Archives For September 2013

Archaic language… Varying translations, each with their own sort of issues… Apparent contradictions… Can we really understand what Scripture means to teach us? Many would say that no, we can’t really understand the Bible, so just leave it to the experts. Unfortunately, this claim isn’t examined as well as it should be before it’s accepted, resulting in church buildings full of people who don’t know what the Bible actually says. I mean, I can’t understand it anyway, so why bother? The preacher will steer me right anyway, won’t he?

But what if we really can understand it? What if we’re being lazy because we already do understand it, and it’s not easy to live it? In Jesus’ day, from time to time there were moments of his teaching where things got hard and people walked away. I wonder if our current Biblical ignorance is like that… Are we walking away from Scripture because it’s demanding?

I don’t ask this question flippantly. I think the Bible can be transformational if we allow it to soak into our lives and affect how we live and think and choose. But that’s the real issue, isn’t it… Will we let the Bible change us? There are definitely some areas of the Bible that require more work to understand than others, but what are we doing with the parts that we already do understand? Here are some quick thoughts to help you understand the Bible and also help the students in your life understand it as well.

  • Read it. This should maybe be obvious, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know it’s not. A lot of people don’t understand the Bible simply because they don’t ever spend any time with it.
  • Chew on it. After you read a passage, don’t just check it off on some list and move on. Think about it for a while. Come back and re-read it in another setting. Contemplate it. Yes, it’s hard to do this while running through life at the speed of sound, but make the effort.
  • Ask questions. Think of someone you know and respect whose life seems to show that they’ve got a pretty good handle on Scripture and are living lives that reflect Christ and ask them to help you understand. Engage your church via small groups and class discussions. The Bible is meant to be lived out in community.
  • Use a variety of study resources. Commentaries, Bible Dictionaries & Encyclopedias, etc. all can add to our understanding of the context of the original writings.
  • Filter all of it through the lens of Jesus. Christ is THE central figure of the Bible. Ask yourself how a passage you’re reading points toward him or flows out of his life and ministry.
  • Do what it says. The Bible isn’t a theoretical book of thought exercises. It’s meant to be lived out. Sometimes, greater understanding is the byproduct of willingly doing what we do understand.
  • Teach what you know. When you’ve spent some time with the Bible and have come to understand, share what you know with others. Whether this is a formal class setting, a small group, or just in discussion, this can be a valuable part of your growing understanding of what it says.

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Check out the rest of this series here or each individual post at the following links:

The lie that God is not needed exists on a couple different planes.

The first is in the big picture sense that God is not needed to explain the existence of a universe, our world, life on this planet, etc. It’s the claim that all of what we know and feel and experience of our universe has come from an infinitely dense particle of ever existent stuff that somehow was jolted into action by some eternal source of energy. It’s the claim that a Creator is not needed to explain that there is a creation. When it comes to arguing metaphysics, this is probably not the right forum, nor is a single blog post sufficient, so I’m going to bypass a lot of debate and just say this: For everything to exist, there either had to be an infinite, eternal personality acting to bring it into existence (God) OR there had to be some bit of life-matter randomly activated despite there being no cause for that to happen.

The more personal side of this lie is that God is not needed in life. “My life or yours could go on just fine without Him.” Growing up, we hear the mantra that we can be anything we want to be if we just work hard enough. I understand the sentiment, I want my kids to learn to work hard, too. But the truth is, there are some things that I do not have the capacity to do, and no amount of hard work will change that for me. The list of things I can’t do on my own is pretty substantial. There are a lot of avenues of life that would have never opened for me, even if I wanted them to and was willing to work hard to make it happen. Just for the record, much of what I do every day as a youth pastor is on that list.

I could never have made the difference I’ve made in the lives of my students under my own effort. The public speaking alone would have required more of me than I could have ever managed. I didn’t just have a typical fear of public speaking growing up, I absolutely loathed it and avoided it any way I could. My mind revolted at the thought of standing in front of people and sharing my thoughts, and my body complied. Words didn’t come out right, my legs involuntarily twitched like a fly-tormented horse, and my stomach would alternate between wanting to expel everything in it and growling at any onlookers close enough to be threatened by such an expulsion! Sophomore speech class was probably the first class I really had to work at to will myself to completion. And I managed because I had to, not because I was any good at giving a speech, then vowed to never speak in public again. But because this is what God led me to do, He’s enabled me to do it.

Maybe I’m projecting here, but I don’t think so; we need God to live and work in us in order to become what He dreams we can be. We need Him to help us become what we dream we can be. But maybe that makes us feel weak. Maybe we don’t like to admit that we can’t just pull ourselves out of the mess we’ve made. Maybe we’re afraid to acknowledge we’re not as self-sufficient as we pretend to be. But we face a gulf, created by our own sin, between our Father and ourselves and there is no hope of building a way across. We need the Way He already provided.

You can help the young people in your life see the folly of this lie by:

  • Depending on God. This isn’t just a lie that the young are being fed. Many of us more seasoned travelers have believed it too. We’re making due, but what if we could learn to truly depend on God to sustain us with His grace.
  • Acknowledging and showing your own need for God. There’s no need to pretend you have it all together, they suspect you don’t anyway.
  • Encouraging them to dream big… so big they can’t manage on their own. (And make sure they know they don’t have to make it alone.)

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Check out the rest of this series here or each individual post at the following links:

One of the consistent criticisms of the church from those who are not part of the church is that we are so judgmental – always telling other people where they’re wrong and holding them up to standards of behavior that we don’t even meet ourselves. This criticism has been leveled at the church pretty effectively lately, and it seems there are always a few Christians who make themselves available to be evidence that the criticism is right. Honestly, there are a lot of people taking shelter under the banner of Christ who are judgmental in ways that Jesus never was. For my part, I’m sure at times I’ve fed into the stereotype more than I’d like, and I’m sorry for that. I really am, and I’m working on it…

In today’s world, where tolerance trumps everything else, the worst behavior possible (in the eyes of many) is to appear to be intolerant of someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. “Don’t judge.” seems to be the prime directive. But this kind of tolerance is misleading at best. The truth is, we all make judgments all the time about all kinds of things, and situations, and yes, even people. We get great service at a restaurant and leave a bigger tip than if the food had been served cold and rudely. We see a quarterback throw the ball in the dirt and judge that he’s unfit for the position. We read of a politician texting out pictures of who knows what and judge that he’s probably not the guy we want to trust with decisions that affect hundreds of thousands of people. If the registered sex offender who lives next door volunteers for babysitting duty at your house, you’re probably going to make a judgment call, right?

It’s not making judgments that is really the problem, though. It’s when fingers are pointed and condemnation is thrown around without any attempt to understand. But the answer isn’t the “ignore it and let them do whatever they want” kind of tolerance that is taught today. I’m casting a pretty wide net here, I know, but I don’t think that kind of tolerance actually does anything to help anyone in any way. But love does. The Bible tells us that “love covers over a multitude of sins” so we should “love each other deeply”.

  • We need to learn to love people we don’t agree with philosophically.
  • Ask your students about the diversity they experience in their world and discuss how they can display the character of Jesus to every stripe of that diversity.
  • We need to love people enough to help them get untangled from the sin that’s eating them alive. It’s not enough to shout at a drowning man that he’s going to drown if he doesn’t learn to swim soon.
  • Teach your kids how to love deeply enough to love past sins without just ignoring them or their consequences.

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Check out the rest of this series here or each individual post at the following links:

…it’s important to embrace the joy of the journey, because the destination is a mirage. That’s the thing about God’s leading in our lives. It’s not static. It’s not automatic. But it’s imminent. And it has the potential to change everything.

-Steven Furtick, Greater

God doesn’t want to just lead us somewhere and drop us off. He’s still with us! How are you being led today? Where is He moving in your life?

Keep Following His Lead

There’s a line of thinking that’s being passed on that says what you believe doesn’t really matter as long as you’re sincere about it and you don’t try to impose your beliefs on someone else. There will be more to say about the tolerance side of things later, but I want to look first at this lie that all religions are the same, so it doesn’t matter which one you follow. The thinking seems to be that all religious systems are aimed at making their followers into good people. By following the religiously accepted practices, I can become a better man. Whether I get better as a Buddhist or a Christian or a Hindu or a Mormon doesn’t matter, according to this line of thinking, what matters is that I improve.

The problem with that is, it just doesn’t work. At the pinnacle of accomplishment in every religion stands a man or woman who is still woefully short of even their own ideals, hopeless to reconcile what is with what they know should be.

The truth is that there is no religious system that will make me good enough. I have broken and scarred what is most integral to my own identity and there is no rule or order I can follow to fix that. Who I am has gotten buried in the rubble of what I’ve done, and religion offers no hope of uncovering me. There is, however, a person I can follow who has set out and done everything He can do to restore what should be and to reconcile me with my Maker, His Father. He never lost sight of who He really was. He never failed to live up to the image that was stamped within Him. And when they put Him in a hole in the ground, unlike millions of other dead bodies before and since He didn’t stay there!

The fact of Jesus’ resurrection changes everything about any kind of self-improvement scenario. No matter how great I am at following the religious rules, I could never pull off what He did. There’s no point trying. I can never get good enough to defeat death. So, when I find someone who ripped the teeth out of death’s ugly face… I’m His.

To keep this lie from gaining more ground in the next generation than it already has, I think we can:

  • Help young people see that various religions don’t just disagree with Jesus, they disagree with each other, too. Study other religions with your students to gain an understanding of the mutually exclusive claims they each make.
  • Take off the masks of Christian perfection and transparently follow Jesus. Our kids know we’re not perfect and we’re not helping them by pretending. This whole thing isn’t about perfection, it’s about following the Son back to the Father.
  • Seek to grow in our own understanding of Jesus. Who is He, really? Where can our kids and students see Him in our lives?
  • Stop following the established religious order and follow Jesus instead. Don’t just be a Catholic because you’re family was Catholic… (substitute Lutheran/Presbyterian/whatever-brand-your-family-chose here if you need to).

There is one Way that is different from any other. Many will reject it anyway, but let’s make sure the next generation can see that way as clearly as possible.

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Check out the rest of this series here or each individual post at the following links: