reading of Scriptures with the same holy reverence and personal respect we would approach a face-to-face conversation with the Living God himself. We should prayerfully invite and expect God’s real, spiritual presence to show up in power as we meditate on his Word and seek counsel from Him therein.  The real, active presence of God’s Spirit at work in our reading of the text is traditionally called “illumination.”

How does viewing the Bible as Divine Encounter change our approach to reading and studying the Scriptures? Continue reading

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On Reading Scripture

Repost from 2011. -JB

In the October 2011 issue of Christianity Today, J. Todd Billings has a gem of an article called, “How to Read the Bible.”  He makes the initial claim that “Even when the Bible is turned to as the authority, it’s not necessarily interpreted Christianly.”  He then describes the two most popular ways people approach Scripture today before offering another more fruitful and faithful approach.  Here’s how he describes most readers of the Bible today:

“When examining how we interpret Scripture, we should pay attention to our functional theology of Scripture: how our use of Scripture reflects particular beliefs about what the Bible is. There are two common approaches to using Scripture today.

Some readers start with a detailed blueprint of what the Bible says, then read individual passages of Scripture as if they were the concrete building blocks to fit into the blueprint. They translate each passage into a set of propositions or principles that fit the established details of the blueprint. This approach assumes that we already know the larger meaning of Scripture; our system of theology gives us the meaning. Thus, the task of interpreting Scripture becomes a matter of discovering where in our theological system a particular passage fits.

Others prefer a smorgasbord approach. Imagine a huge cafeteria loaded with food of many kinds for many tastes; you are at the cafeteria with the members of a small-group Bible study. Can you imagine what some of the other members of the group would choose to eat? I suspect that there might even be patterns based on age, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, but each person chooses which foods to feast on based his or her appetite. In the smorgasbord approach to Scripture, the Bible becomes the answer book for our felt needs and personal perspectives.

With both the blueprint and smorgasbord approaches, we end up using Scripture for our own purposes. We are in control. The Bible may be viewed as authoritative, but it provides either confirmation of our preconceived ideas or divine advice for felt needs.” Continue reading

BRANDON’S STORY: A Cry From the Pit

God continues to make MainStreet a place for “new beginnings” and a place where amazing grace is proclaimed and experienced. Brandon was a freshman at Crown College back in 201o when we were just beginning to gather a launch team to start MainStreet. He performed at our open mic event for youth and I had many conversations about discipleship and faith back then. Then finances forced Brandon to drop out of Crown and Brandon drifted out of sight — at least my sight. Sadly, Brandon also drifted away from God and spiraled into a dark place in his life — turning to alcohol to numb and escape the inner anguish and pain. Eventually hitting “rock bottom”, God was able to break the desperate silence and sing a song of salvation over Brandon. In a jail cell, Brandon experienced the redeeming love of Christ and recommitted His life to God this past summer. After 3 years of silence, I received a call from Brandon this summer, out of the blue. He shared this story above and said he was coming back to Crown to start over and pursue his degree. He’s looking for a church and wondered if MainStreet was able to get off the ground. With a glimmer in my eye and gratitude in my heart, I was able to say with enthusiasm and honesty: “Brandon, MainStreet is alive and well, and is made up of stories just like yours! Welcome home!” Brandon’s first or second Sunday back, he came forward to the waters to reaffirm his baptism at Surfside Beach. Brandon, a talented musician, hopes to help out with the worship team this year and get plugged into the life of the church. Please welcome Brandon, and enjoy his telling of his story above. Praise God!

Cracked Pot Confessions

This is an oldie but goodie from the old DI archives from 2007.  A good reminder that though we’re all broken people, we have a God who shines his grace through all the cracks of our lives.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Cor 4:7).

We’re all battered and bruised, broken and fragile people trying to endure the war-torn roads of life. If we strip off all the layers and masks we wear to cover and hide our particular wounds and scars we will find that we all bear similar cracks. Put simply: We are all cracked pots! The problem is that the very cracks we work so hard to hide and cover, or try to repair with cheap glue and other temporary fixes, God desires to use to shine his loving, healing power.

The Apostle Paul describes the amazing fact that God has chosen us fragile human vessels to carry and contain the glory of his powerful presence! But it gets crazier than that. It is actually our WEAKNESSES that can often display God’s loving, healing, redeeming power more than our human strengths.

Each of us have scars and wounds–or “cracks”–we would wish to avoid. No one welcomes the death of a loved one or getting their heart broken in a relationship. Yet, when we invite God’s presence into those dark, fractured areas, God brings comfort, healing and gradual restoration. Every scar has a story. The question is whether we have let God bring healing into those places or not. If not, our scars still tell stories of brokenness and pain, hopelessness and bitterness, tragedy and despair. Yet, if we have invited God’s loving, healing light into our cracked pot lives, then our scars will begin to tell stories of healing and grace, love and forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.

If you take a candle tonight and place the light inside a cracked jar with a good lid, where does the light shine through? Answer: The cracks. We are all cracked pots. The question is: Are we letting God inside so that He can begin to shine the light of his love, grace and healing through our unique cracks?

ESSAY: A City on a Hill: A Biblical Theology of Missions

“Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”

- St. Francis of Assisi

 

Modern readers tend to take the above statement as a kind admonition towards acts of charity and service in the name of Jesus.  But, they are usually quick to make clear that the primary means of evangelizing is through the preaching of the Word.

Without downplaying either propositional preaching or acts of charity, the following essay explores another approach to evangelism—an approach that seems to be rooted more deeply in the Old and New Testament traditions.  I call it the “City on a Hill Approach” to world missions.

In order to set the stage, we must take a trip back through the history of God’s people, through the Old Testament and up until the birth of Christ, when the world sat in darkness awaiting the brightness of a new dawn.

ISRAEL’S MISSIONARY PRESENCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

When God called Abraham and promised to make him a great nation, he and his descendents were to be the instrument through which God would bless all the peoples of the earth (Gen 12:2-3; 17:4, 16; 18:18; 22:17-18; 26:4; 28:14).[1] All nations were to come to a knowledge of the one true and living God as they observed the people of God living in relationship with Him and obedience to His decrees.  As Moses says,

Observe [God’s decrees and laws] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”  What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him (Deut 4:5-7)?

Furthermore, the people of God were called to be a kingdom of priests, or mediators between the nations and God: “…if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be my kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:5-6).

It is key to note that the primary posture of the missionary calling of Israel was not one of sending out individual missionaries to teach propositional truths about God, but rather a corporate calling to be a certain kind of people, or community, living a certain quality of life in plain view of the on-looking nations.  They are to be a unique, sanctified presence among all the peoples of the earth. Continue reading

Tim Keller’s “Counterfeit Gods”

51WUhNgBu7L._SS500_Check out Trevin Wax’s review of Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Penguin, 2009). Keller is one of my favorite Christian thinkers these days, and I find him a very insightful, articulate writer bringing clarity to very complex theological issues.  He is a gift to the church and a newfound favorite among my preferred authors.

I want to whole-heartily recommend this book for further exploration of the foundational issue of modern-day idolatry.  More great coverage on this hot-topic in the media today can be found at Out Of Ur.  Here’s  snippet:

There is nothing like a recession to put Americans in a reflective mood. Unemployment and a devalued stock market have led many to consider whether money is the pre-eminent form of American idolatry. New York Timescolumnist David Brooks has called for a new culture war, a “crusade for economic self-restraint” in a self-indulgent age. Adam Sternbergh wonders whether thrift is a virtue that can be developed or a trait that must be inherited. ABC’s Nightline invited Mark Driscoll to discuss the allure of celebrity and corporate idolatry. And Tim Keller has turned his attention to rooting out idolatry with his latest book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters.

For Keller an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything which absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” Elaborating on the book’s title, Keller writes that a “counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life, that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” What does Keller have in mind? Well, everything: family, children, career, earning money, achievement, social status, relationships, beauty, brains, morality, political or social activism—even effective Christian ministry.

Below is great introduction to Tim Keller.  Keller was invited to speak at Google’s headquarters on his book “The Reason for God.”  A lively, engaging discussion ensued. Enjoy!

Reports from the intersection of faith & everyday life.

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