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

The Scariest Passage in the Bible Part 2

In my previous blog I wrote about Matthew 7:21-23 which I think is the scariest passage in the Bible. In it Jesus shows people who did miracles, cast out demons, and prophesied in His name who are not granted eternity with Him. In order to really understand that passage, you have to understand what follows:

[24] “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. [25] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. [26] And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. [27] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:24-25

Let’s play the passage out like a movie for a moment. Two people go out to build houses. One builds in the sand where it is easier to dig and easier to level everything out. One man builds on rock. It is harder to chip into the rock and anchor the house. The rock is also uneven which makes building difficult. Probably the one in the sand gets done first and sits in a lawn chair watching the other work a lot longer on his house. But a storm comes with driving wind, rain, and floods. The text says the one of the rock stands but the one in the sand falls and great was the fall. It is obliterated!!

You are building a house. This means more than your spiritual life. It is your whole life. What you do. Where you work. Jesus has, in this sermon, be talking about all kinds of areas of real life. The question is–What are you building your house on?

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If you are wise it is on the things of God and on the will of God. If you are foolish it is sand. Sand for the people in this story is trying to build your life on the very impressive public displays of faith like those who are previously denied entry into heaven.

What distinguishes the rock and the sand? Whether you do words of Jesus or not. Not if you know certain things or pray certain things. Are you doing them? Protestant and evangelical Christianity have been so scared of a works salvation that they have sometimes failed to grasp the true important of doing God’s Words. If you are not living the faith in real and tangible ways in everyday life then your foundation is wrong. A foundation in Christ is a foundation that produces good works.

So how do you know what your foundation is? Your foundation is revealed in the storm. On nice days both houses might look good. But when the rain starts falling and the floods come then the foundation will be revealed.

The tricky part is that Houses are built in good weather, but they are built for bad weather. I have seen so many people that don’t develop their faith and aren’t involved in church and when a storm in life comes they collapse because they don’t have a good foundation. I don’t see them for a year or two at church other than Christmas or Easter and then they lose someone suddenly and are devastated. It is like not working out for a long time and then life demanding that you run a marathon. They did not build their house on good days and when the flood comes they can’t build fast enough.

I told you that this is the scariest passage in the Bible. How could Christians that do such great things be told by God “Depart from me”? How can someone who did the work to build a house lose it because the foundation was bad?

Yet as scary as these ideas are, this is also a passage filled with hope. The words you hear before the Lord don’t have to be “I never knew you. Depart from me” Jesus does the work to offer you the hope of being known. He is the wrong and offers you a different kind of foundation. He is the one with authority to say “I never knew you” but He is also the one who crossed the cosmos so that He could know you. And if you will do the hard work of living with Him truly as your Lord, then you can instead hear the words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. I know you well. Come into the party.”

This blog is based on a recent sermon. You can listen to the sermon at http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com/e/the-scariest-passage-in-the-bible/.

The Scariest Passage in the Bible Part 1

[21] “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23

This is the scariest passage in the Bible. In this little parable Jesus shows a group of people who are refused entry into heaven. They were never known by Him. They claim to have prophesied, cast out demons, and done mighty works. This claim is not refuted by Jesus. But still they are forced to depart from Him.

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Last_Judgement_-_WGA20225It should first of all stand out to us, as it had to have for those listening to the Sermon on the Mount, that Jesus is claiming that He will be judging in those days. That is a pretty incredible claim.

These are supposedly exemplary Christians. These are not dirty rotten sinners hearing these words. They are externally excellent. – How many of you prophesy, cast out demons, or do might works? Got a lot of healings under your belt? They say the right things and the do great work and wonders. They say that they do these things in God’s name but they are also claiming that they are doing them and not God doing it through them.

These are exemplary Christians and would be all-stars in our churches, but they get it wrong. Prophesied things about other people- but did they pray? They cast devils out of others, but what about the devil in them? They did marvels, but not the essentials. Did they serve others, pray in secret, did they have meekness, did their hearts break for the wounds of others?

How many Presbyterians are going to get to heaven and say- “Lord, Lord, didn’t I show up to Sunday most weeks, put money in the offering plate, serve as a liturgist, do coffee hour, serve on session, serve on the deacons…?”

Just because God is using you does not mean that your relationship is right with God. The opposite is clearly expressed in the life of Job. Just because your life is not going well does not mean that your relationship is wrong with God. God does with us what God wants.

I think this is so scary because it makes it difficult to know where we stand with God. Are we known by God or not? I am especially terrified by these verses as a pastor. Am I leading people to Christ or just to the church? How many of my people will hear the words “I never knew you” on that day?

But to understand this passage, you have to read it with the next passage. I will explore that in my next blog.

This blog is based on a recent sermon. You can listen to the sermon at http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com/e/the-scariest-passage-in-the-bible/.

Recommended Resource: LOVE YOUR BIBLE by Gary Neal Hansen

I wish I could get people into their Bibles more. I believe that the Bible remains the most powerful and consistent way that God speaks to His people. Study after study has shown that Christians need to engage with their Bible more in order to grow spiritually.

I think part of the problem is that Bible reading today is either shallow or very academic. Shallow Bible reading simply asks how a person feels about the text and only serves to reinforce what a person already believes. Academic Bible reading involves lots of study intimidates many without a seminary degree. Neither necessarily leads to a closer relationship with God.

love your bible picture

A couple of months ago I was asked to review a book called Love Your Bible by Gary Neal Hansen. I did not think that a book so small could pack so much punch! This book was a simple and fast-moving read that challenged the status quo of reading your Bible.

Gary Neal Hansen manages in 50 pages to blaze a new trail for Bible reading past shallow or academic readings. He does so by following an unexpected course—the work of a 12th Century monk named Guigo II. Hansen follows Guigo II’s model of lectio divina based on a 4 rung ladder. The rungs of the ladder are READING, MEDITATING, PRAYING, and CONTEMPLATING. Hansen takes the reader through these steps with understandable descriptions and examples. Here they are briefly:

  • READING- The first step is to read the text several times but slowly and with an eye for particular phrases or details.
  • MEDITATING- This is not empty reflection on clearing your mind. Hansen used the metaphor of a cow chewing its cud to describe this process of thinking deeply about the text. You repeat the text or continually think about particular details. You chew on it.
  • PRAYING- Instead of praying after the scripture, Guigo II suggests that we pray out of the scripture. In other words, use the text to guide the themes and language of your prayer. Prayer is how you get the flavor out of the text.
  • CONTEMPLATING- This last step is moving beyond meditating on the text and into contemplating the God you are experiencing in the process.

The most potent part of the book is not the process itself. It is the goal of the process. Learning to love your Bible as a means to draw closer to God. Hansen challenges readers for a lifetime of biblical engagement—not for knowing about the Bible but for encountering God in fresh, new, and unending ways.

Love your Bible is a great tool for people that want to start engaging their Bible and don’t know where to start. It is also a great tool for pastors to help others in this process. It is a great resource for individuals or small groups. I highly recommend it.

Stewardship: What is the big deal about money?

We don’t like to talk about money or stewardship in most churches. This is supposed to be secret and untouchable topic, like sex and what happens in Las Vegas.  When we do talk about it often we do so in the form of a desperate plea to fulfill an annual budget.  We need to rebuild stewardship from the ground up.

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Stewardship is about much more than giving to the church.  Stewardship is the acknowledgement that everything we have is from God and that we are merely taking care of it temporarily.  We give to the church because we are acknowledging that all we have comes from God.  We set aside part of our lives to show that God owns all of it.  A tithe (or 10%) is given as a guideline for doing this with our money.

We steward all kinds of things- money, time, gifts, people, jobs, churches…  But there is something different about money.  Jesus said it this way-

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)

We normally talk about this verse and say something like, “If I could see your checkbook I could see into your heart.”  While that may be true, that is not what Jesus is saying.  That saying is assuming that your money follows your heart.  But Jesus said that your heart follows your money.

There goes your money, your heart follows.

Of all the things you steward, your heart only follows your money.  You can spend a lot of time on something and never put your heart in it.  You can be very good at something and never love it.  But try to spend money on something without putting your heart in it.  If you buy a new car then suddenly you love driving.  Buy a new house and you want to have everyone over.

Jesus does not need your money.  But he desperately wants your heart.  Jesus knows that the key to having your heart is through your money.

This is why the church cannot ignore stewardship issues.  Much more is at stake then the financial viability of institutional church.  People’s hearts are on the line.

Favorite Resources for Writing Sermons

Today I am sharing some of my favorite resources for preparing sermons.  First, I should say that I am not a lectionary preacher.  You can check out my sermons at my sermon page or on iTunes and you will see my topics and texts vary widely.  That said, some of my favorite resources are Lectionary based.  I normally used textweek.com listed below to find the text I am looking for.  Second, I should say that I do not make extensive use of commentaries. I do if there is a particular question or if I want to verify something I am seeing in the text. Early on in my preaching I found that I overused the commentaries and they clouded my own wrestling with the text.

Stitched Panorama

I like to begin my study of a text with The ESV Study Bible.  It has the best information on the basics of a text in a way that is not overwhelming.  It gives good introductions to the books and fits the texts within the larger themes of salvation history.

One of my favorite and most used resources for preaching is the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery.  I tend to preach images and metaphors and like to connect the threads of scripture with real life.  This book is the best thing on my shelf for doing this.   You look up a word like “water” and it will give you a long entry about water in ancient times, water in prominent Bible stories, and the use of water in Biblical metaphors.  I am in this resource weekly.

I have specific commentaries for specific books of the Bible, especially from the Interpretation Bible Commentary Series and The NIV Application Commentary.  My favorite commentary is Feasting on the Word, Complete 12-Volume Set.  For each text, it gives four columns of commentary- an exegetical, theological, pastoral, and homiletical perspective.  It is an amazing one-stop-shop for a great number of sermon ideas and illustrations.

I have two classic commentary sets that I often work out of.  I love to use Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Super Value Series) and Calvin’s Commentaries (22 Volume Set).  These are timeless resources and often point to the critical questions of the text.

There are also 2 websites that I regularly use for sermon study:

Text Week is a webpage that collects links to sermons, commentaries, ideas, images, and articles.  It is a great place to get a ton of information very quickly.  It is especially helpful on commentaries by the church fathers.  Since I am not a lectionary preacher, I use the scripture index to get to the texts that I want.

Working Preacher is a lectionary resource put out by David Lose and faculty from Luther Seminary.  It gives articles, pastor helps, and a podcast based on the lectionary.  It is always high quality information and helpful for preaching.  Please note that links to these resources are often posted to textweek.com.