The Bible is not a Microwave Instruction Manual

Can we as Christians just all agree, right here and right now, to give up the metaphor of an instruction manual for the Bible.

First of all, when is the last time you read an instruction manual? Have you ever poured your morning coffee, sat down on the porch, and did quiet time with the manual for your microwave? No. You only read an instruction manual as a last resort. You microwave is smoking and you find the dusty manual to find out what is happening.

Second, if the Bible is an instruction manual then we need to admit that it is horribly written. You can’t find easy answers. Things are not laid out clearly. Even core Christian doctrines like the Trinity and the dual nature of Jesus as fully human and fully divine take 300 and 400 years respectively for the church to decide on.

Can you imagine if your microwave instruction manual was written like the Bible?

In the beginning was the microwave, and the microwave was with the manufacturer, and the microwave was the manufacturer…
In him was popcorn, and the popcorn was smelled by all men. The smell flowed in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not…
There was a man, sent from the manufacturer, he was called the salesman… He was not the microwave, but was sent to bear witness about the popcorn.

The Bible is not strengthened when we try to make it an instruction manual. It is weakened. The Bible at full strength is a book of stories and poems that shock you and make you think. Let it be what it is.

God’s Will–Fuzzy before Clarity

In Acts 9, Paul is threatening the church, and gets letters so that he has legal permission to arrest these new followers of the way and bring them bound to Jerusalem. He is on a self-righteous crusade against what he feels is a threat to Judaism.

Then, on the way to Damascus, BAM! He is stopped in his tracks. He is surrounded by light. Light is a great symbol in the Bible, and even to this day. When someone learns something, it is said that they are enlightened. In cartoons, when a character has an idea, a lightbulb turns on. Light was a symbol of good in the darkness, and direction in the darkness, and new ideas. Continue reading

500 Years of Reforming- Worship Resources

October 31, 2017 marks a monumental moment for the church and the world. It was on that day 500 years ago that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to door at Wittenberg.  This is typically noted as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It was a moment that sparked a movement that continues to influence not only the Christian faith but also daily life.

To celebrate, I am planning to do a whole month of worship and preaching around Martin Luther. They are not perfect or in their final form, and I am sure the will take a little different shape by the time October comes around, but I thought I would offer them to others as a starting point for celebrating this important date.

You can click HERE or the picture below for the document. Please adapt it and use it, and I would love to hear what you do with it.

 

Why Feeling Unworthy can be Good and Important

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah is taken in a vision into the throne room of God. His reaction—“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” He panics. He is unworthy of God’s presence. He has said bad things, and his people have said bad things.

But an angel comes over and touches his lips with a coal from the altar. He is declared to be atoned for and without guilt. Then, when God asks who God can send, Isaiah responds, “Here am I; Send me.”

We often feel unworthy when God calls us to things. And we think because we feel unworthy that we must be unworthy. Why would God use us? How could God use us? We have made to many mistakes. We are not holy. We are not the most talented.

But let me tell you a paradoxical truth. While we think feeling unworthy makes us unworthy, feeling unworthy is actually the first step on the path to being worthy. Think about it this way—what makes you truly unworthy is thinking you are worthy. If God calls you to do something and you say, “Yep, I got this,” then we have a problem. There is no space in a big head for God’s leading. Our pride and arrogance constricts the Holy Spirit.

We must confess that we are unworthy so that God can use us. We must walk through saying “Woe is me” so that we can be ready to say, “Here I am. Send me.”

You think you are not worthy? Good. You are not worthy. I am not worthy. But when we admit that we are not worthy, we actually become ready. Ready for God’s grace and ready for God’s sending. I am not arguing for some kind of negative self-view, but rather for a self-view that comes from God’s view.

You say, “Woe is me. I am not worthy. I am not able.”

God responds, “Good. You admit it. Now, let’s get to work.

Pastors as “The Elite of Prayer”

Today I came across this great quote by Peter Taylor Forsyth. He was a Scottish theologian who lived from 1848–1921. In his book, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, he writes:
I speak to and of the ministry, which is at once our despair and our hope. If the preachers have brought preaching down it is the preachers that must save it. The Church will be what its ministers make it. A Church of faith like Protestantism must always be what its chief believers make it. And these foremost and formative believers are the ministers. The real archbishops are the archbelievers. If a Church has not its chief believers in the pulpit it is unfortunate. And if a whole denomination of Churches fail in this matter there is something fatally wrong. The ministers are in idea the experts in faith. They are the élite of prayer. If the Church is to be saved from the world it is the ministers that must do it. And how can they do it but as men pre-eminently saved from the world? And no man has the seal of that salvation on him except by action—by thought and prayer which become moral action. A man has the stamp of supernatural reality upon him only by such prayer. If another than the minister carry that stamp in any Church he is its true minister. The true minister, in the pulpit or out, does all his business in the spirit of this prayer. The man of commerce may say he cannot. I will not argue that now. I will only say that the minister has this advantage—he not only can but he must, if he know his business, and is to keep it going. And no man ought to take up this business unless he know it. A preacher whose chief power is not in studious prayer is, to that extent, a man who does not know his business. A stringent ethic would say he was in danger of becoming a quack. That of prayer is the minister’s business. (pgs 129-130) Continue reading

Lessons on God’s Calling- Abraham

When I was in seminary and going through the ordination process, I was forced to use the language of call. I was supposed to be able to share the story of God’s call on my life and particularly how I felt called to ministry as a full-time vocation. This was a consistent conversation in those days with seminary admissions counselors, professors, classmates, denominational committees, and the floor of Presbytery.

Saturday, July 15 was the 5-year anniversary of my ordination. As I look back, it is rather striking the difference between my seminary and ordination days and now. The language of call that was so valuable in those days is almost non-existent in the church. So I am taking some time in sermons and blogs to reflect on what it means to listen to and follow God’s calling and leading in our own lives.We begin with the calling of Father Abraham, then still called Abram, in Gen 12: Continue reading

Trusting God in Anxiety–No If’s, And’s, or But’s

We all go through times of anxiety where we don’t know what is going to happen. We want to do God’s will, but we find ourselves waiting and wondering what that will is. So let me give you a little bit of spiritual guidance for anxious times. There are 5 things I hope you remember as we have these conversations in the coming months.

1. God has plans and purposes for us. (See Jeremiah 29:10-14). Plans for good. Plans to use us. Plans for a future and a hope. I do not believe in a God who is distant, out there, surprised about the circumstances we pray about. If God is in any way out there, then God is out there in the future and knows what lies ahead.

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Sermon: True Freedom

The following is a sermon given July 2, 2017 with thoughts for the 4th of July. You can listen to the sermon HERE.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Today, with the 4th of July this Tuesday, we are taking a break from out series on the Bad Habits of Jesus. Instead, I want to take a biblical look at the themes of the Fourth, namely, words like liberty, independence, and freedom. What does biblical freedom look like?

Freedom is a major theme in the Bible, but to understand it, you have to understand the cultural contexts that were the opposite of freedom. Freedom in the Bible is not defined by itself, as grace or love might be. Freedom is defined by its opposites.

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Religious but not Spiritual…and Phone Booths

It is very popular today to say that you are “spiritual but not religious.” It is one of those over-used phrases that I am not sure has a real meaning. I think it means that people want to have experiences with the Divine, but they don’t want to have those experiences in a structured religious settings.

This is a dynamic that churches need to get their heads around. I heard a lot of church people who claim that the world is not spiritual at all. In fact, there is a narrative in the church that the world is becoming more secular. In fact, the opposite is happening. The world is becoming more sacred. In fact, everything is sacred. People talk about their pets, their sexuality, their gun rights, and their conservativism as holy. And people are more open to spirituality than ever before, they just find it in other ways. Continue reading

But the Light Fades- A Lesson from Thomas R. Kelly

I read this quote in A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly today, and it really moved me:

But the light fades, the will weakens, the humdrum returns. Can we stay this fading? No, nor should we try, for we must learn the disciplines of His will, and pass beyond this first lesson of His Grace. But the Eternal Inward Light does not die when ecstasy dies, nor exist only intermittently, with the flickering of our psychic states. Continuously renewed immediacy, not receding memory of the Divine Touch, lies at the base of religious living. (pg 5)

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Why the Bible is not “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”

I have heard people acronym that the B.I.B.L.E. stands for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” But that description bothers me for a number of reasons.

First, is it really basic? If it is so basic, why do we have so much trouble understanding it? Why do we so often disagree on a fundamental level about what it says or what we should do about it? The Bible is actually a very complicated library of books that tells stories to get its point across. It is not basic.

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The Bible as One Big Story

This is the third is a blog series I am doing about the Bible in the Christian Faith.

The Bible is primarily story. Even the law is written in the context of the story of the law. The book of Numbers is the story of the Numbers as much as it is a catalogue of the numbers. The teaching we have from Jesus is not arranged categorically or even chronologically. They are written in stories of where he was at, who he was with, and where he was going. Even the works of Paul are written in the context of a story. They are letters with instructions for particular churches at particular moments in their stories.

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5 Levels of Reading the Bible

This is the second in a series of blogs I am doing about the Bible in the Christian Faith.

Let me lay out some framework for how to read the Bible as story. I suggest that you look at any particular passage of the Bible on five levels. This may sound pretty basic, as opposed to the in depth exegesis that many of us did in seminary, but the simplicity is what the church is bad at. We have looked at these texts so academically that we have lost our ability to see the stories as story.

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3 Shifts in our Understanding of What the Bible is

This is the first in series of blogs I am doing about the Bible in the Christian Faith.

What does the Bible mean for Christians? I am convinced anymore that it does not mean very much.

Barna Trends 2017 reports that “more than half of U.S. adults believe it is either the actual, literal word of God or the inspired word of God without error. Nearly half read the Bible at least once a month and three out of five say they wish they spent more time reading it.” (pg. 140) While these are better numbers than one might expect, there is a growing skepticism towards the Bible. Continue reading

John Wesley on Why Pastors Must Read

On August 17, 1760, John Wesley wrote a letter to a preacher named John Premboth. His words are critical for pastors to hear today.:

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading.

I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety, there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. Continue reading

The Psalm Jesus Quoted from the Cross

Mark 15:34- And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This is a difficult passage. Does God the Father forsake Jesus in this moment? How can we understand these words?

In order to understand them, you have to take a look at the Psalm that Jesus is quoting from. Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22. This is a Psalm attributed to David. It includes instructions with it—To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. These comment is marking the tune that the Psalm is meant to be sung to. It is a Psalm that was sung by the Jewish people in worship. It would be like saying “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…” or “Great is thy faithfulness O God my Father…” Continue reading

On Mary, Abraham, and John

26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to ahis own home. (John 19:26-27 ESV)

This is a great moment of compassion and reconciliation. At its most basic level, this saying of Jesus is not hard to understand. Jesus is trying to take care of his mother. They have not always had the best of relationships. You can imagine that it was not easy to be the mother of Jesus. Continue reading

Story and the Order of Worship

            Throughout much of church history, and still in the Catholic tradition, communion was the climax of the worship service. In fact, in the early church those who were new to the church community were dismissed before the sacrament. People were known throughout history to stand at the doors or look in the windows just to catch a glimpse of the sacred bread.

            The early church generally followed a very simple outline for worship. They gathered in someone’s home, greeted each other, and ate a meal. Sometimes later in the meal or after the meal, an elder in the community would tell a story of Jesus or from the scriptures and give insights into the passage or event for the community. There was a collection for the poor—at first for Jerusalem but later for their individual communities. Then the sacred meal was taken before they left. Continue reading