What Parts of the Bible are You Ignoring?

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It’s not easy to make sense of scripture. Parts of it are downright weird or even horrific. The story of Judah and Tamar, God’s interaction with Hosea and Gomer, and any story using the phrase “devoted to destruction” come to mind. They are the stories you don’t see in children’s Bible story books, or if they are included it is with some serious sanitation and airbrushing (a Thomas Kinkade version of reality, so to speak).

Those passages get ignored because they gross us out or break our fragile understanding of God. But there are other portions of scripture we ignore in an entirely different way – commands that are uncomfortable or nigh impossible to follow. It is so easy to willfully overlook them, much easier than learning how to reconcile them to my life and God’s reality.

Love your enemies.

Forgive 70 x 7 times (that means ALL of the times).

Bless those who curse you and pray for those who persecute you.

Honor you father and mother.

Children, obey your parents.

Give to any who asks of you.

Lay down your life and follow me.

If it causes you to sin, cut it off.

Husbands, love your wife as Christ loves the Church.

Do not covet.

Serve God, not money.

Do not commit adultery (which includes willfully lusting).

Consider others before yourself.

Pray without ceasing.

Judge not lest you be judged.

Take up your cross and follow me.

And so on.

We have so many rationalizations and excuses for overlooking and ignoring such commands. So often our mindset is that of a transaction: every disobeyed or ignored command is a debt owed, and we simply can’t pay them all back. We’re in over our heads, and it feels impossible to face our wrongs and admit them. But we must, and it’s good and freeing when we do because we are not settling accounts with God; we are being restored in relationship. God’s grace and forgiveness far surpass our willful ignoring of his commands (that’s in the bible too, don’t forget). His grace is so great that what the debt we do owe was paid already so that we can be free to come to Him for forgiveness, as children.

So be brave and ask yourself “what parts of the Bible do I ignore?” Then trust God’s grace for understanding and forgiveness as you would trust a good father, a perfect father. He gave us scripture to show us as much of Himself as we can handle. It is for our good, our peace, even if we can’t riddle it all out. We can trust the parts that tell us of His mercy, goodness, sovereignty, and forgiveness. We can rest in the parts that tell us of redemption at the cross and the coming of a perfect helper to teach and grow us. When we rest in these parts of scripture we will begin to improve at all those hard commands and come to terms with those tricky parts.

When Your Words Cry “Wolf”

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The most Amazing thing you’ve ever seen!

Try to watch this video without weeping.

You need to go there; it’s the best restaurant ever!

12 things you need to know to make it through today

7 life hacks you can’t live without

Must-read

Every day we hear phrases like these and read headlines offering us “essential”, “incredible”, or “unbelievable” something-or-other. Upworthy has made an evil art form out of using such titles as click-bait. If a description of anything doesn’t include a superlative it’s good for nothing. But what happens when we run out of superlatives and absolutes (if we haven’t already)?

If everything is amazing nothing is. By definition, not everything can be the best or worst. If every piece of advice is essential and we can’t live without those life hacks, well we should just give up now; life is hopeless.

A good principle to use in all (yes all; this is proper use of an extreme) your communication is this: words communicate meaning. When we persistently misuse them we skew and undermine that meaning. Meaning matters; without it we don’t know what to believe or who to trust. To abuse terms, to over-value inflate whatever we are describing, is to bankrupt words of meaning and our own reputations of trustworthiness.

You’ve all heard the story of the boy who cried wolf. Over and over he raised a false alarm about a wolf killing the sheep he was watching. Finally, all his fellow villagers were so fed up they refused to listen any more. One day a wolf did come. The boy cried “wolf, wolf!” but to no avail. His words meant nothing and his trustworthiness was nil. So it is without serial abuse of superlatives and extremes.

Gold is valuable because it’s rare. Wood is cheap because it’s common. We’ve turned words which should have the value of gold into a pile of wooden nickels. No longer can we trust them and use them as something of worth. What happens when something is essential or incredible? We have no way of describing it adequately because our words, the currency of communication, have lost all value.

I want my recommendations and descriptions to matter. When I say a book is “well-worth reading”” I it to mean just that; not the best, not a “must read”, but a book of value for the reader. When I say a piece of advice is “useful” I want people to see it that way without having to lie and say it’s essential. If I am able to use these positive descriptions well then all of a sudden those occasions when a book is “the best I’ve read recently” and a piece of wisdom is “crucial” have real meaning.

We are reaching (or have reached) a point where discerning people immediately disregard overstatement because it is so common. If you want your words to matter don’t cry wolf. Don’t add to the pile of wooden nickels. Make your good good and your bad bad so that your great can be great and your awful truly awful.

photo credit: falcon1961 via photopin cc

Don’t Follow Your Heart!

If I don’t forgive my friend until I feel like forgiving…I’ll never forgive.

If I am not kind to my neighbor until I feel like being kind…I’ll never be kind.

If I don’t pray for the lost until I feel like praying…I’ll never pray.

If I don’t work hard at my job until I feel like being diligent…I’ll never be diligent.

If I don’t serve at church until I feel like serving…I’ll never serve.

If I don’t reach out to those who are different from me until I feel like reaching out…I’ll never reach out.

If I’m not patient with my kids until I feel like being patient…I’ll never be patient.

We live in a culture that tells us to follow our hearts. The Lord says, “Obey and your heart will follow”. The glory of the gospel is that God gives us the power to do what we don’t feel like doing. When it comes to following the Lord, more often than not, feelings follow obedience.

Don’t follow your heart. Don’t wait until you feel like doing it. By the power of the Spirit, obey God and trust that feelings will follow.

If God Doesn’t Need Anything, Then Why Does He Command Us To Serve Him?

God doesn’t need our work.  

He doesn’t need our money, either.  God can get everything done without a heavenly kick starter campaign.  He didn’t ask for any help when he created the galaxies.  He can get along just fine without our peewee contributions to the universe.

He doesn’t need our worship either.  He doesn’t need our praises to bolster his self-esteem.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  Acts 17:24-25

God doesn’t anything.  He doesn’t need our worship, our work or our money.  So why does God command us to worship, serve, and give our money to him?

First of all, for his glory.  Wait a second.  If he doesn’t need our work or worship, how does it glorify him?  It certainly doesn’t add anything to his glory.  Yet it does display his glory.  When we sing his praises together, we display to one another God’s greatness, kindness and love.  When I hear you give thanks to God, I’m reminded afresh of his goodness.  You display God’s glory to me.  And it builds my faith and helps me love and trust him more.  And when we do works of love, we display the character of Christ God is forming in us.

Another reason God commands us to worship, serve, give and obey is for our joy.

When God tells us to sing and raise our hands to him, it’s not because he needs our praise to feel good about himself. It’s for our pleasure in him. When we express our appreciation of God it enhances our enjoyment of him.  Like when we express appreciation for a great painting, or a great steak.  It enhances and completes our enjoyment of it.  When God commands us to give it’s not because he needs the money. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. It’s for our benefit and good.  When we give, God pours blessings back on us.  When we sow, we reap.  All God’s commands are for our benefit and joy.  That’s why we should serve him cheerfully:

Serve the Lord with gladness! Psalm 100.2

It doesn’t glorify God to serve him cheerlessly. It’s not enough to serve the Lord, we must serve him with gladness. Parents, ever ask your child to do something for you and he responds with as much enthusiasm as if you’d asked him to have a root canal? How does that make you feel? He may do the chore, but if he does it with grumbling or ingratitude it doesn’t please you. You almost feel like saying ‘don’t bother.’  

God loves a cheerful giver.  Do you think it glorifies God when we grudgingly say ‘Alright, here’s my buck’?  He loves a cheerful giver because glad giving displays the value of Christ. That he is more valuable than all our money. It shows we believe he’s generous and good and will bless and provide for us.

God doesn’t need our work or our praises or our money.  He gives them to us as gifts to display his glory and enhance our enjoyment of him.  So let’s serve the Lord with gladness today.

Jesus Spent 30 Years Being Boring

For the first 30 years of his life, Jesus was boring. He was an unknown carpenter who wasn’t doing “big” things for God. He worked alongside his dad, using his hands to shape, shave, and tack together pieces of wood. He quietly studied the scriptures, and grew in stature with God and men. He didn’t have a public ministry. He didn’t write any books, go on a conference tour, adopt an orphan, give away 75% of his income, or go on multiple missions trips. He loved the Lord with all his heart, honored his mother and father, and quietly went about his work.

Was Jesus wasting his life? Absolutely not. He was doing exactly what God had called him to do. As his hands ran over rough planks of wood, he was quietly earning our salvation. Jesus, the lowly carpenter, the furniture maker, was as radical as they come. And for thirty years he was quiet.

You don’t have to leave home to be crazy on fire for the Lord. Jesus spent his first thirty years simply working and obeying. This tells me that it’s possible to be radical while changing diapers, or creating spreadsheets, or plowing snow, or doing whatever mundane task you are called to. For the Christian, there is no such thing as insignificant work.

Being radical for Jesus means obeying Jesus, loving Jesus, and proclaiming Jesus wherever we are, whether that’s in the mission fields of Cambodia or behind the counter at Starbucks.

Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Risk, He Wants Your Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about risk lately. In my little circle of Reformed theology, taking risks for God is currently cool. It’s in. It’s what all the cool kids are doing. Piper and Platt and Chan are writing about crazy, don’t waste your life, radical love. And I really am grateful for these guys. I’m grateful that they are encouraging my generation to go hard after God. I’m grateful for the Harris brothers challenging young men and women to do hard things for God. If any of you guys happen to stumble onto this, please feel my gratefulness.

But I’m starting to think that we might be getting the principle right but getting the application wrong. Here’s what I mean: when I read the books on being risky and radical and crazy, I  come away feeling like I need to do something really, really big for God. I need to take a risk by uprooting my family and being a missionary to India. I need to be crazy for Jesus by adopting four Vietnamese orphans. I need to be radical for Jesus by starting an inner city ministry to the homeless. If I’m not doing something big for God, I’m wasting my life. If I’m not going big for God, I might as well be sitting in front of a slot machine in Vegas, slowly throwing my life away.

Now don’t get me wrong, all those things I mentioned above are good. If God calls you to do those things, do them with all your might! But if I don’t do these things, am I wasting my life? Am I not being crazy radical enough? I don’t think so. Here’s why: being a Christian is fundamentally radical, risky, and crazy.

In Mark 8:35, Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” To be a Christian, we must lose our life for the sake of Jesus. We must be willing to give up everything for the sake of Jesus. This at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus gets all of my life. Jesus gets all of me. Whatever he says goes. I am no longer my own. That’s crazy, radical, risky talk. 

What does this look like practically? What does it look like to be radical for Jesus every single day? Well, it actually looks pretty ordinary. At least in the world’s eyes. Being radical for Jesus means fighting against our sin aggressively, and being willing to do whatever it takes to cut sin out of our lives (Matt. 5:29). It means blessing those who hate you, and giving your possessions to your enemies (Matt. 5:39). It means being poor in spirit, meek, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matt. 5:2-11).

The Bible’s description of the radical Christian life is not particularly sexy or glamorous. Being radical for Jesus means being subject to the authorities (Rom. 13:1). It means being patient in tribulation, constant in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, and showing hospitality (Rom. 12:12-13). These aren’t particularly exciting things, but I think we need to realize that these are radical! The world does not operate this way. Those who don’t know God curse in the midst of tribulation, never pray, indulge their sins, curse their enemies, and despise righteousness. If we seek to obey the Bible, we will be radical. If we seek to follow Jesus, that will inevitably lead to crazy love.

I’m not opposed to doing big things for God. We need more people in the mission field and the orphanages. But for most of us, being radical for Jesus means being faithful to do the “ordinary” Christian things. The Christian life is inherently radical, inherently risky, and inherently crazy. Following Jesus means dying to myself every single day. That is radical. If I seek to obey God’s word, my life will look very different than the rest of the world.

If God calls you to go to the mission field, wonderful! Go hard. But if God calls you to the cubicle field, don’t feel guilty! Be radical right where you are. Fight against your sin. Serve your spouse. Give generously. Spend time with the outcasts. Share the gospel with your neighbors. Remember Jesus doesn’t just want your risk. He wants all of your life.

When It Comes To Salvation, We Must Work!

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

QUESTION: Once we put saving faith in Christ, do we stop working?

The Bible clearly teaches that we are not saved by our works of righteousness. We are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot earn our salvation. We can’t add to it, can’t be any more justified, can’t be any more righteous in God’s sight. Salvation is a wonderfully free gift from God.

But, the Bible is also clear that we must continue working, even after we are justified. As Paul says, we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. Now what does this mean? How is possible that we are saved by faith, yet must work out our salvation? Is this some sort of brain twister, like, “If one train leaves from Chicago at 9:20 PM, and is going 100 MPH…”?

Here’s what it means: we must work to become what we already are. When we place our faith in Christ, we are declared righteous by God. It is a legal declaration that has nothing to do with our actual character. If an angry alcoholic and a pre-school teacher place faith in Christ at the same time, they are both equally righteous in God’s sight, because God declares them to be righteous.

But, both the alcoholic and the pre-school teacher must work to become what God has already declared them to be. They must strive to live righteous lives, to “work out” the salvation that they already have. The alcoholic must actively put off anger and put on gentleness. The pre-school teacher must actively put off pride and actively put on humility. I must actively put off impatience and put on patience.

God really does care about holiness, and holiness really does involve effort. When we become Christians, we DO stop working to earn salvation. But we don’t stop working. We must work toward becoming what God has already declared us to be. I must work toward being more righteous in my conduct.

Some Christians have the idea that once we become Christians, we no longer need to work. That’s not what the Bible says. We must rest fully in what Christ has already achieved in our place. But we must also work hard to become more and more like Christ. And the wonderful thing is, we can know that God himself is working in us, giving us the power to obey.

So my fellow Christians, when it comes to earning, let’s stop working. When it comes to being like Christ, let’s work hard!

Warning Signs That You Might Be Drifting From God

Most Christians don’t suddenly fall into terrible sin. A guy doesn’t simply wake up one day and say to himself, “Boy, today is a great day to start a raging heroin habit,” or, “You know what, I’m in the mood to commit adultery today.” That’s not how it happens.

Big sin is always the sum of a thousand tiny choices.

That’s why the author of Hebrews says:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1)

One of our greatest temptations as Christians is simply to drift away from Christ. We’re not actively running away, just slowly drifting along with the lazy, warm, comfortable current of the world. And the scary thing is, we don’t usually notice when we’re drifting. We raise our heads and suddenly realize that we’re a mile away from land.

How can you tell if you’re drifting? Here are a couple of warning signs:

  • You spend little, if any time reading God’s word and praying – “I’m just too busy right now to read and pray.”
  • The gospel doesn’t affect you like it used to – “I’ve heard it a thousand times before…it just seems a little old.”
  • You don’t spend much time fellowshipping with other Christians – “I’ve worked hard, I’m tired, the last thing I want to do is go and be with other people.”
  • The sins that used to bother you don’t really bother you anymore – “This show isn’t that bad. It doesn’t really tempt me too much.”
  • You find yourself quieting your conscience more frequently – “I know it was wrong, and I’ll pray about it tonight.”
  • You keep promising yourself that you will stop – “Okay, this is the last time I look at porn.”
  • You find yourself making excuses for things – “I’m only chatting on Facebook with the guy, it’s not like we’re sleeping together.”

The good news is, if you find yourself drifting you can put a stop to it! God loves to help us stop drifting. He loves to give us the power to change. If you find yourself drifting there are three things to do:

  • Repent of your sins and receive the wonderful, complete, free forgiveness from Christ. Christ delights to forgive drifters.
  • Tell a close friend of what has been going on.
  • Return to the things you used to do, and don’t let condemnation stop you. Go to God’s word, prayer, fellowship, fighting temptation, and listening to the promptings of your conscience.

Don’t let yourself drift. Drifting is dangerous. Sometimes it’s lethal.

So What’s Really Up With Romans 7?

photo by Vectorportal

I know, I know, I’ve been on this Romans 7 soapbox for a couple posts now. I’ve been ranting and raving, saying that Romans 7:7-25 is not about Christians at all. I promise I’ll get down after this post and the tendons in my neck will go back to normal levels, non-fanatical levels. But there’s one question that seems to linger in the air when I talk about Romans 7:7-25:

Why do so many people think the passage is about Christians?

I mean, come on, I’m disagreeing with John Piper, J.C. Ryle, John Owen, and a lot of other dangerously smart, godly guys. Yes I am. I humbly and respectfully think that they’re wrong. But I can understand why they, and so many others, think that Romans 7:7-25 is about the Christian.

First, in some ways, the passage seems to describe what we experience as Christians. When Paul describes, in the present tense (“didn’t Stephen’s mom ever teach him about grammar?”), the internal battle of wanting to obey God, yet finding himself disobeying, we can relate to that. The battle against sin is hard and feels like a struggle! Fighting against sin can be exhausting! We do fail and stumble. We all can relate at some level to the struggle that Paul is describing.

But does Paul speaking in the present tense mean that he is describing the Christian experience? I don’t think so. Gordon Fee helpfully says:

What Paul describes throughout is what it was like to live under the law; and whatever else is true of the Christian Paul, he did not consider himself to be under the law. What he describes from his now Christian perspective, is what it was like to live under law before Christ and the Spirit. The use of “I” and the present tense of the verbs only heighten the intensity of his feelings toward the utter helplessness of the law to do anything about the real problem of sin. (Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, pg. 134)

The second reason so many people think this passage is about Christians is that we in the Reformed circles tend to lean pretty heavily on the Puritans, and nobody was more introspective about sin than the Puritans. I mean, seriously, they named their kids things like “Killing Sin” and “Fighting the Devil”.

John Owen, who was basically the Captain America of the Puritans, wrote some incredibly helpful things about the fight against sin. He believed that Romans 7:7-25 described the Christian experience and a portion of his writings flowed out of that perspective. His writings have shaped the way we Reformed folks think about the doctrine of indwelling sin.

Now, it’s quite possible that I could be wrong in my interpretation of Romans 7:7-25. After all, lots of ninja smart guys disagree with me. But I do think it’s important to sort through this question. If we interpret the passage as describing the Christian then it makes failure in our battle against sin much more acceptable. After all, if Paul felt this way, then surely I will too. But if it is describing a person without the Holy Spirit, it gives me much more faith that the Spirit will empower me in my battle against sin. As Paul says, I will be delivered from this body of death.

Okay, now I’ll step down.

Does Scripture Clearly Command This?

Recently, someone told me their church had instituted a new “courtship policy.”  The policy contains some of the following “guidelines.”

  • When a young man is interested in someone he should first meet with a married leader in the church for counsel.
  • If the leader gives the go ahead, the young man should go to the young lady’s father (whether he’s a believer or not) and ask for his blessing on the young man cultivating a relationship with his daughter.
  • If the father doesn’t agree, they should wait until he does, unless they are adults not living with or dependent on their parents.
  • If the father approves, someone should assign a married couple in the church to hold them accountable and give regular reports on the relationship to the elders.
  • The couple should try to discern as quickly as possible if it’s God’s will for them to be married, get a date on the calendar and begin to take appropriate steps toward marriage.
  • If they can’t set a date, they should not be in a relationship.

I assume the leaders’ motives are to encourage purity and protect young men and women from falling into sexual sin.

But we have to be careful to distinguish between principle and practice.

For example it is a principle of Scripture that we should walk in purity.  But the Bible does NOT forbid a long engagement in order to promote purity.  To have a short engagement might be someone’s personal practice, but we should not make a personal practice equal to Scripture.

It might be wise for some not to have a long engagement, because of temptation, but I know couples who dated (or whatever you want to call it) for a long time, then were engaged for a long time (one couple a year and a half) and walked in purity.

Scripture doesn’t tell us precisely how to head toward marriage. There are no commands regarding talking to someone’s father, getting permission, setting dates, getting specific accountability, etc.  These may be good ideas, but they are practices, not principles.

Christians tend to make personal practices into principles all the time.  For example, they take the principle of loving discipline of children and say, “You must do it THIS way – 3 whacks with a wooden spoon.”

We must always ask does Scripture command this?  Does the Bible spell out this particular practice?  There are lots of ways to walk out relationships in purity and move toward marriage.  We have to be really careful not to make our practices or our good ideas into principles.  That’s adding to Scripture.

Scripture definitely has a lot to say about relationships between believers, including those between men and women.  For example, we must not use others, or be sexually impure.  We should serve others, love others, encourage others, look to the interest of others.  But HOW we do these things can vary from person to person.  For one person, it might be tempting to be alone in an apartment of someone of the opposite sex.  For them it might not be wise.  They may need to avoid that to flee temptation.  But for others it might not be a temptation.  So we cannot make a rule that when a couple is in a relationship they must never be alone in an apartment together.

I think that one reason we tend to elevate specific practices to the status of principle is because we either don’t understand or don’t trust the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel 36:26-27 tells us God’s Spirit will indwell believers and motivate them to obey.  But we tend to not trust the Holy Spirit to give people the desire and strength to walk in purity.  We think we must add some “fences” to keep people from sinning.  Fences like you must get a couple to hold you accountable and report to the elders.

Is it good to get counsel?  Is it good to talk about walking in purity?  Is it good to ask questions about timing, ability to provide, etc?  Sure.  But we have to be careful not to add to Scripture.  We must be careful to avoid legalism.  We must be careful not to take our personal practices and make them rules.

Remember we must always ask – Does Scripture clearly command this?

photo: Canterbury versus Bladbean