Bible Answers

May 18, 2020

Christian Conspiracies: Our Track Record is NOT Good

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone, don’t be anxious about anything.

May 17, 2020

You Search the Scriptures…

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life.

–John 5:39a ESV

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12 NIV

How many times have you heard someone, you know the person knows the Bible extremely well, yet it seems that the conclusion they’re coming to is way off base? I’ve had this happen all too often, especially over the past several years. If “the word of God is alive and active”, why does it seem that so many who study the Bible are coming to such ridiculous conclusions? As an Evangelical, I’d heard Hebrews 4:12 used to say that the Bible was living and active… In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d even heard it misquoted that way several times. However, the words “Scriptures” and “word” mean two different things in the Greek.

The Greek word for “Scriptures”, used in John 5:39a, is “graphas”; it referred to the written word of God, at that time the Old Testament. Now, we’d say it refers to the full cannon including the New Testament. See: https://biblehub.com/greek/1124.htm

The Greek word for “word”, used in Hebrews 4:12 is “logos”. This referred to the spoken word. It could be something spoken by an individual or by God. See: https://biblehub.com/greek/3056.htm.

Following the Protestant Reformation, we’ve placed a huge emphasis on the Bible. Depending on the denomination, we use terms like infallible or inerrant to indicate our level of confidence in our Bible and its accuracy. To question the Bible has become tantamount to heresy.

However, in the verse above, we see Jesus chastising the religious leaders because they were searching the Scriptures, but failed to realize that the Scriptures pointed to Him. The Pharisees were not encountering a living and active Word of God, but rather a dead and stale graphas. In our lives today, I question whether our desire to encourage daily Bible reading, Bible study, childhood Bible memorization, Awanas, etc., has led us to also having a dead graphas that we have put our faith and trust in, instead of a living Logos that is sharper than any two edge sword.

Often times we see the Logos when we’re talking with a friend and all of a sudden God gives you the right words and you see them instantly impact that person: they’ve divided between soul and spirit. Or maybe we’re driving down the road and someone’s bumper sticker jumps out and gives us chills and we hear the Holy Spirit say “that message was for you right now.” He just judged the thoughts and attitudes of our heart.

Now, before you decide to put your Bible back on it’s shelf and let it collect dust, that’s not my intention. The Bible is the most well preserved collection of the Logos that God has given to people in times passed to hand down to us. However, if all that’s nourishing you is Logos given to someone else 2,000-3,000 years ago in a different time and culture, that’s like living on stale bread.

We need to use the Bible to filter and verify what God is saying to us today. It should be the ultimate plumb line to test Logos against to confirm it’s from God. We need the Bible in our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can “remind you of everything [Jesus has] said.” (John 14:26 NIV). However, we also need to be careful that we not become so focused on “searching the Scriptures”, as the Pharisees did, and miss the Logos that God has for us today. The Logos is what is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,… [penetrating] even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow;… [judging] the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV).

As we start our week, I think it’s important to remember that our goal should be to hear the Logos of God. God’s Logos for today may be to go help your neighbor, give a donation, wrestle on the floor with your children, or perhaps spend more time studying the Bible. You may get that Logos while studying, while driving on the freeway or while having virtual coffee with a friend. Regardless, remember, God’s goal is to live in relationship with us and feed us with His Logos for our lives. Don’t get so stuck searching the Graphas that you miss the fresh bread of Logos that He has for you today!

May 14, 2020

Modern Day Parable: Nathan Speaks Truth to Power

Nathan, where does this man live? I’ll tear him limb-from-limb with my own hands.

May 12, 2020

Can We Have A Different Discussion About Abortion?

“But… Abortion”

Few words in the American lexicon evoke more emotion and more gentle kicks under the table at polite dinner parties than the word ‘abortion.’ I believe we must risk that kick, however, and march bravely into a different type of abortion discussion; a more nuanced one, because abortion is the lynchpin issue of our ailing, divided culture. How often do we hear something like this:

“Yeah, I don’t like the president’s tweets, but… abortion.”

“Yeah, I know that Democrat might be a good candidate, but… abortion.”

Nothing has more given Christians a pass to use divisive rhetoric, to demonize others, and to put aside normal, caring empathy than the issue of abortion. I think it’s worth asking questions we’re not often willing to consider: Is God’s demand that Christians be part of an all-out political war to force a law onto the country, even if that war negatively impacts our ability to share the gospel? Is it possible our desire to win the battle blinds us to a better plan God has had all along?

First, let me be clear. As a Christian and Evangelical minister, I personally believe abortion is not God’s best plan for humanity. I also believe most pro-choice and pro-life proponents are good people who believe they’re fighting for vulnerable people. I dream of what could be if both sides were willing to lay down their animus in order to strategize towards the common goal of preventing unwanted pregnancies.

That being said, my challenge today is for my people – the Evangelical, largely pro-life crowd – to consider a Romans 12:2 testing of our belief system. Are we willing to hold our identity as single issue voters up to the light to determine if it’s truly God’s command for us, or if it’s actually an outgrowth of a manmade political mindset?

Could a heart-shift towards prevention of unwanted pregnancies more powerfully impact the mindset of culture more than a divisive battle over laws? It’s happened before.

“BABY MURDERERS”

In my novel, Joseph Comes to Town, a pastor seemingly wins an abortion argument with a young woman only to hear that woman gasp “if he’s right, then I’m a murderer.”

In the Bible, Jesus told a group of God-followers “You’ve heard it said ‘don’t murder,’ but I say if you call your brother a fool you’re bound for hell fire.” Jesus wasn’t nearly as impressed with the staunch religious rules of the day as he was concerned about the lack of empathy for people. I’ve often heard Christian friends declare that supporters of pro-choice candidates and pro-choice legislation support the ‘murder’ of babies. To justify such incendiary language, would it not behoove us to make sure that if Jesus were to say today “you’ve heard it said ‘abortion is murder’” there wouldn’t be a “but I say…” twist after it?

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE ACTUALLY SAY?

Is the Bible clearly behind the staunch, Pro-Life position? Well, there’s no direct reference to abortion in the New Testament. Jesus never uttered a word about it, despite the common practice of infanticide by the Romans occupiers of Jesus’ homeland. A Roman father could legally abandon an unwanted newborn on the roadside to die of ‘exposure’ (the name of the practice) or be picked up by another family or an animal predator.

It must have been horrifying to hear these babies cry out, yet Jesus is never recorded alluding to it. Nor are his close followers who also ministered in the Roman Empire: Paul, Peter or John, the main authors of the New Testament. It seems odd to me that the issue we believe to be seminal on God’s list doesn’t warrant a mention from his representative on earth.

 

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Christians demand ‘scripture’ to be the final confirmation of all Christian beliefs and often use a saying “the main thing (in the Bible) is the plain thing.” Yet, when it comes to the abortion issue, it can only be supported by linking a number of bible passages, none of which are direct references to abortion. Jeremiah 1:5 speaks of God knowing a person in the womb and Luke 1:41-44 attributes human activity and gender to a fetus. However, the Bible also tells us, in passages such as Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 1:4, that God knew every human before the creation of the world. If Jeremiah 1:5 is a command to ban abortion, then wouldn’t Ephesians 1:4 forbid contraceptives or demand punishment for married couples who don’t procreate? Each of these passages can be interpreted as poetic descriptions of God’s love for humanity and while that can point to the value of life before birth, none of these texts are a direct command to criminalize the act of ending a pregnancy.

Jewish law and tradition, the religious roots of Christianity, provide more provision for allowing abortion than for outlawing it. Adam was fully formed but was not considered “living” (or having a soul) until filled with the breath of God. The Jewish Talmud provides an option for a woman with “great need” to terminate her pregnancy and the Old Testament book of Numbers commands a poisonous concoction be given to any woman accused of adultery. If a pregnancy is miraculously saved from miscarriage, then the woman is declared virtuous. Today, most Jews trend Pro-Choice in no small part because of their scriptures allow for it.

ABORTION IN POLITICS

It’s incorrect to believe Evangelical furor over abortion began with the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade. In 1979, Paul Weyrich, a Republican political operative, chose abortion as a political tool for motivating Christians to vote against Jimmy Carter, ironically, a dedicated Evangelical president. Weyrich opposed Carter’s edict that private schools, like Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, lose their tax benefits if they continued to refuse racial integration of their student bodies. Understanding that the underpinnings of the abortion battle were political and racial, rather than moral, could cause us to squirm a bit in our pews.

CAN CHRISTIANS BE MORE ‘PRO-LIFE’ AND LESS ‘ANTI-ABORTION?’

Does Christian responsibility for ‘life’ span only from conception to the baby’s exit from the birth canal? Abortion totals have taken a dramatic downturn in the U.S. over the past two decades and statistics point to contraceptive access and education as major drivers for that decrease, yet many Christians still oppose these tools. Those same Christians often oppose community funding for health care, food or day care costs for parents, despite these financial burdens often serving as major factors in abortion decisions. Could there be solutions to the abortion issue we haven’t been able to consider due to a sharp focus on laws? Particularly when abortion bans have not proven effective at stopping women from choosing abortive options – even at the risk of their health and their lives.

South Korea has had an abortion ban in place for more than sixty-five years, yet, it’s estimated there are more abortions per capita performed in South Korea than in the United States. When Alabama and Missouri recently passed the most restrictive abortion laws in American history polls showed that support for abortion skyrocketed in our country and support for late term abortions reached its highest level ever. Laws don’t change hearts. Good laws are downstream of cultural change. Could a heart-shift towards prevention of unwanted pregnancies more powerfully impact the mindset of culture more than a divisive battle over laws? It’s happened before.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, Christians began a routine of collecting ‘exposed’ Roman babies from the roadside, even while suffering persecution and having limited resources. This sacrificial routine caused exposure to become frowned upon and then completely outlawed in A.D. 374. Angry protests didn’t change the law, demonstrating a higher way to live did.

THE ABORTION BATTLE’S IMPACT ON THE GOSPEL

More Millennials now declare themselves to be “Nones” (people who don’t attend any church) or “Dones” (those who have left their church) than those who declare themselves regular attenders of Evangelical Churches. They point to the right-wing stances of the Church as the number one reason for leaving. If our command is to share the message that “God so loved the world…” is it a good strategy to position ourselves as a divisive political machine? In the first century, the Pharisees and Zealots wanted to overthrow the government for God’s sake, but Jesus said it would be a humble Christian people, willing to lay down their lives and desires for their enemies who would truly change culture.

What if our abortion beliefs compelled us to ensure there were no unwanted pregnancies, no unwanted babies and no unwanted people? What if we were more concerned about the root causes of abortion (poverty, income inequality, shame, hopelessness) than we were of the sin of it? Could the heart of our culture simply turn against the practice of abortion because the need no longer exists?

I believe most Christians are very sincere in their abortion beliefs, yet the ‘fruit’ of that battle can still be sincerely wrong. We love to preach self-control yet the Bible lists love, joy, patience, peace, and kindness before dealing with our actions. Perhaps a shift in Christian thinking to challenging our mindset on abortion and being known for what we’re for – more than for what we’re against – might be exactly what God would have us do to not only see abortion numbers decrease but for the peace of God to come to our cities, regions, and to our entire country in this generation. Maybe laying down our political weaponry will bring a never-ending increase of that shalom.

It’s at least worth a try, isn’t it?

April 10, 2020

It Wasn’t Sinners Who Crucified Jesus

During Easter Week I had this thought – it wasn’t “sinners” who caused Jesus to be nailed to the cross, it was religious people. 

Why would religious leaders want Jesus to be killed? They believed it was their duty for God to do so. Just as many people today are involved in activities that cause great harm to culture because they believe God wants them to.

In the Bible, the religious group known as the Pharisees had assumed the role of protectors of their religion and their country in a rapidly changing world. If they could enforce their religion on the people and hold off the destruction of their country, they believed a strongman/messiah (perhaps one of the zealots like Barrabbas) would come and overturn the government and fulfill their dreams of Israel once again being the most powerful nation in the world.

Because of their fear of any disruption of their plan, the leaders of the religion began to plot the death of Jesus – he was getting too popular and was going to steal their power.

Why would religious leaders want Jesus to be killed? Because They believed it was their duty for God to do so.

“…If we let him (Jesus) go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place (temple) and our nation” (Luke 11:47-48.) This was their discussion. The plight of the people under their religious leadership wasn’t a concern, but the political power of the religion itself was primary. Therefore, a little moral pragmatism might be in order to keep things in line. Even a murder or two.

“…You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (Luke 11:49-50.)

This statement was made by the High Priest, Caiphas. Yes, the highest ranking official in this holy religion believed the death of a human being to be a necessary sacrifice in their quest. After all, what were the needs of people in comparison to God’s overall plan for the world?

Today, we can also choose to get so deep in our own belief systems that we can miss God’s actual plan. This generally involves our interpretation of what is “good” behavior and what is not – and our attempts to place that interpretation upon others for a good purpose. Christians often become so fixated on enforcing the rules of God, we miss the amazing grace that God has for others.

What’s interesting is that everything the Pharisees talked about in Luke 11 came true. The people did follow Jesus, he was the one man sacrificed for people, the temple was destroyed (not one stone was left on top of another) and the country of Israel was ultimately disassembled. Yet, their unmalleable religious political mindset of the Pharisees caused them to completely miss that this was all part of God’s.

The story of the Pharisees is not a unique one in history. Over and over humanity has claimed political strategies to be the process of advancing God’s plan on earth. In fact, wars have always been fought between two people groups each convinced they are fighting for a righteous outcome. Bob Dylan sang a haunting song about this in 1963 in the midst of the Vietnam war called God on Our Side (you can listen to that here https://youtu.be/BfHLYIms97A.)

Could it be today that many American Christians are similarly fixated on regulating behavior to preserve “our place and our country” that we’re missing God’s actual plan?

The men who crucified Jesus the good, religious people. They were the teachers, the neighbors in the clean neighborhoods, the little league coaches and girl scout directors. They were those that just wanted everyone to act “right.”

Jesus spent his time pushing away from those people. He hung out with “those people” and chastised the religious for not doing the same. They hated him for it. Today, were he here with us in the flesh, Jesus would sit with “those people” again – the unmarried pregnant woman, the queer community, the liberals, the anti-war/anti-gun/pro-choice crowd. Those deeply immersed in the religious politics of American Christendom would hate him for it.

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No, It wasn’t bad behavior that put Jesus on the cross, it was “good” people. It wasn’t sin that demanded Jesus be crucified, it was religion. It was the hatred of one who demanded we love those we don’t want to love. 

Could it be our unmalleable religious belief system has caused us to miss God’s heart today, too. Would we love it if Jesus told us to love our enemies?

Let’s open our eyes to the Hope of God in this Easter. That God’s purpose for the story of Jesus isn’t to condemn the world but to reconcile it. That God isn’t after just those who behave a certain way, but for Goodness and welfare to be available to “all flesh” – that means everyone, including you and me.

I bless you and your household – Be Well!

February 8, 2020

Evangelicals, You’ve Heard it Said…

If Jesus told us “you’ve heard it said… but I say…”

January 18, 2020

Romans 13 is Not an Endorsement for War

Does the New Testament endorse the use of violence to defend and advance a country’s interests?

January 1, 2020

Evangelical Allegiance to Party & Politician

Jesus changed the world by sitting with the marginalized. Why do we think it’s about political power?

December 7, 2019

Dishonoring Critique; Or Is It?

I’m often asked – Why do you criticize. I can only answer – because that’s what Jesus did…

October 19, 2019

The Misplaced Desire to Say “Go and Sin No More”

If Jesus told a woman to stop sinning, then shouldn’t/can’t we tell others to stop sinning, too?

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