Thursday, September 21, 2017

If No One Had A Bible




Try to imagine it: No Bibles anywhere. No King James. No NIV. Not even a paperback copy of "The Message".

What would that be like?

Regardless of how such a thing might happen, try to imagine what it would be like to never have access to the Bible - ever again.

In some ways, I think our world might actually be a better place if no one had a Bible anymore. 

Maybe if we didn't depend on a book for everything we'd start to discover an inner desperation and a hunger for a deeper experience of Jesus.

Not only that, if there were no Bibles, we just might start to value listening to one another share testimonies of Jesus. Especially if there was no more need to hear from the resident Bible expert or scholar talk for an hour every weekend.

Imagine sitting around your living room with friends and listening to people share what Jesus was saying or doing in their lives that week. Imagine someone closing their eyes and quoting verses about how nothing can separate us from the love of God, or about how Jesus died for us while we were still enemies of God?

Don't you think this might help us to connect with one another - and with Jesus - more directly?

Maybe I'm the only one, but the more I think about this the more convinced I am that we might just be better off without our Bibles.

Now, I get it. I'm talking about what it would be like to first learn what the Bible says and study it and memorize it before experiencing those words in a deeper and more intimate way.

But, what if we only had our memories of scripture to sustain us? What if we could only pass on to our children the verses that really spoke deeply to us? What verses would we choose?

Probably verses where Jesus says, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" and "Love one another as I have loved you" would dominate your memory.

Perhaps you'd want your children to remember certain Parables that Jesus shared, like the Prodigal Son, or the Treasure in the Field or the Sower of Seeds.

Chances are you probably wouldn't find it all that crucial to memorize verses where God commanded His people to slaughter every man, woman and child and warned them not to show any compassion while doing so. You might leave behind the verses about how blessed those people are who dash infants against the rocks.

That, to me, would be a very good thing.

If all we had left was Jesus and our memories of scriptures that really touched us and profoundly changed us, that wouldn't be so bad.

What do you think?

-kg






Tuesday, September 12, 2017

All I Really Know



Learning to discern the voice of God is challenging, and we don't always get it right. 

Sometimes we get it very, very wrong, in fact. 

In those moments it can be difficult to maintain our trust in Him because we can assume that He misled us, especially when we had our hopes in whatever we felt like He promised us.

The most challenging time for our family was when Wendy had a dream that she was pregnant with twins. She was standing in our back yard working with her flowers and she felt like she was having a miscarriage. Her first thought was, "Oh no. I'm losing this baby" but immediately she heard the Lord say to her in her dream: "Don't say this baby will die if I say it will live."

A few weeks later she realized she was actually pregnant. 

A few weeks after that she started to lose the baby.

People came over to our house and prayed over her. They affirmed what she had heard in her dream; that this child would not die but live. 

So, we held on tight to those promises, and especially to this dream which God had given to her long before she even realized she was pregnant.

But then we lost the baby.

It's hard to describe the sense of loss and betrayal we felt.

How could God do this? Why would He give us such a specific dream and promise of life and then take it away from us? Was God being cruel? Was He playing with us? Didn't He know how we would have interpreted that dream and that promise that the child would not die but live?

There were no answers then, only questions.

We grieved. We cried. We wrestled with our doubts. We struggled to hang on to our faith in God's goodness.

Over time we began to look at all of this through another lens. Wendy had another dream later on that suggested that our daughter was indeed alive and in the presence of Jesus. She took comfort knowing that we would see her - and the other 5 children we had miscarried - one day soon.

But that experience led us to reassess the way we interpreted God's voice. Not everything was easy to discern. Not every word was to be taken at face value.

In other words, we weren't so sure about what we knew anymore. 

I recently shared this story with someone and they asked me what to do when you know that God has told you something but you're still struggling with doubts?

After thinking about how to respond I had to say this: "The list of things I 'know' is pretty short these days. I can only say that God is good and He loves me. Beyond that, I can't honestly say I "know" anything."

This is where we are. 

Our confidence in anything other than God's goodness and love for us is up for grabs. 

But because we know that we are loved by a God who is good, we can handle anything else that comes our way.

Like the man who said to Jesus, "I believe. Help my unbelief!" or Peter who said, "Lord, where can we go? You have the words of life", we can only hold tight to Him, even if we don't always understand what He is doing.

So, hold fast to these simple truths: God is good. He loves you.

Anything else is subject to change.

-kg



Saturday, September 02, 2017

BIBLE-BELIEVING CHRISTIANS?



The more I talk to Christians the more I start to notice how often certain phrases reveal a belief system that’s just under the surface.

For example, the other day I shared something on Facebook about an infamously anti-Christian celebrity who had posted a video on their wall which suggested they might possibly have turned to Christ. 

Some people were genuinely excited that this man may have found faith in Christ. 

Most, however, were angry that I had shared the video at all. 

Still others doubted the legitimacy of the man’s conversion because he was not a "Bible-believing Christian” and that got me thinking about another famous person who wasn’t “Bible-believing” but most certainly was a Jesus-follower.

Gandhi, who would never have called himself a “Christian” and most certainly not a “Bible-believer,” was a Jesus-follower. By that I mean, for the last several years of his life he read the Sermon on the Mount every day and tried to put it into practice.

What would you call someone who did that? Possibly not a “Bible-believing Christian” but at the very least, a “Jesus-follower” would be an accurate description.

Now, I'm not saying that Gandhi was a Christian, or even that he placed any faith in Jesus beyond the the teachings he read in the Sermon on the Mount. 

But, the funny thing is, I hardly know any “Bible-believing Christians” who read the Sermon on the Mount every day and then try to live it out in their daily lives.

Do you?

I think we should be more alarmed at the fact that there are apparently many more “Bible-believing Christians” in the world who don’t read the words of Jesus daily or try to put His teachings into practice.

Isn’t this exactly what Jesus was talking about when he rebuked the Pharisees saying:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. [John 5:39-40]

It’s not in the Bible that we find life. We only find life in Christ. He is the One we need to go to and follow if we want eternal life.

Maybe we need to move beyond the idea of "Bible-believing Christianity" towards a "Jesus-following Christianity"?

Because believing in something is worthless if you're not actually putting it into practice in your daily life. 

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." [James 1:22]

We need more Jesus-followers and less Bible-believers.

Who's with me?


-kg

Friday, September 01, 2017

The Authority of Scripture?




“When [LGBTQ-affirming Christians] tell me that I am wrong for saying that [homosexuality] is a sin, in the simplicity of my faith in the Holy Scriptures, I point him to this sacred record [the Bible], and tell him, in all candor, as my text does, that his teaching blasphemes the name of God and His doctrine.
"“The tree of [affirming homosexuality and transgenderism] is evil and only evil…[it] is nourished by an utter rejection of the Scriptures. – Rev. Henry Van Dyke

Many Christians today would agree whole-heartedly with Pastor Van Dyke's statements here. But keep in mind that what he was actually defending here was slavery and his opponents were Abolitionists. Still, his position in favor of slave-holding was very strongly supported by the Holy Scriptures. One cannot deny that he was right about the fact that the Bible did not condemn slaveholding outright.
But we cannot miss the fact that it is more than possible for someone to be Biblically-correct about something and still be very, very wrong at the same time.
The struggle for many of us is that we have been told for so long that we need to be "Biblically-minded" that we have forgotten that this same Bible teaches us to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and affirms that we have the mind of Christ.
Furthermore, the same Bible also teaches us to love extravagantly - as Christ has loved us - which was unconditionally and before we did anything to change our minds about Him, or how we live.
Here are Van Dykes actual comments about Abolitionists made in 1860:
“The tree of Abolition is evil and only evil…[it] is nourished by an utter rejection of the Scriptures....When the Abolitionist tells me that slaveholding is sin, in the simplicity of my faith in the Holy Scriptures, I point him to this sacred record, and tell him, in all candor, as my text does, that his teaching blasphemes the name of God and His doctrine.”-– Rev. Henry Van Dyke (1860), “The Character and Influence of Abolitionism” (sermon), p.11.

Now, listen to what pro-slavery Christians said in the 1800’s about Abolitionists and substitute the topic of homosexuality and you’ll see that the arguments used today are exactly the same:

“[Opponents of slavery] decide a priori [in advance] what the Bible ought to speak, and then turn it over in order to see how they can make it speak what they wish…When Moses speaks the words of the God of the Hebrews, it is for us to listen, not to call into question.” – Bernard Whitman (1831), Two Letters to the Rev. Moses Stuart: On the Subject of Religious Liberty”, p. 30-42.

“If the present course of the abolitionists is right, then the course of Christ and the apostles were wrong.” – Charles Hodge (1860), “Bible Argument on Slavery” in E.N. Elliott’s “Cotton Is King”, p. 849.

“The tree of Abolition is evil and only evil…[it] is nourished by an utter rejection of the Scriptures.” – Rev. Henry Van Dyke (1860), “The Character and Influence of Abolitionism” (sermon), p.11.

“Those who oppose slavery are engaged in willful or conscious opposition to the truth…Who are we, that in our modern wisdom presume to set aside the Word of God, and…invent for ourselves a ‘higher law’ that those holy Scriptures which are given to us as ‘a light to our feet and a lamp to our paths’ must answer?”-  Episcopal Bishop John Henry Hopkins (1864), “Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, and Historical View of Slavery.”, p.16

Those who opposed slavery [the Abolitionists] had very little scriptural support for their position, but they were on the side of Christ all the same.

Why is it so hard for us today to see that there are times when we need to listen to the mind of Christ and the voice of the Good Shepherd in order to fulfill the law of love?

As Henry Brinton said recently: 

“An answer based only on Biblical quotations may put us on the side of Southern theologians who supported slavery and lost their way.” [Quoted from CNN, Oct. 15, 2014] [John Blake, “How the Bible Was Used To Justify Slavery, Abolitionism.”]

Sometimes, to obey Jesus we might have to admit that the Bible falls short. In those cases, we must cling tightly to the Good Shepherd and remember His command:

“Love one another as I have loved you.” – Jesus

Today, almost no Christian would argue in favor of slavery, in spite of the fact that it is quite “Biblical.”

So, the question of “authority” immediately comes to mind. Some argue for the inerrant and infallible authority of Scripture as the rule for a Christian’s life. But others, like me, suggest instead that our authority is Christ and that it is still the Holy Spirit who cries out to the Body of Christ today.

Sadly, many of us will not, or cannot, listen because we are convinced that our Bibles – and only our Bibles – have authority over us.

Are we willing to submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit? Are we courageous enough to allow Jesus to be our guide?

Keep in mind that the Bible never holds itself up as our final authority. Instead, the Bible points us to Jesus and reminds us that He is the Head of the Church.

In the words of our Abba Father who thundered from heaven, “This is my Son. Listen to Him!”

-kg












Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Schizophrenic God of Inerrancy



For those who embrace – even insist – on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, there emerges a very odd version of a God who simply cannot make up His mind about things.

As an example, the infallible Scriptures are 100 percent clear about the fact that God causes evil and creates disasters:

“When disaster [literally “evil”] comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” [Amos 3:6]

“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster [“evil”]; I the Lord, do all these things.” [Isaiah 45:7]

“The LORD said to him, "Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” [Exodus 4:11]

These verses, and several others like them, affirm without any doubt that God is the one who brings disaster, creates evil and makes people deaf and blind.

This is an inerrant and infallible statement of fact supported by an equally infallible and inerrant Holy Bible.

However, there are other scriptures that contradict these ideas and instead say:

"God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all"  [1 John 1:5]

“His works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” [Deut. 32:4]

Jesus also affirmed that it was Satan who came to “steal, kill and destroy,” not God.

So, taking all of these infallible and inerrant verses together, we know without a doubt that God does no wrong, and doesn’t destroy or kill, but that He most certainly brings evil, creates darkness and hands out birth defects.

We also know that God was the one who commanded David to take a census and then punished 70,000 people by killing them with a plague when David obeyed. [See 2 Sam.24:1]

At the same time, we clearly see that it was Satan who incited David to take a census, not God. [See 1 Chronicles 21:1]

We also know that God never tempts anyone to do evil [See James 1:13].

So clearly these inerrant and infallible verses tell us that God, and Satan, both commanded David to take a census and then God punished David and his people for giving in to the temptation which God never tempted him with.

Does that make sense to you?

Try this one.

“Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please Him to ruin and destroy you.” [Deut. 28:63]

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked!” [Ezekiel 33:11]

So, God is pleased to destroy His people, but He takes no pleasure in their death.

One more.

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers.” [Exodus 20:5; Deut. 5:9]

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel…he will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live, but his father will die for his own sin…the son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.” [Ezekiel 18:3;17-19]

Clearly, according to these inerrant and infallible verses of scripture, God punishes children for the sins of their fathers, but a son will not die for his father’s sins, nor share the guilt of his father, nor will the father share the guilt of his son.

Got it?

If you do, please explain it to the rest of us.

All I can see is that there are competing voices in the scriptures. Some prophets see God one way – causing evil, creating birth defects and punishing sons for the sins of their fathers – and other prophets see God a different way – not causing evil or tempting people, or punishing sons for their father’s sins and taking no pleasure in the death of anyone.

Those who insist on an inerrant scripture ignore these discrepancies, or turn somersaults to make each contradictory statement true while ignoring the very obvious fact: The voices we hear in scripture are not infallible, nor inerrant.

So, what can we do about these verses? How can we discern which ones speak truthfully about God’s character and which verses miss the mark?

According to Paul, “The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things” [1 Cor. 2:15]  and while quoting Isaiah’s rhetorical question “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him!?” [Isa. 4:13] responds shockingly: “But we have the mind of Christ!” [v. 17]

So, who dares to challenge and question the scriptures?

We do!

Why? 

Because we have the mind of Christ.

Paul even reminds us that we will judge angels [1 Cor. 6:3]; and who are “angels” but “messengers from God”? [The word "angel" in scripture is literally translated as "messenger of God"]

Do we have an obligation to read the Scriptures through the lens of Jesus and with the mind of Christ? 

Absolutely!

Otherwise we are left with a schizophrenic God who is both good and evil, who is both tempting and never-tempting, who both creates birth defects and heals them, who delights in destruction and takes no pleasure in it, etc.

Is God the author of confusion? 

No.

Is God the one who is confused about who He is and what He does, or could it be that those who wrote about Him prior to Christ couldn’t see Him as clearly as we do now?

If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. There is no clearer picture of Him than this.

The only way to know God any better is to know Jesus. The more you come to know Him, the more you can clearly see through the mind of Christ what God is like.

-kg








Wednesday, August 30, 2017

LITERAL HERETICS



The first real "heretic" of Christianity was a man named "Marcion" who saw the radical difference between the God of the Old Testament scriptures and the God revealed by Jesus.

But this was not his heresy. In fact, many -if not all- early Christians also saw this same radical difference between the two testimonies of God's nature.

What's more, all of those early Christians also rejected the violence of God in the Old Testament scriptures and fully embraced the radical enemy-love taught by Jesus.

There are no dissenting voices in the early Christian church when it comes to non-violence and enemy love whatsoever.

So, what was Marcion's heresy? It was his solution for responding to the differing perspectives of God between those two Testaments that got him labeled a heretic.

Marcion's solution was to literally throw out the entire Old Covenant and to claim that the God revealed in those Hebrew scriptures was actually a demon.

[Now, that's a heresy!]

When another early Church Father wrote to rebuke Marcion's extreme response, it was not to dismiss the idea that there were obvious differences between the way God was viewed in the two Covenants.

In fact, Origen agreed with Marcion that there were differences between God as Moses and the other Prophets spoke of Him and the "Abba" Father God as revealed through Jesus.

The most surprising thing about Origen's rebuke of Marcion was that he realized that the heresy was rooted in one thing: Reading the Bible literally.

The reason that is so surprising - even ironic - is that there are Christians today who insist on reading the Bible literally and yet still consider Marcion a heretic.

In other words, today's Bible Literalists see Marcionism as a heresy even though the sin of Marcionism is specifically defined by Origen as reading the Bible too literally.

What they miss is that no one considered Marcionism a heresy for claiming that Jesus was right about who God was and what God looked like.

Every early Christian embraced that idea. All of them.

The idea that Jesus was - and is - the clearest picture anyone could ever have of God was universally accepted by the early Christian Church.

This was not heresy. It was Christianity.

Origen agreed with Marcion that a literal view of God as seen in the Old Testament scriptures "would not be entertained regarding the most unjust and cruel of men" and went on to say:

"Holy Scripture is not understood by [Marcion] according to its spiritual, but according to its literal meaning" [De Principiis, Origen, 4.8-9]

In other words, Marcion went off the rails because he read the Bible too literally. By reading the Bible literally, Marcion could not reconcile the God of Moses - who commanded genocide and delighted in the dashing of infants against the rocks - and the God of Jesus - who showed love and mercy to the just and the unjust and forgave sinners freely.

Therefore, Marcion could only do one thing: He jettisoned the entire Hebrew Bible and rejected the God he read about there as a demonic aberration of Jesus' "Abba" Father God.

But, as Origen and the other Church Fathers demonstrated, there is a better way than this.

Instead of taking everything we read in the Old Testament about God as a literal fact - as if those words are dictated by God and transcribed by dispassionate observers with no bias of their own - we should read those scriptures through the lens of Jesus.

Jesus is our best and most accurate testament of who God really is.

Rejecting Marcionism needs to include a rejection of a literal reading of the Old Testament scriptures.

-kg

NOTE: Special thanks to Derek Flood's book "Disarming Scripture" for a comparison of Origen and Marcion.




Tuesday, August 29, 2017

HERETICS LIKE PAUL




If you and I read the Old Testament scriptures the way Paul the Apostle did, we'd be called heretics.

For example, if you read Psalm 18:40-49, the passage is all about how God will destroy the Gentiles and pour out His vengeance on them:

"I destroyed my foes. They cried for help, but there was no one to save them— to the Lord, but he did not answer.
"I beat them as fine as windblown dust; I trampled them like mud in the streets.
You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head of nations.
People I did not know now serve me, foreigners cower before me;
as soon as they hear of me, they obey me. They all lose heart;
they come trembling from their strongholds.

"The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior!
He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me, who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes; from a violent man you rescued me.
"Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name."



It's pretty gruesome stuff, to be honest. 

But notice how Paul the Apostle quotes - or rather heavily misquotes - this text in Romans 15:9:

"For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:

"I destroyed my foes. They cried for help, but there was no one to save them— to the Lord, but he did not answer.
 "I beat them as fine as windblown dust; I trampled them like mud in the streets.
You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head of nations.
People I did not know now serve me, foreigners cower before me;
as soon as they hear of me, they obey me. They all lose heart;
they come trembling from their strongholds.

"The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior!
He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me, who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes; from a violent man you rescued me.

"Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name."

Wait. Seriously? 

This is what you call "taking scripture out of context" my friends.

Paul completely takes a passage about how God will take vengeance on the Gentiles and destroy them and (mis)quotes it as a way to prove that God is actually glorified for showing mercy to the Gentiles.

Trust me: No Christian pastor or Bible teacher would ever get away with anything so irresponsible as this today.

And this is not the only example. Oh, no.

Paul does it again in the very next verse of Romans 15:10 when he radically misquotes Deuteronomy 32:43 like this:

"Again it says, 'Rejoice O Gentiles, with His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants, He will take vengeance on His enemies, and make atonement for His land and people." 

Uh....yeah. Ok, then.

What's going on here? How can Paul do such a thing?

Is he trying to pull a fast one? Hardly. 

Instead, Paul is reading the Old Testament scriptures through the lens of Christ. He starts by knowing who God is - who He really is - by looking at Jesus.

In Christ, Paul can clearly see that the Father is NOT a God of vengeance and wrath. He understands that Jesus has subverted that Old Covenant idea of God and revealed to us a God who shows mercy, loves everyone and redeems even His enemies.

See, there was a time when Paul went by the name "Saul of Tarsus" and he went around doing what any good Pharisee did - he persecuted anyone who dared to question the authority of Scripture.

In fact, it was in the act of persecuting the Christian church that Jesus showed up, knocked him off his ass [literally] and opened Paul's eyes to the truth: God wasn't pleased with violence. 

Paul experienced mercy and forgiveness from the very people he was trying to murder. He heard the Gospel of Peace for the first time and very soon he came to realize that God was not who he thought He was. 

After this, Paul counted all of that scriptural "expertise" as manure and devoted himself to one thing: "to know Christ and the power of His resurrection" [Phil. 3:10]

Why would Paul do that? Why is it so important to "know Christ"?

Because without Christ, you and I cannot see God. There is a veil that covers our eyes if we try to understand the Scriptures without reading them through the lens of Jesus. [See 2 Cor. 3:15]

This is why Paul could now read violent passages in the Hebrew Scriptures and dismiss them as the flawed perspectives of men who had yet to know Christ as he had now come to know Him.

By knowing Christ, Paul could now clearly see who the "Abba" Father God really was: A God who looked and acted like Jesus.

As long as we continue to follow the letter of the Law, we will reap death. [Romans 7:10]

Paul and the other Apostles invite us to see God through brand new eyes: The eyes of Jesus.

Through Him, we can clearly see a God who refuses to beat His children. 

We, instead, see an Abba who longs to draw everyone to Himself and transform each of us into people who look and act like Jesus.

"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." [John 1:17]

-kg

NOTE: Special thanks to Derek Flood for pointing out Paul's Christ-like hermeneutic in his book "Disarming Scripture".