February 19, 2008

Only 15 Pages

"If you could only give someone 15 pages of the Bible what sections would you choose? You have minutes to decide." This engaging question is posed by Gordon MacDonald in an article titled, "Is Your Bible Big Enough?" (You are hereby encouraged to read the article!)

This question has now become a game of tag. Here are the ground rules...

1. Find the Bible you are currently using.
2. Make your list of 15 pages. You should do this exercise in less than 5 minutes.
3. Add a few explanatory comments as to why you chose each page.
4. Post the introduction and these instructions along with your selections.
5. Tag up to 5 others.
6. Leave me a comment letting me know you've completed the meme.

I tag Paul (for the European view), Idaho Paul, Mike, Carolanne (for the Aussie view), and Cori (for the view from South Africa) - sorry Idaho Paul and Mike, you guys are just lowly North Americans ;-)!

I submit for your consideration the 15 pages I would choose from the Bible I am currently using.
1. Genesis 1:1 - 2:15 - Got to have the beginning of the story.
2. Revelation 21:6-22:21 - Got to have the end of the story.
3. Luke 24:41 - John 1:25 - Really after John 1 with this selection but the final passage of Luke is instructive as well.
4. Romans 1:1 - 2:19 - The righteous shall live by faith
5. Genesis 2:16-4:18 - The beginning of our sin problems
6. Genesis 21:23 - 24:6 - The story of Isaac sets the stage for understanding the remedy for our sin problem
7. Psalm 120:5 - 128:2 - Got to have a song to sing on the journey!
8. Isaiah 60:17 - 62:11- Promises of salvation!
9. Matthew 5:13 - 6:22 - The Heart of the Sermon on the Mount.
10. Acts 1:8 -2:19 - The instruction to be witnesses followed by the giving of the power to do it!
11. Romans 7:11 - 9:9 - Romans 8 is a gold mine of God's truth!
12. 2 Corinthians 1:18 - 5:4 - Forgiveness, triumph, hope, grace, perseverance.
13. Hebrews 10:34-12:11 - The 'Hall of Fame of Faith' is a condensed version of the O.T. followed by a challenge to endure!
14. 1 John 3:8-5:21 - Challenge to love each other, test the teaching you hear, confidence in salvation.
15. John 14:25 - 16:30 - Stay connected to Christ, the Holy Spirit's work, victory!

February 18, 2008

Monday Morning Message - Collision Course

We live in a safety conscious society here in the USA. With more governmental acronyms dedicated to safety than gods in the Greek pantheon one could correctly conclude we are a society obsessed with safety. We are also brought up in an environment focused on being safe. What child has ever been able to run with scissors or play in the street? I even remember grandmotherly warnings not to cross my eyes for fear they might become stuck! All this safety has become a filter for every experience of our lives including our relationship to an anything-but-safe God resulting, all too often, in an emasculated and flavorless existence.

James makes the case for a faith that is on a collision course with the world in which the believer lives. Much more than a Sunday morning nicety or a pleasantry of piety, the faith James describes in chapter 2:14-26 moves beyond nice thoughts to difference making deeds. We are called to be changed and to change the world around us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who ultimately lost his life for his opposition to the "Christian" regime of Hitler's Nazi Germany, stated the following in his landmark book, The Cost of Discipleship.

"Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ...In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ."

This is an apt description of much that is called Christianity in America, trusting but not following. At some point the vast majority of Christians have gone into orbit in their relationship with Christ; not moving any closer and not moving farther away. Many are satisfied to be close but not too close. They enjoy the benefit of knowing Him without being disturbed by the call to follow Him. As Henry Blackaby famously stated, "You cannot continue life as usual or stay where you are, and go with God at the same time."

This is a collision in the making. God is on a collision course with our lives and it is time we move from belief to experience. To know God in Scripture always moves beyond information to intimacy. I warn you, it's not safe following Him! People like Abraham, David, Daniel, and Elijah found themselves in all kinds of 'messes' because of the collision of God's call with their lives. But what beautiful messes they were! They were moments of such intimacy with God and His purposes that we are still telling the stories thousands of years later! I don't know about you but that's a story worth living!

February 13, 2008

There's a Lively Discussion Going On...

I have been engaged in a lively and, I think, important discussion over at Paul's place concerning truth and it's role in our relationship with Jesus (you will need to go to the comments section to browse through the discussion). It largely boils down, I think, to the relationship between orthodoxy (right teaching) and orthopraxy (right practice). I am convinced that they are two wings of an airplane - you need them both to get very far.

If I err and focus solely on orthodoxy, as the church has been guilty of doing in recent decades, then truth becomes a weapon with which to fight rather than an instrument of healing and hope. My denominational landscape is littered with the casualties of this kind of focus.

However, if I err and focus solely on orthopraxy, as I perceive some in the emergent church to be doing, then my feelings become "truth" and I can quickly wander off into all kinds of self deception. I hear reports of "churches" that are doing all kinds of good things socially - soup kitchens, rebuilding homes, literacy programs, etc - but have devolved into an anything goes theology. (Some even celebrating Buddhist and Hindu holy days.) Is this acceptable practice? Only if I jettison orthodoxy in favor of orthopraxy.

I believe the two go solidly together. As James stated, "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:17) Or to state it another way, "Orthodoxy without orthopraxy is dead." On the other side of the issue Jude found it necessary to encourage the early church to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3)

Is it within the realm of possibility that this "new" discussion surrounding what church should look like is a question with which the early church leaders were wrestling?

February 11, 2008

Monday Morning Message - Did You Even Notice?

With thanks to my Dutch friend Paul for bringing the following video and story to my attention. The video served as a jumping off spot for the proclamation of God's Word yesterday.

Following up on the story, which first appeared in the Washington Post, I was struck by the fact that all these people largely ignored a musician with Rock Star status among classical enthusiasts. Bell was giving a free concert (tickets for his performances are difficult to come by and go for $150-$250 a pop) and almost nobody noticed. Amazing that something like this could happen.

I am often asked about hearing God. Below is a brief lesson in Biblical theology followed by some practical observations on hearing God.

Jesus, in Matthew 11:15-17, states, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear. But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'" I think this is a fair assessment of the generation in which we live. It is my firmly held belief that God is, in fact, speaking but people are simply not listening. If this is true, how does He do it?

One way God speaks is commonly known as General Revelation, that is God speaks to all people in all places at all times in a way that is understandable. Psalm 19:1 states, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveal knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard." Quite simply, through the marvel of nature God speaks. Everyone has had moments of awe at the wonder and power of nature. It defies logic, and even defies the statistical possibilities, that all of nature is a random chance. Because of this mankind is without excuse before a God who has made Himself known.

Anthropology supports this notion that God speaks to humanity through nature. Every culture ever studied exhibits a drive to worship. It is as if there is an instinctual pursuit of the transcendent. Humanity has always recognized there is something more. Likewise there is an ethical understanding in every culture that reveals that there is knowledge of God. There is no culture in which murder or rape are acceptable.

It has been said that General revelation is sufficient but not efficient in revealing God. This leads us to Special Revelation wherein God has clearly spoken to specifically reveal Himself to mankind. The supreme example of Special Revelation is Jesus. The writer of Hebrews states it this way, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature" (Hebrews 1:1-3). There are many who will readily acknowledge Jesus as a good teacher or a good man or even a good example to follow. Unfortunately, we are not left with the option of considering Him in this way. Either He was who He said He was or not. Jesus clearly identified Himself as God among men (See John 14:9-11; Mt. 16:16-17; Mark 15:39; John 16:28). Because of this we must either accept Him as God among men or reject Him as a lunatic. I believe that God has clearly and authoritatively revealed Himself to us through the person and work of Jesus.

So, if God is speaking why can't I hear him? This is the natural question which arises from this discussion. Again, turning to scripture, we discover some possible answers.

The first reason one may not hear God speaking is simply because they do not belong to God. "Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice (John 18:37). "The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out...he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice' (John 10:3-4). The question here is this; do you know Him. Please note the question is NOT do you know about Him, but do you know Him. There is a vast difference in an assent to certain facts about a person and a relationship with the person. Without a relationship with Jesus people are simply unequipped to hear Him. For example, at this very moment the room you are in is literally full of voices and faces. However, without the right equipment (a radio and/or television) properly tuned nearby you are unable to hear or see them. Likewise, without a relationship with God through Jesus people are ill equipped to hear Him.

Another reason one may not hear God speaking is they are ignoring Him. Much like the 4 year old child with their fingers in their ears shouting, "LALALALALA - I'm not listening!" There are people in this world who know the voice of God speaking to them but they refuse to hear for various reasons; fear, uncertainty, inconvenience, outright rebellion, the list continues.

Yet another, and by no means the last, reason one may not hear God is they may not be paying attention. Much like the people who, because of schedules to keep and places to be, walked right by a marvelous gift given to them by a virtuoso violinist, people are walking right by the things God is saying to them. In Psalm 46:10 God implores us to "Be still and know that I am God." We are rarely still and even more rarely quiet. This could be the very reason we are not hearing God.

One final question, does it matter if I hear God and choose not to listen? Scripture clearly says yes, it does matter. In my household if my children hear me but do not listen to me we have what the Weather Channel calls a "PDS" (A Potentially Dangerous Situation). The same is true in our relationship with God, at whatever stage it may be. To hear Him and not respond is serious business.

So, is God speaking to you? Scripture says He is. What will you do about it?

February 4, 2008

Does Truth Matter?

I love it when there is a convergence of ideas. You see, I've been carrying around these pictures of a couple of church signs in my neck of the woods which make me laugh and cringe at the same time. (For the record, I have contacted both churches and lovingly suggested they correct the problems.) Along with these signs I was drawn into an unexpected conversation over at But a Poor Reflection concerning "Truth". Does it matter?

First, I offer the church signs of immediate interest (Do you have one from your neighborhood which you could share with us?).

We all understand what these signs are trying to communicate, so is it really all that important that a word is misused and a subject doesn't agree with a verb? Probably not, except that it's incorrect.

Now let me try to tie this notion to the issue of truth being discussed over at Paul's place. Does it really matter if we dispense with propositional truths about the person and work of Jesus? I hear a lot about relational truth from emergent churches and I'm not sure I know what that means. It seems the emergent church is placing a heavy, and needed, emphasis on knowing Jesus and not just knowing about him. It seems the emergent church is doing what these church signs are doing. I get what they are trying to say but there are places it's just incorrect - IMHO.

I invite a conversation on this issue as I am mystified how propositional truth can be set aside when, like it or not, we live with it everyday of our lives (Exhibit A - gravity). If you are engaged in the emergent movement, or if you know someone who is, please explain to me what this is about and how you process your faith in the absence of propositional truth. I promise I am not some angry pastor just waiting to lambaste someone, I just don't understand. Conversation welcomed.

February 1, 2008

Life (and Death) Called

Just to let you know I've not dropped off the planet. Life has been busy leaving me little time, and less energy, to invest in blogging. I've been doing funerals for people I don't know - a difficult task at best - as well as communicating with my Latin American brothers about missions opportunities. Again, a difficult task with language, time, and cultural hurdles to leap. Add in family events and a couple of projects at the house and the time is gone.

Things I need to tell you about:
  • Church signs with bad grammar - ignorance proudly on display. Does this say anything about the gospel we are proclaiming?
  • Funerals for strangers - what's one to say at such a moment? Keeping death daily before our eyes, as Benedict directed, is certainly a useful exercise.
  • His Dark Materials - a review and consideration of the spiritual stew Pullman cooks up.
  • A consideration of Marc Chagall's "White Crucifixion" - a dramatic and message filled painting sure to disturb our comfortable slumber. Carol has thrown me another tough one.
Then somewhere there is a lingering thread about my own spiritual pilgrimage, a promised review of the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of the Bible, and a killer apple pie recipe. Soon, I promise.