Aesop’s Fables and Arguing Religion

Been reading Aesop’s Fables lately. There is much wisdom in these cute little stories, along with some other stuff.

One of the fables I read reminded me of arguing about religion! It goes like this:

A TRAVELER hired an Ass to convey him to a distant place. The day being intensely hot, and the sun shining in its strength, the Traveler stopped to rest, and sought shelter from the heat under the Shadow of the Ass. As this afforded only protection for one, and as the Traveler and the owner of the Ass both claimed it, a violent dispute arose between them as to which of them had the right to the Shadow. The owner maintained that he had let the Ass only, and not his Shadow. The Traveler asserted that he had, with the hire of the Ass, hired his Shadow also. The quarrel proceeded from words to blows, and while the men fought, the Ass galloped off.

In quarreling about the shadow we often lose the substance.

If that doesn’t describe Christianity, I don’t know what does.

Christ and the Gospel are center. If we miss that, if that gets lost, then whatever it is we are pontificating on, even if we are right, is nothing but hot air fogging up the windows of theological clarity.

Argue sparingly. Pick your battles. Make sure the battle brings the war closer to a conclusion. Be careful out there.

Ignorance of the Old Testament Leads to Overemphasis on the Individual

Today’s Christianity minimizes the group and emphasizes the individual.

We hear over and over that Christianity “is not a religion; it’s a relationship.”

Fine. Whatever.

It is a religion and it is a relationship. It’s both. Deal with it.

Religion is taken to mean more the corporate, group worship stuff and I think this is very important to the believer. Ephesians 4 says we need the church to develop into mature believers. No group? Then no maturity in Christ.

The Old Testament deals with groups all the time. God deals with a nation, a group, a remnant. Yes, there are individuals who get lots of air time, but it’s the group that God is dealing with.

Often the group gets punished for one person’s idiocy. Other times the group get rewarded for one person’s goodness. There seems to be very little concept of individuals apart from the group. What the individual believer does effects all believers.

If your faith is just you and God, I think you are missing out on a lot of good stuff.

The Old Testament talks about very few people as individuals. The OT covers thousands of years of history and you will note that not many people actually get talked about when you consider how many people were on the planet during that time period.

There are a ton of godly people who got no mention in the Bible.

Or perhaps they did in those genealogies you never read!

The OT also includes stories like Elijah who thought he was the only one left on God’s side. God says, “Nope, sorry, I’ve actually got 7,000 others.”

Yes, God loves you. Yes, Christ died for you. No, you’re not the only one in the world He loves. No, you are not the only one in the world Christ died for. He died for the sins of the world.

You are not as big a player in The Grand Scheme as you might think. There is a release and a freedom that comes with realizing this. There is also a responsibility. There are no Lone Rangers in Christ. You’re not the only one who “gets it.”

Faith is personal, but faith is also benefited by the corporate. If you fellowship with believers, you will grow more.

There is a quote out there that says, ”Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” This is obviously true.

But I fear many take this to mean that you can be a Christian without going to church. I suppose it’s possible, but why you’d want to go it alone is beyond me. It will hurt you and hurt the Body of Christ. We need each other.

Ignorance of the Old Testament Leads to Misunderstanding Good Works

I have read authors who think people in the Old Testament were saved by works alone. That people were saved by doing sacrifices, tithing and doing other law-works.

The Old Testament does tell the people of Israel to do sacrifices and various law-works, there is no denying that, and an unwillingness to do them was not a good sign.

But if you read the prophets you will see very clearly that God is not interested in dead animals and religious hoop-jumping; He’s primarily interested in the heart of a person.

Jesus once told a crowd who thought they knew the OT to “go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.”

Jesus had a problem with the scribes and Pharisees because they “pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.”

Just going through the motions of obedience, doing the bare requirement of lawful works, is not what God was looking for.

God was, and always has been looking for faith. Once a person has faith, once a person truly hears what God is telling us to do and why, then a person can do good works.

God didn’t want dead animals; He wanted people with faith to see in the sacrifice of the dead animals the need for a blood sacrifice to atone. All of it was pointing to Christ, not the animal. God wanted faith in Christ, in the Messiah, the one who would come and suffer to make men right with God.

God didn’t want meticulously measured out spices as tithe; God wanted people to understand judgment, mercy and faith; do those first and then do the tithe.

It’s the same point Paul drives at in 1 Corinthians 13 and the same point Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount.

People have always been saved by grace through faith. Faith has always resulted in doing what God says. Doing what God says without faith is not doing what God says!

Behind all of these things is humility in the one believing and working. Good works without faith is merely pride. It doesn’t cut it with God.

“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Ignorance of the Old Testament Leads to Materialism

When Jesus told the rich young ruler to give all his stuff away, the disciples were stunned. Jesus went on to say, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

The disciples responded with, “Who then can be saved?”

The underlying assumption is that rich people must be righteous. Where did the disciples come up with this idea?

My guess is they got it from a book called Deuteronomy! Deuteronomy says if Israel obeyed the law they would be blessed with abundant crops, fertile animals, prosperity and good times a rollin. If they disobeyed they’d get judgment, famine, illness, dead animals and struggle.

Therefore, they concluded that rich people must be obeying God. When Jesus says rich people won’t make it, the disciples are stunned.

Israel reached the peak of their prosperity under Solomon.

Allow me to point out a thing: Ecclesiastes, the most depressing (in many people’s opinions) book of the OT that concluded that all is vanity, was written by Solomon.

In the end, Israel tanked themselves and never returned to Solomonic prosperity again. Once they had riches, they figured they didn’t need God.

Hezekiah, a king whose life is repeated three times for us in the Old Testament (perhaps for a reason), was given riches and he bragged about how he caused it and ended up driving Israel into captivity.

Riches weren’t the point. Stuff wasn’t the point.

God wanted them to seek Him; not riches.

Jesus came along and tried to set this straight. Many Israelites were stuck on the notion that prosperity equaled righteousness. It didn’t.

Jesus, one who had no place to lay His head, pointed this out and totally blew people away.

Time and time again the OT shows us the problem of lust and coveting. Israel’s forays into idolatry were for materialistic reasons–they thought foreign gods could provide for them and make them win battles.

When materialism is the reward, people fall to pieces. The OT makes this so amazingly clear. Yet we miss it. We mainly miss it because we don’t read it. But there is a reason these things were written back then, and they weren’t written for Israel.

Materialism is lust, covetousness, idolatry, fornication, and complaining. Israel showed this and got judgment. We assume we are exceptions to this. I do believe we will be surprised when it doesn’t work out for us either. You don’t have to be surprised; you can go ahead and read it and learn it yourself.

“But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”

(Notice the tempting they did in the OT was tempting Christ! Yesterday, today and forever, folks.)

Ignorance of the Old Testament Leads to Emphasizing Symbolism Over Substance

People are drawn to symbols like sticky goo is drawn to every stinking doorknob in my house.

Symbols are objects that represent or picture a real thing. It’s the billboard advertising the juicy McRib.

Substance is the actual thing the symbol represents. The Substance is the McRib the sign pictured.

There is no way any thinking person would be enraptured by the sign and take the billboard home and never eat an actual McRib. That would just be plain dumb.

Yet this is what Christianity, and most other religions, do.

Christians fixate on the bread and cup of communion and make that the whole thing. They take it to get sins forgiven, or convince themselves they are saved, or any number of other things and never get to the reality of the crucified Christ behind it.

Christians fixate on baptism and make the symbol the whole thing. We get baptized to prove we are saved, to show others how saved we are, and we rejoice in our wetness and never see that this is a picture of being raised up with Christ.

It seems we would learn this if we read our Bibles. The Old Testament had many symbols–priests, sacrifices, temple, circumcision, etc. These were shadows, types, and pictures of heavenly reality. Many of these were given to help people understand Christ.

Instead, Israel fixated on the symbols. “We know we are God’s people because we are circumcised.” They missed the whole issue of the male that would come from the loins of Abram’s descendants to save them.

People are wired to value symbols over substance. We think it means something that the pledge of allegiance says “under God.” We rejoice that ten commandment plaques were put up in a courtroom. We get bugged when “In God we trust” might get removed from our currency.

To me, all these are examples of symbolism over substance. They really don’t mean anything. Words, if nothing else, are symbols. The word “McRib” is not an actual McRib. It’s the symbol of a McRib.

Yet how often we get sucked into symbols and completely miss the substance? This is where religion kills. This is what happens when we get entangled in the affairs of the world and get choked out by worldly lusts and the deceitfulness of riches.

It’s all fake! Read Ecclesiastes! (It’s in the OT, by the way.) Smoke and mirrors. A vapor that vanishes.

There aint nothing in all of Creation you should value more than the Creator. Nothing should even come close to competing. Don’t worship the symbol over the substance. Learn from Israel’s mistakes.

Ignorance of the Old Testament Leads to Misunderstanding the Character of God

Biblical literacy is struggling. Most Christians know a few verses, the vast majority from the New Testament. OT verses we know and love are “The heart is deceitful. . . ,” “In all your ways acknowledge Him. . . ,” some Psalm 23, and a few others.

We know some major characters, especially if a movie has been made about them.

We know a few miracles–walls of Jericho, Noah’s flood, burning bush and a few others that were pounded into our head in Sunday School with pithy morals stuck on like, “So, be nice to your brother or God will kill you in a flood.”

OK, I guess I was never actually taught that specifically, but it got pretty close.

Most people think the Old Testament is an optional part of the Bible. Many treat it like the Foreword at the beginning of most novels–that thing you skip to get to the “good stuff.”

Christianity has always had the heretical element that viewed the God of the OT as being eviler than the God of the NT. It used to be called Marcionism; now it’s called Evangelicalism. (There was only a little, tiny bit of sarcasm in that lest sentence.)

One of the verses, or at least partial verses, most Christians know from the NT is “God is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Allow me to point out that’s not what the verse actually says. It specifically says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

The idea that God is evolving, that Jesus is this new thing that totally changes the OT angry God, and once Jesus got off the scene the much more mellow Paul took over is just plain goofiness.

When we don’t know our OT, we miss out on the vitalness of God’s unchanging self. We begin to make God in our image, throwing out the parts we don’t like and overemphasizing the parts we do like.

The OT shows God as a person. A person who grieves, who pleads with people, who gets angry, who takes joy and pleasure in those who seek Him. God is a living being and the OT makes this come alive.

Reading the Old Testament can be drudgery at times, but if you look for God’s personality it becomes fascinating. The Old Testament is trying to make some points, it is a revelation of who God is.

If you skip it; your understanding of the nature and character of God is going to be skewed way off into never, neverland. There’s a reason it’s in your Bible.