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Written Word

The State of the Bible in America

I have been doing some research lately into how churches and Christians in America are engaging with the Bible, and my findings have been rather shocking. First, let me give you some background on where I am coming from.

My Story

When I was fourteen or so, I began reading about the life of David in 1 and 2 Samuel and in Chronicles. I was so fascinated by David’s story and that of the kings of Israel, I began to devour Samuel, Kings and Chronicles over and over again. After a while, my father saw my interest in the Bible and he bought me a One Year Bible, something brand new at the time.

I took that One Year Bible and began to devour it too, reading it once a year for the next three years. I was amazed at how all the Bible stories I had been taught came alive once I had read through the Bible a few times. So many things I had always been confused about just made sense simply from reading. I didn’t require a lot of teaching to explain things to me, I picked it up when I could put the things together that I had read in context.

41nkzoXxPLLI also began to notice something else that shocked me. Most of the adults I knew from church didn’t get what I was getting. Over the next several years it became obvious that most adults had never read the entire Bible and that many of them had never read much of it at all. I’m talking about leaders in the church, not your average American.

I took it for granted up to that point that since I was young I wasn’t required to read the Bible yet, but that church leaders had all read it. I was shocked when I learned that wasn’t true. I began to hear things in my Sunday School classes and many other places that just didn’t line up. It became obvious after many years that most people’s Bible literacy was coming from somewhere other than the Bible and I was starting to believe that Hallmark was the most likely source.

The Challenge

Before you feel like I’m wagging a judgmental finger, I get how hard reading the Bible can be. I believe it is Jon Acuff who calls Leviticus the graveyard of the One Year Bible reading plan. I get that. Because I started reading the Bible through from a young age, I feel like I ignorantly bypassed the trepidation and boredom most people face from scripture.

What I think made the difference for me was that after a short time I saw the puzzle in the Bible that I needed to solve. Even in Leviticus I read things that reminded me of things I had read in the New Testament or stories I had heard. I wanted to piece together how it all fit and what the message was. I was young enough that I wasn’t so analytical that I needed to know what everything meant before I moved on to something else. If I didn’t understand something, I simply kept reading. I figured that my answers would come from somewhere else in scripture.

And do you know what? 99% of them did.

For over 20 years now I have enjoyed studying the Bible. I have had ups and downs and lulls where I have to re-commit to reading, but I have never not enjoyed it. There is always something fresh, always something real for me.

The Problem

What began to bother me over 15 years ago was that this wasn’t most people’s experience. It pained me to think that most people I knew weren’t enjoying God’s Word like I was. It was discomforting to watch as most believers I knew or saw would read a verse or two a day just looking for something to get them “through the day.”

Again, now as an adult with kids, I get that. But there is something troubling to me in our culture that the most amazing testimony in history, the one Jesus said will last FOREVER, is used as a crutch to hobble through life instead of the life-giving wonder it truly is.

Christian radio stations often play testimonies of people who tell how a song had a line in it that helped them get through their day. You have probably heard what I’m talking about. That’s the same mentality applied to scripture today.

The Crisis

51HvzfyXDgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Take that culture and carry it forward a generation or two and you have what we have become in the church today. It’s no wonder we have people using scripture to justify the lifestyles and beliefs it speaks directly against. There are too few people in their lives to set them straight before they publish their books and blog posts. We have a culture of biblically illiterate churchgoers led by biblically illiterate church leaders.

I’m happy to say that most of my readers who have responded to my polls affirm that their churches encourage them to read the Bible regularly, but that is sadly not the case for most churches in America today. I’ve met far too many pastors who have studied more of what a Bible commentator has had to say about scripture than scripture itself.

Today we watch as Christians react violently react to non Christians who want to take away their rights as if the Bill of Rights was taken directly from Joshua, Judges and Ruth. I have heard Christians quote Bible verses to refute homosexuality, atheism, etc. only to later admit they had never actually read those passages they quoted.

We have a biblically illiterate nation being led by a biblically illiterate church. Something has to change, and change quickly.

The Solution

We need the church to start encouraging people to read their Bible. We don’t need them to study it, we need people to read it. Put your study Bible on the shelf for a year or two. Just read it. Get it in you. Devour it. Get copious quantities of it in you.

Pastors, this is your year to read the entire Bible.

Sunday School teachers, this is your year too (and yes, I’m speaking to kids’ teachers too)

Small group leaders, this is your time to begin reading the Bible every day.

John ISOI publish a series of Bible studies and podcasts around the concept of reading a single book of the Bible once a week for 10 weeks called the 10 Week Bible (creative, I know). It’s my attempt to get people to read lots of the Bible so that they get it in them and lock it away in their hearts as opposed to having a verse or two to get them through the day. If the Bible in a year seems to daunting for you, try my way.

Of if that seems like too much, start a two year plan. Or a three year plan. Just please, make a plan to read. Read lots. Don’t stop. Don’t stop to figure it all out, I can guarantee you that the more you do it the more it will figure itself out for you.

I have had some of the most bizarre debates with Christian leaders simply because they have not read the Bible they are trying to teach. Sure, they have a concordance and Google search to help them find verses to justify whatever it is they want to teach others, but if they had actually read two verses before and after those they would have known that it said the opposite of the view they had now solidified in stone in their hearts.

The Charge

I pray for a bright future as more and more Christians commit to reading the Bible instead of just using it to get by, but I see some painful transitions we will have to go through. Right now there is a church growth and church planting explosion that has absolutely nothing to do with God’s Word. It’s all about pragmatism. It’s about reaching people. It is producing people who use the Bible to get through their day and they are the same people who will shortly turn away from God and the church when it stops helping them get by.

Will you commit to being part of the change? Will you commit to reading the Bible this year? I think mine is pretty good. I think the One Year Bible is pretty good. I don’t care what plan you use, just please get on one. Have trouble reading? Have a smart phone? Have the thing read it to you. Yeah, it can do that. That’s actually how most people in history learned the Bible was by having people read it to them, so it counts.

Please commit to reading God’s Word every day and encourage those around you to do it too. Drop hints for your pastor to read it every day too. Encourage your leaders to do whatever they can to get their congregation reading it.

I normally discourage people from doing irritating things, but we are in such a crisis of biblical illiteracy in the church today, I give you license to badger your leaders to get them reading. I pray they will thank you later.

Lord, help us love Your Word. Give us grace to read it.

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Current Events Written Word

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

CvsA

A friend asked me a question this morning about how to pray for lost souls. The topic came up because a pastor they knew told them that because God predestines those who are saved by whom the Spirit draws, no one whom the Spirit draws can resist. It got them to thinking and it got them confused. Should we even pray for the lost?

This, of course, is a very Calvinistic position. If you’re not familiar with Calvinism, then you haven’t been paying attention recently. There has been a resurgence in recent years of what many are calling Neo-Calvinism. Traditionally a belief held only by Presbyterians, the ideology has spread rapidly among Baptists and non-denominational churches and theologians. Grossly oversimplified, most people associate Calvinism with “predestination.” Those whom God draws are unable to resist His grace, and those whom He doesn’t draw are unable to acquire it.

Genesis

If you are interested to know more for yourself, you are free to Google “Calvinism” or “Arminianism.” The short version is that back in the early days after the Protestant Reformation, Calvin was confronted by his Catholic antagonists about his theology. A brilliant man, a prolific writer and speaker, he talked about how he believed God’s grace could not be earned, as the Catholic doctrine said (again, oversimplified), but that it was irresistible to those whom it was offered. Basically, we had no part in our salvation.

Not agreeing with the Catholic position, but also not agreeing with Calvin, a man named Jacob Arminius penned a five-point response to Calvin’s theology. After Calvin’s death, his followers penned his much more famous five points of Calvinism, commonly referred to as TULIP (look it up).

The Problem

Men, for ages, have longed to wrestle complex problems and make them easily understandable. It is in our nature to uncover what is hidden and make it accessible. For decades, physicists have been looking for the Theory of Relativity, a seemingly unattainable equation to explain everything in the universe (yet again, very oversimplified). They haven’t found it yet.

Solomon had this to say about our quest for uncovering what is hidden:

2It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;

to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

3As the heavens are high and the earth is deep,

so the hearts of kings are unsearchable.

Proverbs 25:2-3

It is interesting that Solomon knew that God had hidden glorious things from us. Solomon called those who could search them out kings. What is even more interesting is that he said that a king’s heart is unsearchable. Somehow, Solomon said in two sentences that God can be figured out by those who can’t be figured out. That’s a paradoxical statement at best.

Solomon isn’t really saying that God’s wisdom is finite and man’s wisdom is infinite. He is speaking to the unknowable nature of what is out there—even thought God longs for us to uncover the things He has hidden. Even in the glory of discovery, there is always an element of secrecy—something more we haven’t found yet.

Calvinism and Arminianism both overlook this key nature of God. Even in our ability to know God and be fully known, we still see “only in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12). While I believe that it is a worthy exercise to search out the scriptures to know God, Calvinism and Arminianism both paint God into a corner that I think are unattainable. They are both, at their core, reactionary dogmas against arguments levied by antagonists. They do more to stoke our own pride and ego than they do to explain God.

The Solution

I like how David put it.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

Psalm 139:6

I encourage you to read all of Psalm 139. It is very clear here that David is speaking directly to this idea of God’s foreknowledge. David is saying, in essence, that the idea of predestination is very real, but that somehow God has chosen to give man a part too. How God can foreknow, predestine and at the same time allow man a choice makes David’s head spin. That makes me feel like I’m in good company, because it makes my head spin too.

I would go so far to say that if it doesn’t make your head spin, then you’ve really lost something. If you have chosen to fall in step with either Calvinism or Arminianism, then I think you have chosen to explain the unexplainable.

Yes, God is sovereign. Yes, man has a choice.

How the two work together are beyond me, but I am just fine with that.

For now, I plan to argue very little about it and take the issue up with the One who knows the answer when I meet Him. I assume it will take me a few billion years to get it through my thick skull, because I’m slow that way.

It’s okay, I’ll have time.

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Bible Study Written Word

The Secrets We Keep

Secrets

This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

Romans 2:16

This is a chilling passage. Deep within the heart of man is a desire to look good. We want to be respected, liked, loved and honored. It may look different for different people. Not everyone exhibits narcissism at the Hollywood level, but we all have it.

Those desires, while not inherently bad, can lead us to some bad conclusions. Because we want to look good for people, we learn to put on a front. We learn to act. We learn to lie. And the mother of all those lies?

Religion

Religion is the practicing of our faith. It is what people see externally of an internal set of values. Unfortunately, that externality can be manipulated, and for most people who have walked planet earth, it is.

In the first part of Romans Two, Paul tears down the people who just felt smugly self-righteous after reading chapter one. He spoke about horrible, wretched, sinful pagans who practiced all manners of sexual debauchery, theft and murder. He then addresses those smugly smiling because they have not participated in those kinds of acts.

Paul tells them, and us today, that we who think we can judge those who have participated in the worst form of debauchery are in bad shape. It is an easy thing to judge the external. When wickedness is external and open, it is no challenge for anyone to wag their finger. But Paul turns the table on his would-be self-righteous crowd.

He tells us that on the day of judgment before Jesus, we will not be judged by what we showed to everyone else, but by the secrets we kept. Men see what we want them to see. Jesus sees what we keep hidden.

What Is Seen Counts

That leaves us no religious wiggle-room. Paul even goes so far to say that those who don’t know right from wrong, but act as if they did, are better off than those who know right from wrong and secretly disobey, while making it look like they’re walking the straight and narrow path.

This is what makes Christianity different, and it is what makes it impossible to fake, because we are only faking before God.

I have heard many stories of Muslim men murdering Christian men and then gang-raping their wives and daughters in the name of Allah, looked on with approval from their Imams. I have asked myself the question, how could men do what is not allowed in Islam and then be praised for it? How could these men do such a wicked thing if they had not already participated in such debauchery in the shadows of their lives?

But Islam is an externally-oriented religion. Only what is seen counts. For most Christians, there is no difference. Most Christians live like it is only what is seen that matters. While self-righteously wagging their fingers at the horrible wickedness around them, they secretly participate while no one is watching in some form or fashion.

Paul’s words, my paraphrase. Romans Chapter Two.

Hidden Agendas

I’m not trying to guilt-trip you or convince you that you are a bad person. I’m trying to convince you that you are a much worse person than you think you are. Wretched, in fact.

We need Jesus. We need His sacrifice. We need His intervention on our behalf. Unless there is some redemption for us, we will all meet God one day and have our secrets exposed, and no one is without secrets for which we would rightly be condemned. This is the gospel that Paul speaks of in Romans Two. The “good news” that our external and secret sins can be atoned for.

The hidden agenda in Romans Two is not to stop judging those found guilty in Romans One. We’re human, and it isn’t possible to judge others for their external actions. No, the not-so-hidden agenda in Romans Two is to call those who consider themselves righteous to look at what they have judged and then do a little self-examination.

Instead of saying, “Aren’t they bad,” we should be asking, “In what ways am I like that?” When we convince ourselves that we are righteous because of our actions, we forget that one day we will meet the exposer of secrets.

When we choose to ask the one who knows our secrets what He thinks of them and us, then and only then can we begin to rid ourselves of them.

23Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
24And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

This is the prayer of a Christian, one who has been redeemed by Jesus. We no longer fear our secrets, but we choose to offer them up to the one who knows them anyway. No man will ever know that we did this. It won’t make us look better to others. It won’t make us look more religious or spiritual, but it is the only thing we have to offer the one who has already redeemed us from the secrets we keep.

But oh, the power and freedom that comes from not being bound by secrets.

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Written Word

Is Our Faith In God? Part 2

Bible

In part 1 here we discussed that we should not study the Bible for answers, but we should study it to find God. If we use the Bible to find our answers, we will fall prey to the error of the Pharisees. They knew the written Word of God better than anyone on planet earth, but when Jesus, God in the flesh appeared before them, they couldn’t recognize Him.

But something special happens when we place our faith in God, not in His Bible. When our faith is rooted in the God who wrote the Bible, it comes alive. It is no longer a dead compilation of poetry, prose and history, but a living, breathing extension of God Himself.

The distinction may be hard to recognize, but it makes all the difference in the world. It makes the difference between being a Christian who will inherit eternal life and a religious zealot who will spend eternity in the punishment and separation from God in hell.

The Distinction

Jesus didn’t honor the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ scholarship of His Word by telling them good job. He didn’t tell them He was impressed by how many scriptures they had memorized, or how well they could recite the oral traditions. He called them “sons of hell” (Matthew 23:15). Those are tragically strong words for people who had seemingly devoted their lives to Him. And that is why this distinction is so important for us today.

Many Western Christians today have made the Bible their God. They study it, search it out and think that by their study they have eternal life. They teach others to do the same and in doing so they lead others astray. I know these are hard words, but they are the hard words of Jesus we must consider carefully.

God does not desire for us to know about Him. He desires us to be with Him. He makes this clear when He tells us what our eternal state will be.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

Revelation 21:3

When Jesus walked among us, he spent time with the ones who wanted to be with Him. He encouraged Mary, who desired to be with Him and discouraged Martha, who desired to do things for Him (Luke 10:38-42). Our study and devotion to God cannot supersede our desire to be in relationship with Him.

Back To The Bible

And that brings us back to the Bible. How we view the Bible will determine a radical difference in our lives and eternal outcomes. I wholeheartedly believe that the Bible is the Word of God. I believe it is the inerrant revelation of God about Himself to us. I know many reasons why it is trustworthy as a document, but that pales in comparison to my faith in the God whom I have met and have an active relationship with. I trust the Bible because I know a good God who desires me to know Him.

His written Word is alive to me. Not because of the document itself, but because of the God who makes it alive.

When I was young, I studied the Bible because I thought it was what God wanted me to do. I read it to find answers to my questions. I read it to be a better Christian, which is what I thought I was supposed to do, and it totally ruined me. It wore me out. I hated it. Then I had an encounter with the Lord. I met Him and everything changed. The same Word that had brought me pain and death to my spirit was now bringing me life. It moved me and touched me. It changed me.

The difference was that I stopped asking the Bible for answers, and I started asking God for answers. That is when the Bible started answering my questions, not because it can do that by itself, but because it is inseparable from the God who answers.

Have you made the Bible your God, or have you searched for God and He led you to His Word? It makes all the difference in the World.

39You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

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Written Word

Is Our Faith In God? Part 1

Bible

Does the Bible really have all the answers? I know your knee-jerk reaction is to say yes. I know you want to shout it. That is what Sunday school and years of Sunday teaching, sermon podcasts and web articles have taught you.

But it isn’t true.

The Bible simply doesn’t have all the answers because that is not what it was ever intended to do. If you search the scriptures for answers, you will surely find them, but I can guarantee you they won’t always be right. Before you unsubscribe from my blog, read on.

How Can Studying The Bible Be Bad?

There is an ever-growing problem among  Christians today to place our faith in the Bible, not in God. We have debates, apologetics lectures and classes and sermons beyond measure to counter the also ever-growing world of people who reject the Bible as infallible and trustworthy. When our solutions come from reaction, the solution is often worse than the problem, and that is the case here.

Don’t get me wrong, apologetics are a great thing. We should know what we believe and why we believe it. We should gain understanding in textural understanding and criticism of the Bible. It was not a book handed to us by God through an angel, but entrusted to the hands of men through different writers over more than a thousand years. That doesn’t make it trustworthy or untrustworthy. That makes it the Bible we have.

What makes the Bible trustworthy is that it was relayed to men by God. The God we can trust. The God whom our faith should be put in.

What I see happening today is people trying to prove that God is trustworthy because the Bible is trustworthy. That will lead us down some dark paths.

What Comes First?

Now I admit that this is somewhat of a chicken-or-the-egg type of debate. How can we know God is trustworthy if we can’t trust the Bible, and how can we know the Bible is trustworthy if we can’t trust God? Our faith must be put somewhere to begin with, but putting our faith in the Bible first is not a healthy reality.

That is because the nature of Christianity is not learning about God, but knowing God personally. We must have a relationship with God, not an understanding of God. In the same way we cannot have a relationship with a dead author through their writing, neither can we have a relationship with God because we have read His written Word. The Pharisees had studied God’s written Word more than anyone on planet earth in their day, but they could not recognize Him when God stood before their very eyes!

No, we must seek God. Our faith in the Bible should come from our understanding that God is good enough to preserve His Word for us to know about Him. When we know Him, we will want to know what He has said in the past. We find that from studying scripture. But that is all scripture can give us apart from a growing relationship with God. That is until the written Word becomes the Living Word.

The Living Word

John opens his gospel by explaining why the apostles could possibly know God while the Pharisees and Jewish leadership didn’t.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

16Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1:1-3, 14, 16-18

I encourage you to read the entire passage of John 1, but for our purposes, these scriptures make our case. John tells us that the Word of God is inseparable from the person of God. Jesus was this Word. If we study the Bible looking for answers, we will come to bad conclusions, like the Pharisees. If we study the Bible to know God, we will find Him.

The Bible is not a book intended to bring us answers, but a book intended to show us God. We will discuss in part 2 how we do that  effectively.