The Words Matter

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Gentle Reader,

I’m not Amish. (Obviously). I don’t think that Christians have to buck every fashion trend. Nor do I think we have to shun technology. I don’t think that anything righteous comes out of sneering at any and all art, literature, music, live theater, movies or television. It’s not sinful to use an electric guitar in a worship service or to use a Bible app on a tablet or smartphone (though the latter does make me twitch). We shouldn’t close ourselves off from society in the pursuit of holiness.

That said, I loathe the whole “we must make Christianity relevant” thing. I despise it and have from the moment I had realized that what this “relevancy” really amounts to is post-modernist nonsense wearing a thin, cracked evangelical mask.

A hallmark of post-modern thinking is that words have no meaning beyond that which the reader assigns them. It is relativism liberally applied to sentence structure. Thus, I might say that “the sky is blue” and three different people may read that statement and draw three different conclusions. One may accept the statement, another reject it and the third spend hours attempting to determine what “sky” really means. Each one is supposedly equally accurate.

Insert eye-roll here.

We run into massive problems when we attempt to strip words of their meanings or give them new meanings altogether. For example, relevant is defined as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.” But is this what anyone really means when they talk about the relevance of Christianity? Is this what Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle (among others) are talking about?

No. This isn’t what they’re talking about at all. (I don’t have time right now to get into exhaustive quotes from the above-mentioned or others, but by all means do some reading yourself). The “relevancy” imagined here actually makes Christianity entirely irrelevant. It addresses no real issues. It provides no hope. Central concepts such as sin, redemption, resurrection and judgment are redefined or done away with completely. It is feel-happy teaching. You’re good just as you are. There’s really nothing to believing in God. Doesn’t require any real change on your part. Oddly, it also winds up being elitist teaching; those of us who don’t jump on the fuzzy-warmness are just poor, bigoted, unenlightened souls.

It’s all packaged differently, but really this has been going on for centuries. Pretty much from the moment Christ stepped out of the tomb. There’s always someone claiming to have a “better” or “new” understanding. Nothing new under the sun. Nothing new at all.

Look again at the definition of relevant. Pretend for a moment that words really do have meaning. Then please, tell me: What is possibly and more profoundly relevant that the Gospel message of Christ who died and rose again? How can we not see that the beautiful truth that we are sinners in need of a Savior transcends time, culture, geography, class and gender? What person doesn’t need to know that he is so loved in his wretchedness that God, infinite and majestic, wrapped Himself in a tiny human frame to bring about redemption? What person doesn’t need to be brought to her knees in a deep, abiding awareness of her complete inability to save herself? What person doesn’t need to feel God’s hand on his shoulder, doesn’t need to hear God say, “I adore you far too much to let you stay here”? What person doesn’t need to be radically changed?

Do you see? Do you understand how important language and definition are?

When we strip words of their meanings, we wind up with statements like this from Bell, spoken in the context of a discussion about gay marriage but impactful in a much broader sense: “…the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.”

There is so much in that sentence. So, so much.

The Church is defined by Scripture. What she is – the Body, the Bride. Who she is – people saved from their sins by the grace of Holy God. Her mission – to share the truth, the light of God with the dark world. The Church cannot be separated from the Bible. She ceases to be the Church without the mind, the thoughts, the heart, the will of God splattered in ink onto the page at the hand of His servants.

Two-thousand-year-old letters? How about “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35)? How about “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? How about “this Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8)? How about

Oh, how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies;
For they are ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the ancients,
Because I keep Your precepts.
I have restrained my feet from every evil way,
That I may keep Your word.
I have not departed from Your judgments,
For You Yourself have taught me.
How sweet are Your words to my taste,
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through Your precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way. – Psalm 119:97-104 (NKJV)

The quickest way for the Church to become irrelevant is to reject the words of God, which can only lead to a rejection of the Word of God, Christ Himself. I desperately want someone to tell me how it is possible to believe in Jesus without holding Scripture in high esteem. Everything there is to know about Jesus is found in those 66 books. I cannot imagine the level of cognitive dissonance required to dismiss the Bible while claiming to love Christ. It just doesn’t make sense.

“Did God really say?” is the oldest question.

How are we answering it?

My journey to faith. (15)

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Think and Do

Action

Gentle Reader,

I am weary of the idea that one’s beliefs don’t really matter. How willfully and impossibly ignorant must a person be to buy into such a notion? Belief is directly exposed in action.

Take, for example, the beauty industry and its hold on women. Now, I am in no way against make-up and hair products. I quite happily use them most days of the week. However, there is a HUGE difference in using make-up to enhance the beauty that one believes exists versus using make-up to try an achieve a beauty that one does not believe exists.

Or look at the scores of people who never really clock out of work, staying connected at all times to their offices via their cell phones. There is a belief at play – if I just make more money, I’ll be happy; they can’t do this without me; work gives me meaning.

To say that only action matters is like thinking that a chicken alive when it’s head has been cut off just because it keeps moving. It might successfully navigate the yard for awhile, but eventually that thing is going to be fried in lard and served up. None of us can go out and do anything without being motivated by belief; our actions are devoid of any worth or meaning when done without conviction.

This is true even of the worst hypocrite, and it’s why hypocrisy annoys us so much. When a person says that she believes one thing and then lives her life in direct opposition to that belief, we know that we’ve been lied to. We know that she is living out what she truly believes, no matter what her mouth may spout.

I’m also sick of hearing that it’s okay to do anything I want to do, as long as I don’t hurt anyone else. I can’t think of any action that doesn’t have the potential to impact another. I might want to eat a bunch of chocolate every single day, and that might not seem harmful to anyone else – but my husband might disagree the day I get diabetes and he has to learn how to help me take care of myself.

These things revolve around the notion of truth. Does it exist? Is it objective?

Allow me to state the obvious: Yes, truth exists. You know it and I know it. We can dance around in a pretty philosophical waltz all day long if want to, but any position that denies the existence of truth might as well deny the existence of life itself. It is that absurd.

Is truth objective? Well, tell me, is it wrong to sell a two-year-old into prostitution? If it is wrong, then not only is there truth, but there is an objectivity to that truth, which means that there is a standard that has been set by someone.

Dear reader, that Someone has to be God, specifically the God revealed in the Bible.  Only He spells out exactly what He requires from us. Only He tells us precisely where the boundaries are and why He has put them there. Our stomachs recoil at injustice because we have been made in His image. We wrestle and justify and finangle, but at the end of the day we know, unless our consciences are totally seared, when we’ve made the wrong choice because of that something within us that draws us back to the Creator.

We  can choose to be self-centered. We can choose to be nihilistic. We can choose to buy into whatever the current philosophical fad that this “postmodern” world throws onto the table, but none of this will ever satisfy. None of it will fit right. We are never comfortable with ourselves until we have come to acknowledge who God is and why He has the right to rule.

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Excuses

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Gentle Reader,

I like honesty. I like it when someone is willing to own up to the facts, the truth, of a matter.

I can’t stand excuses.

Have I used excuses? Of course. I’m a human being, just like you. When I look for excuses or try and shift the blame, however, I rarely feel justified. Instead an awful, weighted feeling grows inside my chest. I know the truth. I know I should have owned up to whatever it was I needed to own up to.

Really, an excuse is just a lie.

This weighs heavily on me today in terms of our attitude toward Bible study. It annoys me to hear people who call themselves Christians say that they don’t like to study the Bible. Please don’t misread me here. I don’t have a perfect daily Bible reading record. I’ve gotten frustrated or bored with certain workbook authors. I’ve had weeks as a group leader when I’ve neglected to prepare for lessons. The truth in all that is I didn’t want want to do my reading on the days I skipped it, often didn’t want to hear what those authors had to say or didn’t want to set aside time for lesson preparation.

If you tell me that you don’t study the Bible because you don’t want to, I’ll believe you. I’ll say, “Yep, been there.” I’ll respect your honesty. I’ll try and engage you in a conversation about why you don’t want to study. Maybe it’s a “not-knowing-where-or-how-to-start” thing. Maybe it’s a “can’t-find-a-workbook-author-I-connect-with” thing. Maybe it’s an accountability thing.

But if you tell me that you don’t study the Bible because you don’t like it, then I will tell you that you make no sense. You honestly don’t like learning more about the God you say you love? You don’t like discovering wisdom and direction, especially in tough situations? You don’t like being able to discern the difference between truth and a lie?

Pray tell, what do you like?

There are so many different ways to study God’s Word. The reality is that we don’t have any reason not to do it. There are dozens upon dozens of authors who have taken the time to produce study guides and commentaries. There are dictionaries to aid in understanding difficult words and concepts. There are maps and timelines galore. There are audio readings, both straight and dramatized. Whatever your learning style, whatever unique way God gave you for understanding the world, there is an avenue for you to get in there and grow.

Is it true that God is beautiful and arresting in His majesty? How can that be so, but His Word be boring or unlikeable? There are tales of creation and fall, grace and redemption, prophets and kings. Men and women return from the dead. Storms are calmed and earth is shaken. People are taken – alive – to Heaven. Dreams and visions, wrestlings and exoduses. The Lord revealed.

Like it or not, we Christians truly are, as Muslims say, “People of the Book.” Yes, God reveals Himself in creation. Yes, His Spirit dwells within us. But there’s just no getting around those 66 books, nor is there a way to avoid the clear consequences of trying to. In saying you don’t like to read and study the words, aren’t you really saying that you don’t like what God has to say? Or, deeper still, that you don’t care?

My friend, I know that comes across as harsh. If you could only see my face! I am desperate for you to know the truth. Lies abound out there. Something or someone is always going to be attempting to suck you in. How are you going to recognize the falsehoods as being such without a firm grasp of the truth? How will you guard your heart and mind if all you ever fill them with is what the world shoves at you? How will you ever understand that what may begin as an act of sheer obedience may turn into the greatest adventure of your life?

Lies brought me to the edge of death. His Word drew me back to life. I haven’t always cried tears of joy at every word I’ve read, but I have been saved. I am being transformed.

I like that.

My journey to faith. (15)

He-man, Hosea, Gomer and Me

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Gentle Reader,

This morning I punch at anxiety, but my jabs are weak. I’m tired of this battle. I’m ready to give up, give in, run away. Whatever it might take to silence the incessant noise of fear. Heman the Ezrahite (you had no idea that He-man was biblical, did you?) and his Psalm 88 are my good friends right now. There’s nothing like a good, fist-shaking lament when you’re feeling edgy.

There’s also nothing like a little knowledge. In Hosea 4:6, God tells the prophet that His people are being destroyed from the lack of it. What an interesting dedication to make to a man who’d had a whole lot of knowledge dropped on him via his marriage to a faithless prostitute named Gomer – he literally had to buy her out of bondage at one point.

The story of Hosea and Gomer is meant to be a portrait of God’s faithfulness toward His wayward people. This is all about knowledge; what you don’t know (or what you refuse to know) can definitely harm you in many ways. Gomer couldn’t or refused to understand that her husband loved her. She eventually left Hosea, convinced that the lies she did comprehend were better than the truth that seemed all too much. I can’t imagine that Hosea was particularly happy about her lack of love and trust. What man would be?

People are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Hosea and Gomer both draw the reader to a long look in the face of God. He again is telling His people that He longs for them to return to Him, and what will happen if they don’t. He never leaves them in the dark about the consequences of their actions, whether for good or for ill. I ask you, what kind of God is this, the Lord who loves us so unendingly and faithfully? The Savior who suffers? The King who clearly defines the law?

Nobody else in the world is like that. Nobody else will give us chance after chance. Nobody will unceasingly work to draw our attention and affection. In a way, that shames me. God is God! By simple virtue of His existence, I should drop to my knees in awe. But, no, I need some kind of deal. Praise Him that He understands our fallen nature!

The pictures of Heman in his lament, Hosea in his prophecies and Gomer in her running all coalesce within my frantic heart to form a unique mosaic. The fist-shaking, the crying out and the faithlessness are things that God uses to quiet the soul. That may not seem to make sense, but I see in these three people our very real need to have the poison of sin and sorrow extracted from us by any means possible. And God will use any means. He has the ability and the desire to take our worst decisions and turn them around for His glory and our good.

I don’t know why, but that brings some peace to my aching chest. That slows my breathing just a little. I can close my eyes and unclench my fists. Will there be a battle today? Yes. Will I be anxious? Probably. Will I be in this place forever? Certainly not. God is here, through all the cycles of anger, repentance, fear and, finally, hitting the bottom of the pit with a thud. He extends His forever-reaching hand to me, and is ready to pull me out.

That’s the knowledge we need to keep from being destroyed. We need to know that God is utterly holy, which means He’s whole. He’s not like anyone else. He is faithful and true. Forever. He can be trusted and always knows the best way to go. He’ll never lead us up a mountain or down in a valley without holding us close through the obstacle.

Heman, Hosea, Gomer…me.

And you.

My journey to faith. (15)