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Category Archives: Theology

Racial Diversity = Church Unity

Racial Diversity = Church Unity

One thing I noticed about visiting different churches over the summer is how racially segregated the American Church is.  Most of us say, “So what?  Blacks and whites like different styles of church, and that’s about all there is to it.”  I used to think this way too as I grew up in my all-white church, in my mostly white town, while I attended my mostly white high school.  Actually, I didn’t think this way about race in the Church because I can’t say I ever thought about it at all.

I remember in Crossroads‘ first year as a church (6 years ago), my friend’s wife brought up the value of multiracial churches and how we should pursue being one.  I dismissed her idea.  If people are coming to know Jesus, who cares what race they are?  Why waste time that could be spent directly on the Gospel itself?  Blacks like black churches and whites like white churches, let’s leave it at that.

But is it really this simple?  It certainly was to me until I read the book Divided By Faith in seminary and attended the “Face the Race” conference that GRTS held, featuring authors George Yancey, David Livermore, and Michael Emerson (co-author of Divided by Faith).  It was like an Old Testament prophet knocked at my door and revealed the greater truths of God to me that I had been missing my entire life.

Divided by Faith is a book that chronicles the white Evangelical church’s response to blacks, starting with the era of slavery and moving through each successive racially significant time period in American history, ending with how things are today.  It is a fascinating account, as well as sobering and convicting, realizing that the racial segregation found in the church today has direct roots to how white Evangelicals did not allow blacks into their churches (or their lives) throughout the century that followed slavery.  The authors also do lots of research on how white Evangelicals’ view race.  As I read the accounts given by white Evangelicals, I realized they were saying the exact things I would have said to the survey questions.  I’m not racist.  I have black friends.  I didn’t have anything to do with slavery.  We should focus on other things in the Church, like on Jesus and evangelism, not race relations.  etc etc etc

I don’t have the time and space in a blog post to give Divided by Faith the detailed justice it deserves and all the profound truths it illuminated to me.

If you are white and have never felt what it feels like to be a minority, I encourage you to visit an all-black church.  The people will likely be very friendly, but you will also feel uncomfortable and very aware of your skin color, even though no one will say anything about it to make you feel this way.  This is the experience black people have when they come to all-white churches, and it’s why they don’t come back, no matter how friendly we are.  It’s something you’ve never thought about before, and likely never will, unless you go and experience it for yourself.  And it’s why things in the Church need to change.

I strongly encourage you to read Divided by Faith if you welcome your eyes being opened.  If you prefer the head-in-the-sand approach I lived by for most of my life, or the defensive approach many choose, you are free to do so.  I would ask you consider one more point though…

As I prayed about what to preach on for my first Sunday back at Crossroads (following my summer sabbatical), the Holy Spirit made it very clear to me and opened my eyes to some profound truths found in John 17.  Jesus is praying that future believers (the Church) will be unified, the way He and the Father are unified, and by this the world will know who Jesus is and that He loves them!  It’s a pretty amazing thing, and it’s also amazing that this is pretty much the only thing He prays for in John 17, just before he is arrested.  Of all the things he could pray for us, he prays for this.  And we typically skip over it, not knowing how to apply being more unified as the Church.  But if you look at the early Church, the number one conflict they had to resolve was the Jew-Gentile conflict.  Most of the New Testament letters (our books of the Bible) were written to these early churches, teaching them how to be unified as Jews and Gentiles.  Jews and Gentiles were two different races who had an ugly past together (sound familiar?), but the unique thing about their relationship was they did not have the “convenience” of having Jew churches and Gentile churches.  Each town only had one church and in it, Jews and Gentiles had to learn to overcome their differences, and their hostile history, to become brothers and sisters in Christ under one roof, united in the love and grace of Jesus that they all shared.  If an outsider walked in, they would be astounded at the unity of two groups of people who had been against each other for so long, and had so little in common, yet were loving each other and praising God together.  This is how the world will know who Jesus is, and that He loves them!

This is what I preached on this past Sunday, and it’s the vision and calling the Holy Spirit has placed on Crossroads Church.  I encourage to join in this vision and be a part of the answer to Jesus’ heartfelt prayer for us in John 17:

(Sorry about the low volume level, had some technical difficulties which hopefully we’ll get edited but for now, it’s a good thing I have a loud voice!  You should manage, but will need to crank your volume a little)


You can listen to (and/or download to your computer or iPod) a high-quality audio copy of the sermon here, then click on Sept. 9th, 2012.

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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Theology

 

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Observations from Visiting Different Churches this Summer

Observations from Visiting Different Churches this Summer

I’ve been on a full sabbatical this summer.  It has been an enriching, rejuvenating, and much needed time.  One aspect of my sabbatical was that I visited different churches each Sunday.  This has been a great eye-opening experience for me.

I don’t have all the answers, but it certainly raised some good questions.  Namely, if we sat down at a table with Jesus and came up with a blueprint for what church should look like, would our contemporary model be what we come up with?  Obviously not.  And that’s not to throw stones at any of the churches I visited, or to say that mine would be the answer, because it certainly isn’t either.  But it’s a question that we need to ask and keep asking and keep rethinking as we strategize and plan our ministries.  Here is a list of what I learned and observed this summer from my church visiting, some of these are more deeper than others.  Disclaimer:  I am wired to see what we can improve on rather than what we are doing well.  I find it to be more productive for producing effective change.  I’m not trying to be overly critical here.  There were good things I saw too, but that’s not really the purpose of this list:

  • Being new to a church is an uncomfortable feeling, and I’m a pastor who has spent his whole life in church.  I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it is for someone who has never been to church before in their life.
  • New people like to sit in the back, on the ends of rows.  It is makes it difficult when these seats are unavailable to them.
  • Most people in churches do not sing, or they sing very quietly.
  • With a small number of exceptions, sermons aren’t super interesting or memorable.
  • For the most part, the strategy for a new person to connect into the community of a church is this:  1. Go to a service, 2. Enjoy it / Learn from it, 3. come back, 4. join a small group, event, or service group which is where you’ll A. build friendships, B. grow deeper, and/or C. impact the community.  I look at this progression and wonder if this is the best way?  It seems like a lot of steps to take to get to the “end goal”, and that first step is really impersonal.  That’s the thing I noticed over and over, with a small number of exceptions.
  • Churches are very segregated racially.  The vast number of churches are either 99.9% white or 99.9% black.  This is a subject that I will likely post a separate, longer blog on in order to do it justice.  I’m still wrestling with the best way to articulate this as it’s something God has been weighing heavier and heavier on my heart over the years (and is at it’s heaviest point right now!) and is something I want to communicate in a way that is effective and helpful, not condemning or judgmental.  The book Divided By Faith ruined me on this issue a few years ago and God has only intensified this conviction in me as years have progressed.  I strongly recommend that you read this book if you want to get understanding and grow in this area.  Props to Kingdom Life Church for being a good mix of blacks and whites.
  • I found this randomly funny:  White churches all serve coffee and snacks.  Black churches don’t.
  • I was excited about the idea of video venues.  After visiting a couple, my excitement has lessened.  The jury is still out for me on them.

For now, I just want to leave my observations as observations.  I hope they cause you to ask good questions when it comes to the effectiveness of the local church to reach people who don’t know Jesus and to take Christians deeper in their walks with him.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Theology

 

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How Christians Should Spend Their Money

How Christians Should Spend Their Money

Jesus says in Luke 12:29-34 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

What on earth does he mean by this?  As a pastor, I’m expected by many to have ‘the answer’ when it comes to biblical and theological questions.  The question of money is one that has been keeping me up at night recently and here’s why…

When I read Jesus’ words here, and see the general way he lived his life, it makes me think we have missed the boat as American Christians on what Jesus wants us to do with our money.  I’ve taken two trips to Haiti, and keep up on what’s happening globally and honestly, it’s hard to imagine that Jesus would rather us purchase a new car, a bigger house, a new iPad, or a new flat screen TV over giving these large chunks of money to organizations sustainably alleviating extreme poverty from people around the world, and on top of this, doing all of their work through the existing local churches in these regions.  I’m talking about children who are born into situations where there is no food, shelter, clothing, or employment and their only chance at survival is to become sex slaves or sweat shop workers, if they are lucky.  I see this and it makes me want to sell everything I have, and give it to World Relief, to aid these victims of injustice.

I wonder when we get to heaven if money is one area that, when we can finally see things from an eternal perspective, we will realize that we totally missed the boat on.  We will see the children who died because we bought the newest gadget instead of giving.

I’ve never sold everything I have.  Honestly if I wasn’t married, I wonder if I would.  But life is typically much more complex than this.  And the Bible is as well.  While Jesus did tell one rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor (Mark 10:17-31), Jesus walked alongside many other rich people and he never gave this command.

The fact is, I feel guilty when I spend money on things for myself.  And I’m not sure what to do with these feelings.  And I enjoy life more (and feel less depressed about my guilt) when I free myself (and my wife) to spend some of the money we have earned on relaxing evenings and/or on things we enjoy.

The prevailing thought in America is that you’ve earned what you have, so you shouldn’t feel guilty if you spend it on yourself.  You chose to work hard, to do your homework in school, and to study a certain field in college.  You made these sacrifices, with a certain lifestyle in mind, and there’s nothing to feel guilty about.  You made a choice and you’ve earned it.  You give a percentage of your income away to the church and to charities and you can enjoy the rest of what you’ve earned.  And there certainly is some truth in this.  The ability to experience God’s awesome presence in a sunset over the ocean, or from a breathtaking view in the Rockies, requires the money to pay for these types of vacations.  Money that you earned from choosing to study a certain thing in college and/or choosing to work hard in life.

Is it really a sin to have air conditioning?  Because you could give this money to those in extreme poverty.

Once you start going down this road, it is never ending and can quickly become the path of legalism and intense judgmentalism.  Yes I drive an old car, on purpose.  But I could drive an older one.  Or I could take the bus and get rid of my car and its insurance payments.  Yes I live in an smaller house, on purpose.  But I could live in a smaller (cheaper) one (and get rid of my window AC units, gasp!).  Yes I have old electronics, on purpose.  But I could get rid of them altogether.  And give this money to those in extreme poverty, or to missions (or both).

And then there is the wing of Christianity that sees personal financial inflow as the direct blessing of God (because why wouldn’t a loving Father want to bless his children?), and they structure entire church ministries around how God wants you to be rich.  Typically their pastors model this through mansions, private jets, and the top-of-the-line luxury cars that they own.

Is money a tool to bring life to others?  Or is it an avenue for us to enjoy life more?  Is it a sin to enjoy life more?

Can you see why this keeps me up at night?  It would be easier if Jesus just said, “It’s okay to buy these types of things, but don’t buy those types of things.”

But I wonder how many of us never even stop to consider this.  We just buy buy buy our pile of earthly treasures with no thought of the eternal implications our money could have.  Rather than using Luke 12 (or anything else in the Bible) as our guide, we simply go with the flow of the American idea of what money is for.

It’s confusing.

It’s complex.

I want to obey Scripture, and teach others to do the same, going against culture if needed.  But where do we draw the lines?

I don’t know.

Jesus tells me his grace is enough for me, and that it’s okay that I don’t know.

Please post your thoughts on this topic in the comments section, with the heart of giving instruction and help to me and other readers who are wrestling with the realities of the Bible’s teachings on money.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2012 in Theology

 

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Drinking Decaf for Jesus…

On a day when two people have already told me it’s 99 cent day at Biggby (and it’s only 9:30am), I am reminded once more that I’ve given up caffeine for Lent.  This brings up two topics I find interesting: Lent and caffeine. First, Lent.

I grew up Baptist and had no clue what Lent was.  I remember at my public high school asking my Catholic friends why they could only eat fish for lunch (or is it only fish on Fridays?  I don’t remember…), and I remember them telling me it was because they are Catholic.  No mention of Jesus; no mention of why.  I’m not saying this is the reaction of all Catholics, but for that period of my life, these were the only Catholics I conversed with.  So to me, Lent was something religious that Catholics did and I was glad I didn’t have to do it, because I didn’t even like fish very much.  Except fish sticks.  Those have always been good. 

I observed Lent for the first time last year when I gave up dessert.  I realized that the point of Lent is the same as that of other types of fasting, and that is to focus our attention on Christ’s sacrifice for us, and when we sacrifice something (food, dessert, coffee, etc.), it is a physical reminder for us to think about Christ.  I often forget about Christ throughout my daily routine, and while a large part of me does not enjoy fasting (and I don’t do it very often), when I do do it, it is helpful in drawing my attention to God.  What is unique about Lent is it specifically draws our attention to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the Lenten season builds up to Good Friday and eventually Easter, the ultimate celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  So there you go: I like Lent.  I think people should observe it because they want to and not because they have to.  And no, my Baptist friends, the Bible does not say we need to observe Lent and no one is saying it does.  Breathe.  It’s just a helpful thing to do.

So why was I dumb enough to give up caffeine this year for Lent?  Because my wife suggested it.  Sitting in a Biggby on Ash Wednesday evening, with honestly no intent to give anything up for Lent this year, my wife suggested I give up caffeine.  She is not a caffeine drinker and has noticed how my coffee consumption has increased over the years, up to around 3 mugs a day at this point.  So, like I’ve learned is typically best with my wife, I agreed to what she said.  Part of my reason for agreeing was the guinea pig factor, wanting to test what this would do to my body.  I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was 21 and working my first real job as a youth pastor.  I made it all through college being able to stay awake and alert just fine on my own, and have noticed myself being continually fatigued, even with my 3 cups of coffee each day.  I’ve heard that coffee, like ChapStick, conditions your body to need it so once you start, you can’t stop!

The first week was highlighted by me falling asleep whenever I’d go to pray during my lunch break.  I didn’t have any headaches, just could not stay awake.  And yes, I get enough sleep at night.  Also, I made the decision (and some of you will, and already have, call me a cheater for this) that I would “celebrate the Sunday resurrection” by allowing myself to drink coffee on Sunday mornings before my sermon.  My brother Patrick says this is okay.  He said so on Facebook.

The second week was highlighted by me getting really close to making coffee on several occasions when I was having a terrible time motivating myself to work.  My line of thought was, “I’m not actually Catholic…I don’t have to fast…Jesus will understand.”  But I made it through!  Still feeling super groggy.

The third week, this week, is the first time I have felt refreshed in a long time.  This entire experiment I have wondered if I will kick the habit altogether when I’m finished with Lent, and this week is the first time I’ve thought it could be a real possibility.

It does make me wonder if we drink too much caffeine.  Any thoughts?

I’ve heard coffee called “The Christian Crack” in jest by a Christian former drug addict.

I’ve heard the pastor of a well-known church go off on a rant about drinking too much caffeine is sinful.  It was surprising.  I wonder what they serve in their lobby, ginger ale?

A Christian friend of mine told me that caffeine is the one drug we are allowed to do by law and by God so he’s going to enjoy it for all it’s worth, since he can’t do any of the others.

Funny stuff.  Closing thoughts:

Decaf is disgusting.  It got me through my first 2 weeks.  Yes it has <1% caffeine in it, get over it.

I know coffee has antioxidants in it.  Yes, keep telling yourself it is just like eating broccoli.

I have nothing against people drinking coffee, I am simply making observations about life.

Coffee is delicious.  I love the taste and smell of it.  I hear the same thing from people about their cigarettes.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Theology, Wisecracks

 

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Being a Dad = Science Fiction

Being a Dad = Science Fiction

Well I became a dad on Monday, November 21st, at 4:12pm with the birth of our beautiful daughter Lexi Hope Filipiak, weighing in at 9lb 7oz, 22″.  The thing about being a dad that is the most eye-opening for me is trying to wrap my head around the concept that this human life came from Jen and I’s bodies, yet we had nothing to do with the development of the process.  As Jen’s pregnant stomach grew over the months , we would talk about how fascinating it is that this new human being is miraculously coming together, yet it isn’t as if Jen was ever consciously making any of Lexi’s body parts grow or function.

I do not use the word “miraculous” loosely here.  Having a child makes me realize the miracle, straight from God’s hand, that birth really is.  We often look to God to do miracles in our lives and if He doesn’t do them, we declare Him to be a weak God, a bad God, or a non-existent God.  I’ve talked to numerous atheists, agnostics, and doubting Christians over the years who tell me if God would do a miracle for them, that they would believe in Him.  Well I have an announcement to make:  He just did one on Monday, and her name is Lexi.  As you may have figured out by now, this wasn’t his first time using this trick.

When I think about how God chose for human life to be regenerated, it sounds like something from a bizarre science fiction movie.  In fact, it sounds weirder than anything from a science fiction.  Imagine you did not know how human life generated and some9thone explained to you how it begins with a yogurt like substance and an egg…these two things are mixed together and hokus pokus, a mini human starts growing from within the mother’s belly.  Anyone getting shades of the Alien movie at this point?  Yeah, it’s that weird.  That fictitious sounding.  That miraculous (thankfully with a better result than in the movie).

Its hair develops.  Its skin shade.  Its face shape.  Its lungs.  Its eyes.  Its brain.  Its tiny little fingernails. Its personality.

Makes you wonder what actually makes a “miracle” a miracle by our definition.  Imagine humans being were formed in some other way, in a way that made more sense, a way that was less awe-inspiring.  Let’s say new humans were actually generated in a factory, or online (maybe you could print them out somehow?).  And this is the way every human was created for all of time.  Then one day, out of the blue, this yogurt substance and this microscopic egg got mixed together and from them a new microscopic human starting forming all on its own… and it grew inside a woman’s belly!!!  And this adult human walked around with this baby human living inside of her!  With a fleshy tube connecting its new body to her adult body!  And whatever she ate was fed to the new human.  And then one day this new human came out of the adult human!  Its cord gets cut and now, all-of-a-crazy-sudden, this new human is breathing and eating and living and pooping on its own!  Not to mention you don’t need to go to the grocery store, it drinks MILK right from the MOTHER and doesn’t need to be taught how to do this…Who made that up?  Milk coming out of an adult human?  Whoever thought of that needs to grow up.  How ridiculous…no one is going to believe this.  The baby pops out fully functional, without conscious thought from its parents…are you ____-ing kidding me?!  And then after this they flew to Saturn, met some ninja Wookies, and played badminton with Spock.  If this actually happened within a world where humans were factory-built, we would all definitely point to this one-time new human birth as a MIRACLE.  We’d say there must be some kind of supernatural being / God behind this nonsensical explanation of how the trillions of intricacies of human life come together so automatically.

But because this happens every day, in every town, we say it’s no big deal.

There’s no God behind this.

If God wrote my name in the clouds with purple fire, then yes, I’d believe in Him.  But a baby’s birth = common place.  I want some purple fire or you don’t exist God.

There’s no God behind the sun rising every morning to give us the light and heat we need for existence.  The sun, dude, that is so easy to explain, come on, we see it every day.  Now if the sun starting bouncing around the sky and raining blue elephants down, who shot doughnut holes out of their trunks, and had messages on their sides that read in neon lights, “God is real, turn to Jesus”, well THEN of course I’d believe, because THAT would be a miracle.  But the sun?  I see that every day.  Not impressed.

I think it’s time we start being impressed with God’s miracles.  With the gift of life.  With the sun.  With snowflakes, like my Lexi, so beautiful, trillions of them, yet none is a replica of another.  With the rain.  With the stars.  With seeds and fruit.  With the butts of lightning bugs…(come on God, you’re just showing off on that one)

And of course, as all brand new parents will say a hearty “Amen” to, with coffee beans.  Oh dear Lord, we thank for this wonderful miracle!!!

Psalm 139:13-18  For you created my inmost being;
        you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
        your works are wonderful,
        I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
        when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
 your eyes saw my unformed body.
        All the days ordained for me
        were written in your book
        before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
        How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
        they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake,
        I am still with you.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Theology, Uncategorized

 

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Why Is the Old Testament God so vengeful? And other biblical interpretation issues…

Why Is the Old Testament God so vengeful?  And other biblical interpretation issues…

Hermeneutics (how we interpret the Bible) has really been on my heart recently.  Biblical hermeneutics in a nutshell is the process of figuring out: What is the eternal/divine meaning of a text? (Not it’s immediate cultural application).  A helpful case study of hermeneutics is 1 Cor. 13:12, Greet one another with a holy kiss.  The Bible is very clear that we should do this, yet we don’t.  Why?  Are we disobeying the Bible?  Are we not reading the Bible literally?  Why do we not do this today?  Because we understand this was a cultural expression of showing Christian love, the way a hug or handshake would be today.  I defy anyone who says, “We must apply the Bible literally!” — because if you do please warn me to come late to your church service, after the “kiss the person next to you” time is over and done with.  Bible translators have picked up on this, as you’ll notice in the 2007 New Living Translation (a translation that is more concerned with idea-for-idea from the Greek to English than it is word-for word) has 1 Cor. 13:12 as reading:  Greet each other with Christian love.  Alright, whew, now that is a church I can attend and not have to worry about if I used mouthwash that morning or not.  Yes, we need to apply the eternal/divine meaning of a text literally, but not its immediate cultural and/or contextual application.  A helpful hermeneutical phrase to remember is:  The Bible was written for us, but not to us.  When discussing debated issues amongst Christianity, I would advise people not say, “Well the Bible says so and so we do it” (i.e. It’s in the Bible and we take it literally!) as their argument, because if you say that in one spot, you’ve got to be consistent and use it all over (as well as wear plenty of Chapstick Flava-Craze , for all of our sakes), otherwise you too are simply picking and choosing.  Instead, we must do the difficult task of hermeneutics each and every time we read the Bible: a text written for us, but not to us!  (It’s no wonder people get Ph.D’s in this stuff—the problem is sometimes those only solidify our preexisting biases!)

This applies to all of the New Testament prooftexts a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon will give you as to why they don’t believe in the Trinity to the dozens of debated issues that divide Christian denominations.  Saying “the Bible says so right here in this instance and we take that literally” simply isn’t good enough.  Hey, I never said this wouldn’t get messy, something we really hate in church circles.

The thing that has put this topic so heavy on my heart is that hermeneutics is the key to understanding the Bible as we are meant to.  If you just picked up the Bible out of the blue, without the understanding of basic hermeneutics, you are bound to be utterly confused and likely will get a very skewed version of who God is.  One of the biggest questions that arises when someone tries reading the Bible from cover to cover (not the way it is meant to be read, btw), is:  Why is the God of the Old Testament so vengeful?  How can he command genocide?  I found a great article by David Lamb that gives a great explanation to these questions.  What I appreciate most about this article is Lamb’s humility as well as consistency.  The thing that gets me fired up about biblical interpretation is when people pick and choose the parts of Scripture they like and toss out the rest, and you see people on both ends of the spectrum doing this; some do it with the moral commands they agree and disagree with, while others do it with theological positions they agree or disagree with.  Lamb effectively singles out both of these groups as inconsistent viewpoints, and does a great job of giving solid hermeneutical options that show how we can continue to hold the entire Bible as truth in a way that is consistent from cover to cover, when dealing with this challenging question, and others like it.  The article is only 2 pages and has cool pictures; even you can read that:  Type in “page 109” at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/digital-issue/53

The biggest thing to remember when reading the Bible is that it is like a masterpiece painting.  The entire painting tells one consistent story (Jesus redeeming humanity back to a love relationship with Him).  You cannot take a hole puncher to a painting and look at only that dot, and/or only at 3-4 dots, and say you have the message of Scripture.  At best, you’d be ignorant and/or incomplete, and at worst you’d be a heretic capable of committing all kinds of damage!  The Story is the painting, not the dots.  You must look at every dot in relation with the entire painting.  And for those of you who have read the Bible from cover to cover and were left unimpressed, I honestly apologize that better prefaces aren’t put into Bibles giving better instructions on how to read it.  I would expect you to get as much out of the Bible as I would if I popped in a new DVD and put the scenes on “shuffle mode”… I saw the movie, but it didn’t make any sense.

More on this to come, but this is a good start…

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Hermeneutics, Theology

 

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Why I Believe in God (hint: It’s not because of the Bible)

For the past week and half, I’ve been reflecting on the Theology on Tap that we did at Tavern on the Square in downtown Lansing.  It was our first T.O.T. and we plan to do one on the 3rd Thursday of every month.  We tackled the topic, “Views of Creation” in an attempt to break down some of the walls people have in associating a young earth as the only creation view “allowed” within Christianity.  (This blog entry is not a reflection on that topic, nor do I want to start a war of comments in this area–>we’ll do that another time!) I spent the first few minutes discussing the book of Genesis, specifically from a hermeneutics standpoint (hermeneutics is just a fancy word for: how we interpret the Bible — we interpret everything we read, especially things written thousands of years ago like the Bible… hermeneutical questions are things like: Who wrote this?  To whom did they write it?  What message were they trying to get across to their audience?  What were their intentions? When did they write it?  What else was going on in that culture? etc…). It’s essential to ask these types of questions when approaching Genesis and specifically, the creation account, so we read Genesis 1-3 the way it was written, not the way we want it to read.  But like I said, that is not what this blog entry is about.

This blog entry starts with a gentleman who interrupted my introduction on Genesis and the hermeneutics we must use to properly address it.  While T.O.T. is designed for people to ask questions, this man’s questions kept on coming one after another in an attacking fashion, without leaving space for actually wanting an answer, and only firing off more questions when I attempted a response.  The questions were centered on the Bible and how far-fetched it is to base our belief system off such a thing.  This is what this entry is about.

God did not give us the Bible to prove His existence, and the Bible is not the reason that I believe in God.  One question the man at T.O.T. brought up is that if someone walked into the library who had never read the Bible, picked it up off the shelf, and read it from cover to cover, what conclusion would they make?  That it would not be a positive one.  What I find ironic about that question is that a blog-friend of mine (who I ‘met’ through her blog) did this very thing in a blog called ThumpMe.  Ivy is a self-professed non-believer and decided to read the Bible from cover to cover in 2010 and blog about it, which I found to be very insightful reading (she also blogged in 2011 on visiting churches and dive bars, definitely worth checking out!).  The man at T.O.T. wasn’t interested in my answer to this question (which is maybe why I’m writing to you about it!) but I tried telling him the same thing I told Ivy:  On an academic level, the Bible is not meant to be read from cover to cover (see my spiel on hermeneutics above) and I can almost guarantee that a reader will be quite confused when they try this, without knowledge of how to interpret what they are reading –this is one of the downsides of Martin Luther putting the Bible in the common language during the Reformation (what he did was definitely a great thing, but we need to understand that the Bible was always meant to be read with an education behind it and we should consider the implications of handing it out like candy and expecting people to not be confused when they try reading it: What is the difference between the Old and New Covenants?  How does this change the application for me today of things I read in the Old Testament?  Do I really need to greet everyone with a holy kiss like the New Testament says over and over to do?  🙂 etc etc etc etc — maybe I should do a post on hermeneutics soon, because I obviously can’t stop writing about it… not trying to… stay focused Noah!!….)

My point to the man at T.O.T., and to Ivy, and to many others is this: While I love the Bible, and believe it’s God’s Word, and without it as our foundation, what are we left with? (Imagine standing before God someday and saying, “God, you gave me this book, but I threw it out and just did what I came up with in my brain, I hope that’s ok with you” — not a spot I want to be in… rather I will say, “God the Bible is all you gave me and I based my life on it, even though every single verse didn’t always make sense to me, but I did it because I believe in YOU, and this is what you gave me”) My point is: I don’t believe in the Bible first, then come to my belief in God’s existence based on that.  I think very few people do this.  I believe the Bible because I first believed in God, and the Bible shows itself to be His story and corresponds with who God has shown himself to be outside of the Bible.

Whatever you think of the Bible, everyone must ask themselves basic questions:

  • Why am I here?
  • Do I have a purpose for being here?
  • How did the stars get there? (and wow, are they majestic)
  • That sun sure is nice, how did it get there?
  • How is DNA so amazing?
  • You mean a baby (me!) is born from one tiny sperm cell and one tiny egg cell coming together and my brain, eyes, ears, heart, etc. all form from this?
  • How did fireflies get that neon-light-up butt?
  • You mean our food grows out of dirt…from a seed… just like that?
  • What happens when I die?
  • Why do funerals feel so surreal?
  • And wow, I’m getting old… maybe the things I’m living for aren’t all they are cracked up to be?
  • Did I already ask if I have a purpose for being here?  Is there a direction to these deep longings within my heart (that I don’t think my dog or cat has)?

These are the reasons I believe in a God who created me.  I have my days when I too, like many people, want God to write my name in the clouds with a neon paintbrush and then I’ll really believe in Him, or I want him to solve all of my problems, but I know that is not how God typically works.  And when I think about my above questions, why should He have to?  Due to the fact that He already does a billion miracles a day means I don’t think He has to do a billion + 1 (my name in the sky) to finally validate himself as real in my mind.  Most of us create reasons to not believe in Him (because of the implications this would have on us personally), rather than simply opening our eyes to what is already in front of us.

I’m not saying that there aren’t legitimate questions to be asked about the Bible’s reliability and historicity, or that there aren’t legitimate answers to some of those questions (which are very helpful to those who are genuinely seeking answers), but I don’t think academic proofs of why the Bible is reliable are going to melt your heart to see that there is a God who created you and loves you, who you have sinned/rebelled against, and who you desperately need to rescue you from the effects of this sin.  In fact, the Bible lets itself off the hook in this manner, reminding us that it is not needed for us to understand our need for God:

Romans 1:19-20 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Psalm 19:1-4  1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
   night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
   no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.

Or as Switchfoot says in their song “Stars”:

I’ve been thinking ’bout everyone, everyone you look so lonely.
But when I look at the stars,
when I look at the stars,
when I look at the stars I see someone else

To hear a powerful message on the majestic science of God’s creation (filled with incredible scientific video and facts) and how this reveals God’s reality, check out:

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Theology

 

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