#TimeForChange: New Wine Podcast #020

Why is a willingness to change important for those Christians who are seeking to be missional?

Here are a few of the resources that I mentioned in this episode:

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

Easter Everyday The reality of Easter extends beyond the holiday

The reality of Easter goes well beyond the day of the holiday.

The power of the resurrection of Jesus to change things is not limited to the Sunday following the full moon which falls on or after the spring equinox (March 21st).

Easter can be meaningful everyday.

And for a follower of Jesus, Easter must be relied upon at all times!

What Is Easter?

Easter is a day on which people all around the world celebrate something miraculous — the resurrection of Jesus from the dead!

The Gospels, in the Bible’s New Testament, reveal to us that Jesus was falsely accused of being a threat to Rome and was sentenced to death.  The method of execution was to be being hanged on a cross.

And this is what happened to Jesus — he was hanged on a cross on a Friday before Passover and he died while hanging there.  His dead body was removed from the cross and placed in a tomb that belonged to someone else.

On the third day (Friday being the first day, Saturday the second, and Sunday the third), Jesus was resurrected from the dead by power of God!  Despite there being a large stone rolled in front of the tomb and a security detail being in place, Jesus’ body was nowhere to be found!

The first people to bear witness to this amazing fact were women: Mary Magdalene (who, by the way, was NOT a prostitute!), Mary the mother of James, and Salome.

In short order the resurrected Jesus revealed himself more personally to Mary Magdalene, who was then told to tell the other disciples that he was risen.

Over the next few days Jesus appeared to many of his followers, whom Paul numbers at over 500 (1 Corinthians 15.6-8).

In other words, Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead!

Why Does Easter Matter?

So what?  What does it matter that some guy who lived thousands of years ago died and was risen from the dead on the third day?

  • Easter demonstrates the power of God.  Never before and never since has a person been resurrected.  Sure, people have been resuscitated.  In fact, thanks to modern medical practices, this is a somewhat common occurrence.  But people who have been resuscitated will die again.  Resurrection is different.  A person who has been resurrected will never die again.  They will live forever.  For this feat to be accomplished, God had to act in a way that was unprecedented.  And he did.  And in so doing he showed his great power to the world!
  • Easter is a preview of things to come.  The writers of the New Testament, especially Paul, had in mind a concept that is almost totally foreign to us today — the general resurrection of the dead (see especially 1 Corinthians 15.12-57).  The general picture looks something like this: when Jesus returns, after some important events happen, all the dead will be resurrected bodily.  That means that they will come back to life but in a resurrectted body, which is imperishable (1 Corinthians 15.42).  Frankly, this image of how things will unfold is not at all like what most of us are accustomed to.  It appears to me that many of us believe in a folk theology that seems to say that when we die we become disembodied angelic beings floating about on clouds while playing heavenly music.  This isn’t a biblical idea!  Instead, Easter is a preview of things to come, namely that we all will be raised bodily at the end!  And, friends, this is good news!  Because the body that we will be given can’t suffer pain and won’t age or decay!
  • Easter assures us that things can change.  Any of us who have lived for a while know how hard it is to change things in our lives.  Behaviors, patterns of thinking, spending habits, how much we eat and exercise, etc., etc. all feel impossible to change.  But is there anything more unchangeable than the permanence of death?  And the permanence of death is exactly what God changed through the resurrection of Jesus!  Therefore, by extension, what is there that the power of God can’t change?  Nothing!  God can turn the most intractable situation around.  He can help the most stubborn person become better.  And God can change our futures as well!  Easter proves that there is nothing which is impossible with God!
  • Easter can help us be set free from fear.  Death is the thing that many of us fear the most, well that or speaking in public!  But in all reality, death is scary.  What happens when we die?  How will it feel?  Will there be pain involved?  How will our loved ones respond?  Will they be taken care of?  Will we have a thousand regrets and million things left undone when we die?  The resurrection of Jesus can help assuage some of these fears.  Death isn’t something to fear anymore, it’s simply a transition to being with God forever.  And not just being with him, but having imperishable bodies that are like Jesus’ resurrected body (Philippians 3.21).  Easter can help us be prepared for death and to face it with confidence!

How Do We Rely on Easter Everyday?

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Think about it.  If we never, ever think about the fact that Jesus was resurrected from the dead (except for on the day of Easter), how can it have an impact on our lives?  So during our times of meditation or our quiet times, let’s reflect on Easter.  Let’s remember that by the power of God Jesus defeated death.  And let’s remember that God has given us that same power through the Holy Spirit as well.
  2. Practice it.  We need to find ways to put ourselves in positions that require the power of God that he demonstrated on Easter.  What would some of these positions be?  Seeking out diverse Christian community.  Getting to know our neighbors.  Being willing to put the interests of others before our own, even if we don’t think they deserve it.  Going way out of our comfort zones.  Advocating for justice.  Etc.
  3. Share it.  I mean this in two ways: 1) We need to share the reality of Easter within Christian community; and 2) We need to share the reality of Easter with those who might be far from God in one way or another.  How?  First, by experiencing the power of Easter in front of one another.  This is scary of course!  We might look weird after all.  Second, by encouraging one another to experience the power of Easter themselves.  And third, by listening to one another and then praying for God to demonstrate his power in the areas that we’ve just listened to.

 

What do you think?  How can we make the reality of Easter matter everyday?  Let me know in the comments below!

Holy Saturday Mourning in Hope

Today is Holy Saturday.  For ages that meant nothing more to me than that today is the day reserved for the Easter bunny and Easter egg hunts.

But as an adult I’ve come to understand the rich tradition that the Church has when it comes to Holy Saturday.

Christians of all sorts observe this day — some in deep mourning, while others in hopeful expectation.

Both emotions are completely appropriate.  I’ll explain.

Mourning on Holy Saturday

On the original Holy Saturday Jesus lay in his tomb.

His followers were devastated for lots of reasons — Jesus was their friend and he was gone; Jesus was their teacher and his last lesson had ended; Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah but he didn’t live up to their particular expectations.

Jesus was gone from them.  And they could only assume that he was gone forever.

Sure, Jesus said that he would die and be raised again when he was with them, but that was ages ago and they were probably confused by it in the moment.  Besides, grief has an amazing way of causing us to forget.

So all that Jesus’ friends had was their shared pain.  Their only response was to mourn in whatever way made sense to them.

Some gathered together.  Others scattered far away.  And others could only think of doing something…anything, like caring for Jesus’ physical body.

And so it only makes sense that some Christians take Holy Saturday as a day of mourning, a day of uncertainty, and a day of sadness.

Hopeful Expectation on Holy Saturday

However, other Christians view Holy Saturday differently.  They don’t like “pretending” that Jesus is dead, instead preferring to rest in the fact of the resurrection.

Sure, they’ll stop for a moment to reflect on how Jesus’ first followers must have felt but in the end the gravitational pull of Easter is just too strong!

So Holy Saturday is full of fun and hope.  Families gather together and engage in celebrations of Spring (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) and kinship.

This often involves fun colors, joyful dancing, and lots and lots of candy!

But other Christians who embrace the hopeful expectation of Holy Saturday do so in a more toned-down way.  They gather together and remember the time when Jesus rested in the tomb, even calling Holy Saturday the Great Sabbath.

They treat this day with reverence but with no pretense.  They know that the resurrection is coming and use Holy Saturday as a reminder to rest and to trust in the Lord and his timing.

So it completely makes sense that some Christians hold onto the hopeful expectations of Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday: My Take

I personally view Holy Saturday somberly.  I like to ponder how Jesus’ first followers felt.

But at the same time I know the end of the story and my observance of this day is impacted by that reality.

So I prefer to use Holy Saturday as a reminder that God is with us in the in between times, in the times that are difficult and scary.

He’s with us as we wait.

He’s with us in our pain.

He’s with us in our mourning.

And he’s with us in all our various happy emotions too.

Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, took on the full human experience, including death.  He laid there in the tomb, with the crisp grave clothes wrapped around his body.  He stayed there in obedient patience until the Father deemed the time was right to raise him to new life.

And it’s this that I remember on Holy Saturday.  We’re like Jesus — stuck in the in between but with great hope in the God who can bring about amazing change.
Thus, this Holy Saturday rest with Jesus.

Rest with the One who suffered on your behalf and waited in the dark for power of the Father to be revealed.

Rest with Jesus who loves you beyond what you can imagine.

Rest with the One who did all he did for you (and for all of us!).

Rest with Jesus who calls you his own.

 

He won’t forget you.

He won’t leave you in the in between.

He’ll raise you to new life also.

 

What do you think?  Do you observe Holy Saturday?  If so, how and why?  Let me know in the comments below!

Jesus’ Prayed We Would Be Unified Are you up for it!?

On the night Jesus was betrayed, he prayed with his closest followers.  One of the things he prayed about was…US!  John 17.20-23 says this:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I recently had the pleasure of preaching on this text.  The sermon’s title is “The Gravitas of God’s Glory.”

Please give it a listen and tell me what you think!  Thanks so much!

 

Expectations and Reality Letting Jesus be Jesus

Expectations are a force to be reckoned with!  All of us can attest to this.

In relationships when expectations aren’t communicated and/or met, that’s when things get dicey.

At our places of employment we don’t always manage our expectations well.

When setting goals we don’t always adjust our expectations appropriately so as to account for our foibles and scheduling snafus of various sorts.

In other words, our expectations can really impact our lives.

I think, however, that there’s a mostly unexplored arena when it comes to expectations — namely this: We often have very specific expectations of Jesus that he simply is not going to meet because they run counter to who he has been revealed to be in the Scriptures and in our lives.

Jesus and Expectations

After Jesus fed 5000+ people, he immediately had to deal with their misplaced expectations.  Look at John 6.14-15:

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Do you see it?  Jesus performed an amazing miracle in the midst of lots and lots of people…and those same people then began to think very highly about him.  They wisely identified Jesus as a prophet, which is surely true (at least in part).  But Jesus discerned what they were thinking, specifically that they wanted him to be their king whether he wanted to or not.

And while Jesus will be the ruling king of kings some day, that day had not come then (and has not come yet either).  Jesus had different plans, plans that didn’t line up well with the expectations of the people.

So what did Jesus do?  He withdrew to a solitary place.  He not only did not meet the expectations that were hoisted upon him, but he executed a full-on retreat.

What is behind all of this?  There must be more to this story.

There is!  The vast majority of the people whom Jesus interacted with during his earthly ministry were Jews living in Palestine.  They had for quite some time been ruled by Rome, with a long list of rulers who pre-dated the Romans.  Many of the Jews of Palestine were sick and tired of being dominated by others, being taxed by foreign authorities, and having their religious freedom impinged upon with the introduction of gods from other lands.

In other words, many Jews who lived in Palestine during the first century were ready for a political change.  And one of the most common and popular conceptions of the messiah, God’s promised deliverer, was that he would come as a military conqueror, setting the Jewish people free from their oppression.

Jesus, however, didn’t have military conquest as part of his messianic blueprint (at least not yet).  And he refused to be boxed into doing something just to fulfill the expectations of the people.

As a quick aside, we can really learn a lot from Jesus right here!  How often do we get sucked into the vortex of people-pleasing?  How often do we let the expectations of our families, friends, spouses, churches, societies, cultures, etc. impact our decision-making?  It’s not bad to consider the opinions of others when making decisions, but it seems silly and ultimately dangerous to follow the whims of others no matter what!

Our Expectations Today

All of this talk about some of the Jewish expectations of the first century has me thinking about the expectations that we demand Jesus fulfill today.  What are they?  What are some of the things we want Jesus to do for us, our way right away?

Here are a few that come to mind immediately:

  • We expect health and wealth when we have faith in Jesus.  This expectation is nefariously stoked by prosperity gospel preachers and leaders who claim that if we “seed” their ministry with our offerings, then we will be guaranteed a large return on our spiritual (but very financial) investments.  But those of us who don’t fall for those shenanigans still fight the constant pull toward thinking that God somehow owes us health and wealth anyway.
  • We expect inner peace and freedom from large external anxieties when we follow Jesus.  We think that if we are “in the center of God’s will” that everything will be hunky-dory for us and we will feel right and good on the inside.
  • We expect that things will be easy for us when we believe in Jesus.  We’ve been told that God won’t give us anything that we can’t handle, so we assume that we will never be thrown another curve ball after committing ourselves to Jesus.
  • We expect that God will vindicate our thoughts, opinions, and political leanings as a result of our faith in Jesus.  We think that since we follow Jesus, then what we think is not only right but that it’s the only way of thinking about things.  Thus, God will step in an prove us correct, right?
  • We expect that God will ensure that our kids will turn out “right,” that our friends will never leave us, that our parents will learn to respect us as adults, and that our spouses will always put our interests before their own.
  • We expect that if we follow Jesus, that he’ll help us get rid of all temptation from our lives.  We’ll no longer have to struggle with lust, over-eating, gossip, materialism, and the like again!

And, friends, the list could go on.  We want to “make Jesus king by force” too, though what we want his kingly power to accomplish in our lives may be a bit different than what many first-century Jews wanted.

Here’s the truth: We want to use Jesus’ kingly power to do what we want, to fulfill our desires, to make our expectations come into reality.

But that’s just not how it works.  Jesus is king.  And Jesus does what Jesus wants to do.

Luckily for us we catch a really strong glimpse of what’s central to Jesus in the Bible.  In 2 Corinthians 5.19 Paul tells us what Jesus wants to use his kingly power for — to reconcile all things to himself and to commit to us this same task.

So instead of pushing for Jesus to accomplish what we want, why don’t we instead accomplish what he wants!?  Why don’t we join him in his will to make all things right!

 

What do you think?  How do our expectations play out in our relationships with Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

What Is God Like? ~Hugh Halter

 

Hugh Halter is one of my favorite Christian speakers.  He’s a straight taker and a missional practitioner.  Check out this great video from him about how to know what God is like.

 

 

 

Jesus Always Provides But always in his way and in his time

Jesus provides.  Always.  But not always how we want.  Can we trust him?  Can we be patient?  Can we be okay with loose ends?  And will we let his provision impact the way that we provide for others?

Jesus Provides for People

In John 6 we see that Jesus had become really popular.  People were following him around.  Lots of people.  And on one particular day Jesus took his disciples up on a mountainside.  The crowd of people followed him up there too.

And when Jesus looked out over them, he knew that the people were hungry.  They must have been far enough away from somewhere for folks to eat, so Jesus asks one of his followers, Philip a question.  He asked, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6.5).

Immediately after this question, Philip and then Andrew seemed a bit confused about who Jesus was and what he was capable of doing by how they answered his question.  But Jesus took a little boy’s lunch and he miraculously turned his lunch into enough food for 5000+ people with leftovers remaining.

But the really cool thing, at least to me, is that Jesus had the people sit down and he served them until everyone had enough.  Jesus’ provision was total.  His miracle didn’t provide a bite or two for everyone.  Nope!  Instead, it provided enough for everyone with plenty remaining.

Friends, Jesus still provides this way today too.  Despite us being like Philip (focused on strategy and not what Jesus can do) and/or Andrew (trusting Jesus but also had a bit of doubt), Jesus finds ways to provide for us.  His provision doesn’t come in ways that we expect.

We think that we need to use our own strategies and resources.  We think that maybe Jesus can do it but then we hedge our bets when push comes to shove.

But he provides.  Always.

But Matt, how do you know?

Well, let me tell you where I’m coming from:

  1. The Bible is full of tons of stories of how God provides for his people.  And since God’s modus operandi never changes, he’s still in the business of providing today too.
  2. As I have read Christian history and seen the thousands of stories of how Jesus provides for all sorts of people (pioneer missionaries, pastors, families, academics, peasants, royalty, and normal people), my faith in Jesus’ provision only grows.
  3. I’ve witnessed how Jesus provides in my life and in the life of my family.  In fact, in the last two years I’ve been on the receiving end of Jesus’ provision a ton – with moving to our current neighborhood, with our son’s adoption, and with being commissioned as an urban missionary.  Jesus provides and I have seen it in our lives over and over and over!
  4. And I’ve seen how God provides for the churches I’ve been a part of and I’ve seen how he provides for my friends and family.  I’ve heard the stories.  I’ve seen the tears of joy.  I’ve listened to the testimonies.  I’ve been there to witness the evidence firsthand.

Jesus Provides But Do We?

When we see a group of people in need, how do we respond?

Well, if we’re honest, we don’t always respond well.  Better, I don’t always respond well.

Sometimes I think things like this: do they deserve to be provided for?can’t someone else use their resources to provide for them?,  I already have done so much; it’s someone else’s turn, etc.

I operate as if I live in a economy of scarcity, even though the God of the universe is the one who provides for me and calls me to provide for others.  I, and we, don’t have to worry about giving  from our stack.  Sure, it might go down for a bit, but Jesus provides, like he always does.

But when Jesus provides, he expects us to provide or others in return.  Will we?

Will we provide for those in need?

Will we take whatever we have access to, give thanks to God for it, and ask him to multiply it for his purposes?

Will we step out in faith, freely giving whatever we have since it’s not ours to begin with?

Will we be greedy or generous with what Jesus has provided?

Will we respond to the way Jesus provides by imitating him or bowing to our selfish desires?

Friends, let’s band together, starting today.  Let’s be radically generous.  Let’s sacrifice our time, our resources, and our talents for the benefit of others.

Let’s respond to God’s blessing by blessing others!

Are you ready for this challenge!?

Let’s do it!

 

What do you think?  Does Jesus always provide?  And how are we to provide for others in response? Let me know in the comments below.

Absurd Trust Jesus Inspires Impractical Faith

At the bottom, faith in Jesus is utterly absurd.  Those of us who have followed Jesus for a long time take completely for granted things that are impossible to understand, much less trust.

Let’s just run through a few things that we believe that are hard to wrap our minds around:

  • God created everything seen and unseen out of absolutely nothing.
  • This all-powerful God of the entire universe cares about each of us.
  • God has always existed as Father, Son, and Spirit — three persons, yet one essence.
  • The second person of the Trinity, Jesus, became fully human while remaining fully God.
  • And Jesus did this because he loves humans, though none of us deserve his love.
  • Jesus, who was fully human, never sinned.
  • Jesus was killed as a rebel but was raised from the dead by the power of God.
  • Subsequent to Jesus’ death, the Spirit was sent to live within all who follow Jesus.
  • The God of the universe empowers his broken followers to live out his divine mission.
  • God calls together a community of diverse people who can love one another more closely than family.
  • And at the end Jesus will return to earth in power to serve as ultimate Judge.

And that’s just a few things!  Any item from that list could be examined on it’s own and could be labeled as patently absurd!

What we believe can really seem bonkers, which is easy to forget when we’re inundated with it all the time.

But there’s another aspect of following Jesus that’s absurd as well, namely, that Jesus can do great things with very little starting material.

We see this very plainly in John 6, which I’ll focus on for the rest of this post.

What’s Absurd in John 6?

Let’s look at John 6.5-9:

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

It’s pretty easy to see what’s absurd in this passage.  Andrew brings a boy’s small lunch to Jesus in response to a massive and hungry crowd of people.  What did he think Jesus was going to do with such a small amount of food?  Even in offering it us, Andrew waffled a bit when he said “but how far will [it] go among so many?”

Isn’t Philip’s response to Jesus’ question a bit more reasonable?  I mean, doesn’t it make more sense to take in the whole situation, do a quick quantitative analysis, and then present the facts?  Philip was right in what he said.  He was reasonable.  It would take a fortune for everyone to just have a little.

But when Philip was doing his calculations in his head, he forgot about the one huge wildcard, the one factor that makes the absurd possible.  That wildcard, that factor is Jesus.

And, if we remember rightly, Andrew, Philip, and all the rest already know that Jesus deals in the absurd all the time.  He turned a huge amount of water into really fine wine (John 2).  He healed a man who had been disabled for more than most people lived at the time (John 5).  And now a huge group of people were following him around because he had healed the sick (John 6.2).

They should have and could have known better.  And they perhaps would have known better had either of them been given three days to think things through.

But right there in the moment Andrew leaned on being realistic and strategic.  And even though Philip’s response could be seen as hopeful or even faithful, he ultimately hedged his bets by casting doubt on the situation.

We know the end of this story, Jesus causes the absurd once more.  He turns this little boy’s lunch into enough food to feed 5000+ people to fullness, with a bunch of leftovers remaining.

Jesus didn’t just use this as an opportunity to feed some people who would get hungry again.  No!  Instead, for Jesus this became a prime opportunity to engage in some leadership development.  Jesus knew that for his followers to begin truly to have absurd faith, they would have to be walked through the process carefully.  And he was willing and patient enough to take on this task.

Absurd Faith Today

What about now? Is Jesus still walking us through opportunities to trust him, no matter how crazy the scenarios we face might be?

Is he still teaching us to be curious and faithful?

The answers, of course, are “yes.”

Think abut this: Jesus came to accomplish a major rescue and restoration project on all of humanity.  He got the ball rolling (to put it lightly!) and then he entrusted this mission to us.

Us.  Broken, sinful, untrusting us.  How utterly ridiculous!

How does he expect us to do this?  How does Jesus expect us to help him fulfill this mission?

Here are a few initial thoughts:

  1. Seek divine guidance. The first thing that we must do in order to build absurd trust in God into our lives is by reaching out to him.  We need to pray and ask God to help us trust him more and more.  And when we face crazy situations in life, and we will!, that’s when we need to pray for his guidance…and then do whatever he leads us to do!  And it will help us to peruse the Scriptures seeking to learn how God taught others to have this kind of trust in him and then attempt to make ourselves open to the same kind of divine assistance too.  And, very importantly, we will be best served to seek this divine guidance within community so that we can hold each other accountable and encourage one another.
  2. Submit to the Spirit. “Submit” is a pretty dirty word these days but it’s vital if we want to trust God more and more.  Why?  Because we are tempted to submit to all sorts of other things and people…and we often give in!  What are some of those things that compete for our submission?  Our selfish desires, our friends and family, our bosses, out cultural standards, money, power, possessions, comfort, etc., etc.  Instead of submitting to all of those things, let’s submit to the Spirit, who will most assuredly lead us into deeper faith.
  3. Hold to our strategies loosely. Philip wasn’t wrong to think things through.   But perhaps he was wrong in that he held to his strategy too tightly; so much so that he couldn’t see past it.  So as we seek to be closer to Jesus, become more missional, lead better, be better spouses, friends, parents, etc., let’s not let our versions of what will work get in the way of God’s version of what actually will work!
  4. Give to Jesus what we have access to. I’m being a little bit tongue-in-cheek here because Jesus already owns all that we have and all that we can potentially get.  It’s all his.  But when we pretend that we can selfishly hold stuff for ourselves, we miss out on opportunities to see what God might do with whatever we have to offer, even if it’s just some bread and fish.  So, our job is to turn all that we steward back to God (not just 10%)!  In so doing we will witness him do great things with what we have given him, thus making us more likely to trust him the next time!
  5. Be consistent in our efforts. It is hard to have absurd faith that God can do anything.  But as we make a habit of doing it more and more, it will become a more regular occurrence in our lives.  It will never be easy because we all still have to deal with the gravitational pull of our selfishness.  But with consistency we can build habits that in turn will grow into deeply-rooted patterns of behavior.  And that’s the zone that we all want to be in!
  6. Allow our trust to grow with evidence. But the Enemy and our old way of doing things won’t quit easily!  When we exhibit this kind of faith in God and he comes through like he so often does (though in surprising ways that don’t always match our expectations), we might be tempted to explain away how God moved.  Maybe it was a fluke.  Maybe it was really our efforts and skill.  Maybe this, maybe that.  But if we give God the credit he deserves, then our trust in him can grow so that the next time we’ll be a bit more likely to lean on him no matter what.

 

What do you think about absurd faith?  What’s difficult about it?  How can we make it a larger part of our lives?  Let me know in the comments below!

Bibliolatry Placing the Bible in God's Place

In certain circles the word bibliolatry gets thrown around a lot.  I think it will be good for us to look at what it means, why it is important, and how we can respond.

What Is Biblolatry

Lots of people define it in lots of different ways.  Here’s a sampling:

Excessive reverence for the Bible as literally interpreted. ~Dictionary.com

Having excessive reverence for the letter of the Bible. ~Tim Challies

Worship of the Bible. It is often used as an accusation that those who take the Bible literally are placing the Bible in the position of God, worshiping the Bible rather than the God of the Bible. ~CompellingTruth.org

I think that I am more inclined toward the last definition.  Why?  Because I have known many hardcore fundamentalist Christians who attempt to interpret the Bible “literally” and who have extreme “reverence for the letter of the Bible” but who did not “worship” the Bible in any real sense.  To put it differently, they never placed the Bible in the place of God.

So, here’s my definition of biblolatry: Worshiping the Bible instead of the God of the Bible.

I want to unpack that a bit, because the phrase “worshiping the Bible” can be easily misunderstood.

According to the Bible itself, there is only one object of worship which is worthy of worship: God alone.  We see this most plainly in the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5.7).  Only God deserves that loftiest position.

And yet, from time to time and in a variety of ways, we may place the Bible in that position.  How might we do this?

All the things I’m about to list are things that I’ve been guilty of from time to time in my own life.  But they are all things that I now try to avoid:

  1. Treating a copy of the Bible we own with an unusual and superstitious amount of respect.  I’m sure you’ve seen what I’m talking about — not letting the Bible touch the floor, obsessing over the condition of each page of the Bible, never placing another book on top of the Bible, etc.  This is just silly.  The copy of the Bible in question is simply a collection of paper, ink, and (p)leather.  It is not God.
  2. Viewing the Bible as some sort of magical device to help us feel better.  I’ve done what I’m about to describe more often than I’d like to admit.  I’m having a bad day, so I flip his Bible open to a random page and scour that page for something to help mefeel better.  This is just silly.  Treating the Bible this way equates it with other silly things that people make into idols: like horoscopes and the like.
  3. Thinking that the words of the Bible are more important than the God who inspired them.  This one is harder to nail down into a concrete example.  But I fear that sometimes we all get so wrapped up in the words of the Bible itself that we become blinded to the God who stands behind them.  Again, this is just silly.  God is to be worshiped, not the Bible!  So perhaps from time to time we all need to lift our noses out of our Bibles and remember to direct the vast majority of spiritual attention toward God himself.  Even our study of the Bible should direct us toward God.  Instead of reading it for its own sake, maybe we should look for how our reading of the Bible points us to God, and dwell there instead of on the words themselves.
  4. Thinking that there exists within the Bible itself some secret code that will unlock the mysteries of the universe, the end times, etc., etc.  This isn’t one that I’ve gotten into much, though I dabbled in it a bit as a late teen thanks to my obsession then with eschatology.  This mentality has been most clearly seen in the all the Bible Code books (I’ll let you find them on your own if you want to).  This is just silly too.  The words of the Bible aren’t magic and they aren’t hiding anything.  Instead, they’re intended to turn us toward God, not Christian conspiracy theories!

Why Does Bibliolatry Matter?

You might be thinking something like this: Who cares Matt!  As long as someone is reading the Bible, that’s a good thing, right?  And you aren’t completely wrong.  It is better that someone worship the Bible than something else, I guess.

But in the end, bibliolatry is just as wrong as any other form of idolatry.  Why?  Because it violates the first commandment, plain and simple.

So then, if bibliolatry is wrong, which it is, and is to be avoided, which it should, then what is the correct way to view the Bible?  I’m so glad you asked!

Jesus talks about this very topic in John 5.  I’ve written some about this chapter of John before (here and here), but I’ll set the scene again.  Jesus healed a man who had been suffering for many, many years (John 5.1-9a).  This healing happened on the Sabbath, which made some Jewish leaders angry because they believed that what transpired was considered work and Jews weren’t to work on the Sabbath (John 5.9b-16a).  So these leaders confronted Jesus (John 5.16b) and Jesus came back at them with a long diatribe in which he expertly defended himself (John 5.17-47).

And during part of Jesus’ long speech he said this:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5.39-40)

Ouch!  Jesus really hits them where it hurts.  These Jewish leaders were likely Pharisees, who were considered to be experts in the law and taught it to the people with regularity.  And here Jesus tells them that their life’s work, studying the Scriptures diligently. was ultimately misguided.  This must have really struck at their core identity, which is never fun.

To put all of this in different words: Jesus told these Jewish leaders that they were guilty of bibliolatry.  They were worshiping the Bible and not the God of the Bible.  Specifically, they thought that they could be receive eternal life through their study of the Scriptures, when their only way of accessing eternal life, Jesus himself, was standing right in front of them!

So, to bring things back to today, bibliolatry matters because when we worship the Bible instead of Jesus, we run the risk of placing our faith and the hope of our salvation in the wrong place!

How Can We Respond to Bibliolatry?

Here are a few ideas about how to respond to the threat of bibliolatry:

  • Focus on Jesus. What makes the Bible special is that it is inspired by God and through it Jesus is best revealed to the world.  Thus, as we read the Bible, we should focus more on Jesus and less on the words themselves.  I know this is a fine distinction.  But we can easily be bogged down and miss Jesus who is revealed all throughout the Bible!
  • Allow the Bible to do its job.  In 2 Timothy 3.16-17 the job of the Bible is described this way: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  So as we read and study the Bible, are we allowing it to teach, rebuke, correct, and train us in righteousness?  And is their proof in our lives that our Bible reading and study is working?  What might that proof be?  Well the passage from 2 Timothy plainly tells us that if we let the Bible do its job in our lives, then we will be better equipped to do every good work.  Mindblown.  The true test of whether or not we are using the Bible properly just might be whether or not we are doing the good works that God has prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2.10)!
  • Read the Bible with others.  Like many other things in life, community can help!  If we only read the Bible alone, then we very well may become worshipers of it instead of Jesus.  Conversely, if we read and study the Bible with others, especially if that group of people is diverse in a variety of ways, then we can build in safeguards against bibliolatry.  (Please note that I’m not saying that we should never read the Bible alone.  I am, however, saying that we should always have a healthy dose of communal Bible reading!)
  • Obey what we read.  Perhaps the truest sign of bibliolatry is that we spend all of our time reading and studying the Bible and spend almost no time doing what it says (other than the whole “meditate on the law” part!).  Jesus didn’t die so that we could all sit with our faces gazing down at our Bible-filled laps.  No!  He died so that we could join him in his cosmic mission to make all things right by reconciling them himself!  And as we read the Bible, it should inspire us to join in that mission, not avoid it by merely learning more about it!

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Studying the Bible is greatly important!  I’ve devoted my entire adult life to this task.  But our love for the Bible should never rival our love for Jesus and our devotion to the Bible should never deter us from living out the mission of Jesus in the real world.

 

The danger of bibliolatry is real but quite subtle.  Do you agree?  If so, let me know how you think we should deal with this danger in the comments below.  If not, why not?  Let me know below!

#Blessed2Bless: New Wine Podcast #019

What does it mean to be blessed and why is it important for someone seeking to follow Jesus in the real world?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!