No Scripture abuse allowed here
Romans 16: Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching you have learned.
The first theology book of Christianity is being concluded. The final pages are more about words of greeting than theology. Now, almost an afterthought, the Apostle warns his readers about the danger of taking “bits and pieces” of the truth and using them in such a way as to create an untruth. Some people, Paul warns them, are pretty good at doing this bad thing. They take true statements and then twist them to their own purposes. He tells his readers to stay away from people like that. As I read this warning I can’t help but think that one of the best ways for me to avoid this trap is to study God’s Word, making the effort to know what it really says. Another thing that comes to mind is that I don’t ever want to be one of these troublemakers who abuse the Bible, making it say what I want it to say. I can’t help but think that had Paul seen the future and how it would be his own words that would most often be abused in this way that this particular admonition would have been given a more prominent place in this letter. It might have been placed on page one, written in capital letters, rather than being shoehorned between words of greetings here on the final page.
Take Away: The Lord doesn’t take it lightly when people abuse Scripture.
The biggest fish story ever
Jonah 1: One day long ago, God’s Word came to Jonah.
As I finish my quick read of little-known Obadiah, I turn the page to find myself on very familiar ground. After all, everybody has heard of Jonah and the “whale.” This is surely one of the top five stories of the Old Testament and people who’ve never read the Bible or attended church know about this “fish story.” A few years ago I was teaching a church membership class and this story came up. The teens in the class wanted to know if Christians have to believe as literally true stories like Noah and the Ark and Jonah and the “whale.” Had the question been asked by some fine fundamentalists I’ve known I would have thought I was being set up for the old trap that sounds something like this: “If you don’t believe in a literal six day creation how can you believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus?” That question, by the way, ignores the clear teachings of the Bible which says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). Note that Paul doesn’t add, “Also, you have to believe every statement in the Old Testament is literal.” I’m not required to believe in a literal six day Creation to be saved, but I do have to believe “God raised him from the dead.” Anyway, back to the teens in the membership class. I told them that I believe the Lord created all things and that sending a big flood or making a big fish capable of doing what the book of Jonah says it did would be a simple thing for such a Creator. However, the purpose of stores like this is to tell us something about God and ourselves and that it’s a bigger mistake to read the story, believing every word while missing the lesson than it is to read the story and “get it” while doubting that it’s literal. So, “big fish” or not, I’m supposed to come away from the Book of Jonah knowing more about God and his work in this world than I knew before. That’s still my goal as I start through this story once again.
Take Away: The Bible tells us the story of God and us. It has no interest in answering every scientific question or providing for us fodder for religious debates.
Letting the Bible say what it says
Isaiah 14: You said to yourself, “I’ll climb to heaven…instead of climbing up, you came down.”
If you were raised in church as I was you’ll identify with my observation that church folks develop a lot of folk theology. When I was a kid someone told me that Isaiah 14 describes the fall of Satan from the splendor of heaven. I believed it and grew to adulthood assuming that all Christians thought that about this passage. One day it dawned on me (and I probably had some help with that awakening) that this passage is about Babylon and its king. The ruler of Babylon thinks he’s bigger than God. In fact, because of his nation’s unequaled economic and military power and his unlimited authority over it all that he concludes that he, himself, is a god. Isaiah prophesies that mighty Babylon is going to fall, and will fall in a very big way. Now, this passage can be used to illustrate other things, but it really isn’t about anything aside from Babylon. For instance the true-ism, “the bigger they come, the harder they fall” comes to mind. Sometimes, even well-meaning people can mistakenly use Scripture in improper ways. As God’s people we’re to be people of truth, “rightly dividing the Word” even if that means we lose a handy proof text.
Take Away: Even well-meaning people can mistakenly use Scripture in improper ways.
It’s God’s story
Exodus 2: God listened…God remembered…God saw…God understood.
The story of the Bible is God’s story. He’s the central player. In the book of Exodus we have the major, dominating figure of Moses, but he isn’t the star. The Exodus story is about God. It’s he who listens to their cries, remembers his promise to Abraham, sees their need, and understands their plight. And it’s he who acts. Decades earlier, when Moses tried to take on the role of deliverer, things didn’t work out. Now, God takes on that role. When the story of the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt begins, it starts with God in a burning bush and not Moses killing an Egyptian. Today, I want my story to be God’s story. I’d rather play a small part in his big story than have the leading role in a one man play.
Take Away: It’s about my cooperating with God, not about him cooperating with me.