Monday, June 27, 2011

Where Do We Turn?

Almost everybody will be impacted by some sort of event that will have the potential to affect the rest of their life...death, terminal illness, war, etc.  The reaction to such an event is what really brings to light what we put our faith in.  I know one event that had a great impact on my own life.  I remember the day of April 23, 2005 very well.  It was a pretty quiet Saturday morning...I was having some serious sinus issues and went downstairs at about 8 and spent several hours on the couch watching ESPN as I coughed and snorted (a rather uneventful morning by all accounts...or so I thought).  It wasn't until about 1 in the afternoon until I figured out that I had left my phone upstairs and I figured I should get it in case somebody needed to get a hold of me.  When I opened it up (old school flip phone), I saw that my mom and my oldest sister had been trying to call me and left me a few messages.  I decided to check the messages mom left two messages and sounded pretty incoherent saying something about my Dad.  My sister left a pretty vague message saying that I needed to come home.  It was at this point that I knew something was wrong.  I had moved to Houston, TX for work and they were in Shreveport, LA, which is about a 4-5 hour drive from where I was it wasn't like I needed to come home for some random reason.  It was then that I called my mom's house and my sister picked up the phone and told me that my father had a heart attack and was dead.

All of this was quite surreal and I can't really explain what all was going through my head and it took a while for it to actually sink in.  I am sure anybody else who has lost a parent can relate to this.  Once it did hit me, though, I knew I had to find some comfort from somewhere.  I called a girl that I had been close to at the time and cried with her most of the drive home, but it didn't really help much.  I talked to family and friends...still nothing really made sense.  I was not saved at the time and being raised Catholic didn't really put an emphasis on Bible reading, so I didn't turn there.  I did listen to some Christian music with a fairly good emphasis on some things I needed to be thinking about, but it didn't  have an immediate effect on me.  The lyrics of one spoke of how the singer had a beautiful letdown in learning how the things of this world weren't for him and that he didn't belong here.  The other spoke about how his life had changed over 24 hours...I could definitely relate to that.  Still, all that did was to tell me that I needed to have a good relationship with God.  There is a lot I could expound upon here about God's providence and Romans 8:28, but I'll leave that for another day.  Right now, my focus is on the difference between how I reacted to tough circumstances then and how I handle them now.

So, let me ask what should be a simple question...where do we Christians turn whenever we are faced with such trying times?  We should be turning to Jesus Christ by reading our Bibles and crying out in prayer.  Yes, our family and fellow believers are of great support to us...both in just being there for us to share our sorrow and for turning us to the assurance that is found in Scripture.  And any mature Christian who is grounded in Scripture will undoubtedly turn to God during the greatest times of trial.

What about for the small  trials, though?  Do we turn to God when we encounter a problem at work?  What about when we're taking on small projects that require a little thought and planning?  Is there anything that is too small for us to take to God?  I guess to answer that I would ask another question - Is there any detail small enough that God isn't involved with it?  Or is God sovereign over all things?  I think we can all agree that God is sovereign over everything or else He isn't God.  So then why should we think that anything that we are concerned with is too small to take to Him for His help?  I think this is arrogant and prideful on our part, but I mjust confess that I do it all the time.  Sometimes, I realize my folly and take time to say a short prayer (especially if I grow frustrated with my own sad attempts) and find that it is quite effective, but I would say that I don't do that nearly enough.  Let us all take the time to pray for God's wisdom in handling everything that we encounter during our lives...even if it seems small enough for us to handle.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why don't all churches and preachers understand (and teach) the truth of Scripture?

As I look at the world around me, I can not help but to notice that most people don't have a biblical worldview.  Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this is that there are many "churches" that claim to be Christian, yet promote a worldview that is anything but biblical.  Rick Warren thinks we should be working side by side with Muslims to solve various social issues and bring about world peace...although unless the Muslims they are working with are converted to Christianity, the peace they have isn't real.  Joel Osteen says that people can get everything they want if they have enough faith and that will help them have the best life that God wants for them (basically repackaging Schuller's message).  He is basically saying God wants you to have a great life with lots of money and friends and that if you don't have that stuff, your faith just isn't strong enough.  I don't remember that being part of what Jesus and the apostles taught, but I do remember that we are to share in the sufferings of Jesus (1 Peter 4:12-13) and that we are to consider our trials to be a joy (James 1:2).  Then there are those who claim that we can't have a strong conviction of what the Bible actually says because we can't understand it well enough to do so (think Brian McLaren and Rob Bell).  These guys have some of the largest congregations in the country, too, so it isn't like people don't follow them.  And there are many more just like them with sizable congregations.  So why is it that these guys and the people listening to them don't understand Scripture well enough to see the problems with the message they put forth?  The name of the blog gives the short answer that it is by grace alone that any of us understand the Scripture that we do know, but let's dig a little deeper.

Anybody can spend a number of hours studying various portions of Scripture and come up with various ways to apply what is stated there.  And I am going to give these pastors the benefit of the doubt and assume that they have studied Scripture during the week as they have prepared their messages...I feel this might be too generous, but they do use verses from Scripture and any pastor who holds Scripture in correct esteem would spend a good deal of time in Scripture before delivering a sermon.  So what separates these men from mature pastors and Christians around the world who have a correct understanding of Scripture?  Is it that they haven't heard the truth taught before?  Is it because they want to hang on to some lingering sin?  Is it because they feel that the God of the Bible just isn't fair enough?  These may be true, but when you get to the heart of it, all of us have had various reasons for not following God before we were saved.  The real difference between how they understand Scripture and how mature Christians understand Scripture is the Holy Spirit.  We wouldn't understand or apply any of Scripture if it were not for the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to the truth and helping us to apply what we learn.

The reason I bring this up is that it seems that many people take for granted the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian.  Also, the more we keep this in mind, the less likely we will be to find ourselves trapped in the sin of self-righteousness.  I know that I have looked at others with contempt before because they don't understand that what they are saying is in total opposition to what the Bible really teaches.  It isn't that we shouldn't take the time to refute false teaching and try to present the truth, but we shouldn't act like we've figured out something special and that we're the superstars of the faith.  Instead we should have the attitude of Paul when he wrote this to the church in Corinth: "Now these things, brethren, I have applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.  For who regards you as superior?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:6-7, emphasis mine)

So, let us stand boldly and make a defense of our faith while we refute false teaching, but let us remember that we received our understanding of Scripture from the Holy Spirit.  This will help us to not become arrogant against others.  We need to speak the truth in love in hopes of bringing others to a better understanding of Scripture through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.