Suffering, Sin and Doing Good

1 Peter 4 talks about suffering. There is a good suffering and a bad suffering according to Peter.

Bad suffering occurs when we do sin. If we “suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters,” then we’ve got bad suffering. We’re just getting our come-upins. We’re reaping what the flesh has sown. There is no virtue in suffering for being an idiot.

Good suffering is suffering brought on by doing good, especially in doing good for Christ. When we get this kind, we are taking part in the sufferings of Christ and seriously, how cool is that?!

So, there are two kinds of suffering:

1) Suffering brought on by not doing God’s will, which brings sinful results
2) Suffering brought on by doing God’s will, which inflames the world against you

Either way, whether by doing God’s will or resisting it, you’re going to suffer! This is the beauty of life on earth–aint no one exempt from the suffering. Rich guys, poor guys, powerful, weak, slave, free, men, women it just doesn’t matter, you will suffer.

So, God does not give you a suffer or don’t suffer option. There is no such thing as “Oh, just have more faith and all suffering will disappear.” Not a biblical concept. The Bible says no matter what, you will suffer.

Therefore, you might as well suffer for good. “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”

God is good and He will set things right, if not now, then in the world to come. Bind yourself to Him, do His will, do well for He is a faithful Creator. He’s watching. He will take care of you, but through suffering is how we enter the glory later.

Don’t look for shortcuts around suffering, they don’t exist. Instead, resign yourself to suffering and choose to get the suffering that results from listening to God. You will win in the end!

Suffering and Overcoming Sin

Suffering is what we’d rather go without. Our major concern in life about suffering is why God allows it.

One reason God allows suffering is that it helps us put off sin. What, huh?

How does suffering help us put off sin? Actually, that’s not even as extreme as the Bible says it. Chew on this one, “for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.”

Apparently, and again this is the Bible, suffering in the flesh results in ceasing from sin.

Ultimately the context is referring to Jesus Christ. He suffered in the flesh and then He rose again. He was made perfect in suffering, has now put off his flesh body and is in resurrection life.

But what is true for Christ is also true for the one in Christ. So, the whole phrase in context says:

Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.

We should do what Christ did and arm ourselves with the same mind. To arm means to equip with weapons! Fight sin like it’s a battle worth winning.

There is so much hopelessness taught in modern Christianity concerning sin. We’ve overworked the total depravity line to refer to the believer just as much as the unbeliever. We’ve given in to our Romans 7 woe is me I can’t help it pity sinfest. We’ve forgotten the victory in Christ.

We’ve undermined the power of resurrection life so that we may enjoy sin for a season or two more. In doing so, we marginalize the Gospel, defeat our witness, and blaspheme our Savior who has given us the victory.

Defeating sin is not automatic; it must be fought with spiritual weapons provided by Christ, received by faith, and used by Spiritual fruit such as self-control.

Instead of this, Christians pretend that a lack of suffering is equal to great faith. If you believe enough you get health and wealth, whereas the Bible says suffering is to be embraced as suffering is what leads to spiritual growth.

How often our prayers are being asked amiss and how many spiritual lessons would we learn if we began to see life as God did. Do we desire as Paul did to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings? On the other side of suffering is spiritual victory.

Embrace it, face it, and look for more of it! Suffering: it does a soul good.

The End of the World

Last week we survived the Mayan Apocalypse, which really wasn’t anything to do with an actual Mayan prophecy about anything. But it was another in a long line of failed end of the world jitters.

Reason Magazine had an article about The End of the World, which ended like this:

But 9/11 and Katrina also remind us that the last days never quite seem to arrive. We exit apocalyptic time. A city starts to rebuild. Normal life resumes. Many people’s worlds come to an end, but the world itself persists.

And then the next disaster strikes from above, or the next millennial fever surges up from below. The end times never really end. It’s always Armageddon somewhere.

When I read these paragraphs, my mind immediately thought that this was a secular version of 2 Peter 3:4:

Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

The world isn’t going to end because it hasn’t ended so far is the human logic on display here. To which Peter answers, “Um, what about Noah?” But, of course, we who know more now, know that Noah was just a fairy tale about a guy riding out a bad thunderstorm.

The world will come to an end, there will be an Armageddon, a Judgment Day, and eventually this world being cooked. No, it has never happened before, but if God’s Word means anything, it will come.

Even so, come quickly.

The Trial of Your Faith

Christmas time is filled with dorky movies about “Believing” in Santa Claus. If enough people believe, Santa’s reindeer can fly and presents will be delivered. But woe unto you, o good children, if you stop believing, for then Santa can’t deliver your presents!

So, we believe in Santa Claus. Our faith in Santa is tested when other kids mock us, but we keep believing because Christmas is coming! On Christmas we get presents, therefore, our faith results in the payoff. Faith works!

Except then we go to school and realize the class moron also got presents for Christmas. “Hey, wait a minute! I thought Santa only gave presents to good kids?” Our faith begins to falter.

Believing in Jesus is similar, except Jesus is, of course, real and is not at all dependent upon whether anyone believes in Him or not, but our faith is tested. Others tell us He’s a myth, that the Bible greatly exaggerates His persona, and that His judgment will never come.

But we persevere, we resist the trials and temptations and keep believing, following His Word. Judgment Day will come and our faith will payoff with praise, honor and glory! And the morons won’t get any of it!

Another difference between Santa and Jesus (and yes, there are plenty), is that Christmas comes once a year; judgment day comes once every eternity. There are no do-overs.

Everyone can claim to have faith, to believe in Jesus. But it is only those who pass the testing of their faith–which may include persecution, materialism, abundance, depravity or any number of things–who will receive blessing.

This is my commentary on 1 Peter 1:7

When it Comes to Why Suffering Exists: Just Shut Up

This past week I’ve been talking about pain, handicaps, suffering and evil. In all my words, there lurks this sneaking suspicion that I should probably just shut up. The reason for this is that I’ve read the book of Job many times.

Job has 42 chapters, most of which are the verbose pontifications of guys talking about pain, evil and suffering and trying to explain why it’s here.

Each of them thinks they have the answer and each of them does not lack words. The bottom line is that Job’s friends think Job is a sinner and is getting judgment. One of the things about Job’s friends is that their arguments are right most of the time. One of them is even quoted in the New Testament. They are going with what they got and if you applied their wisdom to many biblical situations, they’d be spectacularly correct.

And at the end of the book, God tells Job to intercede for his friends because they are in deep, deep trouble with God.

Evil is a reality, your explanation as to why it is here may be right, but how do you know?

This is my reservation about telling parents of dead students they are dead because there is no school prayer. It’s my reservation in saying that dead students are God’s judgment on same-sex marriage and abortion as James Dobson recently did.

I don’t know this, therefore, I hesitate to say it.

The main point of the book of Job is this: just shut up. We have no idea what we’re doing down here let alone knowing what is best for other people. As Job said before God, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.”

Indeed. Life is tough. It’s going to get tougher. Your justifications and philosophical sayings might help you through, but they are nothing compared to God’s final word.

Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.”

Rather than give advice or attempt explanations, simply weep with those who weep. I believe everyone will be better off.

Answering Why Evil Exists

If God is good, why does so much bad happen?

This is supposedly the question when it comes to God. The question is intriguing when asked by the atheist.

1) Why do you naturally assume God is good? I haven’t heard much explanation of this assumed point, but it intrigues me.
2) If evolution, survival of the fittest, is true, it also begs a question–how can a cutthroat system of existence produce good?

I suppose a guy could approach the answer to why evil happens on different fronts.

A. You could conclude that God is not good, and be a consistent Calvinist (zing!).

B. You could deny the existence of good and be a consistent Christian Science guy (Still waiting for Bill Nye the Christian Science Guy tv show). (Which leads to this necessary parenthetical point: Christian Science is neither Christian nor Science, discuss).

C. You could imagine really, really hard that all evil is actually good and just smile through it and be a consistent Osteen.

D. You could just go ahead and do the smart thing and agree with whatever I say and be a consistent jerk.

In the end, evil is one of those things I could give you my answer for, but I think it has many layers, like an onion under a heavily blanketed bed. Picking just one over-simplifies the issue and explaining them all would get tedious.

My conclusion of the matter is this: once you’ve answered why evil exists with a good God to your satisfaction, then what? Does that keep you content, happy, grouchy, victimized, or what?

If whatever answer you come up with does not leave you longing for more Christ, then your answer is off.

The longing for all of Him to consume, replace and override all of us is the desire of the believer. If your answer eliminates, reduces, trivializes or in any way distorts this conclusion, you’re wrong.

Oh to be like Him! To be surrounded with His righteousness.

For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.

Oswald Chambers on Suffering Crisis

“We do not need the grace of God to stand crises, human nature and pride are sufficient, we can face the strain magnificently; but it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus.

“It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.”

Don’t be Afraid to Feel the Pain

When calamity strikes, either through drastic or gradual bummer things, Christians feel they need to be happy about it. We “console” those who suffer by telling them to “give God glory through it all.”

I certainly can’t argue with the advice, but I can argue with what that advice usually means and what it usually leads to.

Christians feel they need to be unrealistic about pain, to put on a happy face, ignore the limitations and praise Jesus while tip-toeing through tulips, “and quit that whining about how your toes got cut off, find a way! Jesus would for you.”

Ah yes, the classic, “Jesus died on a cross so quit your whining” Christian advice. Niiiiice.

Many years ago there was a person dying slowly from cancer who had a family that didn’t think you could ever show struggle or sadness as that showed doubt. This person called me in tears, “I just can’t do it any more. Everyone keeps telling me to be strong, not to cry, to give God glory by fighting the cancer. I can’t. I can’t try to be happy anymore.”

I think most Christians feel they need to be happy about suffering so they act happy, which leads others to believe they have to hilariously endure pain.

I know the verses from Paul about rejoicing in suffering, not my point. My point is that rejoicing in suffering, in being weak, does not equal acting happy, denying reality, trying to be strong in our human power to show how strong we are.

Christian platitudes about being strong are nothing but humanistic cheers. Most Christians can’t rejoice in their weakness because they aren’t allowed to be weak. We have a hard time weeping with those who weep because

1) They’re too afraid to weep near us
2) If they did weep, we’d be quick to judge them rather than weep with them
3) We’re so busy trying to maintain our own happy facade, weeping with others makes us unhappy and that means bad things so take your whine somewhere else lest ye spoil my Pharisaic imperviousness.

It’s a twisted thing. Perhaps you don’t understand what I’m even talking about. I hope you don’t. I’ve been around this happy Christian suffering jibberish for a long time and it drives me crazy. You not admitting you’re hurting, not crying, not struggling with reality is not a sign you are strong in Jesus; it’s a sign you think you don’t need Him.

At the same time, we’re not to go around whining about all our troubles, there is a balance, one that must be struck if you want to be led to Christlikeness. Jesus cried several times. He was realistic enough to admit it when it hurt.

School Shootings and School Prayer

I saw the following many times after the recent school shooting:

Dear God,
Why do you allow so much violence in schools?
Sincerely,
A Worried Student

Dear Worried Student,
I’m not allowed in schools.
Sincerely,
God

Let me explain to you all the ways in which I find this offensive, heretical and stupid.

1. I doubt God would answer such a question in such a way as to make a political point.

2. I don’t think God is not allowed in schools because the government said kids can’t pray or creationism can’t be taught. God is not limited by government, nor are the deaths of children evidence that God has left. Are you suggesting that God’s omnipresence is limited by man’s law?

3. Typically, conservative Christian types hate it when the Left tries to use school shootings to talk gun laws, why is it ok to use the death of other people’s children to make this political point?

4. Is this really the message God wants Christians making about others sufferings? Is God really using a nah, n-nah, nah, nah, nah tone to this question?

5. For all the blather about God not being in schools, how often is prayer and the Bible taught in your home? Less than the tv time I’m guessing.

6. God is not in many other places either (by this definition) and most of those places it is quite voluntary, and yet people don’t get shot up there.

7. The Church around the world has suffered as well, Christians are being persecuted and killed, many of whom pray and read the Bible, what is the reason for this?

8. Is this suggesting that there were no Christians in this school, and, if so, how does one know this? Are Christians immune from violence?

9. The arrogant assurance that if Christians could run the joint things would be perfect is sickening. Tribulation and suffering are the marks of this age, no matter how many do-gooder Christians think they can end it if they could just get their way.

10. Jesus Christ was crucified, much violence was done to Him and He was fully God. The world is an evil place, don’t add to it by preaching mindless, emotional trivialities into the pain. We preach Christ and Him crucified, not soap boxes to change temporal secular institutions.

11. Rather than gloat in your superiority; weep with those who weep. No parent of these kids is thinking, “Oh, if only creationism was taught my child would still be alive.” Only someone untouched by tragedy would say something so cold.

12. God is not a lucky rabbit’s foot, waiting to be rubbed the right way. Have we forgotten all our blather about grace and unmerited favor?

13. God didn’t hear most of the prayers rising out of the school prayer days anyway. He only listens to His saints, which are a remnant. Prayer is not some mantra anyone can utter to bend God’s will. God’s ears are open to the righteous, who pray regardless of laws. Empty, religious ritual is not a way to get God’s favor.

14. School shootings and other tragedies happen because man’s will is sick and man overrides God’s will with man’s insatiable lust for sin. God allows this and I do not know why, but I know it’s not because of a lack of school prayer or a lack of creationism education.

15. When Pat Robertson says Hurricane Katrina happened to New Orleans because of Mardi Gras, Christians roll their eyes and wonder why he doesn’t just shut-up, and yet these same Christians know a school got shot up because of no school prayer. If Pat Robertson or you actually heard God say this to you, then by all means, tell others, but if you’re just pontificating, I suggest you tread lightly.

Physical Handicaps, the Will of God and John 9

Yesterday I pontificated that my legally blind eyes are not God’s will. Here is the response I get when I share such thoughts (I am writing this four minutes after having written yesterday’s post):

But Jeff, but Jeff! John 9 says your blindness was given to you by God so God can be glorified in you!

To which outwardly I nod and smile a “thanks” while inwardly think, “No, not really.”

First off, John 9 does not mention me at all. One blind man being cured is not all blind men. It’s one guy in a special case. John 9 (41 whole verses) are dedicated to this one guy. It’s not about me or any other blind guy than the blind guy in John 9.

Secondly, Jesus’ main point is to stifle the arrogant, self-righteous, non-blind disciples who assumed the blind man was blind because he was a worse sinner, or perhaps his parents were worse sinners than their parents. Jesus dismisses this false idea completely, which should once and for all put an end to the “if you have faith you can be healed” heresy. Your physical exterior has little to do with your internal reality.

Third, yes this man’s blindness was healed and this was indeed a demonstration of the “works of God.” The work of God was not His blindness; the work of God was His healing of blindness. In other words, being blind is not demonstrating any work of God; being healed is. Therefore, I can once again conclude that being blind is not God’s doing; being healed is.

Fourth, if I were ever healed of my bad eyes, I would give God the glory. If I am not healed of my blindness, I will continue to stumble in the dark, stub my foot on things I can’t see and almost get run over by cars I could have sworn had a right turn blinker on, not a left turn blinker on. Sigh.

Fifth, whether I am blind or not, I am to do all I can to serve my Lord and Savior. I do not praise Him for sin or its effects. I praise Him for the deliverance I have in Him and wait for the day of redemption with much anticipation. I praise Him for giving me better things to look at! I praise Him for giving me spiritual eyes that see spiritual things.

Physical Handicaps and the Will of God

I am legally blind, always have been, always will be and will probably get worse as I move along in life. As far as handicaps go, it’s not the worst, it’s more annoying than anything. The major thing is that I can’t drive and I can’t see the menu at Culver’s.

Over the years I have read and been told much Christian advice on the subject of physical handicaps and how I should view them in light of God. Most of the well-meaning advice goes like this:

“Well, I know it’s a bummer, but this is the way God made you and He knows what He is doing. You just need to trust Him as this is His will for your life.”

To which outwardly I nod and smile a “thanks” while inwardly think, “No, not really.”

Did God make me blind? Is my blindness His will? Depending on your understanding of sovereignty, your answer to this question will vary.

To the Westminster Confession crowd where “God from all eternity did by the most and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass,” everything that happens is because God ordained it to happen. The Westminster Confession follows this statement by saying “yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin.”

This is what is commonly referred to as “hooey.” This is nice, happy, philosophical thinking, but also complete gibberish to the logical mind. If God has indeed ordained everything then God is indeed the author of sin and all bad things are His fault. You can’t say God ordained all things but isn’t responsible for any of the bad stuff. You can’t have it both ways.

God is sovereign and because He is sovereign, He’s big enough to handle giving us free will. As A. W. Tozer once brilliantly said, “A God less than sovereign would not bestow moral freedom on His creatures. He would be too afraid to do so.” Gotta love that Tozer!

God sovereignly gave moral creatures free will. We chose sin. Sin brought in death and corruption. Corruption has corrupted all things, including my eyesight. I do not view God as the one who made me blind. I view Satan and the sin and its results he introduced into the world as the source of my troubles.

Listen, when God made Adam and Eve, He didn’t make them cross-eyed and legally blind. My eyes are not good; Adam and Eve were. I have bad eyes because I live in a fallen world where not everything happening down here is God’s will, which is why we are told to ask “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I do not expect to be legally blind in heaven as I do not believe being legally blind is God’s will and only God’s will occurs in heaven. When Christ came to earth, He healed blindness to demonstrate the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven where righteousness and God’s will reign supreme.

My eyes are bad. God is good. God did not inflict me with bad eyes. He gave me new birth so that I anticipate the spiritual bliss of heaven where the pains, groanings and sufferings of earth will be put behind me, so that I now look on the things of heaven and not on the things of earth.

God is good. Do not accuse Him of bad.

Faith and the Parable of the Unjust Judge

Luke 18 records the parable of the unjust judge. If an unjust judge can be convinced to answer a persistent request to avenge a petitioner’s enemies, how much more can God the Father be counted on to avenge his elect?

There are several points to make out of this:

1) I don’t think the parable is talking about being annoying in your prayers, always asking the same thing until God grows tired of you and does what you say. The context is vengeance and God avenging the wrongs done to His children.

2) The Bible makes it clear that vengeance belongs to God and He will fulfill His promise to avenge His people. This should allow us to take the wrong and let God sort it out rather than making us belligerent people fighting for our rights.

3) God will avenge His elect, His bigger question is “when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” God will avenge His elect, He’s just wondering if there will be any! This shows that election has something to do with the faithfulness of the people and not merely God’s forcing election on unwilling participants. Even He doesn’t know how many the elect will be.

Whether there is faith on earth is up to mankind. We are the ones who resist the Spirit’s work to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. We are the ones who reject so great salvation. Your unbelief is not God’s fault.

God is then faithful to reward and avenge all those who seek Him and come to Him by faith. He is a good God. His goodness leads men to repentance. Unfortunately, people would rather have the world’s goodness than God’s, so they will refuse to turn from their sin.

God wants to avenge, but He only avenges those with faith. You do not want to be on the wrong side of His vengeance.

Increase Our Faith!

When Jesus was on earth He observed the degree of people’s faith: some had great and some had little faith. The question, I suppose, is how much greater than little faith does great faith have to be?

This is an interesting question in light of Matthew 17:14-20; 21:19-22 and Luke 17:1-6, all of which tell the disciples they can do things if they “had faith as a grain of mustard seed.” Mustard seeds are notoriously small. In the Luke passage, Jesus says this in answer to the disciples request “Lord, increase our faith.”

If a mustard seed faith is an increase of faith, how small must their original faith have been? If a mustard seed faith, which is small, can remove sycamore trees, what would a watermelon seed faith be able to do?!

The disciples ask this question in light of Jesus’ teaching about forgiving people who offend you seven times a day. Which is harder: to forgive an idiot seven times a day or remove a tree?It also begs the question, what is the practical purpose of uprooting a tree and casting it into the sea?

Jesus goes on to give a parable of a master who tells his servant to do stuff and the servant does without being thanked by his master. Jesus sums up with “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

In other words, little faith struggles to do what God says; great faith goes and does things God never even asked. The two Gentiles we talked about yesterday that asked for things not even given as possibilities, showed great faith, which seems to make Jesus’ point here in Luke 17. They didn’t just go with the coldness of the letter, but with the spirit of the man Christ Jesus.

There are degrees of faith. Even a little bit of genuine faith can do great things. Imagine the possibilities of a great faith? One that truly believes God can do above and beyond what we ask of Him because it dares to believe and turns that belief into action, trusting God’s power alone to work.

Exciting stuff that our cynicism will unexcite us on, no doubt.

Great Faith and Little Faith

There are two times when Jesus says someone has great faith.

Matthew 8:5-13–Centurion who knows Jesus can heal his son without coming to his house.
Matthew 15:21-28–Canaanite woman who says even the dogs get the crumbs from the table.

The commonality is that both these people are Gentiles. Jesus says that He has not seen greater faith than the centurion’s in all Israel. Perhaps verbally acknowledging great faith only in Gentiles is merely another way Jesus seeks to annoy the Jews!

Jesus talks about little faith five times (always directed to Jews, incidentally). The main focus of His comments about little faith are about worrying over life:

Matthew 6:24-30; Luke 12:22-28 about taking no thought for your life;
Matthew 8:24-26 in relation to the fear of the disciples in the storm on the sea;
Matthew 14:28-31 when Peter begins to fear while walking on the water;
Matthew 16:6-11 where the disciples think they are in trouble because they didn’t bring bread with them.

Great faith is a faith that assumes goodness from God without prior leading. In other words, the centurion shows faith by assuming Christ can do miracles from a distance even though no one has ever said anything about this. The Canaanite woman perseveres against Christ’s negative, dismissive words insisting that even she, a Gentile woman, can benefit from Him. Both people act on a belief, not a tested statement.

In little faith, people act directly against what Christ has said. If Christ says God will take care of you, why doubt this?

When we speak of faith, we generally speak of it generically, it’s just a thing you either have or don’t have, like a dog: you either have a dog or you don’t. Having a little dog or a great dog is only something possible for someone who has a dog, though!

There are degrees of faith. We must be careful here not to blame God for our degree of faith, instead, Jesus, God in the flesh, judges men based on their degree of faith. Do we truly trust God?

The Missing Words of Acts 16:31

Ever since I was old enough to be paying attention, I heard over and over in many Christian contexts that you get saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 16:31 was always quoted, “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

This is certainly true, there is no other way to be saved than by grace through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

But as I got older and began to read the Bible, I noticed that I was never told the whole verse. There are words missing from the version I heard over and over. And, no, it’s not because the King James is outdated, it’s in the King James, and it’s not a Greek textual difference either, it’s even in the Greek.

The full verse says, “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

The last three words get dropped routinely. I believe the main reason for this is that it draws up a context that will need to be explained, taking away the focus of getting our person saved that we just partially quoted our verse to.

No one wants to go through the details of who apostles were, why they were in prison, how an earthquake came and released the prisoners, how the prison guard wanted to kill himself, etc. I mean, just bring up the first two points and anyone you’ve been talking to has all sorts of questions and the Gospel presentation will be thwarted.

So, we drop the last three words to keep on point. Perhaps a smaller issue is that we don’t want to bother to explain to a person that even if you believe, your whole family still might not be. “But it says. . .” Yes, yes. Yes I know, but hey, how about that weather?”

So, as all Christians know, when you come across a particular passage of Scripture that is hard to explain or deal with, it is best to ignore it and perhaps it will go away.

It’s cold out and it has been snowing.

What the Church Does is the Opposite of What God Told the Church to Do

In our backward day, a day similar to the days of the prophets in the OT when people called evil good and good evil, it is now a bad thing to rely on Scripture too much.

This is an odd problem considering most people have no idea what the Bible says. In fact, most of what Christians do and teach is opposite to what God said in the Bible. If it’s popular in Christianity, you can bank on it that it’s not biblical. I guarantee it. Two examples:

Growing your church is done by attracting young people, everyone knows this, so much so that there must be a verse somewhere that talks about teaching the children so the parents will come. There must be.

If you look for it, what you will find is that we are told to teach these things to faithful men and there is no mention at all, whatsoever, about teaching other people’s children.

Does that mean it’s wrong to teach someone else’s child? No, I’m just saying it’s not in the Bible and that the church has elevated children’s ministry to a top priority, whereas men don’t even hardly go to church and what we are doing here is the opposite of what the Bible says. We plant, we water, God gives the increase. If God is not the builder then the builders labor in vain.

Another example, pastors are told constantly that their job is to produce leaders in the church. This is done by having programs where people can lead, as soon as someone is saved we are to plug them into a leadership role.

Show me the verse that tells the church to do anything with leadership. Yes, there is a spiritual gift of leadership in Romans 12, but this is a spiritual gift, not a human wrought process foisted upon all comers.

When the Bible talks about human leadership it says that’s what the Gentiles (heathens) desire to do. Our job is to serve all, not to lead them. “Well yeah, that’s why we created Servant Leadership.”

Yeah. Anyway, we are not told to go and make leaders of all nations but to make disciples (students) of all nations. Learners is what we are producing, but there we go again, making it all about learning and study and head knowledge.

Yup. I know. If you read the Bible and then compare it to what the Modern Church is doing, there is no comparison. What churches look for in a pastor is not what Paul said to look for. What churches teach their people is not what the Bible says. What churches spend their time and money on is the opposite of what God said.

The wisdom of God is foolishness with man. What man esteems, God despises. These are biblical truths, ones that should scare our cookie-cutter church environment.

“Search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life” is not a warning about reading the Bible too much

In our day of blazing biblical illiteracy, there is an interesting phenomena happening: knowing the Scriptures is said to be a flaw!

When a guy insists upon using Scripture to define beliefs, argue doctrine, or otherwise tell right from wrong with the Bible’s authority, they are attacked for not having a relationship with God and settling for the coldness of the letter.

Amazingly, Scripture is used to make the attack against people for using the Scripture too much! Ever heard this one used? “You trust the Bible too much and not Jesus. You’re like the Pharisees who read the scriptures; for in them they think they have eternal life.”

If you’ve never heard this verse used like this, you should talk to Christians more (or not) or Google it and see how many times it is used negatively to tell people they study the Bible too much.

It’s amazing to me because it denies the very words of the verse and further denies the context. Jesus did not fault the Pharisees for studying the Scriptures too much, His point is not “stop searching the Scriptures.”

I know this because the verse says “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life.” Search the Scriptures is a command, it’s not a reprimand. He didn’t say, “stop searching the Scriptures” or “you search the Scriptures too much.” No, the exact opposite, He is commanding them to search them more.

The problem is not that they searched the Scriptures too much, the problem is that they had no faith, which is the root of all the Pharisee’s problems. The Scriptures testify of Christ. He tells them to read Moses because Moses wrote of Him, “But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?”

To use the Bible to prove that a person can read the Bible too much, especially in our day of biblical illiteracy, is plain foolish. It’s the exact opposite of Christ’s point to the Pharisees and makes no sense.

However, for a person who doesn’t know the Scriptures I see why they desire to fault a guy who does. But seriously, if your problem is that people rely on Scripture too much, then don’t use Scripture in your argument. It’s self-defeating.

I have yet to meet one person in my life who has read the Bible too much. Even the Pharisees, who had large portions of it memorized, Jesus tells them to keep searching it. Only a Pharisee would miss this point.

The Bereans, one of the most highly praised groups of people in the book of Acts, were described as people who “searched the scriptures daily.” Trust me, you can’t know the Bible too much.

Detriment to Your Theology: Being Stupid

I mean no insensitivity with this, I mean it more as a factual observation: Christians are pretty stupid as a bunch.

Many have postulated about the horrible state of our biblical literacy, but to me that’s not even the problem. The problem is that we’re stupid in general, that even if we did read the Bible, we’d be too dumb to figure it out.

Seriously.

One of the evidences of our stupidity is our inability to carry on a conversation with someone who disagrees with us. Science has made great strides over the years because there is a thing called Peer Review.

No doubt some peer review gets personal, but as far as I’ve seen, there is a back and forth dealing with facts, evidence and experimentation. Through this process, truth rises to the top.

Christians, as soon as they bump into a doctrine, either label it heresy or else the most awesomely life changing truth ever! We have no middle ground, no room for “let me think about that and compare it with the whole counsel of God.”

Nope, we’re immediately off railing on everyone who disagrees and having potlucks with those we agree with while discussing how to rail on the heretics who don’t see “it.”

Critical thinking left the Church before it left the world. People don’t question doctrine anymore. We just take what we’re fed, compare it with what the Sunday School teacher said 32 years ago and if it sounds good, we keep it.

Questioning doctrine is the best way to lose Christian friends. Questions mean you are getting liberal, or atheistic, or Catholic, anything but more informed.

Questioning doctrine sounds too much like doubt and doubt is frowned upon. Doubt is the opposite of faith, whatever is not of faith is sin, therefore questing doctrine is sin. I guess this is the logic, if logic is in this picture.

As a result, Christians are one of the stupidest, most emotionally charged, illogical groups of people in the world, just behind Oakland Raiders fans and ahead of beauty pageant moms.

Come let us reason together. That phrase not only sounds lovely, it’s from the Bible. Let your love grow in all knowledge and judgment. Also from the Bible. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.

Smarten up Christians.

Other Detriments to your Theology

Basing Doctrine on Hearsay
Becoming a fanatical Fan of a Theologian

Over-Attributing an Attribute of God
Finding the Key Doctrine of the Bible

Charles Finney on Neglecting the Bible

“Perhaps nothing more conclusively proves that a professor has a backslidden heart, than his losing his interest in the Bible. While the heart is full of love, no book in the world is so precious as the Bible. But when the love is gone, the Bible becomes not only uninteresting but often repulsive.

There is no faith to accept its promises, but conviction enough left to dread its threatenings. But in general the backslider in heart is apathetic as to the Bible. He does not read it much, and when he does read it, he has not interest enough to understand it. Its pages become dark and uninteresting, and therefore it is neglected.”

– Charles Finney

Detriment to Your Theology: Hearsay

I am amazed at the number of people who hold very strong doctrinal views who have never read the Bible. Their theology is based on what people have told them the Bible says.

This mentality is often mixed with a humble “I can’t understand it, but I know they do” attitude. It’s faith in another person’s ability to have understood and communicated the truths of the Bible.

First, I’m amazed that any believer has not read the Bible. This is mind-boggling to me. You better have some pretty serious health or extreme poverty/isolation issues going on to be a Christian for any length of time and have not read the Bible. Seriously. I will not back off this statement. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (that’s from the Bible by the way).

Second, I’m amazed that any believer would take someone else’s word for it as to what they should believe about God. Don’t you want to know Him? You don’t have any curiosity at all? Do you really, honestly know someone who knows God so well and so perfectly communicates what they know and you so perfectly hear them that you’re good with what you got? Really? I think this is sad.

Third, of all the pointless things we put into our brains, how can we not find time, energy and motivation to know God through the eternal, living Word He breathed out for us? Jesus Christ is called the Word made flesh. How are you trusting Christ to save you if you have no idea who He is? How do you know you can trust Him? If the believer has the mind of Christ, wouldn’t a believer want to know how Christ’s mind thinks? The Bible is God’s gracious revelation to us so that we may know Him. To trump up some spiritual sounding humility to excuse your laziness is one of those things you’d find out was wrong if you read the Bible.

It is not necessary to have read the whole Bible to be saved, I refrain from that judgment. The Bible only makes true sense to one who is saved and has the Spirit. We live by the Word of God, not by bread. If there is no desire to know the Word this is a bad fruit and you might want to consider your claim of salvation if it’s a fruit you are growing.

It’s a good idea to know who God is before you meet Him. You won’t stand before your mom or dad, your pastor or favorite theologian, you will stand before God, alone. He wants you to know Him, He has made available His Spirit and His Word and placed us in His creation so that we have no excuse not to know Him (this is also in the Bible). If you have an excuse, might I suggest eliminating it?

 

Other Detriments to your Theology

Becoming a fanatical Fan of a Theologian
Over-Attributing an Attribute of God
Finding the Key Doctrine of the Bible

Detriment to Your Theology: Become a Fanatical Fan of a Theologian

It’s easy to bash theologians and this is not my intent. I appreciate theologians and theological thinking that has been written down for my consumption. I read theology books regularly. I’ve read over 30 theological books this year.

However, one thing I have noticed about reading theological books is that they all have a little bit of crazy in them. It’s my opinion that every theologian should purposely come up with some whacky stuff, just so people know not to trust them too much.

Every theologian comes to Scripture with his own experience and training and is just as skewed on things as you, me or anyone. To think that there are some who have it all figured out is kind of silly.

Granted there are some who have more of a clue than others, but to think that there is one or two that got it all right is unrealistic.

Fanatical devotion to a guy is a huge mistake. My suggestion is to read a bunch of guys and glean the good and chuck the bad. Each theologian has a unique perspective making him view Scripture through a certain lens that your lens might not catch. I find this fascinating.

You are looking for the proverbial diamond in the rough with many of these guys, yet even reading guys whom you hold little in common with can still glean some great insight, even if it’s just thinking how to refute what you’re reading.

Don’t limit yourself to one theologian or to a school of theology loyal to one guy. Branch out, read some stuff you wouldn’t normally read just as mental exercise.

In the end, we stand before God, not before any man. No man is perfect, they have to be wrong somewhere (probably at that part where they tell you that sin is actually bad).

Being loyal to one guy may shape you into that guy, but remember, we are to be transformed into Christ, not some guy. Take my words for what they are worth: very little.

Detriment to Your Theology: Over-Attributing an Attribute of God

When I was in seminary we had a class where we divided into groups and came up with the most important attribute of God. After each group picked their key attribute of God, the class ranked the choices. It led to much arguing and no resolution.

Attributes that made the list were

Holiness–God is completely separate and has to be or else He wouldn’t be God.
Grace–God is gracious and the only hope of man coming to God and He has to be or else He wouldn’t be God.
Just–God has to keep things going right or else things won’t be right and He has to be or else He wouldn’t be God.
Sovereign–God has to be in total control or else the universe will spin out of control and He has to be or else He wouldn’t be God.
Love–God is love and has to be or else He wouldn’t be God.
Eternal–God lasts longer than anything else and has to or else He wouldn’t be God.

On and on it went, each group deciding that if their favorite attribute were not there, God would not be God. Which, I think is true, but these are not mutually exclusive.

God is eternal and so are each of His attributes. God is infinite and so are each of His attributes! Therefore, God is all His attributes fully all the time.

Yet many a theologian has settled on their favorite attribute of God and this leads to a distorted view of God, a twisted theology and many an uncomfortable passage of Scripture that doesn’t quite hold up the attribute as much as we would.

God is eternally huge. Do not boil Him down to one attribute. Pray to know Him and to know Him more and more. Get lost in the vastness of His Godhead and power. Resist the human urge to simplify and condense lest we make a God after our own image not worthy of worship.

Detriment to Your Theology: Finding The Key Doctrine of the Bible

When our son was about six-months old, he got very sick and spent eight days in the hospital. He couldn’t breathe and eventually part of his lung collapsed. It was quite serious and scary.

During this whole time the doctor kept telling us it was asthma. We consulted another doctor who told us it was RSV, which is a nasty virus kids get that affects breathing. Instead, our doctor kept playing the asthma angle.

He continued to even after the boy got better. We also discovered that most of his patients had asthma. Hmm, weird. We eventually dropped his as our doctor.

When a doctor always sees asthma he misses things that are not asthma, or he assumes is asthma, which nearly leads to the death of children.

He reminds me of most Christians and their theology. They have discovered the One Thing, the absolute essential thing that the “Bible is all about.” Everything revolves around this issue. No matter what any given passage is talking about, they will see their issue in it.

People who think they have discovered the Key Doctrine of the Bible, begin to miss the actual points in the Bible.

Once they’ve discovered The Key Doctrine, they no longer need to know any other doctrine. They don’t even need to know the rest of the Bible that doesn’t, even in their estimation, touch on their subject. Everything besides They Key Doctrine is relegated to second-class citizenship.

If you don’t agree that their Key Doctrine is the Key Doctrine you obviously haven’t read the Bible and are still in immaturity.

The most fascinating thing to watch is two people talk to each other about the Bible when they each have a different Key Doctrine. Two ships passing in the night.

One of the worst things to affect your theology is settling on The Key Doctrine. The Bible doesn’t do this. The Bible really has little flow or direction at times and it’s hard to figure out what the Song of Solomon has to do with Obadiah.

We should be OK with this. To boil the Bible’s broad spectrum down to The Key Doctrine is sure to keep you in the dark concerning much beautiful revelation. Avoid this error.

Where Your Theology Comes From

Recently read about the problem of modern Christians inventing their own theology. While I agree that this can be a problem, it isn’t really.

After lambasting modern Christians for inventing their own theology, his recommendation is that we stick with church tradition and the theologies formed over the years. Being new was suspect in his mind.

While this is nice sounding on one level, on another level this is entirely stupid. Where does he think people in the early church got their theology from? Who did they rely on? They relied on themselves!

If you are going to critique modern Christians for developing personal theology, you sort of have to do that with early Christians too, maybe even more so. I don’t know many modern believers who don’t borrow from someone, unlike early Christians who had no one to steal theology from.

Another problem with modern Christians developing personal doctrines is that they are selfish. Again, this is no doubt true, but were people 1,500 years ago free from selfishness? I think not.

Anyone who argues from the standpoint of church tradition is probably nervous that his church tradition is losing power. This may be a gross overstatement, but I’m going with it. To hold lone ranger-ism or collectivism as the ideal is to miss the boat.

In the end, we are to rely upon the Spirit and the word, others with the Spirit and the word. others before us with the Spirit and the word, and carry on. Everyone’s faith is personal and made up of a mix of tradition, experience, the word, spiritual insight, heathen blasphemy, fallen thinking, their mother’s old wives tales, and golden tablets. OK, maybe not everyone has golden tablets.

Longing for a pure theology is a nice ideal, one we should shoot for, thinking you’ve attained it is goofy. No one is infallible, not now and not in the early church. The great desire of every believer is to know God. Know Him.