I’ve been a pretty avid student of the Bible for over forty years and I’m still learning new things all the time – seeing stuff I never noticed before. I like to think that it has more to do with the enormity of data and the depth of spiritual revelation to be had than with my inability to absorb it, but the latter doubtless has a lot to do with it.
Interestingly enough, another factor that contributes to my recent biblical learning curve is my “retirement” from over thirty years of pastoring. At least for me, , though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my ability to think freely was somewhat limited by the expectation to come up with something edifying to say every seven days. I loved pastoring (well, some of it), especially the Bible teaching part, but looking back on it now I realize that I didn’t allow myself the luxury of thinking outside the box. If I did start such speculative reflection I would restrain myself so as not to bring a lot of incomplete theories and untested assumptions to the people waiting to be fed on Sunday. Instead of confusing musings I wanted to share what I knew to be true. Now, since I have no reason for such restraint, I’ve been able to take the time to muse and meditate, to travel down experimental paths I wouldn’t have gone down in the past. Not having to sermonize every Sunday has liberated me to approach Scripture with a more open mind.
As a result I’m finding that some of my formerly held interpretations of a number of passages suspect. I haven’t changed my opinions about anything essential to the Faith, nor have I moved away from my confidence in Scripture. It’s my confidence in a few of my formerly held interpretations of it that have stretched. My view of the Scripture is basically the same, but my view of a number of Scriptures has modified – I hope for the better. In my open ended musing I have discovered other ways to look at some passages of Scripture.
I’m certainly not saying that these posts represent the other way, the only way, or necessarily even the best way to see these passages and biblical themes. I claim no incontrovertible understanding of God or his Word. In fact, if anything, I’m more aware of my fallibility than ever, so, as you read the following essays, don’t take my word for it. Discern for yourself what you think are the most accurate interpretations and come to your own conclusions. If nothing else, maybe the fact that I’m admitting a shift in my opinions will give you the confidence to make shifts in yours, even if and when you shift in a different direction than I do. Some glad day our interpretations of Scripture will be of no consequence.
Some of these essays represent not so much a change of view, but a challenge of a predominantly held view in Evangelical circles. No doubt that for some people their opinions are so affectionately held that you’d think the were family members that have to be protected at all costs. With great audacity Jesus risked early martyrdom when he alleged to a Jewish audience not the least bit flexible about their theology, “You don’t know the Scripture or the power of God!”
If you’re emotionally attached to your views and even Samson couldn’t pry you apart from them, you’ll have no argument from me if you choose stay attached. But if you’d be willing to try on some of my ideas for size, if they don’t fit, feel free to keep wearing your broken in ideas. (I said, “broken in” not “broken down.” There’s a difference.) I just hope you’ll invoke the Spirit’s assistance as you read the Word, consider what I say, keep an open mind, and come to your own conclusions.
Oh, and by the way, I’d really like your feedback on anything with which you disagree or even agree with me. I welcome you – even urge you – to share your thoughts with me and with our blogosphere friends. Your other way of looking at it might well be better than my other way.
“We are not intended to understand life. If I can understand a thing and can define it, I am its master. Logic and reason are always on the hunt for definition, and anything that can’t be defined is apt to be defied…” Oswald Chambers
I don’t believe Christians – even real good ones – are exempt from suffering. Neither do I believe that God plans all our trials for some sovereign purpose of his. I’m not saying that he never providentially prevents our sufferings or that he never miraculously intervenes to alleviate them. There’s no doubt that he does those things – sometimes. In the following post or two (or three) I propose to illustrate my point with a simple metaphor.
I was stuck in some jaw-clenching urban traffic recently. It looked more like a parking lot than a street and I had places to go and people to see. The traffic is always bad in the City. Just in case you ever visit, that’s what we call San Francisco – never “Frisco” or “San Fran.” But this day the traffic was beyond bad. It wasn’t just that everyone in the City decided at the same time to take the same route to Target. There was something more going up ahead. “What’s the hold up here?” I screamed loud enough to make own my ears ring, but with all my windows closed, no one answered back. I’m not usually one of those manic horn honkers, but the connection between my brain and my honking hand was temporarily severed. I joined in the fruitless, albeit emotionally satisfying, chorus of horns, as though the guy ahead of each of us were at fault for the jam up. Continue reading →
A few years ago a brother from our church rushed into the church office on a weekday lunchtime and said, “There are two kids in the bushes right outside having sex!”
“What are you talking about?” I said.
“I’m not making this up. When I passed by the front of the church, there was a boy and girl having sex behind a bush!”
With our building located next to a high school hundreds of students passed through our property everyday on their way home or stayed to hang out on our lawn. We relished the opportunities that our proximity gave us to share God’s love with kids over pizza, music, and skate ramps. Of course there were boatloads of difficulties that went with the privilege, all of which were a small price to pay to be able to show and share good news with such young hearts. The most common inconveniences were relentless graffiti, piles of garbage, clouds of pot smoke wafting into the office windows, along with the occasional teenage brawl in the parking lot. Copulating in the bushes was a whole other level of disruption of our daily office routine! Continue reading →
Now let’s look at how lamenting can actually bring us closer to God.
That’s what we’re seeking, after all, to be closer. How can that happen at the same time that we’re weeping? This objection is easier to answer, though not very pleasant in the doing. When we weep over the sins, sorrows, and sufferings of the world (along with some of our own, of course), we weep in the company of “the Man acquainted with grief.” If we want to be better acquainted with him we have to be acquainted with what he’s acquainted with. Continue reading →
Call for the wailing womento come; send for the most skillful of them…
Teach your daughters how to wail; teach one another a lament. Jeremiah 9
Rather than beleaguer anyone with a long string of talks on the theme of lamenting I decided to inject them here and there in small doses in order to give you a break from what might at first glance seem like a downer of a theme. Lamenting is not exactly the hot topic of the day. Book titles like Learning the Art of Lament or Weeping Worshippers wouldn’t top the charts at Amazon. If you want to get a crowd, advertise a seminar on “Successful Living” or “Ten Keys to Joy.” “How to Mourn Losses” or “Grieving God’s Way” wouldn’t garner enough sign ups to pay for the hall!
Jeremiah was not-so-fondly viewed as the nation’s buzz kill for his insistence on seeing things as they were, as opposed to as they wished them to be. He raged and wept while they pretended everything was going to be just fine.
Though no one has actually said it outright, the looks I’ve noticed on some faces when I’ve talked up this topic with friends seem to be asking the question, “What good does it do to weep about the world’s problems? It’s like crying over spilt milk, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we be talking about what we can do to improve this place?” Good point. Continue reading →
“So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood? Jeremiah 12:5 (The Message Bible)
We were made for a greater race than a simple footrace against other people. We were destined to outrun horses! I fear that many Christians settle for an innocuous faith over an infectious one. They’re in a race, but it’s the kiddy race, the one for toddler disciples. They have no vision for a God-sized contest against horses. They’re so “worn out” by the easy race that they can’t imagine anything more challenging.
What exactly was Jeremiah’s so-called easy footrace? The prophet had just complainedabout how the good people usually lose while the bad people win more than their share. His were not simply theoretical musings, his nation was falling apart, he had been thrown in prison, lowered into a deep muddy cistern, and beat up for doing what God told him to do. To put it mildly, for somebody who was trying to do good, things weren’t working out the way he’d expected. God was more distant and his promises less reliable than the prophet thought, and it was wearing him out thinking about it. Can you relate? Continue reading →
I cry more than most people, men and women alike, more than some children. Lately I’ve been crying even more than I used to. It’s not senility… Umm, what was I saying? Oh yeah, I cry a lot. It seems like the only thing one can do about all the sin, sickness, and suffering in our world. Human history has probably always been this tragic and I just didn’t notice it before. To be honest, I didn’t really want to notice. It’s not that I’m depressed about it or thinking about leaving the faith or anything. I think something has begun to break loose inside, something good and maybe something bad. I have to say that in tandem with this sorrow, stemming from some deep place inside, there’s a joy and a trust that I can certainly take no credit for or attribute to employing some lost and recently found spiritual discipline. It just is, and I’m grateful for it.Not all tears are created equally. They come in an assortment of stripes and during a variety of situations. There are attention-getting tears and tears of self-pity, neither of which are the best of tears. I’ve cried enough of them myself to know that they don’t yield their desired results. Then there are tears of repentance and others of joy. I recommend both of those at their appropriate times. Still there others shed in grief, uncertainty, confusion, fear, and best of all, empathy. Though are clearly modeled and recommended by the biblical poets and prophets as both therapeutic and effectual. Continue reading →