Aug 26

Getting out of Religious Ruts

ruts2I have a confession to make — I like ruts; well, more precisely, I like my ruts – yours, not so much. My ruts have served me well, and I’m comfortable in them. However, as much as I like my ruts, I realize that if I stay in a rut long enough, and allow it to get deep enough, I will eventually “bottom out.” At that point, the ruts that once served me well will actually impede my progress.

I say that to say this: We may have some “religious ruts” we’re quite comfortable in, but out of which we need to climb before they impede our progress.

What religious ruts am I talking about? Consider these.

  • What’s the Name of the Church? Many Christians do not realize the church you read about in the Bible doesn’t have a name. Wait! What? Of course, it has a name! Have you never read Romans 16:16, “the churches of Christ salute you?”Yes, I’ve read that verse along with dozens more that offer varied “descriptions” of the church, but which offer no “proper name” for the church. A description is not the same thing as a proper name.  Failure to make this distinction will eventually “bottom us out” in a rut that results in a denominational view of the church; a view that measures faithfulness by being in a church that has the “right name.” The irony of that is we get so invested in the correct name of the church, when God, in his wisdom, chose not even to give it a name.If we stay in this rut long enough, we will become sectarian, and be the very thing we oppose.  We’ll find ourselves denominating ourselves by saying things like, “I’m Church-a-Christ” in the same way our friends say, “I’m Baptist,” or “I’m Presbyterian.”Get out of the rut! Recognize the church doesn’t have a name, but has many varied descriptions, and begin using them. It’s not that using the expression, “church of Christ” is wrong, it’s not, but when we get to the point that we use it exclusively, as a proper name, we’ve bottomed out in the rut.
  • What Do We Call Our Church Leaders? Answer this question in your head, “Who must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, etc…?” I’m sure that the vast majority of those who answer this question will answer with the word, “elders.” I find that interesting because the actual text from which these qualifications are quoted uses the word “bishop,” not once, but twice. So why do so many answer with the word, “elder?” Could it be that we’re in a rut?

    Would eyebrows be raised in our congregations if we began praying for our “pastors” (Eph. 4:11) instead of “elders?” Would anyone wonder if we announced a “bishops'” meeting following morning service instead of an elders’ meeting? If so, then we’re probably in the rut of using “elder” exclusively. I once received a phone call from a sincere Christian lady who was concerned about the direction her congregation was heading because she read in their bulletin that they were beginning the process of appointing additional “shepherds.” You see, it was the “wrong” word. Had they said, “elders,” all would have been well.

    This rut will rob us of the richness and fullness of this work, that at least the apostles thought was broad enough that it should be described by a variety of terms (pastors/shepherds, bishops/overseers, elders/presbyters). Get out of the rut of using only one term to describe church leaders before people think it’s the only correct term.

  • My Church, Your Church, or His Church? On several occasions, I have cringed as I listened to an unsuspecting novice step onto the hidden landmine of “personal pronouns.” Here is how it usually goes. A seeker in our weekly Bible class, who is interested in learning more about God’s word will say something like, “Does your church believe…” only to have a well-meaning brother dismiss his question to rebuke his verbiage by saying, “I don’t have a church. It’s Jesus’ church, not mine.” This usually leaves the seeker with a confused look on his face, wondering what just happened.

    If one speaks of “my” church or “your” church and means to suggest ownership, then, of course, he needs to be corrected. But that is not what people mean when they say, “my” church or “your” church; they mean “identity with,” not “ownership of.”  And we use this sort of language all the time. I will speak of “my Pittsburgh Steelers,” and I have yet to have anyone correct me by telling me they’re not mine. They understand I’m not speaking of ownership, but of identity with.Unless we’re willing to correct the apostle Paul, we need to get out of this rut of correcting people for not using our preferred pronouns.  Did you know that Paul said Jesus was raised from the dead according to “my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8)? Wait, I thought it was the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16). It’s both. It’s not an either-or proposition. If we can understand what Paul means and allow him to speak of “my gospel,” then we need to extend the same grace to people who speak of “my church.” Get out of the rut and don’t let your preferred verbiage get in the way of reaching the lost.

These aren’t the only examples of “religious ruts” that could be identified, but they do illustrate the danger of getting out of balance, limiting ourselves, and codifying our preferences.  Give it some thought.

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Aug 24

What’s Your Bible IQ?

dustyHow well can you do on this brief, five-question quiz?

  • Who was rebuked by Jesus for caring more about temporal things than eternal things?
  • To whom did Jesus offer “living water” that would cause one to never again thirst?
  • Which disciple was given a second chance to follow Jesus after denying him?
  • Who postponed obedience to Christ by procrastinating for a “more convenient season?”
  • Who was the captive who gained his freedom in exchange for Jesus’ death?

If your answers were (Martha, the Samaritan woman, Peter, Felix, and Barabbas), give yourself partial credit. But none of those answers are what I was looking for. However, if you answered each question with your own name, then give yourself full credit!

Okay, so the quiz is a “trick,” but if you go back and re-read all the questions, you’ll see that your name is a perfect answer to every question. The purpose of this little quiz is just to remind you to internalize the Scriptures. The Bible is a great book, but if we don’t make personal application of its truths, it will do us no good. Give it some thought.

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Aug 18

Who Am I?

44143880 - who am iAs a child, I really enjoyed it when our Bible class teacher would divide us up (usually the boys against the girls) and quiz us over Bible characters, places, and events. Some of the questions were “trivial” such as, “Did you know the Bible contains 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verses, and 3,237 names? Of course, you probably didn’t know all that, but I enjoyed learning that sort of trivia.

Let me take a moment of your time and give you a short “Who Am I” quiz. How many clues will it take you to get the correct answer?

Okay, so here’s the quiz:

  1. At one time this person was the captive of a ruler we read about in the Bible.
  2. This person was legitimately taken captive (in other words, he wasn’t falsely imprisoned.
  3. This person was given the opportunity to be pardoned, but his pardon would mean Jesus’ death.

Who Am I? _____________________

Did you get the right answer?  How many clues did you have to read until you thought you knew the answer? If you answered, “Barabbas,” I’ll give you partial credit, but that’s not the answer I was looking for. If you inserted your own name, then give yourself full credit.

Ah, now you see where I’m going, don’t you? Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to have been Barabbas? To be pardoned for his own crimes through the suffering and death of an innocent person? Have you ever wondered if it weighed heavy on his conscience? Do you think that it had an impact on his life and changed him for the better? Or did he squander the freedom that he had been granted? Friends, we’re Barabbas and maybe the answer to those questions are best answered by examining how we feel about being pardoned at Jesus’ expense. Give it some thought.

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Aug 09

A Queer Hermeneutic

Queer The dictionary definition of the word, “queer” is simply “strange,” “odd,” or “unusual.” However, in the latter part of the 20th century, the term, “queer” was used in a pejorative sense as an insult to homosexuals. But that was then, and this is now.  And today, the term is embraced by the homosexual community and has even been added to their acronym “LGBTQ.”

I say all of that to say this: as I employ this term in this article, I am not using it in a pejorative or derogatory sense. Rather, I just can’t think of a better term to describe the hermeneutic of those who are attempting to use the Bible to justify and approve of homosexual behavior.

Some may be surprised to learn that there are those who practice homosexuality while claiming to be faithful Christians. It may also come as a surprise that some who practice homosexuality have not discarded the Bible. Rather, what they have done with the Bible is perhaps more dangerous than discarding it completely.  They have adopted a “queer hermeneutic” that has resulted in the truth being twisted and the consciences of the guilty being salved.

After reading the writings of several prominent advocates of homosexual behavior being scriptural, I have been able to identify a couple “queer methods” of interpreting the Bible. Consider:

  • A Hermeneutic of the Reader’s Sovereignty.  What I mean by that is that they place themselves above the scrutiny of Scripture and they, in turn, scrutinize the Scriptures.  Instead of the Scriptures judging their behavior, they stand as judges over the Scriptures.  Allow me to illustrate.

    In his book entitled, “Just As I Am: A Practical Guide to Being Out, Proud, and Christian,” Robert Williams wrote that “Queer Christians would do well to adopt this test of canonicity — It cannot be believed unless it rings true to our deepest capacity for truth and goodness. If it contradicts this, it cannot be believed. If it falsifies this, it cannot be accepted” (Williams 43).More recently, Matthew Vines, in his book entitled, “God and the Gay Christian” expressed a very similar approach to the Scriptures. He wrote that one of the reasons for “losing confidence in the belief that same-sex relationships are sinful: it no longer made sense to me” (Vines 12).

    Again, Miller wrote of the apostle Paul’s condemnation of homosexual behavior, “Whatever excuses we make for Paul, it seems to me most honest to say, yes, perhaps Paul is condemning homosexuality…But the bottom line for you is: so what? Paul was wrong about a number of other things too…you and he stand on equal footing when it comes to what ‘the Spirit’ has told you…What the Holy Spirit tells you is a greater authority for your life than what the Holy Spirit may or may not have told Paul” (Miller 53-54).

    Likewise, in his book entitled, “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality,” Daniel Helminiak wrote that simply saying that “‘God said it is wrong’ is not a good enough answer.” (Helminiak 581).

    All of the above quotations have a common thread — one’s own feelings determine the validity of Scripture. If a particular Scripture seems to disagree with the way you feel, reject it.

  • A Hermeneutic Of Suspicion & Eisegesis.  It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the Bible is allegedly filled with many positive images of homosexual relationships. Are you scratching your head trying to remember? Here are the alleged relationships that make the list: Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Jesus and John, the Centurian and his servant that Jesus healed, and if you ever wondered what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, well, now you know.If you’ve read these accounts, you may be asking, “How would anyone reach these conclusions?” The only way one would reach these conclusions is if he read the Bible through “queer-colored glasses” (William 61).  In other words, if one “develops a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion'” (Miller 66) and reads between the lines, reading into the text, one can, through “phantasie,” reach these conclusions.

Now, back to the title of this article; do you see why it is entitled, “A Queer Hermeneutic?” What an odd way this is to interpret the Bible! It seems to me that such an approach to Scripture is merely a desperate attempt to salve one’s guilty conscience. Such a hermeneutic only gives lip service to the Bible. Personally, I would have greater respect for one who simply discarded the Bible altogether to pursue his own course than to attempt to revise Scripture to accommodate his sinful practices. Again, to me, such a queer hermeneutic is what happens when one has too much Jesus to enjoy his sin and too much sin in his life to enjoy Jesus.

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Aug 04

Worrying About What’s Next

I have a good friend who lives in Kentucky and he’s a huge fan of UK basketball. He’s such a fan that he gets a bit too worked up while watching their games. Therefore, instead of watching their games live, he records their games and busies himself with other things. Then when the game is over, he checks the final score. If UK won, he can then sit down and watch that game without any worry or stress. No matter how “nip and tuck” the game may be, he doesn’t worry because he knows how the game ends.

I believe there’s a lesson here for all Christians. Too many of us worry about what tomorrow holds. We fret about what will happen next. However, here’s my question: “Why should we worry about what happens next when we know what happens last?”

Life holds a lot of ups and downs, even for the Christian. But that is no reason to unduly worry and fret about tomorrow, for we know what happens in the end! We’ve read the end of the book, haven’t we? And the book records that in the end, we’re victorious (Revelation 2:10)!

So, the next time you’re tempted to overly concern yourself with what will happen next, just remember that you know what will happen last!

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