The Bible – like a door

open doorsHow strange it would be: To be invited to walk through a door to meet someone, but instead of walking through the door into the room on the other side, and getting to know the person who had made the invitation, I  spent all my time studying the door!

I heard the senior pastor of a large church give a fervent, ten-or-so minute talk to a group of visitors to his Sunday service. His talk was at a post-service lunch he had provided by way of welcome. After the food was eaten, he spoke passionately about the Biblical foundation for his church, he and his staff’s passion for the Bible and how all that happens there found its inspiration in “the infallible word of God – The Bible” … but he did not mention Jesus once.

I hear a lot of talk in Christian circles about the Bible: How it’s the instruction manual for life, how the Christian’s world view must be based on the Bible and how studying the Bible is the most important thing to do for people of the Christian faith. Many Christians go to extraordinary lengths to show that their particular interpretation of some aspect of the Bible’s teaching is the correct interpretation and that the interpretation of others is incorrect. It sometimes seems that, for many people of the Christian faith, being convinced of their correct position on Biblical exegeses is the main goal.

But are we followers of Jesus, or followers of the teachings of The Bible?

Oswald Chambers remind us:

“A spiritually-minded person will never come to you with the demand – ‘Believe this and that’ – a spiritually-minded person will demand that you align your life with the standards of Jesus. We are not asked to believe the Bible, but to believe the One whom the Bible reveals.”

Are we submitting our lives to the standard of Jesus the Christ, or only to our interpretation of the God-inspired book that reveals His standard? Chambers continues…

“Always measure your life solely by the standards of Jesus. Submit yourself to His yoke, and His alone; and always be careful never to place a yoke on others that is not of Jesus Christ.”

Are our lives submitted wholly in the sacrificial worship of God, or do we worship our current, faulty and incomplete intellectual understanding of Him? Are we surrendering our own agenda so that we can be the hands and feet of Christ here and now, or are we driven by a personal agenda to prove that we know more correct information about God than others?

“It takes God a long time to get us to stop thinking that unless everyone sees things exactly as we do, they must be wrong. That is never God’s view.” Oswald Chambers

Jesus does not ask us to make people align themselves to our own cerebral concepts about God.  If we are ourselves disciples of Christ, in stark contrast to the desire to make converts to our own way of thinking, Jesus asks us to make others His disciples also. Matthew 28:19

The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus time on earth in physical form knew the scriptures very well. They read their “Bible” more and studied harder than anyone else! We would do well to remember what Jesus said to them:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40

I believe that the Bible was written by people who were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to do so, and exists exactly as God has allowed it. I study scripture because, through it, truth about God can be revealed to me. I encourage everyone I can to read, study and meditate on scripture. But we must see the Bible as a doorway through which Jesus invites us to walk so that we encounter Him. The door is elaborate, amazing, wonderful and can be studied without end for a lifetime. But it is not the Bible that saves. Only Jesus can do that.

(You can read the Oswald Chambers devotional from “My Utmost For His Highest” that inspired this BlogPost here)

God’s Kingdom Come … When?

oswald-chambers 1874-1917

More challenge and wisdom from Oswald Chambers this morning in My Utmost For His Highest.

“The mystery of God is not in what is going to be— it is now, though we look for it to be revealed in the future in some overwhelming, momentous event.”

And he continues with, “Realize that the Lord is here now, and the freedom you receive is immediate.”

This makes me think of all the final verses of many of our most celebrated Church hymns. So many of them sing about finally being in heaven with God after we’re dead, or seeing God’s glory finally descending to earth with the “second coming”.

Final verse of “Amazing Grace”. Words by John Newton, 1779:

When we’ve been there 10,000 years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun

Last verse of “Be Thou My Vision” by Eleanor Hull & Mary E. Byrne (1912) possibly reworking Irish lyrics from the 6th to 8th Century by Saint Dallan.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

And it’s a thought that’s started to show up in newer songs too! Here’s the last verse of “Bless The Lord (10,000 Reasons)” with words by Matt Redman & Jonas Myrin © 2011.

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Soon my soul will sing Your praise unending
10,000 years and there forever more

Or re-invented old lyrics in newer songs like “Cornerstone” (2011 from Hillsong) using words from Edward Mote’s 1834 hymn known as “The Solid Rock” or “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less”.

When He shall come with trumpet sound
Oh may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne

These are wonderful, poetic verses and worth singing, for sure. There is solid Biblical teaching that there is an eternity with God for true believers to look forward to. But when most of these lyrics were written, life was a lot tougher than we experience today. Pain, suffering and death were much more common and a part of everyday life for people in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. I can imagine how the thought of an end to this earthly existence and being with Heavenly Father in His glory was very attractive. Singing these verses, often with a highly emotive key change, helped inspire people to continue the struggle.

However, I am concerned that the unthinking, unbalanced singing of these verses today may contribute to the ease with which the many “pew-warming” Sunday-Christians are lulled into the false sense that we are waiting around for God’s-Kingdom-Come rather than realizing more fully that we have a role to play: To be conduits for God’s Kingdom to Come here and now!

HEADSTRONG

HEAD_STRONG_TextWhat’s blocking me from knowing more of God’s revelation? It’s my own, headstrong opinions about God – the image I have fashioned of God – my current, human understanding of God. If I have made God fit into my ability to comprehend Him, I have made an idol of my own design.

“God cannot reveal anything to us if we don’t have His Spirit. And our own unyielding and headstrong opinions will effectively prevent God from revealing anything to us.” Oswald Chambers​ from My Utmost For His Highest​, April 7th.

http://utmost.org/why-we-lack-understanding/

What’s my motivation?

whats_my_motivation_tee_shirts-rb99a0f3675a04ad39aa9565814418476_va6lr_512

I’m questioning my own motivation for doing what I do. Being motivated to help people sounds like a good thing, but it’s a “good” that is not good enough.

“If our devotion is to the cause of humanity, we will be quickly defeated and broken-hearted, since we will often be confronted with a great deal of ingratitude from other people. But if we are motivated by our love for God, no amount of ingratitude will be able to hinder us from serving one another.”

Oswald Chambers​, My Utmost For His Highest​, Feb 23

I am convinced that my love for God – and therefore my motivation to serve – is directly proportional to my own measure of my need for God; my need of His grace because of my sin; my need of His salvation.

I need a renewed comprehension of my complete and utter lostness apart from God’s grace. I need to be motivated to serve others to the measure of my love for God. Not to the measure of people’s ascribed value, gratitude or acceptance of my service!

http://utmost.org/the-determination-to-serve/

Do I believe in Jesus?

Questions3-e1350151699489Christians very easily say that they believe in Jesus. We might comfortably accept that the historical account – the recorded stories about Jesus – are true. We consider the lessons that Jesus taught to be correct, good and worthwhile and even do our best to live by them. Our belief probably inspires us to affiliate ourselves with Christianity in some way – probably through membership of a local Christian Church congregation. But is this what it means to truly believe in Jesus?

Within the common context and definition of the word “believe, it’s easy to see why John 3:16 is the Christian Church’s favorite and most memorized verse. If you’re reading this, you probably know it by heart, but I’ll quote it anyway:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

For many years of my church-raised life, John 3:16 was the only verse I had memorized from the Bible. That is still the case for many Christians. It seems that many hold on to this single verse from scripture as an assurance that, because I believe in Jesus, I am saved.

But there are tough questions that need to be asked:

  1. Is my belief truly grounded in a living, vital intimacy with the risen Jesus Himself?
  2. Or do I just accept as true the historical accounts about Him?
  3. Or is my belief merely an intellectual agreement with His teachings?
  4. Or perhaps my belief is based only on my personal decision to be connected with the religious organization that recognizes Him as it’s most important historical character?

Jesus said to her [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

The belief that Jesus describes and calls His followers to goes far beyond our common vernacular and understanding of what it means to believe. Belief in Jesus requires committed “oneness” with Him and nothing else. Oneness with Him will incorporate acceptance of the historical record, agreement that His teachings are true and an active connection with The Church. But true belief in Jesus the Christ must not be limited to or based on any of these lesser things.

In the words of Oswald Chambers from today’s My Utmost For His Highest:

“To believe is to commit. In the area of intellectual learning I commit myself mentally, and reject anything not related to that belief. In the realm of personal belief I commit myself morally to my convictions and refuse to compromise. But in intimate personal belief I commit myself spiritually to Jesus Christ and make a determination to be dominated by Him alone.

Then, when I stand face to face with Jesus Christ and He says to me, “Do you believe this?” I find that faith is as natural as breathing. And I am staggered when I think how foolish I have been in not trusting Him earlier.” 

Read the whole Ozzie Chambers piece here.

“Our temptation is to look eagerly for the minimum that will be accepted.” C.S.Lewis

Did Jesus really die for MY sins?

Jesus died for my sins

It seems to me that most Christians believe and say, “Jesus died for my sins.” The thinking would continue that, “By dying on the Cross, Jesus paid the penalty for my sins so that I don’t have to.” Is this just a narrow-minded assumption on my part? I guess I’m making a gross generalization, but I think most Christians would see this as the main reason, if not the only reason, that Jesus died.

But let’s reconsider the statement: “Jesus died for my sins.” We’ve all heard it so often that it just sounds so right too, doesn’t it? But note that “my” is a word that is one person – a singular person. It’s the person making the statement. And making this statement personal – about the individual – fits so well with the self-centered, egotistical, self-obsesses, iThis, iThat, iEverything “me” society in which we live. And when individuals make the statement, “Jesus died for my sins,” it pretty much seems to be the end of the story. That’s the complete equation. Really? Is it really true that Jesus died for the sins of you as one individual? Isn’t there an “and” that should be added there?

I see three problems with the, “Jesus died for my sins” statement. But not just with the statement. I think the statement represents a dangerous way of thinking that can result in a  completely ineffective way of living.

Problem 1: Plural not Singular

I don’t see this individualistic approach to Christ’s substitutionary death taught in scripture. Jesus is not described in The Bible as dying for my sin personally. But we can read that Christ, “died for all (2 Corinthians 5:15) and that “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) and Jesus being described as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Sure, I am one of the many individuals that make up the whole world, but we’d do well to remember that Jesus died for the sin of everyone. Everyone! Saying, “Jesus died for my sins” doesn’t help us see the bigger picture. Is that just a little issue? Not a big deal to you? Before making that conclusion, please read about the second and third problems.

Problem 2: Whose action brings about the forgiving?

The “Jesus died for my sins” statement tends to allow the Christian to believe that his sin is forgiven – that the penalty of sin is no longer due in his, individual case – but the sin of so-called “non-Christians” is not forgiven because they have not done what the Christian has done. “They have not become a Christian like me, so they still have to pay the penalty for their sin – I don’t!” might be how it’s explained. The dangerous and unconscious supposition is that, “I am forgiven because I made the decision to be a Christian.” But was it really the individual’s decision that brought about the forgiveness on sin? Certainly not.

Furthermore, the “Jesus died for my sins” Christian can easily feel like they’ve done what they need to do and assume that, as far as their forgiveness is concerned, the story is over. The transaction is complete. Christians seem to think that, “Now it’s up to others to become Christians if they want Jesus to have died for their sins too.” But Christ died for the sin of the whole world! And the forgiveness of sin is wholly and entirely dependent on what Christ has done and nothing to do with what I have done – even praying a sinner’s prayer. As Oswald Chambers reminds us in My Utmost For His Highest (October 29)

“We are acceptable to God not because we have obeyed, nor because we have promised to give up things, but because of the death of Christ, and for no other reason.” 

The passive, “I’m right with God now and you’re not” mentality fuels the extremely unattractive “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” bumper sticker approach to life. It cultivates a pew-warming, inactive, stagnant religiousness. It takes away the emphasis on the essential, current and ongoing responsibility of the follower of Jesus. This is dangerous and most certainly not the position to which Christ calls His followers. There’s more. There’s an essential “and”.

Problem 3: And?

The forgiveness of my sin is not the end objective of Jesus’ death on the Cross. I believe forgiveness of my sin is included in the deal, but it’s almost a byproduct. There’s more. There’s an essential “and”. We would do well to remember that the forgiveness of sin through Christ Jesus is inextricably linked to what takes place within those who are forgiven.

And he died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5:15

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, Galatians 4:19

Did you get that? If I have been separated from my sin, it’s so that I no longer live for myself but instead live wholly for Christ! If I have been separated from sin, it’s so that I become God’s righteousness! If I have been separated from sin, I will lay down my life for others in the same way that Christ laid down His life for me. If I have been separated from sin, Christ Himself is being formed in me!

Rather than, “Jesus died for my sins”, I believe a far better statement is, “Jesus died for the sin of the whole world. As a recipient of forgiveness through Christ, Christ now lives His life in and through me.” Yes, it’s a bit longer, but it helps remind me that, by identifying with Jesus’ death, I forfeit any rights to myself. I am separated from sin and filled with Christ’s righteousness so that I can be God’s love to the world.

You see, Jesus died so that everyone might know His love, grace and forgiveness of sin. Jesus died so that His followers would be conduits through which He pours Himself for the benefit of all. I should no longer see my life as my own. I am merely a steward – a caretaker – of all that I formerly saw as mine: my time, my talent, my relationships, my energy, my money … my life.

While I recognize that relationship with Christ does have a very personal, individual aspect to it, we would do well to remember that Christ died for everybody’s sin – not just mine and the other people who are like me and agree with me about God – and that, if I would be so bold as to identify fully with Christ’s death, forgiveness is not the end of the story. This free gift of forgiveness costs me everything.

(Galatians 2:20)

(Romans 6:23)

What’s my ministry?

Christian_Ministry

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

In Christian-ese, the word “ministry” is usually used to mean the most obvious, outward thing that a person does that is for God… especially if they earn any money for doing that thing. It seems that a very small number of Christians consider themselves in “full-time ministry”, others may be in “part-time ministry”, some volunteer to be involved in a “ministry” from time to time, while most, it would seem, are not actually in ministry at all. Some may be trying to find their ministry, or find out from God what their ministry actually is. Once they know, they’ll do it, but until then … I guess they’re waiting and wondering.

reconciliation |ˌrekənˌsilēˈāSHən|

noun

1 the restoration of friendly relations: his reconciliation with your uncle | the colonel was seeking a reconciliation with his wife.

But 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 tells us about the ministry of reconciliation that we ALL have ALL the time. Reconciliation is just a big word meaning good relationships. My ministry is the ministry of good relationships: me with people, me with God and me helping other people to have a good relationship with God. You’ve got the same ministry! It’s the Christians, not God, who seem to think that ministry switches on and off and is only happening with certain, specific, religious activities at certain specific locations and times.

For the follower of Jesus, ministry should not switch on and off. My ministry (and yours) should always be on. We are all in full-time ministry. My ministry does not depend on whether or not I have a guitar around my neck or a microphone in front of my face or if I’m away from home or if I am with churchy people singing and speaking about God. I hope my vocation is woven into the fabric of my ministry of reconciliation, but it’s unhealthy for me to think of only those activities as being ministry. That’s not even the high point of ministry!

While I recognize that my ministry – the ministry of reconciliation – is always on, always happening, there are different layers, or levels of my ministry. There are some people where being reconciliation with them is a higher priority than with anyone else. It turns out that my main ministry is at home – being reconciled with my God, my wife and my boys. What could be better than that!?