Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I sometimes wish I'd taken the blue pill

If you haven’t seen the movie The Matrix, you won’t recognize the reference. At one point in the movie, Keanu Reeves is offered a choice: take a red pill and come to see the reality of life in the Matrix or take a blue pill and go back to peaceful ignorance. Reeves takes the red pill, of course, or there wouldn’t have been much of a movie. One of the other characters later says to him: “I know what you're thinking, 'cause right now I'm thinking the same thing. Actually, I've been thinking it ever since I got here: Why oh why didn't I take the BLUE pill?”

As I look at my life, I sometimes wish that I could have taken the blue pill. There was a time when I knew everything, especially when it came to religion. The main thing that I knew was who to get the answers from. If there was something that I was unsure about, I could find someone at church to tell me what to believe. We had an exclusive lock on the truth, an exclusive lock on salvation. People that didn’t agree with us were either ignorant or rebellious. Anyone who honestly studied the Bible would come to exactly the same conclusions we had arrived at.

Somewhere along the way, I swallowed the red pill. I learned that there was a difference between studying the Bible and studying what someone said about the Bible. I learned that many of the views that I saw so clearly in the Bible could only be seen there if you started out with those views. I also learned that the Bible is living and active and refuses to be dominated by man; the Word of God must master us; we will never master it.

I sometimes look longingly at life under the effects of the blue pill. A friend encountered a preacher, a 35-year-old scholar, who had written a book on biblical interpretation. My friend asked the man if there was any chance that he was wrong about anything in that book. The confident author replied: “No.” He had come to an understanding on everything, and his mission in life was to help other people come to that understanding. Part of me envies that. Part of me thinks that evangelism would be easier under those circumstances. It’s cut and dried, black and white. You’re in my circle or you’re out. You agree with me or you’re wrong. Unfortunately, I no longer see the world that way.

The whole premise of the Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts is that I don’t have all the answers. The more I study, the more questions I get, so I share them with my intelligent friends, hoping for insights. I don’t really want to go back to a blue pill life, but I sometimes long for its simplicity. Yet I know that I’m better off digging and searching, looking for God’s truth, listening for God’s voice, being willing to put aside previous beliefs in favor of eternal truths. It’s definitely the harder life, but there’s no going back.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Being Thankful

Seems like a good time to be thankful, doesn’t it? Aside from the upcoming national holiday, my lovely bride celebrates her birthday today. I’ve got a job I love, a healthy family, and three dogs that think I hung the moon (they sometimes think I didn’t hang it correctly, but they still think I did it).

Yet, I’m admittedly not good at being thankful. I’m better at feeling entitled. Rather than feeling thankful for what I have, I’m more inclined to notice what I don’t have.

But I’ve learned that I need to be thankful. Not ought to be, nor should be… I need it. Here’s a few reasons why:

(1) Being thankful helps me fight off that sense of entitlement. When I stop and thank God for what I have, I remember that I didn’t earn any of this. Nor deserve it. If I worked to earn anything, I did that work with the strength that God gave me. And in a situation in which my work could earn me something.

(2) Being thankful helps me have more compassion for those who don’t have what I have. I can get a warped theology that says that others don’t have as much as I because God intended it that way, or because they haven’t earned it (even though I didn’t either!). But when I realize that what I have comes from God, I also realize that it was given to me for a purpose: to share with others.

(3) Being thankful helps me to not worry about the future. When I thank God for what I have, I am much more likely to trust in Him to provide what I need in the future.

It’s hard, but “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If that verse sounds cheesy or out of place, remember that Paul was talking about contentment when he uttered those words. He was talking about knowing how to live in abundance and knowing how to live in want. He was talking about… thankfulness. So if you want to finally apply Philippians 4:13 in its meaning in context, use it this week. Be thankful, and let Christ help you be thankful.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Within Understanding Distance

I’m going to leave the discussion on principal themes of the Bible, not because I feel that I’ve exhausted the subject but mainly because the subject has exhausted me! Well, actually, I think that at some point such a discussion can be counterproductive. If you lay out too many rules, passages that don’t fit under any of them suddenly become “unimportant.” As was pointed out by several along the way, we are to look to the weightier matters without neglecting the others.

I also think that we can become too scientific in our Bible study, too logic bound, too mathematical. We want to apply formulas and matrices to the text in order to systematize our beliefs. While we can find guidelines to help us, I think that, in the end, Bible study is a spiritual activity. That may be a bit “touchy-feely” for some, but I honestly think that a scientific approach to Scripture can sometimes get in our way.

I’m not often inclined to quote Alexander Campbell or other leaders from the past, but Mr. Campbell said something very interesting about Bible study (yeah, I know… he said a lot of interesting things). In his Christian System, Brother Campbell wrote:

RULE 7. For the salutary and sanctifying intelligence of the Oracles of God, the following rule is indispensable: We must come within the understanding distance.
There is a distance which is properly called the speaking distance, or the hearing distance; beyond which the voice reaches not, and the ears hear not. To hear another, we must come within that circle which the voice audibly fills.
Now we may with propriety say, that as it respects God, there is an understanding distance. All beyond that distance can not understand God; all within it can easily understand him in all matters of piety and morality. God himself is the center of that circle, and humility is its circumference.
Within understanding distance. Campbell goes on to describe the need for spirituality in Bible study. He says “the philological principles and rules of interpretation enable many men to be skilful in biblical criticism, and in the interpretation of words and sentences, who neither perceive nor admire the things represented by those words.” Put another way… rules alone won’t get you there. It takes humility, it takes prayer, it takes spiritual discernment.

Scientific Bible study can only take you so far. Without a pious spirit, all the rules in the world are inadequate. You’ve got to be close to God to be able to really hear His voice. We’ve got to draw near to Him if we want to understand His Word.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Is it related to the Good News?

I want to continue looking at the concept that the Word is not flat. Certain teachings in the Bible take priority over other teachings, they are the “more important matters” in God’s Word. One way you can tell is to look for what the Bible says is important. Another is to look for what the Bible emphasizes through repetition. A third way that I’ve mentioned is to see if the Bible relates the issue to salvation.

As we look at “things of first importance,” we can’t help but be drawn to what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Now, I’m one of those rare birds that doesn’t think that Paul is giving us a complete definition of the gospel here. I think the gospel is broader than just Jesus’ sacrifice… but I guess that’s another topic. I do think, however, that things that are related to what Jesus did by coming to earth and giving himself for us, those things are especially important.

Fourth clue to identifying important biblical teachings: The Bible directly connects some teachings with the gospel of Jesus.

That’s why I think the Lord’s Supper is so special. Following some of the guidelines that I’ve set out, it might not seem to be that important. Yet I think it has a central place in our worship to God because of its direct connection to what Jesus did for us. We directly remember the new covenant established through Jesus’ sacrifice when we “partake” (I love that word) of the Lord’s Supper.

Another obvious teaching is baptism. We would already see baptism as vitally important because of it’s connection with salvation and because of the number of references to it in the New Testament. But when we see that this is how we identify ourselves with Christ’s sacrifice, we can no longer deny its centrality. My study of what is truly important in scripture has made me even more unashamed of strongly emphasizing Christian baptism.

Other teachings flow from the gospel. Paul relates unity and service to one another to the cross. Humility. Repentance. We live transformed, holy lives because of the cross.

So, a fourth guideline for discovering “the weightier matters” of Scripture is to look for that which is connected with the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.