Why?

In my later years have been accused of being a little over inquisitive. I ask questions which cause seeming discomfort to myself and those who I ask. Asking why is the measure of my quest.  I can look up the how; there is always a video on YouTube to show me that.  I can weigh all the factors like my bank account and my calendar to determine the when.  I can even analyze the best person to do the how.  But when it comes to why, that question is different. 

Why? Why? Why? Any statement of fact can well be answered by the dreaded “WHY”. I was never satisfied with the, “because I said so,” in response to why I needed to clean my room. There is always a question in my mind. I can be annoying if you are the victim of most of them.  I am a curious sort and want to know everything: its origin, meaning, cause, and consequence. It can be profound or mundane. I have asked the great questions of life (or so I think) and also the base queries about ordinary stuff.

My why today is about the motive of those who express themselves in response to those around us.  It has been called peer pressure, or crowd think, or herd mentality. Why do we seem to want the acceptance of everyone around us even it may cut at the edge of public morality and personal ethic?  Why loot a store just because someone else broke the glass in the first place.  Why go along with the crowd and carry signs of solidarity with those who know little about? Why complain about the amount of cows that are in danger of being slaughtered when your own ox in the ditch (to use a biblical expression)? Or like Jesus said why worry about the speck in the eye of someone else when you have a log in your own.

I will keep asking why.  And if you don’t want to answer, Why not?

Sermon on the Mount

I am building a group of men to think for themselves.  To rightly divide the word of truth.  The vehicle for this building is a study on the Sermon on the mount.  It is in Matthews Gospel Chapter 5,6,7.

But as I read these words over and over again, I am amazed at the teachings of Jesus.  He was teaching the disciples on a grassy hill about the Kingdom of Heaven.  The hearers were amazed at the teachings of Jesus for it was from authority.  It meant something to them.  The sermon was one of those in which after the last AMEN, you simply said, “wow”. It pierced their hearts with truth. Not like another law book or set of rules.  Jesus taught them about the things which impacted their lives.  

The Scribes and Pharisees taught speaking and re-speaking the same words.  Words without life and conviction. Jesus said to those who listened, “your righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.  This new law of the Kingdom of Heaven, this new way of truth and life, this abundant life points to dire need for a new righteousness.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a righteousness of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit to enable  you  to  lovingly,  willingly  and  delightfully  yield  your  will  in  total  submission  to  His  examination  of  your  heart  so  that  you  may  be  completely  set  free.

As with any revolutionary idea these words of Jesus were and still are misconstrued. It would be easy for anyone reading the Sermon on the Mount to wince once and a while. We have to be different from everyone else.  We can’t even think about getting angry and wishing someone ill, just looking at a woman is the same as having relations with her, divorce is out of the question, can’t make a oath, turn the other cheek and pray for my enemies.

In a quick read the task of obedience is overwhelming. “Jesus have you just traded one set of laws for another?”  The demands of Jesus are simply too difficult. Who among us have never hid wrong attitudes in our heart?  Who is not guilty of disobeying the rule of the King? 

The inevitable result is to fall short of God’s glorious ideal. We try and try to uphold that ideal with every ounce of our strength, but we fail again and again.  We end up living a life full of disappointment, guilt and failure.  And that is just the point. 

your conscience burns within you knowing that Jesus does not rule simply until you’ve had enough.  But rather than leaving you naked in your rebellion and exposed to judgment, He forgives you. He heals you. He restores you. He lifts you up and strengthens you to carry on the journey of faith for yet another day.

In our men’s study we simply say, “there are only two things in the Bible, 1) Revelation and 2) reconciliation.”  God reveals Himself in his plans and ideals and we are to reconcile ourselves to that revelation. When we fail.  And fail we often do. Failure should lead ourselves back to God for His strength, His guidance, His forgiveness, His love, His reconciliation.

Today’s Prayer is every day’s prayer

Lord:

I pray for divine strength and spiritual endurance – RIGHT NOW. My outward self is perishing. I can almost feel the waning of my years and labor, in each breath and exertion. Yet Lord I believe my inner self is renewed day by day. I believe You make all things new. I believe the Holy Spirit is renewing me day by day. Let me not be distracted by my situation, or my mood or my temporary pain. Instead, I will use these pains and pressures to focus on becoming more like You. I will stand steadfast in my efforts to remain on the path of righteousness. I do not want to spend another moment wasted on the world. The world is but a temporary place; full of things that do not satisfy. I choose to seek You, because I know You offer life, relationship, and love. I seek first, before all else, and as my primary focus, the acting out of Your righteousness in Your Kingdom. I pray that Your righteousness and not self, to control my life. Create again and again and again a clean heart and a right spirit within me.

Just Larry.

General Principles of Biblical Study

As we study the Bible, whether we are in our own or with a group, there are a number of specific principles that help us to understand the Words of God as we read and study.  These are the principles that I try to follow.  Through personal use of these principles, they have keep me from jumping into places where God would not have me be.  Perhaps they might help you.

Principle 1: Author’s intention.

It is not my meaning of the scripture but the intention of the writer.  This means we should know the who is writing, why he is writing, when he is writing, what is the cultural setting, differences in language historically, what is the style and literary forms being used.

Principle 2: Know the context

A single word, even with a good dictionary must be understood within the sentence and paragraph in which is placed.  What does the following mean? “I booked.”  Does it mean you left in a hurry?  Does it mean secured a ticket on an airline? Does it mean I reported an event? Interpretations must be done in the context of the passage. Therefore, context determines meaning! The nearest context must give the most weight in interpretation. First, there is the near context of the sentence, then the paragraph, then the section and then the book and even author.

Principle 3: Normalcy

If possible, the Bible must be taken at its face value. When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth”, the rule of normalcy says it is possible that Jesus meant they were Sodium Chloride?  When Isaiah 55:12 says “the trees of the field will clap their hands” the rule of normalcy would take this as impossible because trees have no hands.  When the literal does not make any normal sense, it is most likely there is some sort of figure of speech.  Conversely when Jesus said, “Blessed are the mercy for they shall mercy,”  Figurative language include: Parables, similes, metaphors, hyperbole, satire, analogy and illustration.

Principle 4: The Bible as the Key to the Bible

Use the Bible to help interpret itself. Interpret difficult passages with clear ones. This principal is sometimes called the law of non-contradiction. Because the Bible is God’s word, and God is true, the Bible will not contradict itself.  Do not try to change an Old Testament scripture because it seems to contradict a New Testament scripture.

Principle 5: Application is not interpretation

As we study the Bible there is only one interpretation.  This is God’s word and it does not change with time or human application. When Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive oil, this is the factual interpretation. The interpretation is only refers to the act of Mary. What about us today? An application might be that we are willing to give sacrificially for the Lord’s work and give Jesus acts of worship as Mary did. Another would be that everyone must carry expensive oil to church and anoint the pastor’s feet every Sunday.

Principle 6: Distinctions of audience

Be sensitive to distinctions between Israel and the church and, Old Covenant and New Covenant. Promises made to Israel in the Old Testament cannot automatically be transferred to the church in which we are a part. For example, the land promises were given to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 12:7) but that does not include me, a Gentile Christian. It is true that certain Old Testament commands repeated in the New Testament are still binding, but this is made clear by their repetition in the New Testament. The church was formed in Acts 2 with the descent of the Holy Spirit and most direct statements to and about the church occur after that.

Principle 7: Types of literature

There are many types of literature in the Bible. There is law, narrative, wisdom, poetry, gospel, parable, epistle, and apocalyptic. Each of these types of literature has specific features that must be considered when interpreting a text.

Malady of social distancing!

I have simply don’t understand the person who, by choice, have used the either a television or the internet to be the primary vehicle for spiritual renewal.  Just in these weeks of social distancing, I find myself loosing my enthusiasm.

I learned a new word today, “acedia”. It means a state of listlessness, of not caring or not being concerned with one’s position or condition in the world. In ancient Greece akidía literally meant an inert state without pain or care. It is taking a nap in the sunshine instead of personal bible study.  It is making the statement of, “once a week is enough to satisfy my soul” or “I go to church on Easter and Christmas” or “I’ll will use the internet as the filler of my soul”.  Thomas Aquinas once said of acedia as a “sadness at an interior or spiritual good.”

So how do we avoid acedia?  We have thousands of distractions in our lives.  Every one would pull us imperceptibly away from what we should be doing. First, simplify your surroundings; activation of your will to turn off some of the things which distract.  Second, covenant to persistence; I know what I have to do and I will do it.  Third, set time limits; I will work on this task, effort or deed for a set time.  Fourth, set task accomplishment steps; you can’t do it all at once, break each down. Lastly, celebrate small victories; take a moment to feel good about getting it done.

He has risen

Tomorrow on Easter, I will not be going to a church building and celebrate with fellow believers. Easter will look very different this year. I feel a little sad and disturbed.  Easter is the biggest day of the year for Christians. 

I love the big event. Churches around the world pull out all the stops for this special day.  They do special music, everyone is dressed up, we usually see the biggest crowds, those who don’t usually attend show up, there may be an egg hunt on the lawn, the preacher will have his sermon refined to a fine point and rehearsed to a place where he could do it without notes.  It is a wonderful day in the controlled chaos that is called Easter. All in the hope of a spiritual breakthrough for someone on the edges of the church. 

I’m sad that it won’t be happening this year. Or at least not in the way that I’m used to.

Yet then I must take a step back and come to the realization, Church is about more than the big event happening at your building. It’s about the big event that happened 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem when it was discovered that there wasn’t a body in Jesus’ tomb.

This is a time of social distancing and face masks.  For some, it is a time which, “the Church has left the building.”

There is a valuable truth to be comprehended here.  When the Church is forced not to meet together there comes to us a lesson.  That lesson is: the church is not a building, WE ARE THE CHURCH. Church isn’t an event you go to. It’s a people you belong to.

So as you gather around your blue tinged screens, watching a message or two, please remember and set your hearts on the founder. A founder who came out of the grave on the third day.

HE HAS RISEN.

HE HAS RISEN, INDEED.

The domesticated Church

In the last 250 years the United States has changed drastically. This change is an antithesis what our country was founded upon.  The very idea of a nation that could and did have the right to believe what they ever they like was one of the best ideas of the Bill of Rights. Our nation has changed. It has changed from the idea of freedom of religion to freedom from religion.

The very idea a nation can survive in a culture where there is a choice between religion and no religion at all was simply crazy thinking in the beginning of our nation.  Our dependence upon the divine was built into every thing our nations was built upon. Belief was the basis for our total identity. It was not what was possessed it what was believed. A mandate to believe in something was required in oursociety. There were few atheists or agnostics.

There was no duality in the early years of our republic.  Religion and life were inextricably tied together. It changed in small little steps. Now we live in an age that would separate Faith and life.  The default mode is to see faith as simply an escape from the madness.  Carl Marx is now seen as correct when he was quoted as saying, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Christianity or any belief is seen as a crutch. And we have fallen for a dualism.  The life of the everyday has been segmented from the life of faith.  It is much like a plate of food where the mashed potatoes are never allowed to touch the peas. 

This dualism attitude says it really doesn’t matter who is in control: Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Communist, Secular Humanists, Green, Libertarians.  The secular can go ahead and run the world.  Let them run the country as long as those who believe can have their little piece of heaven.  As long as Jesus is there in the believers little corner of life, all is well.  Jesus can be well scheduled, secluded, private and quiet.

If one would try to invade the other’s space, whether the world into faith or faith into the world there is anger.  Any attempt to join the two is seen as revolt of personal rights.  Today, there is a separation worlds because there is no possibility of co-mingling of authority.  The world would say the only authority is man.  Faith says the only authority is God.  They don’t mix well. 

Christianity in the west has become like a boxing ring. Christians in one corner and the world in the other.  And if each is in their respective corners all is quiet.  The Faithful, if they stay in their corner they are ignored by the world.  The world is equally ignored in our prayer closets and our pulpits.  Until one or the other makes a step to meet in the middle there is no reaction.

This duality of life is almost satisfying.  There is little motivation to step out to the middle of the ring. To enter the battle place to fight the good fight.

A Christian nation is a good thought.  It gives the average churchman solace of purpose. It is an acknowledgement of rightness of God.  It is good to be a part of something that is well accepted.  There is even a group called the Religious Right that has influence on the culture of the West. They have made an imperceptibly small nudge toward the center and the other corner calls foul.  Foul because the world not only wants its corner but the middle too.

Those in the corner act Christian.  As long as our corner is not invaded by the world, if the world does not take our tax deductions, If the world allows us to occupy a corner or two, then it is good. And this corner keeping attitude brings with it an expectation.  Not a faith expectation to change the world, but an expectation of something in this life.  It is an expectation in which each generation will have it a little better off.  We will live longer.  We will have all the food we need.  We will be able to go wherever we want. To be treated fairly.  In a Godly nation we will have the best healthcare, the best lifestyle, the best leisure opportunities.  This Nation which stamps on their money, “IN GOD WE TRUST”, comes with it an expectation of being better off than the ungodly nations.  In doing so we have lost the bigger viewpoint.  It is all about the battle.

We have developed a form of Christianity to support this concept of prosperity.  It has become a Christianity which is acceptable, comfortable, secure, and prosperous as seen by the other corner.  This corner Christianity that looks at our uniqueness, our personal goals, our own needs, our own wants, our own preferences, our own prosperity.  We have nice churches, nice chairs, nice heating and cooling, good lighting, the best music, and short messages about other people.

There is no call to be an alien, a traveler, or a selfless soul on a journey. It is an attitude of arrival.  Heaven on earth. And we are good with that. 

We get angry if the world doesn’t treat Christianity as something that is not normal.  The church has become comfortable.  And all this normalcy, this duality is destroying our relationship to the real Jesus.  The world has domesticated the church.  I don’t want to be a comfort seeking, entertainment addicted, survey craving, approval desiring Christian.  I can not stay in my corner.  I don’t want to waste my life just fitting in.  I want God.  And I want God to be the authority.  I want God to rule my life. No duality. Just primary. I want God in the whole ring.

Rocking the ark

I am human.  I have likes and dislikes.  I have preferences and predilections. I like historical understandings over hypothetical surmise. I would rather see real people in real situations over contrived and grandiose stories of dubious relevance.  I want the real over perception.

I have been accused to stirring up a little dust once and awhile.  But sometimes I become dissatisfied with all the plans and programs that live in the dusty edges of the church.  They become the more important.  The process of church growth seems to leave out the offer of God’s grace. The vital understanding of God is not in the forefront any more.  I thirst after the teachings and personal encounters with God and not another emotional pulling at my heart strings by one more repetition of five or six words.

The problem is that everyone of us want to “feel good.”  Bless the hearts of preachers and leaders of the church today.  They have a weighty calling and ever increasing pressure to “increase the flock.” At issue is the easiest way to get people to come the doors of a church and keep that attendance is cater to the “feel good” motive.  Ministers would rather empower with strength than to point out the foibles of a congregation.  No one wants their pet sin to be pointed out.  Much like the story of the Pastor in a rural farming town as he was shaking every hand as the congregation was going out the back door.  One unkempt farmer came up to the Pastor and said, “That was a great message Pastor, it was short and about someone else.”

It is all about programs and studies.  If we make the right graph in the monthly board meetings it will be enough to steer the church to success.  If we can categorize, pigeon hole, and delegate enough to keep the doors open, then that is good enough.  We don’t need spirit filled bible warriors.  We don’t need to study to rightly divide the Word of Truth.  We just need another subjective well-presented current psychobabble in three points with fill in papers in the bulletin.  Don’t ask me to think, just do what is expected and that should be good enough.

Youth and children’s programs are stressed because if kids can be kept happy and entertained, mom and pop are much more likely to stay put. Serious in depth deep dive bible study and sermons about bible doctrine are avoided! Let’s cut down on all that prayer time.  The Hymnal is just not relevant anymore. Crank up the canned and amplified music; made up of repeated lyrics set to the world’s latest music. Get toes to tapping and watch visitors come pouring in each Sunday. Then be sure to accentuate the emotional. Touch every psychological button possible with “feel good” sermons and viola! pretty soon a building program will be necessary. If declaring the whole counsel of God while at the same time trying to avoid the flesh is not enough to fill the pews, then let them remain empty! A few grains of wheat should be treasured above a ton of tares!

Behemoth shame

When I was a young boy, I was visiting my cousin Sam in Pacific Grove. We were more like friends than cousins and we did most everything together. One afternoon we decided to go to the movies to see Behemoth, a monster movie in black and white. Back in those days late 1961 there was not much trouble two boys in a small town could get into so together we would go.   My Aunty Mae was busy, and we didn’t really want to ask her if we could go, so out the back door and down three blocks to the movie house we walked.

But when we got there, we discovered, to our dismay, we did not have enough money for both of us to get tickets. After much discussion, we decided on a plan. Sam would buy the ticket with a clear conscience and enter the theater.  The real dastardly deed would be for Sam to sneak down the aisle and open the back door so I could get in.

It was going to be an easy thing to do. We heard of others doing it. And if we got caught, the worse would happen was to be kicked out. Oh there would be a blemish on our spotless record and be banned from ever coming back, but no risk no reward.

It wasn’t that we were evil little boys of eleven, it was that we could see no harm in me seeing the movie from an empty seat. I was not taking the place from anyone else, and no one would ever know.

For the time, it was a good monster movie. It was a knock off of Godzilla.  Lots of screaming, destruction, and ending with a victorious banishment of the monster. But I could not enjoy watching all the terror and mayhem. I felt all during the movie that someone was watching me. My guilt was keeping me from enjoying my ill gotten gain. I thought to my self, “Someone knows of the dastardly deed I had done.”  I was attending without paying the price of admission.

I have done some things in my life which I am not proud.  I have sinned in so many ways; I have done dastardly deeds that I should have been caught and punished for.  But I have availed myself of the free gift of grace and forgiveness offered by Jesus.   Occasionally I have the same feelings of cheating which I had back in my delinquent days with cousin Sam.  How do I get over them?  In the book of Hebrews is a simple and elegant answer: Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. 10:22.  That movie ticket which I cheated on was simply wrong.  I was guilty even though I was ever found out.  That feeling is not guilt, it is shame.  Shame is the feeling in the conscience that makes us feel bad.

So every time I feel remorse, shame from a past act, I just smile.  Jesus paid the price. God is able to cleanse us from that guilty conscience.  Praise the Lord. 

Fool for Christ

I worry about what is happening to this generation. It is a generation that doesn’t know books.  The ability to read and be moved by the well-written page is slowly slipping away. Today it is all about screens, smartphones, blogs, Social Media, Kindles, and iPads. Through video games, they have raced cars, built civilizations, won wars, destroyed zombies, and killed hundreds. They communicate orally far less than any previous generation, and when they do so, they typically do it with less passion.

Is there hope for this generation to continue to get excited about the church?  To be deeply moved by a sermon or a passage in the Bible.  Does this generation know what it is like to sing heartily of the blessing of God and even shed a tear when someone finds God? How will God use this generation to fill the pulpits of our churches? 

God still calls men and women to the overwhelming responsibility of standing in a church and being the mouthpiece of God. God still uses the preaching of his Word—an oral event—to edify the church, encourage the saints, and engage the lost. Even now a sermon can not seem to be preached without a PowerPoint presentation providing the salient points.  Congregants simply can’t be trusted to take their own notes so there are fill in the blank’s puzzles in the bulletin. Are all these devices to keep attention symptoms of shortening attention spans and instant gratification?  Do we just forget it all and let the internet do it all.  The preachers there seem to have enough passion to hold even a gen Xer’s attention long enough to feel good about themselves.

Preachers don’t give up.  Be willing to go the extra mile.  Try preaching without props.  Get excited about your text.  This is the Word of God, not a five-minute podcast.  Risk being a fool for Christ.

So to preach the Word, anyone called to fill the holy desk must be willing to get completely out of the comfortable cocoon he’s built in his personality and habits, and recklessly abandon himself to risk being a fool for Christ.

The Study of God and Life