BIBLE TALK

  • IS LOVE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING?

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    There was a Buzzfeed video circulating around last week featuring millennial Christians explaining what makes a Christian.  While a lot has been said over the feature, the thing that most struck me was the complete lack of explicit Christian theology.  There was no mention of the crucified Christ, the hope in the resurrection, about justification by faith, and our sanctification through the Holy Spirit.  No Trinity, grace, repentance, prayer, or historicity of the faith.

    What was there?  Love.

    There was a lot of love talk; however, it was not a costly love.  It was cheap grace, to borrow from Bonhoeffer.

    What I mean by cheap grace is that it doesn’t cost us anything.  It’s an invitation to tolerance, but not to self-sacrificing love as demonstrated by the Messiah.  It’s not an invitation for others onto the path of following Jesus, which means we have to put our own self-loving idols in the trash heap.  Is it an invitation to perfection?  Absolutely not!  Christians will screw up time and time again, but we follow the one who did not screw up (to quote from the Greek…) and who restores our broken relationships with God and others.

    Jesus calls us to follow him and to carry our cross.  He calls us to discipleship, which is incredibly difficult!  He calls us to deny our desires at times and to come to terms that some of our desires will be unfulfilled this side of the grave.

    But you know what Jesus promises?  It will be worth it.

    It will be worth it, for he calls us to go into battle—even if the battle will be a long struggle.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh that bothered him throughout his ministry and Jesus had an unfulfilled desire to not be crucified.  We too might have a thorn in our side that will never go away.

    The message of the Buzzfeed video was it is necessary to be loved and accepted, instead of it being necessary to follow Jesus in countercultural ways.  Be kind to others, of course!  But be rooted in the particular call of the gospel and the call to a discipleship that is shaped by the cross.

    I am a Christian who does not have it all together, who is flawed, and does not have all the answers.  But I have hope because of the faithfulness of Jesus.  Let’s journey together, looking to the founder and perfecter of our faith.

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  • FALSE HOPES OF RELIGIOUS PEOPLE

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    This gospel wants to entice us to faith, above all else.  But no one canaccept this gracious Christ unless he believes that he is a man and adopts the opinion of him that the evangelist gives.  He is presented as sheer grace, humility, and goodness…Look at him! He rides no stallion, which is a war animal, and he comes not with fearful pomp and power, but sits on a donkey, which is no war animal but which is ready for burdens of work that will help human beings.  Thereby he shows that he does not come to terrify people, to drive or oppress them, but to help them, to carry their burdens and take them on himself.

    —Martin Luther

    It’s easy to be religious.  All we have to do is count ourselves as better than others and we have it made!  Well, we also have to try harder, do things better, smile a little bigger, and see how our neighbors are actually terrible people.  That actually sounds pretty exhausting.

    You know what’s difficult?

    To hear that I am flawed and evil.  That I have a heart that can conceive of vile adultery and the cruelest of hatred.  It’s difficult to hear that I am remarkably judgmental of other people, but that’s the honest truth.

    Tim Keller would say that the good news of the Bible is that we are more sinful, wicked, flawed, and broken than we could ever imagine.  At the same time we are more loved, accepted, and desired after than we could ever hope for.  I think Keller’s right.  The story of Jesus is so counter to our own initial beliefs.

    The story of Jesus shows us who God is.  As he said in John, if you’ve seen Jesus, then you’ve seen the Father.  In fact, the writer to the Hebrews would say that Jesus is the exact same as God (which is contrary to the beliefs of Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims, to name a few)— same essence while also being distinct within the Trinity.

    The story of Jesus shows us how he came to bear our burdens and came to remove the pettiness of our hearts and restore life.  As Paul wrote to the Romans, we are dead in our sins, and only through the work of the Holy Spirit can we be brought into life.

    Jesus does not come to conquer, but he comes to remove the yoke of suffering and religion in order to replace it with something far lighter.  His yoke is light and his promise to us his life.  Won’t you hear him today?

    (for another side to the argument, see my post It’s A Religion, Not Just A Relationship)

  • THE PSALM OF SORROW

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    One of the reasons I love the Psalms is that they capture raw emotions.  Everything from the exuberance of a wedding to the desolate feelings when the proverbial excrement hits the fan.  For me, Psalm 77 is currently my Psalm, as if Asaph penned it just for me.  (Thanks to Tremper Longman III for unpacking this in “Getting Brutally Honest With God” at Christianity Today)

    Psalm 77

    I cry out to God; yes, I shout.

    Oh, that God would listen to me!

    When I was in deep trouble,

    I searched for the Lord.

    All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,

    but my soul was not comforted.

    I think of God, and I moan,

    overwhelmed with longing for his help.

    You don’t let me sleep.

    I am too distressed even to pray!

    I think of the good old days,

    long since ended,

    when my nights were filled with joyful songs.

    I search my soul and ponder the difference now.

    Has the Lord rejected me forever?

    Will he never again be kind to me?

    Is his unfailing love gone forever?

    Have his promises permanently failed?

    Has God forgotten to be gracious?

    Has he slammed the door on his compassion?

    And I said, “This is my fate;

    the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

    But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;

    I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.

    They are constantly in my thoughts.

    I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

    O God, your ways are holy.

    Is there any god as mighty as you?

    You are the God of great wonders!

    You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.

    By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,

    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

    When the Red Sea saw you, O God,

    its waters looked and trembled!

    The sea quaked to its very depths.

    The clouds poured down rain;

    the thunder rumbled in the sky.

    Your arrows of lightning flashed.

    Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;

    the lightning lit up the world!

    The earth trembled and shook.

    Your road led through the sea,

    your pathway through the mighty waters—

    a pathway no one knew was there!

    You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,

    with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

    What is your Psalm?

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  • WHEN INJUSTICE APPEARS IN THE LAND

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    The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord.  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.  Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

    “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.

    “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.  Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?  Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.

    Jeremiah 7:1-11

    When you think about a prophet, do you usually think about kind words coming out of his or her mouth?  Often times, contemporary society paints prophets to be doom and gloom sort of people.

    In a difficult chapter of Judah’s national history, the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel said through Jeremiah, “Amend your ways and your doing and let me dwell with you in this place.”

    When injustice happens and when innocent blood is shed and when oppression occurs, the Lord is not found in that place.  Even if they think of themselves as holy because of their rituals, God calls for them to amend their ways and let him dwell with them.

    God wants to dwell with us—isn’t that shocking?

    Jesus calls each and every one of us to repent (to turn away from our unjust actions) and seek the Kingdom.

    Repent and reclaim the mantle of the Beloved child of God.

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  • WHY SHOULD WE READ THE BIBLE?

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    Why should we read the Bible?

    It’s not just for the knowledge or increasing the depth of our understanding of Western civilization (since so much of Western culture is rooted from the Bible) or picking up nice proverbs we can use throughout everyday life.  We should read the Bible because it is God’s Word and He uses it to transform people, no matter how good or bad they think they are.

    For me, I want to read the Bible because of the transforming power it has. This transformative experience is what I desire, I want it to change and guide me, to create a heart that loves others and loves Him.

    I read the Bible to be changed and to shape my will to God’s.  That his will, in fact, would be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Might his will start first within my bankrupt heart.

    Why do you read the Bible?

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  • LOOK! LOOK UP!

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    “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood opened!”

    Revelation 4:1

    When we read Revelation responsibly (and I would urge you to neither be afraid of it nor read it with the lenses of the dispensationalist Left Behind series), we need to understand that things are not as they seem.  There is more to this world than meets the eye.  The ruling powers of that time (Rome) might have brutally persecuted the Church, but the Throne was/is occupied by God.  It is through this apocalypse (unveiling) that we are given new glasses to view the broken world.

    This is the prevailing undercurrent that theologian Darrell Johnson’s puts it in Discipleship on the Edge.  According to Johnson, the pivotal scene in the vision of Revelation 4 and 5 is:

    …the Lamb on the throne, and the ‘new song’ sung to him.  That scene is the single-most important scene in the whole of The Book of Revelation.  Everything else must be understood in its light.

    The entire narrative of the book of Revelation will simply not make sense if we don’t grasp the vision of the Throne Room found in Revelation 4 and 5.

    Eugene Peterson points out that we are not “being taught any new truth beyond what we are given in the other sixty-five books of the Bible.  We being taught the truth in a new way, in a way that stays with us, and transforms us.  Revelation 4 is a powerful summary of the message of the Old Testament.  Revelation 5 is powerful summary of the message of the New Testament.”

    Friend, can I remind us both to “look?”  Look, the door is open!  Look, there is a throne!  And the Lamb that was slain has power over the chaos, evil, and death ensnaring the cosmos.  Look!

    What keeps you from looking? 

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  • UNMOVED BY THE MOVING GOD

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    In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

    Matthew 2:1-4

    I read a passage by Søren Kierkegaard on the visit of the Magi and wanted to share it with you.  It is a hard hitting reminder for those who might usually have all the answers.

    “Although the scribes could explain where the Messiah should be born, they remained quite unperturbed in Jerusalem.  They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek him.  Similarly we may know the whole of Christianity, yet make no movement.  The power that moved heaven and earth leaves us completely unmoved.  

    What a difference!  The three kings had only a rumor to go by.  But it moved them to make that long journey.  The scribes were much better informed, much better versed.  They sat and studied the Scriptures like so many dons, but it did not make them move.  Who had the more truth?  The three kings who followed a rumor, or the scribes who remained sitting with all their knowledge?”  

    Does the power that moved heaven and earth move you to follow him?

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  • CULTIVATING A MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION

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    “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

    II Corinthians 5:18-21

    In light of so many stories on racial tensions in the news, I was struck by the words Paul wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth.  He reminded his Corinthian friends that they were called to the ministry of reconciliation, since they were reconciled to God in Christ.

    The questions I was confronted with in this passage were this:

    What role am I taking as a reconciler?  How am I living as an ambassador and seeking to reconcile broken people in a broken world?  How do I love my neighbor who might have more or less zeros on their paycheck and might have a different skin color from myself?

    Most important: If I self identify as a follower of Jesus, do I actually live as one?

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  • JOY IS THE SERIOUS BUSINESS OF HEAVEN

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    Confession:  I love heavy dramas.

    I love Breaking Bad and House of Cards.  I enjoy several shows on HBO and also many heavy movies.  It’s not that I don’t like comedies or lighter fare (I really do!), it’s just that I’m Reformed and these shows validate total depravity.

    But I need to laugh.  I need to enjoy the lighter side of life, enjoying fun for fun’s sake, and reveling in the God who is the epitome of joy.  While we have a moral obligation to act happy* for the sake of others, we have a moral obligation to embrace joy and happiness even in the darkness.

    Joy, as CS Lewis once noted, is the serious business of heaven.

    As Christianity Today wrote concerning the ascendency of Jimmy Fallon to The Tonight Show, Fallon brings fun, silliness, and joy to the cynical side of comedy.  Instead of hammering people and laughing at them, Fallon reminds us to laugh at ourselves.  And that is pretty refreshing!

    As the Preacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time for anything and everything.

    There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

        a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

        a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,

        a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

        a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

        a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

        a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

        a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

    Friends, let’s remember to laugh even if we are serious about total depravity.

    —–

    *see Dennis Prager for more on this.

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  • PRAYER OF LEADERSHIP

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    Fan the flames 

    I have found that stepping into new terrain and stepping into a position of leadership has been quite the transition (to say the least).  But fortunately, I am neither the first and nor the last when it comes to taking on leadership positions.  Here is a prayer of Solomon’s from Psalm 72:

    Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to the royal son!

    May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice!

    Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness!

    May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the children of the needy,
    and crush the oppressor!

    May they fear you while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!

    May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth!

    In his days may the righteous flourish,
    and peace abound, till the moon be no more!

    May he have dominion from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth!

    May desert tribes bow down before him,
    and his enemies lick the dust!

    May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
    render him tribute;
    may the kings of Sheba and Seba
    bring gifts!

    May all kings fall down before him,
    all nations serve him!

    For he delivers the needy when he calls,
    the poor and him who has no helper.

    He has pity on the weak and the needy,
    and saves the lives of the needy.

    From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
    and precious is their blood in his sight.

    Long may he live;
    may gold of Sheba be given to him!
    May prayer be made for him continually,
    and blessings invoked for him all the day!

    May there be abundance of grain in the land;
    on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
    may its fruit be like Lebanon;
    and may people blossom in the cities
    like the grass of the field!

    May his name endure forever,
    his fame continue as long as the sun!
    May people be blessed in him,
    all nations call him blessed!

    Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.

    Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
    Amen and Amen!

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