Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Weakening of the Bible

Many of my regular readers know my past history with the Southern Baptist Convention. A few years back, I went into a self-imposed exile of sorts, having been informally and unofficially ousted by a denomination that had covertly changed its convictions from its once stalwart resurgence. Still, I have a deep love and a not-so-deep hope for the denomination that gave me so much in terms of my personal faith development and professional preparation.

I find myself still following the happenings of America’s largest protestant denomination, bound to this love-hate relationship of a man and a convention that espouse rather significant differences in biblical convictions. The latest angst I’ve experienced is from the current edition (April 2011) of Facts & Trends, a publication of Lifeway, the publishing arm of the SBC. Lifeway is probably my least favorite entity of the SBC for several reasons. First, Lifeway isn’t very discerning about the books they sell. One would think they’d be rather rigid in peddling books that support Baptist doctrine and foster fundamental Christianity. Not so. While the shelves aren’t littered with bad books, they’ll sell the popular stuff even if it has a bit of a rub against traditional Baptist beliefs.

Second, Lifeway also makes money, lots of money. Long ago, they were the Baptist Bookstore of the Southern Baptist Convention, committed to serving the local church. In these later decades, they’ve reinterpreted their identity to appeal to the larger Christian family. The trade off is their service to the local Baptist church isn’t all that great. When I was pastoring local Baptist churches, one of the highest budgeted items was our literature from Lifeway. But hey, they do give money to the Cooperative Program!

And while I’m pontificating, why not give a third critique. Lifeway’s major face of Biblical teaching is Beth Moore. While she does hostess only woman’s conferences (though I’m sure men attend) and seems to teach orthodox beliefs, it seems ironic that a denomination that believes in male-only Biblical offices, wouldn’t also have a male face hosting conferences and writing studies.

Be that as it may, my most recent conflict is that Facts & Trends is currently debuting one of Lifeway’s newest training modules: “Game Plan for Life.” One headline reads: “Football, NASCAR champion helps guys develop a “Game Plan for Life.” Did you catch that? Yeah, read it again. It isn’t the Bible that’s helping men develop their game plan. It’s football and NASCAR.

Joe Gibbs, head coach of the Washington Redskins and NASCAR owner, is at the center of the new discipleship module. Maybe he’s the author. Maybe he’s the sponsor, I’m not sure. The whole promotion rubbed me wrong. Here’s a new module off the presses designed to help the local pastor train his men in Biblical discipleship and the dominant graphics, words and ideas are football, superbowl, NASCAR, etc. Lots of glitz, but very little substance.

The accompanying article was the most troubling. Entitled “Football and NASCAR captured men’s imagination, led to Bible study” (yes, you read it right again…it’s football and NASCAR that are capturing Christian men, not the Holy Spirit or the Bible), it focused on the module’s usage by Riverbluff Church in North Charleston, South Carolina. The summation of the article was that this is a great study because it draws men together via the sports theme and gets them talking with each. Hmmm. And I thought we men were supposed to be learning the Bible.

Now to be sure, I’m quite convinced that the men of Riverbluff Church did talk about the Bible. My problem is that in reading the article, you come away with this dominant idea that the Bible alone is insufficient (and even absent!) in attracting men. It must be repackaged. And the wrapping needs to be pretty. The Bible wasn’t in the spotlight. Joe Gibbs, football and NASCAR were.
Two realities are staring at me.

The first, is that in the modern church age, there is a demand to repackage the Bible. Common churchmen and women aren’t committed to studying the Bible on its own merits. They don’t want to abide with Christ, learn of Him or be sanctified by His truth. They must be enticed by bells and whistles. They need allurement and excitement.

The second reality is that church leaders and church entities are catering to this immaturity. It brings to my mind God’s scathing rebuke in Ezekiel 34. Verse 10 states, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I [am] against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.” Lifeway needs to stop focusing on what sells and what is attractive, and start focusing on what matters and what is needful.

The church is weak. We don’t need chats stemming from the backdrop of football championships and roaring stock cars. We need men (and women) who recognize their great need of God’s Word and will “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Abide in Christ

And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.

1 John 2:28

The Bible here gives warning that some Christians will be ashamed at Jesus’ coming. The very event that has transfixed our hope, that encourages us to continue faithful, that calms us in the midst of difficult circumstances—that great hope of Jesus’ return, His second coming—is an event that will cause some folks shame.

It certainly won’t be a day of joy for people who have lived their lives apart from Jesus. They will say “to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). Clearly, non-Christians meet Jesus’ return with fear and dread. And rightly so, because His second coming is very unlike is first coming. When He first came to earth, it was to seek and to save. When He comes again, it will be to search and destroy.

But surprisingly, even Christians meet the day with “shame”. Certainly, many of Jesus’ followers will probably understand at His coming, wasted opportunities, squandered time, misplaced priorities, but I think the Bible here is ultimately saying that genuine Christians are to abide in Christ until His coming. If they don’t, they will prove themselves un-geniune and be ashamed, much like the lost, unbelieving world that tries to hide from Him.

So it's John's way of saying to those in His congregation, stay true to Christ. Don't abandon the faith you once embraced. Or to state the converse, those who once went to church, believed its teachings and embraced her Savior but who no longer do so, are not "abiding in Christ" and will be "ashamed" (damned) at His appearing.

The key to understanding the verse, I think, lies in that phrase “abide in Him”. Many try to make that into something mystical and ethereal.

Listen to what one teacher has stated: To abide has to do with the concept of 'being' instead of 'doing'. Abiding in Christ is a process. We don't get there over night. So don't get discouraged if it seems hard to just 'rest in Him'. Enjoy the mountains, the ocean, the blue skies (even the thunder and lightning), the green pastures (even the hot desert). As you enjoy God's creation, you will sense His presence. Abiding will come. Stop and 'smell the roses'.

There seems to be a lot of that kind of giberrish on this matter of “abiding in Christ”. It seems that we should be taking up yoga, or at least be sitting by the beach in the lotus position, palms upward, eyes close and perhaps a long, deep hum…is this seriously what they think “abiding in Christ” is all about? The word itself, “meno”, in the Greek, isn’t very mystical. It simply conveys the idea of remaining, or staying, or enduring. And it fits well with one of the major reasons John writes this brief letter—assurance of salvation.

The Jews didn’t want Jesus’ body to “remain” on the cross (John 19:31) and asked Pilate to take it down; Paul wanted Timothy to “continue” in the things he had learned (2 Timothy 3:14); Jesus asked the disciples to “tarry” with Him at Gethsamene the night of His arrest (Matthew 26:38); and Peter said it was the Word of the Lord that “endureth” forever (1 Peter 1:25). In each case, it is the same Greek root as our word in 1 John: "abide".

And in those other verse where the word is typical translated with a different word than "abide", we don’t suggest anything mystical at all, because it is very clear as to the writer's intent. And so with "abiding in Christ". It means staying with Him, enduring in the faith you began, tarrying and continuing with Him.

And contrary to the writer I previously quoted, “abiding in Christ” has more to do with “DOING” than “BEING”. Consider Jesus’ own words on the matter from John 15:4-5 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can DO nothing."

Also, John 15:10 “If ye KEEP My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love.” And John 14:23, "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love Me, he will KEEP My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him."

Abide is very much an active, doing-oriented matter. Far from sitting by the ocean and smelling the flowers, abiding with Christ comes through intentional action.

John 15:7 gives perhaps the biggest clue to what it means to “abide in Christ”. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus puts the spotlight on His words as the factor of “abiding”. Reading, memorizing, meditating, engrafting the Word into your being is essentially what it means to abide with/in Christ.

Andrew Murray, in his book Abide in Christ, writes:

IT IS to you who have heard and hearkened to the call, "Come unto me," that this new invitation comes, "Abide in me." The message comes from the same loving Saviour. You doubtless have never repented having come at His call. You experienced that His word was truth; all His promises He fulfilled; He made you partakers of the blessings and the joy of His love. Was not His welcome most hearty, His pardon full and free, His love most sweet and precious? You more than once, at your first coming to Him, had reason to say, "The half was not told me." And yet you have had to complain of disappointment: as time went on, your expectations were not realized. The blessings you once enjoyed were lost; the love and joy of your first meeting with your Saviour, instead of deepening, have become faint and feeble. And often you have wondered what the reason could be, that with such a Saviour, so mighty and so loving, your experience of salvation should not have been a fuller one. The answer is very simple. You wandered from Him. The blessings He bestows are all connected with His "Come to ME," and are only to be enjoyed in close fellowship with Himself. You either did not fully understand, or did not rightly remember, that the call meant, "Come to me to stay with me." And yet this was in very deed His object and purpose when first He called you to Himself. It was not to refresh you for a few short hours after your conversion with the joy of His love and deliverance, and then to send you forth to wander in sadness and sin. He had destined you to something better than a short-lived blessedness, to be enjoyed only in times of special earnestness and prayer, and then to pass away, as you had to return to those duties in which far the greater part of life has to be spent. No, indeed; He had prepared for you an abiding dwelling with Himself, where your whole life and every moment of it might be spent, where the work of your daily life might be done, and where all the while you might be enjoying unbroken communion with Himself. It was even this He meant when to that first word, "Come to me," He added this, "Abide in me." As earnest and faithful, as loving and tender, as the compassion that breathed in that blessed "Come," was the grace that added this no less blessed "Abide." As mighty as the attraction with which that first word drew you, were the bonds with which this second, had you but listened to it, would have kept you. And as great as were the blessings with which that coming was rewarded, so large, yea, and much greater, were thetreasures to which that abiding would have given you access.

We wander from Him when we disobey His Word. So to “abide in Christ” means to stay faithful to you, to continue with Him. Neither the forest wind nor the sea breeze will teach me about Jesus. Only the Bible can do that. So ingest it into your soul. Consume it, learn it, live it. Obey it. If you do that, you will make it to the end with no shame.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Patrick and Forgiveness

It would be safe to say that Patricius, a 15 year old teenager of a semi-wealthy family, was like most teenagers today. His wealth and status probably contributed to a rather me-centered perspective that most humans, and particularly adolescents, seem to possess.

His kidnapping by Irish raiders changed his life. Grabbed from his British home in the middle of the night while his parents were away visiting a nearby town, he instantly lost all prestige and entitlements. Within weeks, he was a slave to an Irish landowner and consigned to guarding sheep. Some years later, he escaped and returned to his home and his parents. Shortly, thereafter, he decided to return to the people who had altered his life.

There are many worthy quotes from the aged missionary to Ireland worthy of our contemplation, especially on this, his day. But let’s not forget his life expended preaching the gospel, modeling the gospel and warring for the gospel was all predicated on an earlier decision. Long before he became known to the world as St. Patrick, he decided to forgive his enemies of their offenses and this action was the defining action of his life and is central to the gospel of Jesus.

Forgiveness is the core of the Christian faith.

Have you sought the forgiveness of God, your Creator, Designer and Sovereign King?

Have you forgiven others who have offended, wounded, and hurt you?

Ephesians 4:32
"And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."

Friday, March 04, 2011

Knowing God

In my teaching through the letter of 1 John, I’ve been reminded that knowing God is a big deal to Him. It is a thunderous message in the epistle and it is the heart of biblical revelation—the why? of everything God tells us about Himself and the history of humanity. God is a self-revealing God. He wants us to know Him.

It is the ultimate reason behind the exodus—God’s rescuing His covenant people from Egyptian slavery. “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I [am] the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex 6:7). And, too “…the Egyptians shall know that I [am] the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Ex 7:5).

God used Jeremiah the prophet to tell us that if we accomplish anything at all with our lives and energy, be sure we know Him: “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I [am] the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these [things] I delight, saith the LORD” (Jer 9:24).

The apostle Paul said his highest quest was “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection…” (Phil 3:10).

And in 1 John, the Bible talks of knowing God experientially (ginosko) 24 times: 2:3, 4, 5, 13 (twice), 14, 18, 29; 3:1 (twice), 6, 16, 19, 20, 24; 4:2, 6 (twice), 7, 8, 13, 16; 5:2, 20 and knowing Him intellectually (oida) 15 times: 2:11, 20, 21 (twice), 29; 3:2, 5, 14, 15; 5:13, 15 (twice), 18, 19, 20.

The interesting this about the perspective in 1 John is that this knowledge of God manifests itself in action. It isn’t a passive, philosophical knowledge. It is an active, integrated knowledge. It really is an echo of the book of James. Don’t just talk about faith—show it.

So, how much of God do you know?