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)

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)