Abiding is a word we don’t really use a whole lot any more. Once upon a time it was a regular part of vocabulary. Depending on the context, it can have a couple (similar) meanings. It can mean to live/exist. It can also mean to remain. In recent history, it made a comeback in the cult-classic “The Big Lebowski.”
“It’s good knowin’ he’s out there – the Dude. Takin’ it easy for all us sinners.” (Just a quick note – there is a LOT of profanity in the movie, so please don’t go watching an unedited version thinking I’m giving it the green light.)
But the Dude abiding isn’t a new idea to The Big Lebowski. It’s actually an ancient idea that plays a major part of the first letter of John. And John isn’t just concerned with the idea of the Dude abiding. John wants abiding to be a core concept of the faith. Hang with me here:
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:18-19)
John’s key concept here is that of abiding. How does John talk about the phony Christians? We know that they were not authentic Christians because THEY DID NOT ABIDE! They bailed. John makes plain that if the false teachers had been genuinely part of the body of believers, they would not have taken off.
We see this kind of thing all the time even today. People abandon the faith and walk out on God and God’s people. No, this isn’t the same as church-hopping. As frustrating as it may be to see people pick up from one church and land at another across town, that isn’t the same thing as what John’s talking about. He’s talking about people who completely turn their backs on Christ – they no longer abide with Christ.
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. (1 John 2:20-25)
John has no kind words for these people who do not abide. In fact, these false Christians who deny Christ are, in fact, anti-Christs. And while the early church clearly anticipated a single apocalyptic figure, John’s cares less about a future villain and is more focused on people bailing on faith here and now. Thus he reiterates that Christians should just follow the original message! The message that the Apostles preached from the very beginning was that which is found in John 1: In the beginning was the Word…and the Word became flesh. This is the next part of abiding:
Let the original Gospel message abide in you! Not only do we abide with the body of believers, but as a spiritual community we let God’s message abide in us. And if we abide with the authentic community of faith, and God’s Word abides in us, then we abide in the Son.
And abiding with Jesus comes with a future promise: eternal life. We don’t just abide here and now but we have a guarantee of abiding with God forever. That’s a great plan! It’s stinkin’ ingenious. It’s a Swiss watch!
There’s no need for following some teacher/prophet who has “secret knowledge.” There is no one person that we ought to follow to put us on the path to God. The real key is abiding. Abide with Christ and with the Gospel message. Abide with the body of believers. John finishes up:
I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:26-27)
God’s anointing continues to abide with us. So stick with Jesus. The end result is out of this world, man.
Well, to be honest, it’s a human trait. I asked a group of people to identify ways in which they have been judged or have judged others. What do you think they came up with?
We judge people based on appearance
We judge people based on their vehicles
We judge people’s intelligence based on our ability to understand them (we often see foreigners as less intelligent when they don’t speak English)
We judge people based on their punctuality (or lack thereof)
We judge people based on their beliefs (whether they have a different faith than we have or even if they believe different elements of our OWN faith! How many Christian denominations do we have now?)
And this is just the first 5 that came to mind. In a couple minutes we came up with a dozen+ items.
While we all judge and are judged, it’s not SUPPOSED to be this way for those in God’s kingdom. We’re supposed to be above it. We’re supposed to let go of judging others. And most people know this. How often have you heard someone say, “Only God can judge me!”
YES! AND HE IS!
What people really mean when they say this is, “Don’t tell me how to live my life!”
But the Bible is clear that there IS such a thing as objective truth. There is right and there is wrong. You don’t get to make it up and live life however you want. Well, you CAN, but the end results won’t be the outcome you really desire.
And the Bible doesn’t tell us never to judge. What Jesus really says is this:
Judge not, that you be not judged.For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7)
What Jesus said is that our hearts and motivations ought to be right. When we pass judgment on someone, our ultimate goal is really to change them without caring about the person. We don’t try to get them on board. We don’t try to build them up. This is why interventions rarely work – we try to impose our ideas on someone else but they never have a desire to really change.
Judgment tears people down without building people up. Judgment is more concerned with the tiny fault in someone else than the massive fault in ourselves. This is why Jesus gives us this absurdly humorous illustration about a log sticking out of our face.
If our REAL goal is to help people, let’s focus on cleaning our own mess before trying to help people with theirs. Then, when we’re ready to help, it is not, “LET ME TELL YOU WHY YOU NEED TO CHANGE!” It turns into, “I’ve walked this path, too, and if you want I’m willing to help you find a better way.”
Judgement shuts people down and closes off their spirits to receiving help. Genuine love is about caring for people and walking with them towards growth and maturity. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t judge.” He says, “Get yourself right and love people.”
God has given us a good way – a better way than the world offers. But when we approach people with judgment, no one is going to hear us.
Well, it doesn’t suck ALL the time. Just sometimes. But I don’t share about the crappy parts online. I only share about the good times – the times that make life seem good, happy, and perfect.
We don’t share about the times our kids having fits and making us want to pull out our hair or send them to boarding school. We don’t post about the times we aren’t getting along with our spouses. And when people DO share those things, often they’re looking to get sympathy or to control public perception. And THAT’S the real issue.
We only share those things that will create the public persona we want out there.
We don’t share the things that we think will reflect negatively on us. I’m not the first one to write on this topic. My brother shared an article with me some time ago about the same theme. There’s probably even an official name for the phenomenon – I just don’t know it.
What I do know is that we do this because we gain a sense of self-worth and value through our public image. Yet Jesus wants us to forget the idea of shaping our public image. One time Jesus was teaching:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
We do this kind of thing all the time. We want others to see the best part of us, the most generous part of us, the super-parent us, the philanthropic us, the Ubermensch us. But the great things we do don’t amount to a hill of beans. They don’t affect the way God sees us. He sees us when we do things in private. He loves you not because of how great you look to the world, but because he loves unconditionally.
It’s hard to do good things in secret. There’s a part of us that wants credit for doing things when we do good things or when we excel at something. Jesus says we ought to do good for the sake of doing good even if we never get recognition.
I remember one time I was on tour with my college music group. We got off our bus to have lunch one day in San Francisco. I was hanging out with the drummer, and as we exited the bus, the team went off to the left, but the drummer turned right. I asked him where we were going. He said, “I’m not hungry so I’m going to give my lunch to a homeless person, but I don’t need the rest of the group to see it.”
He felt called to do good but didn’t want recognition from others.
I ate my lunch (in a post about doing things without recognition, I’m not going to let you think I was so high-minded)!
But we can all learn from Jesus’s words. Humility ought to be our norm. We should do good just BECAUSE it is the right thing to do. Don’t worry about shaping public opinion of yourself – do what you should do! So here’s your challenge – this week don’t post anything online that would make you look good. It’s okay to build others up, but practice humility this week and change your social media habits.
Your value comes from God, not what others think of you – so practice intentional humility.
What do you think? Have you seen yourself posting things that make your life look fabulous?
Last week I read an article from Kyle Howard, a fellow contributor at Theology Mix. His piece was titled: When Churches Colonize Femininity, and looked at how the Western church (read white Protestant church) views femininity and how women who do not fit that view are regarded as unfeminine.
Mr. Howard’s article resonated with me not just because I am married to a strong black woman (SBW), but because there is a biblical foundation for his position that femininity is culturally based rather than biblically based. He writes:
The paradigm for femininity in most (if not all) majority culture churches is the model of the “white soft-spoken woman.” She has with her certain traits that are referred to as marks of piety when in reality they are elements of white culture. It’s not that “soft-spokenness” is inherently “white,” but the version of it that is expected to be expressed is often an idealized version of a white woman, typically akin to a white southern woman from the antebellum era. Men of color are told that this is the kind of woman they are to pursue if they desire a godly woman and to be considered relationally wise. Women of color are told that this is what they must be and that they are godly to whatever degree they reflect this image and immature to whatever degree they don’t. If they are opinionated, they are considered ungodly. Expressive or “loud,” ungodly.
Part of this problem is the continued misapplication of 1 Timothy 2, where tells Timothy that he does “not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Tim. 2:12). While my piece is not going to be a deep dive into biblical egalitarianism, let’s just say that I believe Paul was not speaking for all women for all time and that the Bible is replete with examples of women in positions of authority and leadership (and many of the Evangelicals who hold tightly to Paul’s words about silent women ignore Paul completely about other issues that might affect them personally).
Still, this is the model that remains for much of the modern “majority church.” But it is culturally bound. Church across the world and throughout time have seen strong women step up to lead the church, the community, and the family. In black culture, it is not uncommon to find a female pastor leading a congregation. And she STILL preaches the gospel of Jesus. Imagine that!!!
I am married to a strong black woman who has multiple degrees in biblical studies, who has been a ministry leader, and who has preached gospel on the United States and abroad. The strength of her character or her willingness to voice her opinions DOES, in fact, intimidate people who are not accustomed to the SBW personality (when, in fact, my wife is quite tame compared to others). I’ve seen white women get teary admitting they are intimidated by my very kind and polite wife. Our majority culture embraces the idea that women ought to be passive. Any aggression or expressed opinion is seen as unseemly. A strong man is a leader. An equally strong woman is a…well, we have unkind words for her.
But biblically I think we are wrong to pigeon-hole women. Look at the ideal woman pictured in Proverbs 31:
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant;she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it;with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strengthand makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gateswhen he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing,and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom,and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.She looks well to the ways of her householdand does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
This is not a passive woman. No! This is a hard-working caretaker and entrepreneur! The Proverbs 31 woman is one who gets things done. And since were looking at a passage that comes from the Middle East, we’re literally talking about a Strong Brown Woman (SBW).
So when it comes to women in the church, we ought to discard the idea that outspoken, type A women are less feminine and desirable than those who are quiet and submissive. Let us look beyond culture norms of femininity and recognize that God has gifted women of all personality types to be part of His kingdom.
Besides, who knows when you’ll need a Deborah to come rescue your butt from the enemy? 😉
When it comes to debate, there are a few key verses that Christians always have on standby. If you want to argue with people about predestination and election, pull out Romans 9. If you want to talk about Gifts of the Spirit, pull out 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. If you want to eliminate women from Christian leadership, pull out 1 Timothy 2.
It is no different when we’re talking about the church calendar. Yes, Lenten season is upon us. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans observe Lent, but so do Lutherans, Methodists, and some Evangelical traditions.
But then there are those who ADAMANTLY oppose Lent. They throw around phrases like “Papist traditions” and “traditions of man.” As proof-texts they will read you Mark 7:8-9 –
“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”
Lent, however, is not a human tradition intended to supplant God’s commands. No one I know pushes Lent as a means of salvation or a ticket to heaven. It’s not about righteousness through works. And Christian traditions are not INHERENTLY bad. They are only bad when we use them in place of God’s work. Lent is one of the oldest observations in Christianity and, though it has morphed over the centuries, is about aligning our hearts with God. Doug Ponder writes:
The heart of Lent is a season of fasting, which Jesus seemed to expect for his followers to do. After all, he said “when you fast,” not “if you fast” (Matt. 6:16). In Lenten fasting we abstain from worldly pleasures to realize their power over us, to remind ourselves of our frailty and continual need of grace, and to rejoice that our appetite for sin has been forgiven and will one day be erased. I know of no Christian who would object to that!
In the Bible, Paul says that certain days are special to one person and not to another (see Romans 14). The point is not to judge each other, but in Christian liberty allow for a wide variety of how we honor and celebrate Christ. Rather than lamenting the “Papal tradition” of Lent, Christians everywhere should commend other Christians who desire to set aside human appetites in order to give space for God’s work in their lives.
Isn’t this the point of any fasting?
When our fasting (at any time of year) is centered on and motivated by God, no one should condemn it. Richard Foster wrote: “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” Since there are so many works examining the BIBLICAL practice of fasting, I’m not even going to waste space defending it. It’s an expected part of the life of a disciple of Christ.
This Lenten season, get off your high horse. Examine your life and see where your appetites control you. What can you put aside in order to create space to listen to God?
I’m on a journey to read at least one book a month through 2017. Most recently I read Victoria, the new historical fiction based on the life of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The author, Daisy Goodwin, wrote the book while she was also writing the story for the Masterpiece mini-series on PBS. The book itself is a relative quick read. There is a lot of dialogue and not much dead space between events. The characters are quite engaging and I found myself enjoying the read.
Through the book I also realized that I don’t know a whole lot about British history and government processes (I’m embarrassed to think that the average Brit knows more about American history and government than we do theirs, but I haven’t asked any Brits about it). The book inspired me to dive deeper into the characters and history surrounding the narrative. That’s the neat thing about historical fiction – you’re given dialogue and relationships that are from the author’s imagination, yet the author’s imagination is guided and constrained by actual people and events. In the case of Victoria, Daisy Goodwin used history and the Queen’s own diaries to help create her telling of the story. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that the truth of the story must be balanced against the creative license of Ms. Goodwin.
This got me thinking about current events and the brouhaha about truth vs. “alternative facts.” Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not posting to comment on any particular fact or person. I’m merely dialoguing about truth in general. Regardless of a person’s personal view of religion, politics, relationships, or ANYTHING, one cannot deny that there is such a thing as objective truth. 2+2 is always going to equal 4. Quantitative measurements are objective – it’s only qualitative measurements that move into subjectivity. Still, there is objective truth. We may interpret historical events in different ways, but we can objectively point to those historical events.
As Christians, we are called to be people of truth. A simple search of the word “truth” in the Bible will yield hundreds of results.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:5)
Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit. (Proverbs 12:17)
I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. (Isaiah 45:19)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The Bible is FILLED with the idea that we are supposed to be people of truth because God IS truth. So if God IS truth, then telling untruths is CONTRARY to the very nature of God. That means that everyone who follows God should be adamantly opposed to the spreading of untruth. That is to say, Christians ought to be the first to stand up and say, “Wait, that’s not true. That’s a deception. That’s fraudulent. That’s a lie!”
But to often we don’t. We perpetuate falsehoods and untruths because they fit our framework for thinking about and reacting to the world around us. It’s easier to accept some fabrications because truths make us uncomfortable. But comfort isn’t part of the package when it comes to following Jesus. Sure, eternity in heaven will be comfortable in the presence of God, but this life isn’t promised to be a life of ease.
As people called to pursue justice and righteousness and truth, we will need to stand against deceptions wherever we see them.
This being the third week of Advent, Joy Sunday, we were naturally talking about joy. It’s one of those things that the Apostle Paul talks about as “The Fruit of the Spirit.” That is to say, when the Spirit of God is in us one of the things that should be produced in us is joy.
So we tried something different on a Sunday morning and split into groups (2 men’s groups and 1 women’s group) to come up with the top 5 things we think would bring us joy (being a small church, breaking into groups wasn’t very difficult – I don’t think I would have tried this in a large church).
What about you? If you had to pick 5, what would you think the average person would say?
Here’s what our younger men came up with:
a good job. The idea of having a job that both provides abundantly AND fills you with a sense of accomplishment/achievement was a big factor in people’s ideal of a joy-filled life.
a new truck. I’m not sure which young man came up with this one, but I agree – a new truck would make me pretty happy, too!
having the family together. Perhaps the Christmas season makes people long for family and community. Perhaps it’s being part of a military community where we are separated from family more than other communities. Either way, having our loved ones around is important.
being able to play my instrument whenever I want. I think we had one young man who would rather be rocking out than attending class, but that’s not unusual. 😉
success. I think this is really connected to #1, but it goes beyond a job and into an attitude that encompasses all of life.
our kids’ laughter. I agree, nothing delights me quite like hearing my own kids laughing when they don’t know I can hear them.
a healthy family. We live in a world with so much sickness and disease, sometimes it feels as though it will never end. A healthy family can be a real joy to those of us with sickos in the family. Wait…that didn’t come out right…
a relationship with God – okay, another Jesus-juke, and they were trying to jump into my sermon notes.
healthy mothers – I think this one was spawned from one dad who was at church with his sons and mom was home recovering. Being a single parent is always tough – add on the responsibility of being a care-giver for a spouse or adult parent and the burden multiplies.
And here’s what our women came up with:
making others happy. I think the women are much more altruistic than we are (at least that’s how it is in my marriage!).
being more involved in church. These ladies really know how to push all the right buttons for the pastor. I see some new ministries and leaders developing here! 😉
good weather. If you’re the kind of person who is affected by weather changes, this could be a BIG deal for your sense of joy.
exercising. I’m not sure if exercise would give ME joy, but I sure do enjoy the benefits of it 🙂
the little things in life. The ladies wouldn’t get specific about WHICH little things, but apparently it’s these little things that bring them joy.
Were these close to what you came up with?
The problem with most of these answers we come up with that our idea of joy is often connected to temporary things. None of them is permanent. Cold weather, bills, people, health, and good feelings all come and go. If we look to these things for our joy then we’re always going to be chasing.
That kind of joy is a pipe dream.
It’s not the kind of joy we see in the Bible when Peter writes:
He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6)
Finding joy in the middle of trials and tough time feels impossible, yet time and time again the Bible talks about joy in the midst of suffering. You see, from the Bible’s perspective, joy isn’t based on temporary things and events. Though such things might give us joy for a bit they will eventually fade. It is when we are able to shift focus and take our eyes off of this world and focus on what’s coming for us later that we can know joy no matter what we face in this life.
Real joy is rooted not in our circumstances but in GOD and his activity. He has worked in the past, he works in our lives now, and he has promised us a better tomorrow. We may not see that better tomorrow in this life, but the Christian faith realizes that there is more to life than this flesh and blood.
Joy is about holding on to our eternal circumstances over our temporary trials.
I might not know what you’re going through. It may be excruciating. But we know and believe that one day we will rest easy in the presence of Yahweh. All the wrongs will be made right. All the hurts will be healed. We will know a permanent and lasting joy unlike anything we have ever experienced.
Until that day, that hope anchors us here and now. May we learn to say with the Apostle Paul:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
We’ve arrived at the second week of Advent, the time of year we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah at Christmas. This week we’re talking about hope. But what is hope? To many people, hope seems to be nothing more than a pipe dream – a wish.
“I hope that I get a raise.”
“I hope Uncle Frank doesn’t say anything offensive at Christmas dinner this year.”
It’s nothing more than an expression of a wish or a desire. But that’s not the biblical understanding of hope. Hope is not a wish. It’s not human desire. Hope is intimately connected to faith. Hope is trusting and expecting something beneficial to come sometime in the future. It is a compelling positive view of things to come.
Romans 8:23-25 – Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete— 24 for we have been saved in this hope and for this future. But hope does not involve what we already have or see. For who goes around hoping for what he already has? 25 But if we wait expectantly for things we have never seen, then we hope with true perseverance and eager anticipation.
“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” ~ George Washington Carver
But it’s not about something we manufacture. It’s not under our control. Hope is the proper response to the promises of God.
Psalm 119:49 – Do not forget Your promise to Your servant; through it You have given me hope. 50 This brings me solace in the midst of my troubles: that Your word has revived me.
Hope lies in God’s activity, not our own. The foundation of hope is not our own desire but an understanding that God HAS been active in human history and our lives, God IS actively working in our lives, and God WILL continue to work in our lives. This three-fold understanding of God’s behavior is the bedrock on which all hope lies. No matter what happens, we know that God is present and active. That puts is in a practical place – hope has real effects on human behavior.
Psalm 31:24 – Love the Eternal, all of you, His faithful people! He protects those who are true to Him, but He pays back the proud in kind. Be strong, and live courageously, all of you who set your hope in the Eternal!
2 Corinthians 3:12 – In light of this hope that we have, we act with great confidence and speak with great courage.
Godly hope empowers us to live courageously. It’s not about taking away all of the negative possibilities in life. It’s not about avoiding all dangers and troubles. It’s about knowing who is in control. Faith in God’s tomorrow removes our fear today. If we know that, no matter what happens, God’s plan will still come to fruition, it frees us to act without fear. Our decisions are not going to derail God’s will. Other people cannot change God’s plan. We are emboldened to act knowing that God wins. Even through the difficult times, we can still hope.
Romans 5:3-5 – We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.
Hope isn’t diminished in bad times, it’s built in them! This may seem counterintuitive at first, but people living the good life have no need for hope- they have everything they need now.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Infinite hope. It removes our fear. It compels us to act. It sets us apart from the lost and hopeless people in the world. It’s not because of us – it’s all because of Him. This Advent season, as we prepare ourselves for his arrival, let God’s actions in the past, his behavior today, and his promises for tomorrow, be your source of hope. In a dismal and decaying world, we have this hope that builds within us fearless faith to face whatever may come.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” ~ Desmond Tutu
Today I read an article titled, “Less Than Half of Christian Americans Read the Bible.” In fact, only 37% of self-proclaimed Christians pick it up on a regular basis. This is a real problem for Christian culture – a culture that is dependent upon sacred Scripture. More and more, our contemporary culture is turning away from the text as THE authority for a Christian’s life and thought.
In his article, “Inerrantism as Narcissism: Biblical Authority as a Cultural Problem,” James Moseley points out that authority is a term of relationship and not of some special property. That is to say, whenever one claims authority, the people under that claim must agree, even if silently, that the claimant does indeed have authority! In a football game, if the players refuse to do what the referee says, does the referee have any actual authority? No – the players and coaches agree to the idea that the referees are in charge of enforcing the rules.
Authority, then, is the ability to influence the thought and actions of others when those particular others have agreed to submit to the influencing agent. This is especially true regarding matters of faith. The term Christian carries with it (or should carry with it?) the notion of one who lives under Scriptural authority.
The conservative and liberal camps often argue how the Christian Scripture is authoritative, but I would venture to say that the average Christian acknowledges some manner of Scriptural authority. Scripture does not contain any authority in and of itself. It is authoritative because of the authority which backs it up. That is to say, the authority of God is exercised through Scripture. Technically, then, God is ultimately authoritative Scripture possesses a secondary or delegated authority. Scripture, though, pushes that authority upon the believer. There is a relationship between text and disciple and authority is given and received when the believer confesses that Scripture is the Word of God. This is the crux of the matter for the Christian and Scriptural authority. Scripture is only authoritative through faith. One cannot prove Scripture’s authority to a non-believer using rational arguments.
Any confession of faith that results in authority yields both a sense of identity and a set of norms for faith and practice. It is the sense of identity that allows one to claim the title Christian, Muslim, or Jew. But with that confession (and thus the title) comes a set of norms for thought and action, i.e. any claim must be accompanied by life characterized by the claim. The confessing Christian acknowledges that the one true authority is God, yet the confession also acknowledges that God has revealed himself through human words. These human words form the norms and standards for that confession.
But when people claim the title “Christian” and accept the sense of identity without accepting the set of norms we speak of them derogatorily as “nominal Christians.” This nominalism has led many biblical scholars, theologians, and pastors to proclaim a modern crisis of biblical authority. The expression “crisis of authority” assumes that Scripture should be normative for Christian thought and behavior. Indeed “Christian praxis” without the “Christian” is merely social action or moral behavior. “Christian praxis” without the “praxis” is merely mental assent to the possibility of the Christian God without allowing God to possess any practical power or authority to influence believers.
We know more about the Bible than ever before yet there is a disconcerting lack of use of the Bible in everyday life. Scripture holds a special place in the Christian heart but sees little real function in terms of influence. Lutheran theology in particular seems to emphasize the influential and functional use of Scripture a mainstay of their theology, thus combating this lack of regular use. Scripture is not simply a repository of past revelation but is a current Word of God for the church with immediate authority.
The application of this theology could be one of the most difficult aspects of Scriptural authority. While most Christians acknowledge the theoretical functionality of Scripture, allowing Scripture to be the major influencing force in life and thought is difficult. When we flat out refuse to allow our lives to be molded by the text, we have rejected the authority of the text.
Yes, Christianity exists beyond the text. People followed God before it was written. Cultures without a written language still follow Yahweh. But the Christian faith was born into a textual relationship, understanding that God revealed Himself through the Old Testament and continued to reveal Himself through the inspiration recorded in the New Testament. A Christianity devoid of Sacred Scripture is not an authentic Christianity at all, but a cheap replica that desires to hold to the “nice” elements of faith without being accountable to the Word of God.
Do you remember what it was like to obsess over the girl you used to like? That guy you had a thing for?
“She didn’t smile at me when we passed today. Why didn’t she smile at me?”
“We had so much fun, but why hasn’t he called back? It’s been 12 hours – why hasn’t he called me? Should I call him? Easy – don’t want to seem too anxious. Should I have my friend ‘bump into him’? Why hasn’t he called?”
Maybe you never obsessed over a guy or a girl. But I bet that at some time in your life you’ve obsessed over something! What are some things you’ve obsessed over in your life? There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with collecting comic books. Every month had a visit to the comic shop to get the latest editions to see what Superman, Batman or the X-Men were going to do next.
What price were you willing to pay to satisfy your obsession? You can always tell how valuable a thing is to us by the price we are willing to pay for it (or the price at which you’re willing to let it go). The real value of an object isn’t given it by the seller. The real value of the object is given it by the buyer – how much is it worth to you? Look at some of these crazy items. What would you pay for some of these gems?
Now YOU might not pay those prices for those “luxury” items, but that’s the selling price! People can become obsessed with silly things. Christian writer Ted Dekker writes in his book Obsessed:
Life is hardly worth living without an obsession. God himself is obsessed. With His creation. With humans. With the love of humans. You think he created with nonchalance? Let’s throw some mud against the sky and see if any of it sticks? Not a chance. We are created for love, for obsession. So we do indeed obsess, though usually not over the right idea.
God himself is an obsessive God, obsessed with his love for his creation, for us! I mentioned that the value of something isn’t determined by the seller’s price, but is determined by the price the buyer is willing to pay. In His obsession for us, he couldn’t have paid a higher price than he did – the cross. This is the kind of obsession we need to have towards God – a single-minded fixation that puts no limits on the cost. When we understand this kind of obsession some of the crazy stories in the Bible don’t seem so crazy. When you’re obsessed with Him you’d be willing to build a big boat in the middle of the dessert. Noah did. When you’re obsessed with Him you’d dance in worship without caring what your wife thought of you. King David did. Jesus himself even talked about obsession for God in Matthew 13. He told his disciples a parable about a man who discovers a treasure buried in a field. Wanting that treasure more than anything, he re-hides the treasure, sells off everything he owns, and goes to buy the field. Unethical – maybe a bit – but the point is that we need to be fixated on finding God.
That’s all well and good, but how do we get to that point of obsession? It’s not like we can simply turn it on at will. True, we can’t turn it on at will. But I believe that this ties into my last sermon about going deeper with God. A friend once said to me, “I’ve been a Christian for a while. I’ve read the Bible. I know what I’m supposed to think and what I’m supposed to do. But what’s next?” I think that this sums up where many of us are. We know what we’re supposed to know. We’ve heard sermons and been to Bible studies. If someone asks us what it takes to build your Christian life we can faithfully recite the answers without even thinking about it: read the Bible, pray, fellowship, obey. We know all that. So what is next? How do we get to the deep end? How do we discover that obsession within our souls?
It comes from an encounter with Jesus. For the cripple at the pool of Siloam it was encountering Jesus that made his legs whole. For blind Bartimaeus it was encountering Jesus that gave him sight. It is encountering Jesus that breaks our addictions. It is encountering Jesus that restores our relationships. We need to have a face to face encounter with the Living God! This is the story we come upon in Mark 5, and in this story we find 2 lessons and 2 questions. Let’s read:
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
There are few images in the Bible that are as unsettling as this. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a troubled soul. Jewish teaching held that there were 4 tests for insanity: 1) a mad person sleeps in graveyards, 2) a mad person tears his clothing, 3) a mad person walks around at night, and 4) a mad person destroys anything given him. In this one person we find all 4 tests fulfilled – what we have here is a madman, and every word of his description emphasizes his pathetic condition. Here is a man who is made in God’s image and the unclean spirit causes him to horribly distort that image. It makes one ask, “Is there anything happening in my life that distorts God’s image in me?” Though we here may not be struggling with actual demons, we do struggle with things that distort God’s image in us – anger, hate, jealousy, or lust, to name just a few.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
At this point of the story we see several interesting things happening at the same time. Look at what the demon is saying to Jesus – he addresses Jesus by name and says, “I adjure you by God.” In Jesus’ time, if one wanted to perform an exorcism, one needed to know the name of the spirit. When you knew its name you had power over it. Then you could command it under oath (adjure) to leave the body it inhabited. What the spirit is doing here is trying to exorcise Jesus! “I know your name – you are Jesus. I command you by God, leave me alone!” The irony is rich. He thinks he can take on Jesus in a power encounter. But it’s all talk – no one can outdo God.
No one can contain Jesus Christ. If you’re taking notes, we now find our first lesson: (1) It doesn’t matter who you are or what’s going on in your life, Jesus is ready to encounter you!This man came from the tombs. He was considered unclean and untouchable, but Jesus doesn’t stop this encounter he welcomes it. That’s encouraging news for us. No matter what our problems, our flaws, our addictions, or our demons, Jesus stands ready to encounter us. But will you run to Him and fall at His feet?
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
The name “Legion” has ties to the Roman army. A Roman legion was made up of anywhere from 3000-6000 troops. And you thought you had problems! Of course, this could be one final attempt on the unclean spirit’s part to put a scare into Jesus! But it’s evident who is in control. The person in control doesn’t beg, and the demon has been begging Jesus since Jesus arrived. They beg permission to go into the pigs and Jesus permits it. And the first thing they do upon overpowering the pigs? They destroy the herd.
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.
When God starts to do stuff, people can’t help but talk about it. This is part of the power of personal testimony. I saw God do something and you’re not gonna believe it! If God starts doing something and we tell people about it, you’d better believe they will come out to see for themselves what’s happening. So the pig herders go to tell the town and countryside what they saw – when everyone returned they see the whacked-out crazy guy sitting by Jesus, clothed and sane. And here we see our second lesson: (2) When they encounter Jesus, people do change. Before, this man had been in an unbreakable grip of destructive evil; now Jesus has shattered the grip of evil and restored him to full human life. It is encountering Jesus that heals the sick. It is encountering Jesus that breaks addictions. It is encountering Jesus that restores relationships. We need to have a face to face encounter with the Living God! God may love you the way you are, but that doesn’t mean God wants you to STAY the way you are. An encounter with Him means you’re going to change.
But not everyone is happy with what has happened. The response of the people is fear – not of the once crazy guy – they fear Jesus! He has demonstrated supernatural power and an authority over the spiritual and natural world. If he cast the demons out of all of the sick people, there wouldn’t be enough pigs and livestock to hold them all. Every farmer and rancher would go out of business! The locals are apparently more concerned with their way of life than for the life of this man or the Lord of Life standing before them. This brings up our first question: (1) Are we more interested in “business as usual” or the power of God to deliver our disordered lives and the lives of those around us? Sometimes we can start to see God as a concept, an idea by which we should live our lives. It’s when we start to think like this that we begin to care about business as usual. But God is not an abstract thing – God is the creator and giver of life and His power can deliver our disordered lives and the lives of those around us. Oh, how we need an encounter with Jesus.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
What a life turn-around. He goes from being demon-possessed to being Jesus-obsessed. He has had an encounter with Jesus Christ and is forever changed – he becomes obsessed. And Jesus sends him out to spread his obsession to others, and all the people were amazed. Our second question brings us back full-circle: (2) What is your obsession? Do you have a single-minded fixation on God? I believe that the church knows what it needs to know – at this point going deeper is going to mean developing the personal experience of God and his love and power. We need a fresh encounter with the Lord of Life, so that we can be healed, restored, set free, and set loose to obsess about God and spread our obsession everywhere we go. The demoniac would not have had his encounter with Jesus if he hadn’t run to Jesus and fallen at his feet. That’s where we need to be. Seeking God and asking him to encounter us, to intervene in our lives. The Christian band Skillet writes in their song My Obsession,
You’re my only infatuation…My purpose, my possession, live and die in my obsession, my obsession.
– It doesn’t matter who you are or what’s going on in your life, Jesus is ready to encounter you!
– When we encounter Jesus, we do change.
– Are we more interested in “business as usual” or the power of God to deliver our disordered lives and the lives of those around us?