The Bible Is Not Crystal Clear

A recent Christian news source published an article that stated, “The Bible is crystal clear about [insert controversial topic].” Contrary to such dogmatic statements, the Bible is not crystal clear about anything. For example, think about something that seems undeniably crystal clear in the Bible, beyond any dispute. How about the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Most Christians would probably say that the Bible is absolutely clear that Jesus experienced bodily resurrection from the dead. Yet church history teaches that within the first century after Jesus’ death, people tried to deny that Jesus had physical flesh. They called this docetism. Docetists believed that Jesus was only a spiritual being, more like an apparition, that people only thought or perceived him in physical form. “But what about Thomas?” Some may say: “He doubted, so Jesus invited Thomas to physically touch his hands and feet to prove he was physically there.” This is absolutely correct. But even with such documentation, people—those who may have seen Jesus himself or knew others who did—still thought that he was a bodiless spirit.

Things that seem crystal clear to one person may contrast what seems crystal clear to another. Our cultures, worldview, age, gender, and race—along with many other parts of our personhood—contribute to our understanding of the world around us. When it comes to Scripture, we cannot help but read the text through our own cultural lenses. Most often, we read into the text what we already believe.

Is all Scripture ambiguous? Certainly not! The Bible is the inspired word of God, spoken through approximately forty individuals to communicate God’s truth to humanity. When we read the Bible as a whole, many themes repeatedly appear as we navigate over thousands of years of history. When each theme occurs, we have to study each individual passage where the theme occurs to discover what the author was trying to communicate to the original audience. Then we extrapolate the major principles from the passage and compare it to the overall evidence of Scripture to see if it still weighs true. If the principle stands, it must be true for all people, at all times, in all places. It must be just as true for a twenty-first century American female as it was for Mahatma Gandi who lived in India over a century ago. This is where the issue gets sticky.

Our culture wants to say, “You do what works for you, and I’ll do what works for me. You live your truth and I’ll live mine.” Simply put, such a relativistic philosophy cannot succeed for long in a society. Societies can only function by upholding shared values. Without absolute truth, societies no longer have values to share, which breaks any sort of communal bond by isolating individuals. This is why demanding that the Bible is crystal clear on an issue can be so damaging. Taking the Bible at only face value allows readers to believe something without understanding it. This also encourages people to shut down those who do not see as they see. The Bible becomes an individualistic endeavor for interpretation that excludes those with differing perspectives, making each reader his or her own island.

When we read Scripture, we can never assume that we fully understand it. Even what initially appears obvious, we should seek to study more. Studying well does three things in us.

  1. Embracing our lack of understanding points us to the all-knowing, omniscient God.
    We become most aware of our finite status and limitations, humbled before the God who is greater. We must open our hearts and minds for the Holy Spirit to give us truth that we cannot come to on our own.
  2. We must rely on the community around us.
    When we do not know the answer to a question, we must ask and learn from someone who knows more than we do. We ask others whose experiences and worldviews differ from our own. As we learn to see through the eyes of others, we gain a fuller picture of the God who is entirely other from creation. We begin to see things to which we were once blind. Such learning grows us into fuller, mature persons.
  3. As we become confronted with God and also with our peers, we discover what we truly believe and develop ways to explain it.
    Shallow faith cannot endure in the presence of God or others. God sees through to our shallow hearts, and others see through to our ignorant minds. We are forced to dig in, to explain coherently our beliefs and have the integrity to live them out.

Words are important. How we say something is just as important as the message we seek to communicate. Setting an ultimatum by declaring that something is crystal clear shuts other people and opinions out of the conversation. If we want to engage in genuine dialogue, we need to use language that intentionally keeps the discussion open for other people to engage with their own ideas. If we refuse to listen and understand, no one will want to hear what we have to say, and our input—whether true or not—becomes useless.

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Experience Vs. Theology

In June of last year, the hardest season of my life began. As I concluded my year of service as the Discipleship Pastor at my home church, God spoke a whisper in my heart. Though I had an inkling about one immediate consequence of that whisper, I had no clue of the ramifications that would result from it. Even now, I’m sure many are still unknown.

Within a matter of weeks, I moved 600 miles from home to continue my studies at seminary. I had many plans, but God didn’t seem to care for many of them. As God decimated my idea of safety and allowed every aspect of my life to be marred, I found myself in a place where I had never been: caught between my experience and my theology. They no longer matched.

The God I had known relationally for so long, had studied for years, and had taught so many people about seemed different from the God I was currently experiencing. His actions appeared separate from His character. And as I shared my story with others, I discovered many who felt this same tension. It caused me to ask myself the question: What am I supposed to do when my experience is in tension with my theology? When the God I see in Scripture seems so different from the God I’m choosing to follow now? 

I’m sure there are ample responses and possible answers to this question, which are likely unique for each person. But for me, God kept telling me to stop trying to do something to change my circumstances and perception. I wanted to be able to explain my problems somehow, when in actuality there was only one who fully understood them—and He wasn’t me. I was trying to defend God, when finally He helped me realize that was never my job. There is no way that God can be fully rationalized, for even when we may be able to explain Him intellectually, we are not able to fully rationalize Him to our hearts. This requires faith, many say. Yet that’s not really my job either. My responsibility is to be faithful, yes. But how can I have faith without God first demonstrating that He is worth having faith in?

I was reminded of how many times people in Scripture called out to God, pleading for Him to show Himself strong for the sake of His name. David begged this of God constantly, like in Psalm 143:11, “For Your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!”

I am utterly powerless to defend God, whether it’s to myself or to others. But I believe that He’s strong enough to defend Himself, and that He actually quite enjoys it.

So when what I know about God does not match God in my current life circumstances, when my theology is at odds with my experience, I have to learn to embrace the tension. I choose to trust that He’ll come through and redeem Himself to me. What stinks is that He might let me sit in the tension and distress for a while. But if I allow for the tension and let God be God, He will prove Himself and come through. And if He ever doesn’t, I’ll let you know.

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” – Psalm 9:10

**Since this is an issue that God must deal uniquely with for each individual, I wonder, what have you learned about the times when your theology and experience are in tension? I’d love to hear your story and/or thoughts, so leave your comments below.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Over two years ago, my college roommate’s sister was in a traumatic car wreck while on her way back to school for the Spring semester. She was in the hospital and other forms of intensive care and therapy, but never recovered well. Five months after the wreck, she passed away. I remember going to her funeral, which truly was a celebration of her life, yet sobbing through the whole thing. A lively nineteen year old with her whole life ahead should not die so tragically. Yet we lost her anyways. But even in the midst of such devastating heartbreak, my roommate Chelsea astounded me with the way she lived. Because here’s the truth for us as Christians: when we deal with death, it forces us to live in hope.

In The Bridge, a young adult ministry at my church, we’ve been going through the book of 1 Thessalonians. And today, my heart is reminded of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Last week, one of the leading pastors in America, Rick Warren, lost his 27 year old son. Warren and his family will no doubt carry the loss of their beloved son with them for the rest of this earthly life. However, (and this is a BIG “HOWEVER!”) they do not grieve as people without hope. Hope that one day, the Lord will redeem, restore, and make all things new!

One of the biggest marks that distinguishes us as Christians is the hope that we have. For we know that the loss and grief during this life is only temporary, as we serve a glorious Savior who is beyond time. And beyond death! We serve a God who lives!

And because we serve the living God, there will be a day of no more tears. No more pain. No more death. No more sadness.

So let me leave you with the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Revelation 22:20, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Salvation

Yesterday my church put on a huge outreach event in a neighborhood. We basically threw a block party with food, live worship music, the sharing of the gospel, and an invitation for salvation. Several came forward to accept Christ’s precious gift. Then, we filled a tub with water and ten were baptized right on the spot—in 95 degree weather; no change of clothes; no special certificate.

What an incredibly beautiful, God-filled day!

Unfortunately, my heart was far from where it should have been. Sure I was excited to see people getting saved and even got chills when they were also baptized. I was witnessing the very active, living beauty of God in broken people. But while others came up with tears streaming down their cheeks, realizing their need for a Savior,  I was not with them.

I was sitting behind a drum set, waiting for the altar call song to get enough momentum so that I could start playing. My mind was on me. People were present that hadn’t heard me play before, or at least in a long time. My mind was on them. And I wanted to make a good impression. My mind was on me.

Why is it that my mind isn’t always focused on God?

Even in the midst of ministry, it becomes so easy to miss God. I was so focused on myself and on other people that I became distracted from my purpose. From GOD’s purpose. “…for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” (Luke 19:10). 

Just as God’s salvation is true for those who were baptized yesterday, so is it true for me who was baptized 16 years ago. When I get lost in my own agenda and poor thinking, He recaptures my heart and renews my mind so that I can again be aligned with His good and perfect will (Rom. 12:2). Jesus always brings me back to where salvation lives—in Him.

Learning to Forgive

“If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” – Jesus (Luke 17:3)

These can be hard words to hear. But what makes them even harder is that Jesus continues, “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying ‘I repent,’  you shall forgive him.” (Lk. 17:4). Wow! I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to respond by saying, “Really, Jesus? Are you sure? Because that person really hurt me.” Sometimes I forget that Jesus kind of knew what He was talking about. After all, He was abandoned by all of His followers (except a few women, one being His mother), betrayed by one of his closest friends, put to death by the very people He came to love, and was denied by His best friend as He was being tortured and was dying. This causes me to think that Jesus may have really understood what pain is. Sometimes we try to let Him off the hook because He is God, but this is to deny Him as the Son of Man, a whole human, with full human feelings and emotions. And if He was (and is) not fully human, then He could not do that which was necessary to save us, so we would still be left to sin and death. So to sum up everything, Jesus was human, suffered intense emotional pain from other people, and still calls us to forgiveness.

As I look at these two verses though, I have to ask, what if the person who offends me does not repent? What are we to do then? In the past year, I have suffered from two significant relationships in my life that have hurt me considerably. And neither of them really repented.  Maybe they didn’t because I did not “rebuke” them, or did not do it correctly. But now, it’s too late to try to make it right in that way. The relationships we once had, are now virtually over. One of these people I may never even see again. Yet even though the relationship is over, I am still left in brokenness and pain. So what am I to do?

After Jesus presented this message to the disciples, they responded by saying to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (17:5). Jesus’ answer astounds me. He doesn’t tell them to go pray, read the Bible, or any other churchy kind of answers; He simply tells them to be obedient. “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ” (17:10).

When we are left hurt and broken by people who were supposed to love and care for us, I think we are always called to forgive them- no matter how much or how often they hurt us, and even if they never repent. But I think that Jesus is also telling us that forgiveness may look very different from what we would originally expect. Forgiveness is not a one time thing. We do not often forgive someone in one sitting, then go on fine and splendidly. Instead, forgiveness is a process that comes as we do the work of God that He has commanded us to do. Forgiveness comes as we become that humbled servant who is not after a profit or any special treatment, but only desires to be faithful in the least of things (Lk. 16:10).

If you are that person that has been hurt by someone else, I am sorry for your pain and what has been done against you. But I encourage to you respond in faithfulness to God. I know that it’s hard and probably will be for a while, but as you are obedient to our Father and do what is commanded of you, He will carry you “as a man carries his son,” (Deut. 1:31). True healing rests only in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

My Story

Ever since I was young, I have always been different from nearly all of my peers- not in physical appearance or imagination, but in spirituality. Often when I say this, I refer back to when I was four, sitting at my neighbor’s kitchen table, and declared for the first time that I was going to be a pastor; but God’s role in my life didn’t just start there. Just as God spoke to Jeremiah saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” I also believe that He has appointed me “a prophet to the nations,” (Jer. 1:10) whatever that ends up meaning in my life. All I know is that “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot,” (Jer. 20:9). While other kids were day-dreaming about recess and games during class, I was dreaming about preaching. I was also filled with such strong convictions that I once wrote a note to my third grade teacher on a test to tell him that, even though I answered according to what he had taught, I held to a biblical worldview that did not support his teachings.

Though I feel blessed to have been filled with such passion for God my whole life, it has not always been easy. For example, as a sophomore in high school I went through a period of time when I had to let my dream of being a pastor die. Since my entire life was rooted in this call, my world seemed to fall apart as my footing dissolved. It was a hard year or so of desert and famine, but I gained strength as I was able to choose God just as He had chosen me. I was beginning to understand what surrender really looked like.

There are some areas of service that we, as Christians, are all called to- such as feeding and clothing the poor. But as each of us grows and chooses our own path of service, God gives us more specific charges. To the tax collectors, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” (Lk. 3:13), and to the soldiers, “…don’t accuse people falsely,” (Lk. 3:14). If we are to be successful as the church, we must realize that we all experience different calls with unique challenges and charges.

We each have our own story. But while we are unique, we are not alone. God has equipped us with gifts and callings that are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). It is our job as the church body to encourage other members to fulfill their callings. As each does his/her part, another is supported.

So let me exhort you. Just as God has affirmed His future and purpose for my life (Jer. 29:11), I pray that He will affirm yours. Realize that every good thing that you have- any talent, ability, or blessing- is from God (Jms. 1:17) and is meant to be used. This is not a pressure on you to start doing “the Lord’s work” (as we so like to say), but rather an opportunity to brainstorm and make room in your life for the Holy Spirit to work through you in the gifts which the Father has bestowed upon you. This is your freedom (2 Cor. 2:17)!

Now go make your own story!

Complete

Redemption. We hear this word so often, but do we really know what it means? And if we do know the dictionary meaning, how willing are we to allow it to work in our lives?

As part of the human race, we seem to have this overwhelming struggle with a thing called sin. Somewhere along the line, we realized that there was something we were missing. So we try to fill this loss with other things. Sure, we may try things such as drugs, sex, and…what other cliche do we hear about at youth group? But what about our biggest sin of all- pride?

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I don’t have a problem with pride” that probably means you do. (Right? Haven’t we all heard that statement?) But maybe we’re thinking about pride in all of the wrong ways. Maybe the problem isn’t the acts of sin that we use to try to complete our lives, but the fact that we’re trying to complete our lives by ourselves in the first place. In one of my religion classes, we were talking about different sins that can lead to falling in the ministry. I said pride was the biggest. My friend said that while pride was a big one, lust was a pretty big deal too. But you see, pride is the root of lust, in that lust looks for things in this world to bring fulfillment instead of looking to God. Put simply, pride is a focus on ourselves instead of God.

If we look in the Bible, it seems to depict pride as the first sin leading to all others as well. Look at Lucifer for example. Isaiah 14:13 says this of him, “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God.” Isn’t this the same lie He told Eve? “You will not surely die…For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,” (Gen. 3:4-5). So why did both the angels and humanity fall? Because we wanted to be our own god.

Why in the world do we want to be our own god, when we are only the mirror reflecting God’s image? The One who created the universe and uses it as a footstool died to acquit us of our sin so that we could share in the divine relationship, yet we still think that we have it all figured out.

So here’s my point: it doesn’t even matter what you think you want, because God’s purpose ultimately prevails (Prov. 19:21). Stop fighting God for control over your life. Stop trying to be your own god. Stop trying to complete your own life when it is promised “that He who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ, developing and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you,” (Phil. 1:6, Amplified).

While our efforts to find fulfillment always fall short, God’s are truly good and will bring ultimate completion and perfection. Our attempts are tarnished and broken, but “He is the Rock, His works are perfect” (Deut. 32:4). Allow Him to love you, comfort you, mend you,complete you, and perfect you.