Monday, April 24, 2006


C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letter writes, “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

I find myself constantly thinking about selfishness and self-centeredness and how those two things continue to manifest themselves in my life, our culture, the church and my kids. When it comes to money and possessions, we’ve had so much for so long that we don’t even realize how much we really have.

Followers of Jesus, who should be leading the cultural charge against self-centered materialism, are prone to follow the lead of the culture rather than Christ on this matter. When it comes to integrating our faith into the material and financial part of our lives, we’re having difficulty. I wonder if the most serious problem facing the church today is materialism? I wonder if materialism is the least-recognized and most-unaddressed sin of believers, of which I am one.

Tom Sine says, “all seem to be trying to live the ‘American Dream’ with a little Jesus overlay. We talk about the Lordship of Jesus, but our career comes first. Our house in the ‘burbs comes first. Then, with what’s left, we try to follow Jesus.”

Some of you will remember Bruce Wilkinson’s little book, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through To The Blessed Life. Many people are familiar with this bestseller that focuses on two verses found First Chronicles. If you haven’t heard of it, you’ve either been asleep or you’ve failed to interact with one of the millions of Christians whose fervor for Jabez and his prayer has led them to lay out millions of dollars to purchase the various versions of The Prayer of Jabez and other Jabez Junk. “Jabez fever” swept through the church as everywhere you turned someone else was telling you with “Amway-like” enthusiasm about how they were embracing the prayer, praying it daily, and expecting God to release great blessings into their life.

I wonder about this prayer of “bless me and enlarge my territory!” and to “let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain” was a new and popular way for many to ask God for more stuff and an easier life. Could it be that an obscure Old Testament passage was being marketed to a 21st century church that was eager to find Biblical justification to have more? Perhaps the Jabez phenomenon and its rapid embrace as a mechanized and magical mantra is the greatest indicator of how self-centered and materialistic we’ve become. It plays well in our wealthy, market-driven, consumer-oriented, narcissistic North American Christian culture.

OK, I ask God for blessing and protection every day. To be honest with you, I even prayed the prayer of Jabez! But while I oftentimes catch myself wanting more stuff, the fact is that I already have far more material “territory” than I need. Why is it, though, that third-world Christians who scrape for food, clothing and shelter while living in material poverty have a fervor, joy, selfless depth and richness to their faith that puts us (me) to shame, while we walk around prone to dissatisfaction with what we already have, desiring more, and consumed with wanting to live a life free from God’s gift of pain?

There is another Old Testament prayer that seems to be worth embracing, but I am sure no one will make millions of ‘ka-ching’ off it. I have run across it numerous times in my readings of Proverbs 30. But something jumped out at me like never before. The author Agur prays: “Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7-9). All Agur wanted was to speak the truth, and to have just what was necessary for him to remain committed and obedient to his God. Agur understood human nature and he knew his weakness. In wisdom, he prayed to be rich in faithfulness. I’m not sure Agur’s prayer would sell books and junk in today’s Christian market, that’s too bad, it’s a challenging prayer that shakes up our attitudes and reflects God’s will, way and priorities. Actually, it is a God-centered prayer that focuses on thy will and not my will, as we ask God to bless by giving and withholding as He pleases.

Why is it that in the New Testament that money and wealth is talked about more than and hell combined? Why is it that there is more said about money than about prayer? Why did Jesus say: “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Is it because of the dangerous and consuming grip this reality puts on us? The sad result of our prosperity and desire for even more is that we’ve become even more prosperous and desiring of even more. All the while, we fool ourselves into believing that we are entitled to it all and that we are walking the path of discipleship.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Scripture Part Duh

Ok….I am back, for those who are asking if I am alive….I am. I just needed to recharge for a bit.

I want to continue with the hard questions here about the scripture. My goal here is to encourage the faith in us and to learn about it. Often, people try to argue others over, step-by-step, from their position to ours. But I find that asking someone to come over and see things from my point of view, just to see how it all fits together for me, often builds understanding much better. So I want to invite you with me to take a disciple's perspective on some of our hard questions about the Bible.

When you boil down most people's problem with the Bible it comes down to the matter
of human touch. The fact that the book was written by humans seems suspicious in itself.
Because these humans have their own viewpoints and limitations we conclude that the
Bible is full of biases and ignorance. And there were so many hands involved in writing
the book, putting the canon together, and transmitting the text to us, that it just seems
fishier the more we hear. And the truth is that there do seem to be some inconsistencies between some of the different authors and accounts, and there are some verses where it is hard just to establish what the original text is.

Outsiders look at all this earthy, historical, and human nature that we see in the Bible and
they scoff at the idea that it could be a divinely inspired text. And we Christians buy it. I
think most Christians, too, would rather have one unified dictation, a monolithic word from God. We would rather have something like what the Koran and the book of Mormon claim to be -- a single stream of dictation from God. That would make it feel much more divine, if it came in one vision to one person - if it had less human fingerprints on it.

But I want to suggest a different picture to you, a new model of what is going on. I want to show you a perspective that I have found as a disciple; one that makes the Bible look much more trustworthy than the skeptics would say, and much more wonderful than the dictation that we might wish it to be.

I'd like you to consider a patchwork quilt that has been in a family for generations. You might take a look at one of these quilts and say that it is pretty, but it becomes more wonderful by far when you know its story. As with any real patchwork quilt, each patch tells a story. To anyone who sees and knows, these quilts have many stories to tell. It's a part of their unique beauty, that they hold so much history.

This is a part of the Bible's beauty also. The Bible is full of stories, and histories, and songs, and letters. Each one tells a story of God working with some new generation of people. This huge collection of “patches” shows us a God who delights in having people with him. He doesn't want to avoid contact with humans. The whole huge patchwork quilt of his word shows him constantly working to bring his human children along with him in life. The stories here do not point to a God who would just want to dictate some words to as few messengers as possible. This is a God who loves to have his children gather around him and learn his words. It's a God who longs to be in relationship with all his human children. This is part of the richness that all these patches bring.

But even more than the stories that the different patches tell, the process of how the Bible was put together shows God's purpose even more clearly. God could have just printed all his stories on one big piece of patterned cloth. He could have just produced one novel. But he chose to put the Bible together like this quilt.

Seeing the Bible this way, we can see that not only are the individual stories or "patches" about God calling people to him. Even the way the stories are told, preserved, and transmitted to future generations show us God's purpose. His purpose is to come to his human children to help them participate in his own life and mission. He wants them to see things his way -- and grow to where their words can be his words. And so he brings them along with him in creating this Bible, this treasury of stories about God and his people, so his people can use them and hold onto them and give them to the next generation. At every level, wherever we look, God is working on the same thing. He is working to share his life with us, that we may participate in his life and his work in this world.

Monday, April 10, 2006

New Scripture?

OK, so I am watching National Geographic and they are talking about this “new revelation” called the “Gospel of Judas.” Then there is also the hub about the Da Vinci Code…and all this got me thinking about the scripture and what is it!!!? So, here we go…

What are the Scriptures?
The New Testament speaks of the Old Testament as Scripture, for which the Greek word is 'graphe,' meaning writing. The word bible comes from the Greek word for book. The Holy Bible means the “Holy Book”. It contains 66 separate books (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament), written in three languages (Hebrew, Greek, and a bit in Aramaic), over a period of more than a thousand years, by over 40 authors (of varying ages and backgrounds), on three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe).

Authors include kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, scholars, etc. Books cover history, sermons, letters, a hymnbook, and a love song. There are geographical surveys, architectural specifications, travel diaries, population statistics, family trees, inventories, and numerous legal documents. It covers hundreds of controversial subjects with amazing unity.

The Old Testament was written on papyrus--a form of paper made out of reeds; the New Testament was written on parchments (prepared animal skins). Because both forms of documents easily degraded under the hot and dry conditions, it was difficult to obtain these ancient manuscripts.

How were the 66 books chosen?
Canon is a word meaning “a measuring rod.” The canon is a standard that all scriptural books must meet. The books of the Bible were authoritative and shared particular traits which distinguished them from other mere books. The criteria by which a book was accepted as inspired resulted from the commonalities among those sacred books the Holy Spirit had inspired and chosen for the canon of sacred scripture.
The five criteria are:
1. Was it written by a prophet of God (Dt. 18:18-22; I Pt. 1:20-21)?
2. Was the prophet confirmed by an act of God (Heb. 2:3-4)?
3. Does it tell the truth about God (Gal. 1:8; Dt. 13:1-5; Dt. 18:22)?
4. Does it have the power of God (Heb. 4:12)?
5. Was it accepted by the people of God (I Thess. 2:13; Dt. 31:24-26; Josh. 24:26; I Sam. 10:25; Dan. 9:2; 2 Pt. 3:16; I Tim. 5:18; Col. 4:16; I Thess. 5:27)?

The Hebrew canon was closed and settled with the final book of the Old Testament, Malachi, around 400 B.C. Malachi concluded with the promise that the next event in redemptive history would be the coming of John the Baptist who would prepare the way for Jesus (Malachi 3:1, 4:5-6 cf. Matthew 3:1-17, 17:9-13). During the 400 years of silence between the end of the Old Testament and the coming of Jesus, many works were written and include such things as books of history, fiction, practical living, and end times speculation. While these books were read by some of God’s people, they were treated like Christian books in our own day and never accepted as Scripture, they are called apocryphal. While the Old Testament is quoted roughly 300 times in the New Testament, none of the apocryphal (hidden books) or pseudepigraphal (pen name authored books) are ever quoted in the New Testament or recognized as Scripture by Christians until the Catholic Council of Trent in 1546. Under pressure from Protestant reformers, the Catholic Church voted to include some apocryphal books to justify their doctrines such as purgatory. These books contradict each other, have some clearly aberrant doctrine at odds with the rest of God’s Word, and do not claim to be inspired.

Jesus summarized the Bible as existing in three parts: the Law, Prophets, and Psalms (Luke 24:4). He accepted the Old Testament canon as it exists today without any modifications and came to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). Jesus also spoke of the Old Testament as existing from Abel (Genesis) to Zechariah (Malachi) in Luke 11:51 and Matthew 23:25.

Second, the gospels were accepted as sacred scripture because they contained the words of Jesus that God’s people treasured (Matt 7:28-29; Luke 2:19, 51; John 6:63). Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come to inspire the writing of the gospels and epistles (John 14:25-26, 16:13). Jesus also promised that His people would recognize His teaching (John 10:27). This is possible because the same Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of Scripture also teaches their meaning to God’s people in whom He dwells (I Corinthians 2:13-14). For example, in I Timothy 5:28 Paul quotes Jesus’ words in Luke 10:7 and calls them “Scripture.”

Third, all but a few New Testament writers claim to be eyewitnesses (2 Pt. 1:16; I Jn. 1:1-3; Luke 1:1-3; Acts 1:1-3; I Cor. 15:6-8; John 20:30-31; Acts 10:39-42; I Pt. 5:1; Acts 1:9). Some authors who were not eyewitnesses received first-hand information from other reliable witnesses. Luke received his information from Paul (2 Tim. 4:11) and numerous eyewitnesses (Lk. 1:1-4), Mark received his information from Peter (I Pt. 5:13), and James and Jude were closely associated with the apostles in Jerusalem and were probably Jesus’ brothers. Paul claimed Jesus Christ was speaking through him (I Cor. 14:37; 2 Cor. 13:3). Paul quotes Luke as Scripture (I Tim. 5:18 cf. Dt. 25:4, Lk. 10:7). New Testament writers claim that their writings are holy (2 Tim. 3:15). The New Testament writers said that their writings were the very words of God (1 Thess. 2:13, I Cor. 14:37, 2 Peter 3:2). Peter called Paul’s writings Scripture (2 Pt. 3:15-16). Paul declared that the letters he wrote were to be read in the churches and obeyed (Col. 4:16; 2 Thess. 3:14). The early church treated the apostles teaching as authoritative (Eph. 2:20; Acts 2:42; Acts 15; Eph. 2:20; I John 4:6). Almost all books of the New Testament canon were accepted by the second century. The New Testament canon was finalized after some questions were raised and resolved around the fourth century. There were never any widespread debates on any of the books until the Catholic Council of Trent in 1546.

Can Scripture be written today?
Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us that God has spoken to us through Jesus and that we have no need of any more revelation beyond what was recorded of His life and work and the subsequent apostolic explanation. The Book of Revelation deals with the end of all things and tells us to expect no more Scripture than what we already have (Revelation 22:18-19). Any new book of the Bible would require eyewitness verification, a new working of God after 2000 years of silence, absolute consistency with the rest of Scripture, and perfect prophecy without any error. We would also have to assume that God had some pertinent revelation that He has withheld from His people for the past 2000 years that He has for some reason now decided to make known. Lastly, the Scriptures warn us of adding to them (Dt. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Spiritual Disciplines: Solitude and Silence

Ever get tired? That is me today…time to unplug and rest and clear my mind of distractions.

If you read throughout scripture we see that many writers agree that to speak much is a vice and to keep silent is a virtue. Although Jesus did teach he also spent time alone using it for prayer and reflection. This spiritual discipline is probably the most necessary of them all. As Richard Foster once said “silence involves more than the absence of speech, but always the act of listening.” Foster develops the idea that simply not talking is not silence, but one must also listen to GOD.

We need times of silence and solitude so that we can listen better, so that we can hear what GOD is saying to us. Also we need silence and solitude so that we can learn from ourselves when we turn off all the stimuli around us, that is so much a part of our world.

So today, I unplug, turn off and disengage and attempt to listen to what GOD has to say to me. I wonder if each of us really desire, but also fear being plugged into GOD? Because when that happens we much confront our deadliest sins and darkest doubts and it is at times not a great place to be. Many people cannot handle silence and just being alone. I encourage you to try it. Better yet, I challenge you to do it! Spend a half day and just unplug, go to a park, out in the country, take a walk. For some it is scary and lonely and for others even oppressive, but let me encourage you that often it turns into joy and peace, after a time.

Love to hear your thoughts.