Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reading the Bible

In Paul's second letter to Timothy, he writes, "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the [person] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16).

Our church is embarking on the systematic devotional reading of the entire Bible together.

But many people complain that the Bible is not really able to be understood by most of us without reading commentaries or studying the original languages ourselves.

I'm one of those people who have spent a lot of time and money getting trained to read the Bible--and I disagree. In fact, most of the people who complain about how hard it is to read the Bible have usually not tried to read it for themselves.

The Bible is meant to be read by all of us. It was breathed by God through the obedience of human writers for our benefit. In fact, if we are to be equipped for ministry, the Bible is the training manual.

George Eldon Ladd who was Professor of New Testament Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, California, said that the Bible is "the words of God written in the words of [people] in history."

That is, although the words are from God, they are communicated through a human author in their language. And it was written in a time and place in history, and was intended to be read by particular people in history.

So, when we are reading the scriptures, let us try to understand the original author's intent as well as we can before we try to understand what it is saying to us today. This simple rule will help us as we begin to read the Bible for ourselves.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Christian and Grief

I am feeling saddened this week.  Becky Wells, our Children's Ministry Director, passed away suddenly on Friday night.  She was a member since the planting of our church 10 1/2 years ago.  She was also a member of our Board of Directors.

The suddenness of her death was shocking.  She was expected at her oldest son's house Friday night where she was going to spend time with her week-old grandson.  But, evidently, she stopped by her high-security office building to do something at work.  They found her on Saturday slumped over her desk.

Christians often go through a lot of emotional conflict when they try to deal with this kind of tragedy.

In the book of Job, his associates who come to comfort him after his losses, although speaking many words of wisdom, failed to comfort their grieving friend.

"Miserable comforters are you all!" (Job 16: 2).

Yes, we know that Becky is in a better place.  Yes, we know we are all destined to join her.  Yes, we realize that God is sovereign and we all submit to His wisdom and knowledge.  These truths, though spoken with conviction by well-intentioned comforters, often fail to comfort the grieving.

You see, we are still human.   We feel the pangs of grief like everyone else.  We shake our heads in disbelief when we think of all the good things about the person we've lost.  We begin to feel a deep sense of loss when we consider what might have been.  Some may even feel a lot of regret over unresolved issues.

Sometimes the best comfort we can provide to the person who is grieving is our presence.  The reassurance that, as the person goes through the grieving process, we will tarry with them.

Job's friends sat with him in silence for seven days.  This was probably the most comforting thing they could do.  But Job's expression of grief in chapter 3 was too hard to listen to.  They had to correct Job, they had to try and fix him, set him right and defend God against his compaints.  And their attempts just made things worse.  It increased Job's pain, instead of bringing him comfort.

"If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom" (Job 13: 5).

In the end, the comfort that Job was seeking came only with the arrival of God Himself.

"My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you..." (Job 42: 5).

It is only the presence of God that can bring the comfort we need.  Christians indeed grieve, but not like those "who have no hope" (1 Thes. 4: 13).  We look to God Himself to respond with His comforting presence.  And those of us who seek to help would do well to simply tarry with the one who is grieving, looking for God's presence to do what we cannot.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Letting God Be God

What is the first sin?

In Isaiah 14, Hellel ("shining one", Lucifer "light bringer" in Latin), the most glorious angelic being in all of God's creation came up with this thought in his heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars (angels) of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High" (Isa. 14: 13-14).

The original sin is the attempt to usurp God's rightful place as God, the Most High.

When Adam ate the fruit in the garden, it was essentially the same thing.  Although God had told Adam not to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam decided to usurp God and make the choice himself. "Just who does Yahweh think He is? I'll be the god of my own life. After all, I'm not sure God is the best one to decide for me. He may not have my best interests in mind."

You see, at its root, sin is rebellion.  It is taking the role of God in our lives.  I know best.  I will be god of my own life.

When Jesus came, the second Adam, he walked as a human being empowered by the Holy Spirit, and fully submitted to God's will. That is why, in the garden of Gethsemane, we have such an incredible picture of restored humanity.

"Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14: 36).

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was heard when he prayed this prayer. And, "although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered" (Heb. 5: 8).

Jesus did what Hellel and Adam could not.  He faced the temptation to usurp the role of God and learned obedience by letting God be God, not only in Gethsemane, but throughout his earthly life.

What does it mean to let God be God in your life? Learning obedience through what we suffer means submitting to Him as Lord, even when it's tough.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Conversation with God

The King James translation uses "conversation" to translate the word anastrophe.

"Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ..." (Php. 1: 27).

The word means "way of life, conduct or behavior."  The NIV gives us a dynamic equivalent translation, "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."

Even though I love how the modern translations help us get to the core of what Paul is saying, there is something I still love about the word "conversation" used to describe our walk with God.

It implies that we are not doing it on our own.  A walk with God implies a conversation with Him.

The classic song lyrics go, "No man is an island.  No man stands alone."  Yet, so much of American Christianity emphasizes individual effort and commitment that we can easily forget that no one is called to walk in solitude.  We are called to a conversation--with God and in community.

Conversation also implies that it is two-way communication.  It is not just me doing the talking, nor is it just God.  We have great examples throughout the scriptures of two-way communication.  Abraham bargaining with the Lord about the fate of Sodom (like a Persian rug salesmen, "I'll give you 20").  Moses pleading with God not to destroy Israel.  Job demanding that God defend Himself.  Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane pleading for another way, yet accepting His Father's will.

Are you engaged in an ongoing conversation with God, in community with others who are also? It implies not only that you are pouring out your heart to Him, but He is answering.  Why not take time to listen?