Can I Make The Bible Say What I Want?

I suspect there’s a common misconception that someone can make the Bible say what they want it to say. Actually, there’s a lot of truth to that. We see it so often, it probably doesn’t even register as an event to us anymore.

We hear TV “evangelists” howling about how we should give money–not time, prayer, labor, but MONEY–in order to see the blessings of God and it sounds normal. Another “leader” in the church pulls some verse suggesting a blessing and then promises the thousands in attendance that God wants their lives to be filled with luxury NOW!

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What Is The Fear Of The Lord?

If your friends all jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? That’s a gem everyone has heard at least once in their lives. Rhetorically, I hope. The answer is obvious–“Heck no!” Because we’d be crazy to leap to our deaths. We fear death.

For some reason, though, Christians want to re-define “fear” when it comes to fearing God. I’ve heard it said that the fear of the Lord is “reverential awe.” Which is fancy for saying, “really amazed.”

Some believe that at His return, the world will tremble in fear–or amazement– at the goodness of God. It’s a nice thought, but the Bible doesn’t support that view.

I won’t get into a deep study of all the uses of fear in the Bible, but the Greek word (NT) is phobos or phobeo. Not too hard to see where we get our word phobia or phobic. In Hebrew the word was yira, or mora. Regardless of the language, the words convey an emotional response ranging from unease to stark terror, or trembling reverence. Context around verses provides whether it is someone “striking terror” or someone “filled with dread,” or someone “falling on their face in fear.”

One thing is certain, if we experienced any of the fear associated with God, we wouldn’t be talking about it in a den with cups of joe.

Here’s something interesting, though. In doing this word study I found that the Old Testament was filled with “fearing God.” God asserts His omnipotence and men are taught their place in Creation. I’m brushing with broad strokes here.

When we get to the New Testament, there are more verses telling us to “fear not.”

Those opposed to the whole “fear thing” might be cheering and high-fiving right now. But not so fast.

Those verses are correcting God’s people’s view of fear. Since the whole Bible is good for instruction, reproof and godliness, we need to take it as a whole. We tend to fear things in this world. We fear the unknown. We fear dark corners, under our beds, or the lump of monster that’s slithering from our closet at night. We fear a bad review at work. We fear sickness or car repair costs.

Yet God tells us not to fear for what we should wear, or what we will eat, or where we will live. God knows our needs!

Yet, we’re also told to fear the one who has power over not only our body, but also our souls! We are reminded in Hebrews that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God! Paul tells us in Philippians to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

We should fear … but we should fear rightly. If you make a practice of sinning, you should fear (but you probably don’t). If you have turned from a life of sin, accepting God’s grace in Jesus’ sacrifice, you should NOT fear condemnation, or death. Rather, we should fear offending God’s love for us.

To use a simple, yet relatable example, imagine a husband is out with the guys. He’s having fun at a restaurant, or bowling alley … and a girl he knew in high school sees him and they start chatting. Suppose the husband’s wife–who realizes he forgot his wallet–heads to the restaurant/bowling alley to deliver the billfold. Just as she walks in, the little tramp puts her dainty little hand on her husband’s chest, tosses her frosted locks back and laughs through her pearly white teeth, batting her eyelashes.

Just then, the husband catches sight of his wife at the periphery of his sight and feels heat race up his neck to his face, the other woman’s hand burning a hot spot on his pectoral muscle.

At that moment, the husband’s mouth dries up, his eyes widen and he stammers with cold, tingling fingers, trying to explain the innocent coincidence that resulted in this scene.

The fear he feels is not terror of condemnation because he wasn’t unfaithful. Being fully devoted to his wife, he just happened to bump into a woman he knew. Being polite, he engaged in small-talk. But, being sensitive to the love-bond between he and his wife, he realized how it could look, and the pain it might cause.

Granted, this is a bit embellished. In a healthy relationship, there wouldn’t be such melodrama. But, using absurdity to illustrate a valid point, we should have the same fear with God. For us, however, we could fill in the story. We’re often caught texting someone we shouldn’t (using the example above). Or we get as close as we can to flirting with another god, if not starting to go steady. We grow disillusioned with God since he doesn’t fit what we’d like Him to be, and we play the field of worldly ideas.

We should fear. And that fear should drive us away from those other gods and back toward the One who loves us.

For those who have rejected God’s love, they’ve rejected His rightful claim on them. And they should fear condemnation, which is coming at a time they won’t expect.

Out With the Old

As our glittery 2018 glasses land in trash bins and we sweep up the streamers from the floor, many have resolved to cast off the old and put on the new. 2018 will be a fresh start. New wine must not be placed in old wineskins! Let’s leave the past and press on toward the future. Great! We’re off … but we don’t want to strike out on the path only to realize we’ve left our GPS. As Christians, we have a Great Commission, but we still need the Bible. Today, having a firm understanding of the Bible is more dire than ever, and I’ll explain why.

It strikes me that when Paul and the other Apostles wrote their letters to the various groups of Christians, they weren’t always “preaching to the choir.” What they wrote came across as controversial. As a matter of fact, they simply carried on the example set by Jesus. Far from being a winsome, charismatic speaker, Jesus offended a lot of people. More than once people sought to kill him. Not so coincidentally, the same thing happened to the Apostle Paul.

Turns out, people don’t like new wine. Or new wineskins. They like the comfort of the old ways. And that’s bad.

Except, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we get that itch to have something new. We’re tired of the old lessons and we want that word of encouragement. This desire for mercy and grace is good, so long as it’s coming from a place where we recognize how hopeless we are before a Righteous, Good, Loving and Holy God. It’s good when we turn in endless thanksgiving to God for His sacrifice on our behalf through His son, Jesus Christ. It’s good when we understand that only Jesus’ righteousness covering us makes us acceptable to God and that apart from that, we have nothing to offer.

Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians when he says in 3:6: “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The “letter” refers to the Law of Moses, which condemns us before God. We can’t keep that Law. And even if we try to keep it, if it’s done apart from faith (like Cain) it’s not going to be accepted.

Believe it or not, there’s controversy around this verse. Some point out that Paul is showing that the Old Testament Law, the old Covenant is abolished. Others point to the words of Jesus that not one letter of the Law will be abolished and that He came to fulfill the Law. There are those who believe we need to follow all the letter of the Old Law in order to be pleasing to God, though we are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

I’m not going to deal with that controversy here.

There are still others who take that last part, “the Spirit gives life,” and contrast it with the Bible, or even doctrine. So, the “letter” means verses in context, discussions over a proper interpretation, etc. while the “Spirit” refers to less tangible things like the way we feel about people, the way we behave, etc.

It is certainly important that we behave in humility and love to everyone. But that’s not what Paul is referring to in this passage.

Some may take the “Spirit” and use it for the idea of new prophecy that people are allegedly getting. This is a dangerous trend that is nothing new. People claim that “God told them something” apart from the Bible, or “the letter.”

This is when we strike out and forget the GPS or our directions. The path ahead is exciting. We see a bright, new adventure spread out before us. We could certainly throw the map away and see where things take us. And for a while, that will be fun. But, when we get lost, we’ll probably get cranky and lose heart.

Paul wasn’t telling the Corinthians that they should toss out the Old Testament and just follow “The Spirit.” We need to understand what Paul meant by that phrase. In John 6:63, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

The words of Jesus are spirit. We believe the writings of the Apostles are words from Jesus, as well. Thus, they are spirit. While some claim that God hasn’t closed off direct revelation and that there are “New Apostles” getting “new words” from God, we are commanded to “test the spirits” to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). So, whether you’re one who believes in new prophecies or not, we are commanded to be discerning of things people say.

That includes me, and this blog. I don’t want people taking what I say at face value. I want anyone who reads these words to search things out for themselves. We grow in our faith by encouraging each other to good works and a proper understanding of God’s word and who He is.

And we can’t do that if we toss out the Bible as being our GPS.

All You Need is Love

Love is the universal language, right? I suspect everyone would agree that it is what we need most. Love. It conquers all. Men will know us by our … love. The most important thing for a child’s development is … love. By a show of hands we could call this meeting to a close, all agreed. Except, we’re so bad at it. If we know the answer, why can’t we solve the problem? Maybe because we don’t actually understand what love really is.

To understand love, we can turn to Romans 13, or 1 Corinthians 13, both of which address deep love. In Romans Paul shows that true love is demonstrated by obedience to the Law of God. We cannot commit adultery, kill, steal or covet if we love God and love those around us. Such love will guard us from breaking the commandments. In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul expands on all the things love will and will not do: It’s patient and kind, it doesn’t envy, it doesn’t boast, it doesn’t get prideful, it doesn’t think the worst of people. It seeks good for those around us, even our enemies.

In 1 John, the book’s whole emphasis is on love. We must abide in love, which demonstrates we abide in Christ. This is demonstrated in that we love other Christians (our brothers). Ultimately, though, the love of God is defined by John in that we keep God’s commandments, and His commandments are not a burden to us (1 John 5:3).

These statements from Paul and John relate back to the teachings of Jesus. He taught that if we love God, we will keep His commandments. One commandment is to love the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who loved Jesus, loved God. Those who rejected Jesus as Lord, rejected God and had no love.

Perhaps this is why our world lacks true love. It has rejected the Lord Jesus Christ. Since we need love, we turn to the imitation and counterfeit love. We turn to winsome, self-gratifying love. This is charity, good deed doing, hugging and expressing nice sentiments.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Except that it is the superficial love of a world devoid of the real thing. The divorce rate is high. Couples who once professed love for each other end up on the edge (if not over it) of hating each other. The phrase is, we fell out of love.

This is a sign of the rot that is in us from birth: Sin. The symptom is unfaithfulness. Because of it, we leave our first love and give ourselves to emotional (if not physical) prostitution. Spiritually we do this by seeking another word from God apart from the Bible. Or we start elevating a pastor or Christian celebrity above Christ. In essence, we deny Christ. Some deny Christ on the cross, claiming He was never crucified, or that he died as a man–with the spirit of God no longer on him, or that His death wasn’t payment for sin, but an example of sacrifice. All of this pulls us away from the truth, and away from real love.

The Bible has a couple of terms for love: Agape and Phileo. Agape love is an action. It is the love personified by Jesus on the Cross, paying the penalty for His enemies while they spit upon Him. It is a love that we’re called to as Christians toward God first and toward other Christians and all those around us. Phileo is a brotherly affectionate love. It is the bond between David and Jonathan. It joins with agape in providing the feeling.

We like feeling. TobyMac has a song, “Feel it” in which he declares “That’s. How. I. Know.” Unfortunately, that’s not found in the Bible. 1 John doesn’t have a verse that says, “by this will you know that you are saved, you’ll feel it.

We know we’re of God because we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. That’s first. In obedience, we love all those around us, particularly Christians, as we would love ourselves. Don’t misunderstand that last part. God isn’t slipping in a “You gotta learn to love yourself, child!” It means that we would provide for ourselves, seeking safety, food and shelter, so we should do the same to all those around us. Even our enemies.

But, if we seek the welfare of those around us, but do not love Jesus Christ, our love is self-centered and odious. If we sacrifice our lives in service for others, but we’re not loving God and abiding in Him, we’re like a banging gong.

All we need is love. God is love. So, really, all we need is God. And He has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ whom we should love above all others, obeying all He said.

A Study in Sarcasm

This will be quick. I struggle with having a rather dry sense of humor. As I get older, I’m aware that some of my jokes would probably hurt some people who don’t share my appreciation of witty remarks. And, in writing, it is true that dry humor can come across as mean-spirited.

In the hustle of life, I’d hate for a message I hope to convey to get lost because of my sarcasm. I’ve also seen how some give free reign to their sarcasm to a point that I–yes, sarcastic me–actually consider it going too far.

Lastly, our online lives can sometimes afford us a certain degree of anonymity allowing us to be more brash than we’d be in person. It’s a danger. On the other end of the spectrum, we could remove all character from our discourse and be all passive-aggressive with “Oh, bless your heart”-type comments. That’s a danger, too.

For my part, I’m going to continue to try striking a balance of saying things in an entertaining way without crossing the line. And if I do cross the line, I’ll try to be sensitive to those who call me on it.

You Wanna Talk to God? How ’bout an Angel?

“It’s a telephone to God!” So said Rene Bellloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Of course, a favorite Indy response, “You wanna talk to God?” Evidently, villains who want to communicate with the other side seem far more nefarious in movies. In real life they’re simply “people on a spiritual journey,” and they don’t have to pillage archeological sites in Egypt or ally themselves with Nazis. All they need is a computer and an Amazon account. Except, it’s not God they get … No, no … The Angels Talk.

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The description at Amazon says this ‘message board’ connects people to their ‘angels.’ 13 people have reviewed this product.

One calls this a “rip off” because the item didn’t ship on time and it appeared to be USED! Irony of ironies, they say, “for gods sake.” And, yes, they missed the apostrophe. Another reviewer notes that this is a “Ouija board in disguise!” There are some astute people on the internet these days. This reviewer cautions that such a device might allow a bad spirit (you know, one of the fallen angels) to contact you. Buyer Beware!!

Others affirm this is the “real thing,” It gave them answers, connected them with loved ones, gave them thrills, chills, unconditional love … all in a board game. Who knew?

The average Christian might laugh this off. Except many will also listen to Beth Moore talk about how she gets messages directly from God, visions, out-of-body experiences, etc. Christians will read books like The Harbinger, The Paradigm, The Book of Mysteries, or The Shemitah by Jonathan Cahn (more like Con). Cahn is a self-proclaimed Messianic Jewish Rabbi who is begin delivered crazy visions and enlightenment in the birthmarks on cattle.

The only mystery here is whether these freaks actually believe their ramblings, or if they are just actively leading people along with their crap.

Then there’s our popular culture and its obsession with angels. Mystics like Roma Downey have been pushing angels for a long time. Touched By an Angel being an easy one to call to mind. Movies like Michael, starring John Travolta, Angels In The Outfield with Danny Glover or shows like Highway to Heaven with Michael Landon are further exhibits. They get a pass as “wholesome” or even “Christian” because they advocate belief in God.

So does the Christian Ouija board, I’m sure. New Age mystics acknowledge God. Many will even admit to a Christ (consciousness). See, false religion is compatible with Christianity. Completely.

But true Christianity is not compatible with any other religion.

By the way, the folks who use Ouija boards, or The Angels Talk boards are not communicating with loved ones or getting answers. I reject that because I reject the idea that evil spirits know the future. They don’t understand the past, either. Satan and his fallen angels deceive. That’s it. They give feelings, chills, sensations. Then they leave people empty and broken.

Christianity–the real deal–might lead pilgrims through life with troubles, sickness, struggles and conflict, but they’ll be filled with food of which the world doesn’t know. And they’ll find their reward in eternity. No board game can compete with that.

You wanna talk to God? Pray.

 

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Salvation is so easy, even a caveman could do it! Salvation is so easy, what are you waiting for? Just believe. Right? Get your fire insurance. It’s free. Well–actually–it’s not. I can hear the ‘just believe’ crowd chambering rounds … let me explain. Your life literally depends on this.

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