What is the Bible and What is it For? – Part 1

When I was in Middle School, we bought our first personal computer. I believe it was a Packard Bell. At the time I didn’t know much about computers. We had them at school and used them a little bit to play Oregon Trail, but I hadn’t taken a typing class or a class on how to use any of the programs yet.

I remember looking at the keyboard for the first time. I knew what the letters and numbers did. Delete and enter were self-explanatory, as was Caps Lock, but I had no idea what the other keys did, which meant they weren’t all that useful to me until I learned what they did and what they were for.

In a similar way, we may look at the Bible and ask: What is the Bible and what’s it for? Until we are able to answer that question, it is not going to be all that useful to us just like those other keys on the keyboard weren’t all that useful to me.

What is the Bible and What is it for?

(1) The Bible is a Unified Story that Points Us to Jesus 

In 2 Timothy 3:14 and 15 Paul speaking to Timothy says,

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Ti 3:14–15)

When Paul uses the phrase “the sacred writings” he is referring to Scripture. The Scripture for Paul is what we know as the Old Testament. The New Testament wasn’t completed yet. It was being written and collected as Paul was writing his letter.

Here, Paul reminds Timothy and tells us that the Old Testament points us to Jesus. It’s not just a bunch of stories about some dead old guys who did some cool things, like slay a giant or survive a lion’s den. Instead, it’s a unified collection of books that form one story that points us to Jesus. Which means:

  • The Bible isn’t a self-help book.
  • It’s not a science book.
  • It’s not meant to be a comprehensive history book
  • Nor is it a book that’s going to answer all our questions. In fact, a lot of times it’s probably going to raise more questions than it answers. Just read the book of Job or Revelation and you will have a good idea of what I’m talking about.

The Bible isn’t any of these things. Instead, the Bible is God’s special revelation of Himself in a unified collection of books that form one story whose purpose is to point us to Jesus so we can glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That’s what the Bible is.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you realize that the Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus?

Resources

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Post adapted from my sermon: What is the Bible and What Does it Tell Us?

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What Does It Mean To Be A Church Member?

rmd-c6gaiv0-clem-onojeghuoI belong to the Southern Baptist Convention and so do approximately 16 million others throughout the United States. Yet despite such a number, the average weekly attendance in Southern Baptist churches all across America is less than 6 million. What this means is that on any given Sunday, there are more than 10 million Southern Baptists who are not at church (and unfortunately, I do not think Southern Baptists are alone in such attendance trends).

Now there have been tons of articles and books examining the probable reasons as to why this is the case (with inflated membership rolls being chief among them). But I would like to boil it down to one essential reason which seems to lie behind all others: Continue reading

The Gift

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We just got through Christmas.  I have a pretty set list of who I give Christmas gifts to, and base it on a limited budget.  For the most part it is more of an exchange.  The people I give gifts to give gifts to me (except my young nephews of course).  I have given many gifts without expecting a gift in return, but there is usually an intention of exchange also. It may be affection or appreciation, but usually I can’t help but hope for something tangible.  My intention here is not to be critical of these intentions, but merely an observer.

I recently finished a book by Lewis Hyde titled “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.”  It was recommended to me by another worship leader. Although it’s not a Christian book, it does have several references to the Bible; Specifically the Old Testament.  Honestly I didn’t enjoy reading it.  It was dry, and academic.  However, after I was done reading it, I found myself ruminating over the content.  What does it mean to give a gift? What does it mean to receive a gift? What are our responsibilities or expectations? How do I put that in the context of my artistic ability?

In ancient cultures the expectation of a gift was that it be used, and hopefully shared with the entire tribe or village.  For instance if you were given the gift of meat, it wasn’t enough to enjoy it with your family and cure it hoping it would last for the winter.  It was more likely expected to be used as a feast for the community.  Value was found in the use of wealth and not in the accumulation.

Creativity and Craftsmanship

So as an artist or craftsman what are my responsibilities? “Gift” takes on two meanings here. First it means skill, as in my case, musical abilities. Second, it means the output of my abilities, whether it be a song, a performance, or passing on my knowledge to someone else.

My first responsibility is to develop my gift.  It is clear that God desires excellence. When given instructions for building the arc, or the temple, God commands using the best men for the job be it construction or making the curtains for the tent.  God designates using musicians for use in worship. It was clear God wanted us to develop and use our variety of skills for building the body of the church.

My next responsibility is to give my gift.  What good is having a craft if it is simply for my own pleasure?  Music is a form of communication, which means it has to be received. There are three types of gifts I can give the receiver (or in this case the congregation):

1. The gift the receiver wants: We all have preferences, and favorite songs.  A group of people can be homogenous in their culture and the style of music be one certain genre, but more often than not we are all drawing on various backgrounds.  This ends up requiring the music to be easily digestible.

2.The gift I want to give: I have my preferences.  There are certain songs and styles I enjoy playing. Songs I feel are more natural for me to express than others. I want the songs to preach to me.  I want songs that have obvious meaning, but with text so rich I discover new truths after singing them over and over. However, if the receiver is unable to understand where I’m coming from I might as well be singing in the shower.

3.The gift the receiver needs: I think of this as the solid food vs the mother’s milk referred to in Hebrews 5:13-14. In the case of worship this means being specific about the attributes of God and all he’s done for us through the lens of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  This might require being exposed to new songs, new styles of music, or studying parts of the word that we don’t have full understanding.  The danger of this is being new wine being poured into old wine skins as Jesus refers to in Mark 2:22. One time I heard Albert Moehler say (I may be paraphrasing), “It’s not enough for our songs to not be heretical.”  I couldn’t agree more. 

The hope is to find the overlap in a venn diagram of these three.

A Gift of Grace

I can’t bring up gifts without mentioning Spiritual Gifts.  This can be a divisive subject.  I think it’s important we always return to the scripture when understanding what these are and how to use them.  In DA Carson’s “Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14” he explains the greek translation to be several versions of the word charisma. The best translation is “gift of grace”.  Paul writes that different people will receive different gifts, but all for building up the body of the church.  He also warns us of the misuse of these gifts.

So is my musical ability a spiritual gift? It is something I use for the building of the up of the body.  It is something I consider God given, and yet have also had to develop.  It is not mentioned in the Bible as being a spiritual gift, but I do know the Spirit takes part in my talent.

Whether or not it is craft or gift, I always have to question who I am using it for.  I can’t help but seek glory. One or two times a week I fantasize about about playing in front of people, and they falling in awe of my amazing skill and creativity. If not that if imagine everyone realizing how much more talented I am as a worship leader than anyone else. God has a way of bringing me back down to earth whether I want to or not.

I’ve been part of a church that tried so hard for supernatural spiritual gifts.  We wanted to see people speaking in tongues and translating. We wanted to see supernatural healing while ignoring professional medical diagnosis. We wanted to see new prophetic words and dreams, not just of encouragement or instruction, but clear visions of the future.  This pursuit lead to a lot of people getting hurt. Some people used false prophecies to raise themselves above others. People were lied about and excommunicated for no reason.  Untruths were spread from the pulpit. Scripture was taken out of context and used for our own selfish pursuits. The worship services became very chaotic and un-orderly.  It was the complete opposite of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 14.

I don’t want to question anyone’s motives in that situation. I know mine were at best ignorant and at worst twisted. I wanted to display some sort of gifting so that I knew, and people knew God had something special in store for me. I wanted people to recognize I had a special calling.  As a church we wanted that too.  When I think about what would have happened if we had started displaying these gifts. I can’t imagine us not lifting ourselves above all the other churches, I can’t imagine being able to get out of the way and give glory to God alone. Always ask yourself when desiring spiritual gifts, “who will I be glorifying with this.” There is nothing wrong with desiring God to use our lives to work in miraculous ways, but sometimes the gift we need most is humility.

The Gift of Grace

The Jews would build altars in tribute to God in remembrance of what he’d done for them.  They would give a sacrificial lamb in exchange for the penalty of sin.  God gave his Son in place of the lamb.  He gave us our offering.  So what are we giving back to Him?

This brings me back to the idea of gifts as an exchange.  What a silly notion that anything I do is making some sort of exchange for the ultimate sacrifice!  As if there is some magic number of songs I can sing, scripture I can read, people I can serve that can measure up to Christ.  When will I realize Christ is the gift? There is no rate of exchange!  Even if I were to die in the same manner for the sake of God’s glory I am still tainted by the fallen nature of man.  I will never stack up to the perfection of Christ unless he gives it to me.

Hopefully this revelation is freeing. Not to do nothing, but to pursue Christ knowing the debt is paid.  So what is happening when I am using my gift of creativity or skill to worship God? I am partaking in the giving and receiving of Christ.

Carson, D.A. Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14. Ada, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1996.

Hyde, Lewis. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. New York: Vintage, 1983.

From the Broken Shepherd Bookshelf

 

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Do you find yourself pondering questions about the nature of God? Do His divine attributes sometimes make you stop and scratch your head? I’m one of those type people who can say I’m exhausted, get into bed, and then lie awake for hours thinking of how God can know the future. How does that work? Where does free will come into play? If these type questions are intriguing to you, then this classic work by Arthur Pink will certainly be a treat. At just over 200 pages, “The Sovereignty of God” is a thorough, if not comprehensive examination of the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty. I must warn you, that Pink is a no-nonsense type author. There is no sugar-coated theology and there are no Sunday school answers in this book. From the first chapter to the final sentence, Pink takes you on a direct journey to understanding God’s absolute freedom over His creation to do with it whatever He pleases. Continue reading

Questions You Need To Ask Before Teaching The Bible

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Let’s be honest: teaching the Bible is scary.

If it’s not to you, it should be. Whether you are a small group leader, Sunday school teacher, professor, pastor, or anything else where the Word of God has been entrusted to you to magnify and exposit, you should tremble. Continue reading

How Can I Delight in God’s Word?

As Christians, we are supposed to delight in the Bible. What I mean by that is that it should produce a sense of pleasure and joy in us when we read it. Our delight should draw us into the text.

For some of you, however, that might not be where you are at with the Bible right now. You might not delight in it. Since you don’t delight in the Bible, you don’t read it. Maybe you feel bad about not reading the Bible. Maybe you want to get to a place where you delight in it, you just don’t know how to make the switch. You might be asking: How can the Bible become something in which I delight? Continue reading

What It’s Like To Be A Mission Project

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Perry County, Alabama is among the poorest counties in the United States.

Some studies say that 46.9% of Perry County’s residents live under the poverty line.

A study that was done just a few years ago showed 41% of the county, with 72% of all children in the county, are on food stamps, which is the 11th highest in the nation.

If you don’t live in Perry County, then these are just statistics. But this is my home. These are the people I go to church with and wave to every day. These are the people that ask me for a couple of bucks at the gas station just to get home. These are the people I’m in line with at the grocery store as they sift through all of their WIC stamps and EBT cards or sit beside at the doctor’s office. These are my friends and family whom I love.

My church does what it can but often does not have the man power or money power to help in truly beneficial ways. So we have several churches and colleges come to do mission or humanitarian work. I have been involved with several of these groups, helping organize projects, giving them tours, and helping them get immersed into the culture.

Here’s what it is typically like being a mission project: demeaning. A group of white kids come, pity us, do some painting around town, play with some local kids, and leave thinking about how they are glad they don’t have to live in this run down town.

This doesn’t have to be the case.

Over the years I have learned some principles on how to go on a mission trip by actually being a mission trip for others. Here they are:

1. Understand the spiritual poverty.

Many of the students and adults that come to Perry County don’t get that 46.1% do not even claim to have a religion. That doesn’t include the amount of people who do claim to be Christian and go to church once or twice a year and have no true relationship with Jesus Christ.

Mission trips are usually taken in places of poverty. So whether it’s Haiti, Skid Row, or parts of Africa, understanding the spiritual poverty of the people there is key. When we think that all we need do is give out some t-shirts or a free hot dog, then we are sorely deceived.

These places need hope. The only hope that lasts is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. Understand the relational poverty.

In When Helping Hurts* by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, they diagnose all forms of poverty as ultimately “relational poverty.” Our relationships with God, ourselves, each other, and the rest of creation are all broken; that’s what poverty really is. When we see that as poverty, we understand we are all poor. That’s why so many rich, American Christians go to a third world country and are blown away by how happy people are, how they laugh and dance, and are thankful for what they have. Some people can be materially poor but have good relationships. These Christians believe their wealth and knowledge will save these poor, uneducated people. Corbett and Fikkert give a scathing rebuke to this mindset:

“Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do more harm than good. I sometimes unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something. I am not okay, and you are not okay. But Jesus can fix us both.”

Poverty isn’t all about wealth; it’s about relationships.

3. Understand that the best work is done with not for.

This is where it gets messy. This is where it gets difficult. This is where you go beyond painting something for someone, to teaching someone how to paint and having them paint along with you. This is where you go from putting on an evangelistic rally, to watching the locals do it with your minimal help. This is you stepping down from lead Backyard Bible Club teacher and handing it over to someone who knows the people and lives in the situation.

This takes relationship building. This takes time. This is not a quick-fix, but it is a long term solution. The people who you are trying to help cannot be effectively helped if they see you as the expert that does everything for them. They need to be empowered to do the work year round instead of waiting on the mission team from First RichPeople PresBaptiMethoCostal Church to come every year. These people are made in God’s image and are highly capable of being creative, constructive, and strong. You just have to guide them into that through love and patience.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of how a church should approach a mission trip. This specifically deals with mission trips taken to low-income areas; obviously more would need to be said about trips taken to other areas. However, these three principles are a good start for now.

 

*I highly suggest reading and engaging with this book for a much more thorough understanding of these thoughts.

New Testament Backgrounds For Beginners: Pt. 3

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Editor’s Note: This series is for those who want to better understand the New Testament’s historical-cultural background, but aren’t sure where to start. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here, respectively.

As we venture in to week 3 of New Testament backgrounds, I want us to get a feel for what Rome’s expansion policies were like and what this meant for the various people who were placed under their power. Then, in the last part of the post, we’ll especially spend some time focusing in on how this took shape in Judea, Galilee, Samaria, etc. All the places where Jesus carried out His ministry and the region where the church was born. Continue reading

 

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Christmas is wonderful, isn’t it? Lights. Trees. Presents. Extra services at church. Food. And of course, the nativity. Altogether, Christmas brings enough excitement to make the average Christian as happy as a dog with two tales.

But not everyone is quite as thrilled about Christmas as you may be. As a matter of fact, a recent poll claims that a majority of Americans have something about Christmas that they “dread.” And don’t think that just because Christians emphasize the birth of our Lord and Savior more than they emphasize Rudolph, that they don’t have parts of the Christmas celebration they don’t look forward to.

Unfortunately, believers can even fall into the trap of being distracted by current events or circumstances which encourage a drifting away from the celebration of Christ’s birth. Whether you’re a pastor or a parishioner, there are five people I think Christians need to be sure to remember this Christmas: Continue reading

New Testament Backgrounds For Beginners: Pt. 2

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Editor’s Note: This series is for those who want to better understand the New Testament’s historical-cultural background, but aren’t sure where to start. Part 1 of this series can be found here.

Last week I introduced this series by giving you a broad timeline of the New Testament’s historical context (356 B.C.-A.D. 313) and the three main people groups who formed the bulk of the cultural matrix of the first century: Romans, Greeks, and Jews.

Now this week, I want us to take a stroll through Continue reading