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, tinglingĀ 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.

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’llĀ 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.

Was Job Just a Miserable Pawn?

“Job cursed God,” a seminary student told a group of us. I was in college and had decided to attend an on-campus Bible Study. That was the first, and last time I attended. I pointed out, rather sheepishly (not really) that if Job cursed God, then the whole point of the book would be lost! Of course, the seminary student chuckled at my lack of proper understanding (like of Job 1:22 and 2:10, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”). But then, I recently started going through the book again ….

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It’s All In How You Say It … or Translate it!

Remember those highly important, yet secretive little notes passed between desks in junior high? Each person in the chain must be trusted not to open the note, not on the way to the intended person, not on the way back. Yes, you guessed it, this was before cell phones and texting. Their content was simple, but vital. They had check-boxes with ‘like,’ ‘really like,’ ‘friend,’ and ‘love’ written next to them. One’s entire future depended on which box was checked. It meant the difference between getting a date after school, or walking home with despair. In reading certain verses in the Bible, it can really be the same sort of thing.

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Is Christian Fiction Safe?

I’m working on a graphic novel with my oldest daughter. It’s a story that I’ve had for some time and have been working on in parts over the past few years. It’s gone through some different versions … but something hit me as we were talking it through: Is the Gospel a story device for us to use? Or, putting it another way, is Christian Fiction safe? Or does it do harm?

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Real Love & Envy Part 3

I remember a time when a friend of mine was visiting and a carnival set up near our house. This friend had a few brothers and we were all pretty close in age. For some reason, he was the only one who came to visit. We wanted to go to the carnival, but thought that perhaps it would cause his brothers to feel left-out. My friend’s comment was, “I think they’ll be happy for me.”

I won’t leave you in suspense, we didn’t end up going. But for some reason, that event has stuck in my mind. I’ve thought about it many times over the years. It happens to line up with the third earmark of love: It does not envy!

If there’s a human out there who got past the patient/long-suffering and kind benchmarks with flying colors, this one might sting.

KevinMazur-Lyrics

Okay, it’ll smart.

Smart

Seriously, it’s something that is worse than a plague. I’ll illustrate with another pop culture reference: I Am Legend. Before it was a Will Smith action/horror movie, it was a 70s apocalyptic movie called The Omega Man, starring none other than Charlton Heston.

Omega-Man-02

Before that … okay, it was a book by Richard Mattheson in which a plague swept the world, turning everyone into zombie/vampires … except THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (the title of the first movie with Vincent Price). The end of the movie

*Spoilers ahead!!**

finds that the healthy protagonist is the problem, killing off the “normal” vampires during the day, unseen by them. The twist is that the vampires have learned to live with their illness, and the one man who doesn’t have their sickness is actually the scourge of humanity.

Envy is just like the plague and we’re all like the vampires. We all have envy. It’s a sign of the flesh. Unless you’re born without a sin nature, you envy. That’s the default.

Politics operates on this principle. One group pits everyone against the 1%, another group entices people with promises of a booming economy that will give them easy pay.

Advertisers use envy ALL THE TIME. This product will make you more attractive than your friends. This drink will give you the good time that everyone else is having. This phone will give you the family life everyone else has already discovered!

Envy. It drives politics and the economy.

But it doesn’t fuel love. In fact, it’s the opposite of love. Here’s what Matthew Henry says:

Charity suppresses envy: It envieth not; it is not grieved at the good of others; neither at their gifts nor at their good qualities, their honours not their estates. If we love our neighbour we shall be so far from envying his welfare, or being displeased with it, that we shall share in it and rejoice at it. His bliss and sanctification will be an addition to ours, instead of impairing or lessening it. This is the proper effect of kindness and benevolence: envy is the effect of ill-will. The prosperity of those to whom we wish well can never grieve us; and the mind which is bent on doing good to all can never will ill to any.

Unfortunately, we’re pulled into envy so fast. If a friend gets a promotion at work, we’re happy for them … but we might start to wonder why we haven’t had that success. We might compare ourselves to that friend and start thinking they didn’t really deserve that promotion, that wife, that life.

In other words, we start to put ourselves in the place of God, deciding what should or shouldn’t be.

The world is full of this sort of thing. We make our own destiny! We alter the course of history! And, to the extent that our personal responsibility to do our work affects the lives of those around us, that’s true.

The Christian view, however, is that God is in supreme control. He ordains all things, including the promotions, firings, economy booms and great depressions. He rains down on the righteous and the unrighteous. He has in mind the discipline for all whom He calls to Himself. Christians trust that His will is perfect and all things will work for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

In light of such a belief, we have no reason to envy. We should rejoice at everyone’s good fortune, even if they don’t appear to deserve it. Because, guess what? none of us deserve what we’re getting. We’re all equally deserving of God’s wrath. Yet, He’s patient, kind and merciful to us. Gracious, even, giving us what we don’t deserve.

Perfect love doesn’t envy. All of us need to pray for God to put that love in us, then test ourselves to see if we have accepted that gift from Him. Have we stood up on those lame legs, believing that He has healed them?

He’s commanded us to love one another. With pure love. To quote a Peter Furler song, get up, get off your seat, move your feet, just do what He said!