Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Approaching the Bible

One of the things that we hate to hear is that we will understand things better when we are older. I want to know things now, not after an undesignated time has passed. I like to speed things up, not sit and wait for answers to come to me. However, I have perhaps reached the age where this concept makes sense. As I have experienced different life stages, I can see how my perspective has changed over the years. I remember sensing that life was fundamentally different after marrying Jenn. Suddenly I had to look out for someone else, and what I did directly affected another person. I had the same feeling when Isabel was born. It was as if I knew that I would now see the world in a very different light. News stories became heavier when dealing with children. There was a new layer of decision-making when it came to buying things for myself. Now with two kids, a job in the ministry, and the age of 30 coming soon, I again find myself looking at the world differently.

It is not just news programs or finances that are framed in a new light. I notice that I read the Bible differently as well. I approach stories from a different personal context. I wonder what the dads thought about the events. I see the struggles of the early church, and they make more sense. In many ways the people seem more complex because my understanding of the world has become more complex. What was it like for Hannah to let the son she had prayed so hard for live with Eli instead of with her? What was it like for Jacob to believe his son Joseph to have been killed? How did he feel when he found Joseph to be alive?

I like to talk about layers, and I think the concept of layers is perhaps the best way to explain what happens to the way we approach the Bible as we get older. Over the years we add layers of experience, and this experience shapes how we see the world. As we approach the Bible we use this perspective that has been shaped by our experiences to interpret and experience what we read in the Bible. The beauty of this is that the Bible becomes something that speaks to us throughout our life. It is not a novel we read and then put down. It is something that we have a relationship with, something that we interact with. This is the way that God has designed it. He speaks to us through the Bible regardless of where we are in life. While the truths of the Bible stay the same, our understanding and appreciation of these truths grows and changes as the layers are added to our lives.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I love superheroes. I like that these are people who are bigger than life, and they can do anything they want. I like that they have the ability to help people, and yet many of them are quite flawed. I think that another reason that stories about superheroes resonates with us is that we feel so helpless. We can't stop a speeding train or divert a hurricane. Some of us can't even do laundry much less fix the world's problems. Or can we?

When we read stories of Moses or Paul, we see God doing miraculous things that changed the world. Moses parts seas and commands plagues. Paul heals the sick and miraculously escapes from prison. When we read these things, it is honestly hard not to think of some of these people as superheroes. They can become characters with powers that could just as well have come from radioactivity as from God. We have the tendency to approach these stories as if Moses or Paul was relying on a mysterious power that few can ever attain. The problem is that this is simply not true. The power that they used is the same power that we have access to--God.

People who did miraculous things in the Bible are often said to have been filled with the spirit. As Christians, we are told that we are filled with the spirit. Same power. So where is the disconnect for us? Did these individuals have more faith? Moses tried to back out all of the time. The disciples who performed miracles hardly understood what they were a part of while Jesus was still walking with them. Has God put his power on the shelf for now? Maybe God chooses other ways to manifest his power.

I don't know the answer. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I walked over and put my hand on a sick person and told them to be healed, but honestly I don't see myself ever doing that. It is certainly true that we live in an age of skepticism, but that seems over the top. I am not sure why though. I still pray for the person to be healed, but I have a hard time accepting that telling a person to be healed would heal them. However, I believe that God used people in the Bible to do just that. In the end it could be a faith issue. It could be that God uses other means.

The thing to remember is that while we may not have the power to heal, we are given some other amazing powers. We are given the power of discernment, the power of forgiveness, and the power of love. The Holy Spirit genuinely gives us these powers. On top of that, we are given certain gifts whether that be teaching, counseling, or a whole host of other callings. I think as Christians we perhaps downplay these gifts and powers because we think that we should have had them before we became Christians. We also think that we were capable of them before knowing God and we simply failed to utilize them. The truth is that all of it is a gift from God, not just so that we can be happy, but so that we can use these gifts to bring others to Him. How will you use your powers?

Monday, September 21, 2009

What is a church?

While I have attended church pretty much my entire life, I am not sure that I had ever spent a significant time trying to define what church is. Of course there were the divinity school definitions and the traditional understandings, but without experiencing working in the church, I just never thought to think about it. It was just church.

And therein lies the problem. One incorrect definition of the church is that it is an activity. Treating church as an activity means that you don't really have to have a connection to the church. It is something that you do, and probably feel guilty if you don't do. It is another thing on the calendar rather than the place where you long to be all week. I think many of the people who see the church as an activity do so because they were trained to see it as an obligation. You went to church just like you went to school or worked for the PTO. What happens here is that activities are harder to prioritize. If church is equal to another thing we are involved in, it's 50/50 on what we will choose to participate in. Plus, the church is ongoing, there is always next week or next month.

Another incorrect definition of the church is that it is a club. I like belonging to things that give me identity. When I was in a fraternity in college, it felt good to wear the shirts or sit at the special tables in the cafeteria. But if you were to ask me what the point was of being in the fraternity, I don't think I would have an answer. There was no goal or purpose, it was just a place to belong and spend time with friends. That can't be what church is about. If it lacks purpose or a goal, why go? If there is a sense that we exist for ourselves so that we can belong, then it might be a great club, but not a church. If it annoys us that new people get in, then we are in trouble. The church is meant for a purpose. It is a means to an end, whereas so many times we have approached it as the end. The church is a tool designed by God to save the world, not to give us a place to hang out.

So what is a church? After spending almost a year working in one, I have come to the conclusion that it is a community of change agents. In the world of social activism people often speak of change agents. These are the people who encourage towns to help with the problem of homelessness or the people who design recycling programs. Change agents see a problem and seek to change it. Christians are called to be change agents, and the church is the community in which we find support, guidance, and fellowship. The community part may be as important as the change agent part. The truth is that sometimes it takes all of the change agents working together to accomplish a goal. When I see Christians who have no community, it pains me because they have missed half of their calling. It is so common to see people who pour their lives in to creating change or ministry, but fall apart because they don't have a community to support them or they feel like they are doing it all by themselves. I believe that the churches who create the biggest changes are the churches who embrace community as well. Not only do they use cooperation to change the world, but these types of churches also pull people to them because they have two primary things that people want: a place to belong and a place to have purpose.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Like many Bible passages that contain elements that are good for kid stories, the story of Samson is one that is grossly misunderstood if you fail to look at it deeply. While we would love to celebrate Samson as a strong man who God used to do amazing things, most of the things that he accomplished were done in defiance of God. Samson was less heroic Hercules and more of an evil Incredible Hulk. Many of his great accomplishments were done out of pride and rage. It was not his intention to honor his God, he was usually just vengeful. Not to mention his weakness for women.

Samson was a child born of blessing and made a life-long Nazirite vow. He could not cut his hair, drink wine, or touch dead things. So eating honey from a dead lion and picking up a jaw bone were not only unsanitary, these were in violation of a vow made to God. Samson even complained to God about his thirst right after violating his vow. Samson would also attend feasts where he presumably drank wine. And yet God continued to forgive Samson for these things as evidenced by Samson retaining his strength until the end. Samson also offended God's commands by marrying women who were not Israelites. With both wives he would be convinced to tell an important secret.

Samson was not so much a hero as a cautionary tale. He no doubt revered God, but he simply could not stay on the right path for his life. He had substantial promise, and he was gifted beyond belief not only in strength, but poetry as well. Samson was given a great responsibility, but he could not handle it. While God was patient with him, God would eventually cause Samson to lose his strength after Samson had broken every single promise made to God. Once his hair was cut, Samson had proven that he believed his own desires to be more important than God.

Samson was a flawed man, just as each of us is flawed. We all have times in our lives where we seek our own pleasure rather than doing what God has called us to do. We have also been given gifts that God wants us to use for His glory. So we are given the choice, use what we have or lose what we have. I hope that we use it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Deliverance and Shamgur

I mentioned earlier that the book of Judges is presented in such a way that we see the nation of Israel deteriorating before our eyes. With each judge (which is what the unofficial leader of the nation was called), the people turned further from God and suffered more extreme consequences. This means that they also needed more extreme deliverance.

The phrase that we see time and time again is "when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer from the people of Israel who saved them." While we know the names of Abraham, Moses, or Joshua, you probably have never heard of judges Othniel, Ehud, or Shamgar. Some of the judges who God used to deliver the nation are only given one verse. However, these people were used by God to save His people.

So we are given a good reminder. Some people may be Moses, but others may be Shamgar. Each were equally important. A character in a new TV show said "fame is the only thing that matters today," and I am not so sure that she is wrong. In today's reality TV culture, some people are famous simply because someone said that they are famous. I would guess that most people want to be known. We celebrate celebrities and big names. This happens in churches as much as it happens in movies.

It is also important to remember that Moses and Shamgar were both used by God, and it was quite an honor. Sometimes we need to realize how God is using us rather than asking us how God can use us in bigger ways. It is also important to ask ourselves why we would want to be Moses rather than Shamgar.

If that is not enough, we also should remember that God has an amazing amount of patience. God continually delivered the people simply because they called out for help only when things got really out of hand. God also exhibits his patience because he uses people in the first place. He uses people, and anytime people are involved, things get messy. He know this, and He still chooses people like you and me to change lives and change the world.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


On Wednesday nights we are going through the 7 virtues. This week we are talking about courage. Courage seems to be one of those things that we celebrate, but rarely do we make it a key part of our lives. Many people know that Joshua is told to be "strong and courageous." But was does that mean?

Is courage taking risks? I'm not so sure it is. Is courage feeling the freedom to always say what you think is right? This seems to lack some love. Is courage never having doubts? Again, I don't think so. So what is courage?

Aristotle described courage as the willingness to face that which is painful. This seems to be right because doing something even though we know it will cause pain, whether that pain is physical or emotional, seems courageous. We see many examples of this courage in the Bible. We see it in Joshua while leading the people on military conquests. We see it in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as they are sentenced to the fiery furnace. We see it in Paul as he endures pain to share the faith with a lost world.

We see this kind of courage today as well. We see it in the person who shares his or her faith with a person who may react negatively. We see it in people who accept the call to the mission field. We see it when we do something that we know is right but is equally unpopular. We see it when people sign up for the nursery (just kidding).

Courage is a virtue because it is the action that should follow after we decide upon the right thing. We should not pat ourselves on the back for knowing the right thing to do unless we also actually do it. In a society where image is so important, it is difficult to stand out in a crowd. While we celebrate courage on many levels, we also are wary of others who display courage. When people challenge the staus quo regardless of the costs, we can react in a very hostile way.

So the challenge is this: demonstrate courage by not letting the pain deter you from your mission and demonstrate love by recognizing courage in others. Good luck.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Leaving Some Canaanites

While we celebrate the leadership of Joshua in his conquests of the promised land, the truth is that he left a great deal undone. There were still a number of Canaanite tribes living in the land that God had given them. In the second half of the book of Joshua (the part that most people skip because it is about land allotment to the tribes of Israel) we learn that there is still a strong Canaanite presence in and around the land that has been assigned to the tribes. It won't take long for this to become a problem.

In Joshua 24 we read of the renewing of the covenant between Israel and the Lord. Shortly thereafter, we read that the Lord is unhappy with their efforts to remove the Canaanites (Judges 2). For the rest of the book of Judges we see why this was such a problem. By not removing the existing inhabitants, the Israelites created a situation in which they were susceptible to the practice of worshiping other gods. The temptation became too great, and the people began to forsake God and worship the gods of the peoples around them. This leads to the ruin of the people and their relationship with the Lord who brought them to the land in the first place. The book of Judges is written in such a way that things go from back to worse. By the time of the last Judge, things have become almost irreparable.

So where are the Canaanites in our lives? What are the things that we have failed to remove as we seek to live the life God wants for us? Maybe it is a particular sin, but maybe it is something else less threatening. Maybe it is a tendency to become materialistic or an inablility to accept forgiveness for an action long ago. Maybe it is a behavior that puts us in a situation where we face temptation. Maybe it is the false belief that we are fixed simply because we became a Christian. Regardless of what you still need to remove, the reality is this: if it is not removed, your faith will never be what it is meant to be.