Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Another Reason To Stay In The Text

A coworker who has just started attending church said, “I’ll never learn the Bible. My pastor starts in one section and then goes to another and then another and then another.”

I’m sure her pastor is well meaning; but here is another reason to stay in a text when we preach or teach rather than go proof-texting here and there and everywhere - it can be just plain confusing for folks to follow and it causes some people to despair of ever knowing the Bible. How much better to spend time in a passage so that when we’re done folks will have experienced the text - they may not yet know all the rooms in the mansion but hopefully they’ll know that one.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Raffle - Did You Say Raffle?

“How is church?” I asked.

“It’s good,” she answered.

“So, tell me about it,” I continued.

“Do you want to buy a raffle ticket?”

“A what?” I asked.

“A raffle ticket. We’re selling raffle tickets for the church.”

“What does the winner get?”

“The winner gets $1,000.00.”

“It sounds to me like Las Vegas,” I replied. “What’s the money for?”

“It’s for the church Christmas party.”

“I can’t handle raffle tickets,” I said.

Now I know that some church cultures have raffles, but those church cultures are typically “mainline” - the church my friend attends is not mainline. She is a relatively new Christian and is going to what you might call a Full Gospel church; so I was quite surprised that she was selling raffle tickets.

On the other hand, a few years ago I came to pastoral grief when I voiced concern over Young Life’s raffles. I couldn’t understand then, nor do I now, why we would teach young Christians to rely on problematic fundraising for what is supposed to be God’s work. The culture of gambling, poker, and raffles does not seem to be a culture that is consonant with the New Jerusalem and the Kingdom of God; God’s work done in God’s way will have God’s provision - if God does not provide through our giving and other avenues then perhaps we should take the endeavor off of artificial life support and let it die.

Yes, I have a problem with encouraging gambling; but I have a bigger problem when we attempt to do God’s work in our own strength by conjuring up resources in an “ends justifies the means” mentality. The long-term damage we do to our understanding of the work of the Kingdom of God far outweighs the instant gratification of a Christmas party or a summer camp or a new sound system.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

You Can’t Know It If You Don’t Read It

A coworker excitedly told me that she had come to know the Lord Jesus, was participating in a church, and was starting to read the Bible. Then she said, “There is a Christian bookstore around me and I’m going to go there and find some books that tell me what the Bible is about.”

I replied, “Well, the best way to learn what the Bible is about is to read the Bible. After you’ve read the Bible then you might want to read a book or two on the Bible, but the only way to learn what the Bible is about is to read the Bible; the only way to know the Bible is to read the Bible.”

Knowing that she is engaged to be married I said, “Suppose you hadn’t met Bill yet and I said to you, ‘I know a great guy named Bill, I think you two might hit it off.’ But then, instead of introducing you to Bill I simply talked about Bill. Then I said, ‘Hey, my friend Susan knows Bill too, let her tell you about him.’ And then I said, ‘My friend Mark has written a book about Bill, why don’t you read it?’ And so on and so forth and weeks and years go by but you never actually meet Bill.

“Well, that’s the way it is with many Christians. We go to church for years and we say we believe the Bible, but we never really get to know the Bible because we never read it. So the best way to learn what the Bible says, the best way to learn the Bible…is to read the Bible.”

Then we talked about some ways to read the Bible.

Folks say that the best way to learn a foreign language is immersion in that language; I think the best way to learn the Bible is immersion in the Bible – to read it to learn its scope, to read it to study it, to read it to meditate on it, to read it to pray it, and to read it to memorize passages of it.

When we know what the Bible says we have a grid and filter through which to read what other people say about the Bible and what other people say about Jesus; the best testimony about the Bible is the Bible; the best testimony about Jesus Christ is what Jesus Himself says about Himself, and what those who knew Him and who knew those who knew Him say about Him.

Legal systems through the ages have valued eyewitness testimony – the people who write fiction are not those who wrote the Bible, but rather those who in their presumption and arrogance think they know more (2,000 years and more removed from Biblical events) than those who were eyewitnesses and those who knew the eyewitnesses. Which group of witnesses would an unbiased court of law believe?

The public nature of the Gospel events was appealed to by Paul when he stood before Festus (Acts 26:26), “For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.”

Luke begins his Gospel with, “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which are most surely believed among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and minsters of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”

The only way to know the Bible is to read the Bible, and the testimony of eyewitnesses is far superior to the testimony of those far removed in both time and space from the Biblical events. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Preaching and Teaching the Bible

One of the great counter-balances to Pagan Christianity is preaching and teaching through books of the Bible. When we preach and teach through the books of the Bible and force ourselves to deal with the text as it is written and in the sequence in which it is written, we guard against proof-texting and against our propensity to cater to our preferences and to the popular appetites of people.

In the Early Church Fathers we see pastors preaching and teaching through books of the Bible. In the Reformers we see pastors teaching and preaching through the books of the Bible. The mission of these men was to mold their people into the image of Jesus, it was not to allow themselves to be molded into the image of the people for the image of the people will always be the image of the prevailing culture and the prevailing culture will always be opposed to the Bible.

We cannot preach the Bible if we do not preach the Bible and topical preaching as a steady diet is simply not preaching the Bible – for how can we preach the Bible if we don’t present the Bible as it is written? This is why topical preaching, to address certain immediate questions or crises, must be viewed as exceptional and dangerous – exceptional because it must not be the rule and should therefore been seen as an exception; dangerous because it can be seductive to the preacher – it can tempt the preacher to do it again, and again, and again – because then the preacher gets to choose what he is going to preach and then the preacher drives the bus, the preacher drives the agenda, the preacher drives the thinking…and not the Bible. We can stand before congregations and pray that people will see Jesus and not us, but if we are not submitted to the Biblical text such prayers are disingenuous.

One of the great defenses against Christian Paganism is preaching and teaching the books of the Bible; then our hearts and minds are molded with Biblical thoughts and patterns with Jesus Christ and His Cross always our North Star, always our beginning and end. The Scriptures are our fortress, our place of refuge in Jesus Christ.

We cannot preach the Bible if we don’t preach the Bible.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Why are we obsessed with numbers? Have we no fear? I am reminded of God’s command that Israel’s kings were not to number their people, and yet in promotional piece after promotional piece I read that pastors have churches with this many or that many thousand people. I am reminded of David’s sin when he numbered Israel. Have we no fear?

It seems to me that while there may be legitimate reasons to know numbers, just as there are legitimate reasons to know how much money was given in an offering, that we ought to fear numbers as we should fear our egos and our propensity to trust in numbers. And to use numbers to market a ministry or to attract others to a church? Where is Biblical precedent for that practice and thinking? 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Adolescent Christianity

I think there is a difference between Adolescent Christianity and Pagan Christianity that we often fail to realize. Adolescent Christianity is immature, Pagan Christianity is dangerous. Yes, adolescents can be dangerous, but with guidance they’ll grow out of it.

When I think of Adolescent Christianity I think of 1 Corinthians Chapter 14; the Corinthians were acting like children and adolescents in their thinking and experience of spiritual gifts. Paul uses an entirely different tone with them than he does, for example, with the false teachers in the books of Galatians and 2 Corinthians. We often treat adolescent Christians as if they were engaging in pagan practices and were false teachers (false teachers in the Biblical sense, in the sense we see Paul, Peter, and John approach the subject of false teachers). To be sure adolescent practices, if left unchecked, can lead to pagan practices – but that is a danger we all face. A pagan practice need not be overt such as an obsession with experience, a pagan practice may also be an obsession with intellect in order to be accepted in the academy. The world is the world is the world.

Jesus must ever be our story and song, our life and joy, our reason for living. My experience may deceive me, my intellect may seduce me, but Jesus will always be my deliverer from myself and His Word must always be my guide. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Pagan Christianity

Paul writes to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:1), “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” To the Thessalonians Paul writes (I Thessalonians 2:3), “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ] will not come unless the apostasy comes first…”

I recently had a conversation with a friend who shared with me about something going on in his life and his attitude toward it that I thought had no Biblical foundation. His one “Biblical” basis for thinking and acting the way he was, was one New Testament verse, and as we should all know, a text without a context is a pretext for a proof text. During the course of our conversation he said to me, “I’ve read that the ancient mystery religions had this same attitude [his attitude toward the subject and practice we were discussing], so I think that perhaps God is leading me in this same way.” My friend was allowing his experience to drive his thinking to the point where he sought theological justification not only outside the Bible, but inside pagan mystery religion.

A recent catalog from Christian Book Distributors has The Circle Maker on its front page; an example of basing thinking and prayer on methodology not found in the Scriptures; apparently the only thing that matters in this approach is that it works. It is hardly the picture of the prayer born of relationship that Jesus teaches in the Gospels. Overt pagan religions have also made the argument that their prayers and rituals work – with that in mind The Circle Maker has much company.   

Paul writes in Colossians Chapter Two, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth  that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Paganism has a preoccupation with secret wisdom, with special methodology, with hidden codes and keys to understanding. Paganism says, “God didn’t really mean what he said, eat this fruit and you’ll be like him.” That is the mantra of the enemy, that is the siren song that leads to apostasy.

Paganism is also fixated on interpreting events and predicting the future. While the Gospel encourages us in the hope of the return of Jesus Christ, in the hope of His appearing; Pagan Christianity is obsessed with a focus on world events and assigns particular meanings to current events; it does so not with Jesus Christ as its focus, but with our own interests as its focus. A cursory survey of materials in the CBD catalog illustrates this with its “End Times” section focused on blood moons, Isis, End Time codes, chronological orders of the End Times, events shaking the world, making the book of Revelation clear, and unlocking mysteries.

This extra-Biblical obsession with the future is a hallmark of paganism. When the prophets and apostles write of the future they write looking toward the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus, they write encouraging their readers to trust in Jesus, to know Jesus, to follow Jesus, to be obedient to Jesus, to testify of Jesus to others, to be faithful to God and to be faithful to each other. The Biblical writers do not appeal to our curiosity, they do not tantalize with us promises to teach us something secret, and they don’t indicate that what they write can be easily understood. The men who wrote the Bible often wrote of the future appearing of Jesus to encourage His followers in the midst of their suffering – in fact, that is the primary motivation of the New Testament writers; when I survey North America I don’t see much suffering, to the contrary, I see people who write about the “End Times” usually assuring Christians that they won’t experience severe suffering but rather will be “raptured”.

Above all else, the men who wrote the Bible point us to Jesus. Biblical eschatological teaching, Bible prophecy, always points to Jesus Christ – Jesus is always the center of gravity.