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How To Completely Misuse The Bible In 5 Easy Steps

In the book of John, Jesus tells the religious leaders that although they know scripture cold, they’ve missed the most important aspect– that all scripture points to him! Also, early in his ministry he tells a parable of a wise and foolish man who are both building a house. The wise man, who is centered on the teachings of Jesus, is compared to a man who chose stone as a foundation while the foolish man (who neglected the teachings of Jesus) is compared to someone who built their house on sand. Finally, in the last hours of his life, Jesus reminded his disciples that he “was the way, the truth, and the life”. According to Jesus, this thing we’re doing– and the book we read– is all about him.

 

Some really great thoughts in here, and the quote above further drives the point I wanted to make when I wrote my post on Logos, Rhema, and Graphe. Reading the Bible should always point back to Jesus.

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What Is “The Word of God”?

If you sit and listen to a Christian talk about the Bible for any length of time, you will invariably hear them refer to it as “The Word of God”. This includes myself. I say it all the time. We appeal to a passage in scripture saying something along the lines of “The word of God says..”. I’ve put a lot of time and though into what I’m about to say, and it may come off as heresy, but I think it needs to be said. I don’t believe the Bible is “The Word of God”.

Now that I’ve (possibly) offended every follower I have, let me explain what I mean. And yes, I’m gonna get Greeky. Continue reading

New Things

Everyone gets excited around the new year. Some of it is the continued high from the holidays that precede it, but I think most of it is because we like to put the word “new” in front of things. It’s an easy way to trick ourselves into thinking something is better or will be better. Of course, if you stick around long enough new things almost always become old things. A year ago, 2013 was new. It was exciting. There was hope and optimism, people were excited. Two days ago, most of us were ready to put that same year, the “old year”, to rest.

Why?

Maybe it didn’t turn out the way we expected. We made resolutions we didn’t keep. We kept habits that we didn’t like. We were hurt by someone we love. We hurt someone we love. We lost someone we love. We didn’t do enough writing. We didn’t spend enough time with our families. We spent too much time doing something we didn’t love. We invested time, money, or energy into the wrong thing and saw little return. We asked the wrong questions. We asked the right questions of the wrong people. Someone we trusted let us down. We let others down.

There are any number of reasons that something “new” becomes old and broken. Reasons we would want to toss it out and replace it. After 365 days, a lot of those reasons might crop up, and we want a fresh start.

2 Corinthians 5:17 reads:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (NASB)

This is one of my favorite passages of scripture, and I’ll tell you why. If you look this passage up in any translation of the Bible, you will see one of two translations for “he is a new creature”. It will either suggest that the individual who is in Christ is made new, or that a new creation happens. In either case, we are talking about something drastic. What was old passes away. It doesn’t matter anymore. All that is left is newness. Your old self, the one that is guilty of hurting, the one who felt hurt, is gone. I lean towards the second translation though. The bit that says, “there is a new creation”. Christ doesn’t just make you new. He makes all things new. From your internal spiritual being to the relationship you have with the world around you.

“That’s great,” you say, “but I already knew that.” Well, here’s the best part (and the part where I get a little “I read greeky”). The tense that Paul uses here is known as the perfect tense. It means that something that happened in the past continues to have an effect into the present, and will have an effect continuing into the future. What does this mean? Well, it means that we probably don’t fully understand this scripture based on the words above. Lets put these words into the perfect tense:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, creation has been made new, is being made new, and will continue to be made new. The old has passed away, is passing away, and will continue to pass away while the new has, is, and will take it’s place!

Or, maybe more concisely, but certainly more paraphrased: When someone is in Christ, re-creation begins and never ends.

Christians can become a little caught up in the resolution game. Promising ourselves that, because it’s a new year, we’re going to do things differently now. And I don’t want to suggest that you shouldn’t do things differently today than you did yesterday. But don’t do it because you need to write 2014 on your documents now. Do it because Christ is working in you. In whatever ways yesterday let you down, today can be different. Whatever you did five minutes ago that you’re ashamed of, Christ can make you new. Now. You don’t need to wait till 2015 to make up for the mistakes of today.

The Bible Is A Really Big Book!

Good people don’t suffer. Having a lot of money is wrong. Poor people are only ever poor because of their bad choices. Consuming anything with alcohol in it is a sin. If you don’t go to Church when the doors are open, you’re forsaking the assembly. If you don’t have enough faith to leave your job and preach the Gospel when you become a Christian, you aren’t really a Christian.

I’ve heard each of these statements before. If you’ve been in a community of Christians for any length of time, you’ve probably heard at least a few of them, too, or at least statements like them. They’re what I like to call wrong. No, I don’t have a fancy term for them. I’m sure there is one, and I just haven’t encountered it, or it isn’t springing to mind, but these beliefs are wrong. Not only that, they are dangerous.

Lets think about just one of these statements for a moment.

“Good People Don’t Suffer” most likely stems from a poor reading of the book of Proverbs.   Chapter 11 is just full of pithy sayings like:

The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them.

11:3

The righteous is delivered from trouble, but the wicked takes his place.

11:8

He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death.

11:19

Clearly, the message of this passage is that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, right! Taken on their own, it’s easy to see how someone might think these verses are saying that all suffering, trouble, and pain are the direct result of one’s own personal unrighteousness or “badness”. Anyone who thinks this clearly hasn’t read the book of Job which begins by saying:

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.

1:1

The book goes on to describe how Job loses his wealth, his children, and his own health. Not because he did something unrighteous, but because Satan is allowed to do this to him. Good, upright, God fearing people can suffer.

Many arguments about what the Bible does or does not say are predicated on an idea that may be found in the Bible that is then stated as an absolute truth. Like the one above, a reasonable assessment of the eleventh chapter of Proverbs is that “bad” people suffer, and that “good” people don’t. Trouble and pain comes to those who are foolish, lazy, and unrighteous. These are all ideas that are supported in scripture. They’re all found in many places. Paul says that “If a man will not work, he will not eat.” That’s the New Testament, even! But the problem is, no individual verse can stand on it’s own.

Genesis tells us that people who drink wine are abused or make bad choices. Leviticus says that certain people shouldn’t drink wine or strong drink at certain times. Same with the book of Numbers. Romans 14:21 says not only that we shouldn’t drink wine, but we also shouldn’t eat meat!!! Again, taken alone, these verses paint a picture of alcohol that isn’t at all pretty. People who drink wine are incestuous nudists who can’t worship God and detractors from the faith. Drinking is bad, and clearly a sin.

Of course, we read other passages that tell us otherwise. The Old Testament prescribes wine as a part of rituals and feasts that the Israelites were to observe. Numbers 6 actually talks about a very specific circumstance under which someone is not allowed to drink wine, but when that person might be allowed to once more.

Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to theLord,  he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin.

6:1-4

Of course, the prescribed abstinence of a Nazirite came to an end when their vow came to an end. They would offer a special sacrifice, and then they would be released from abstaining from grape products, and specifically from wine.

Paul tells Timothy that he should use some wine medicinally for stomach problems. And Jesus made wine for a wedding feast as his first miracle. Communion, which Jesus instituted and most every Christian agrees is something we should participate in, came from the passover feast. The Cup which we were commanded to take contained wine.

Clearly a balanced reading of scripture would suggest that appropriate use of wine is just fine. The verses discussing not partaking are in specific circumstances and in excess.

See, here’s the thing: the Bible is a really big book. There’s a lot of discussion throughout scripture about a lot of topics. Taking any one passage on it’s own is dangerous because it assumes that all statements in the Bible are comprehensive and universal. They aren’t. Now, some statements are. Those statement are made clear by language that says they are absolutes. “No one comes to the Father but through me” is a pretty good example of this kind of absolute statement. Who can come to the father by any way besides Jesus? Nobody.

Why does any of this matter? Why am I almost a thousand words into a post on poor arguments people make from the Bible? Because it’s important. As I said before, statements like this are dangerous. And while I was kind enough to say that we’ve all heard them, I think a slightly less kind but just as true statement is that we’ve all made them.

When we misrepresent the teachings of the Bible and sweep the bits we don’t like under the rug while trotting out the bits we do like, we undermine any truth we may teach. As a youth minister, I tell my teens to read their Bible all the time. Constantly. Probably to the point where it’s a bit annoying. If they do (and I really hope they do), I want what I’ve taught to be found there. All of it.

I told my elders when I interviewed for my current position that there were certain things I would never teach. I won’t teach that dancing is a sin. I won’t teach that consuming alcohol is a sin. I won’t teach that you need to be in a church building every time the doors are open. I won’t teach that doing the right thing always lands you on top. Because when my teens encounter the truth in life, either through reading it in the word, or experiencing it first hand (especially that last one), it will call into question any truth I’ve ever taught them.

Teach modesty. Teach moderation. Teach the importance of being involved in the fellowship of believers. Teach that the righteous prevail in eternity. Don’t teach half truths, and don’t teach lies. Abusing the Bible to champion pet topics hurts your credibility and undermines the message of scripture.

De-Constructive Christian Blogging

Usually the first thing I do when I come into the office is fire up my browser and do a quick reading of a couple blogs that have updated since the last time I was in the office. Doing so allows me a chance to gain some encouragement for my ministry, grow in my understanding of scripture, and more often then not find something that challenges me to consider what I believe and why I believe it. Most of the time I’m blessed by what I read, but lately I’ve noticed something very discouraging.

I was reading a blog post about attitudes towards worship, and more specifically a reflection on how young adults (even younger than myself) are looking for an experiential faith. Tim Elmore talks about this in his excellent book, Generation iY. Now, Elmore makes it really clear that by experiential, what he means is hands on. He talks about the importance that this generation places on doing the word. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and under-the-bridge camping spots are their cathedrals and chapels. He discusses the ways in which congregations can engage this generation, and the need to do so. These are the “workers” congregations talk about wanting…

Anyway, I’ll write a post on this later, so lets get back to the point.

I finished reading this post; felt that it was pretty strong. So I jotted a couple of notes down and got ready to read another, only to find that the next blog, one that I had frequented for about the same length of time, had written a counter post. It was a strongly worded, even angry, take down of the post I had just read. As I read through it, though, I couldn’t help but notice that the two writers were talking about “experience” and worship from two very different vantage points. While the first article discussed how a generation was worshiping God experientially by serving the poor and disadvantaged, the second had read only the first couple of paragraphs and assumed that the direction he was going was a suggestion that worship services should be tailored as entertainment. And then the first blogger responded hurtfully to the second. Shoot.

These folks are doing some pretty serious damage to their voice by shouting so loudly!

I’ve seen this over and over again. Someone writes in their blog a compelling argument about a trend they are seeing. Someone else reads a part of that post and as a reaction to what they think is being said, they write an angry, loaded response. And everyone goes around pointing out the speck of sawdust in their brother’s eye without noticing the great plank in their own. The worst part is, these folks are doing some pretty serious damage to their voice by shouting so loudly! People who have blessed me by sharing their insights into ministry have turned me off of their blogs through judgmental and hurtful posts.

I want to make a commitment today. This blog will not devolve into de-constructive blogging. Of course I’ll comment on culture, what the Bible says about trends we see, and I’ll add my personal opinion, by my goal is not to be a take-down artist. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and tear apart. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and argue against straw men. The harder thing is to be positive. To look for the best and encourage. To build up, rather than destroy.

I’m going to work to do the harder thing. That’s why I won’t be including a link to either of the posts mentioned above. I’ve said before that I intend to share posts from other blogs, and I do. I’ll be sharing one later today after I’ve had time to digest it, but I don’t intend to make my blog a place to argue. And I don’t intend to point you towards any that do.

Lets stay positive, constructive, and work towards shaping ourselves before de-constructing others.

Re-Launch

I’m happy to finally be re-launching Real Light! A little over three years ago, I started blogging on Posterous. It was a positive experience right up until it was sold and closed. Real Light was a place for me to put thoughts that I was kicking around; ideas I was having.

When things weren’t fully formed, Real Light was a place where I could turn and work through stuff. It made me think long and hard about what I was writing, and why I was writing it. Not because anyone read it, but because anyone could read it. The new Real Light will be a little more focused. It’s going to be a bit more theological, and a lot more about youth ministry.

There are a million youth ministry blogs out there, and many of them are great. I’m not going to try and replicate what anyone else is doing, though I’m sure I’ll often stumble over something someone else has done brilliantly and do it half as well. That will give me a chance to link to someone who has done it better when I find them. In any case, this is a place for me. If it’s helpful for you, blesses you, or makes you think don’t be afraid to share that. If you find yourself angry over something I’ve said, lets talk about it. If you think everything I say is brilliant, please seek help!

Content is coming. Over the next few days, I’ll be building up a routine, and sharing some personal writing I’ve done over the last year. For today I’m just glad to be back.