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The Bible: What Is It Really?

There’s an old joke about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on a camping trip. After dinner and a bottle of wine, they lay down for the night, and promptly go to sleep.

Some hours later, Holmes wakes and nudges his faithful friend.

“Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”Sherlock

Watson replied, “I see millions of stars.”

“What does that tell you?”

Watson pondered for a minute.

“Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.”

“Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.”

“Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.”

“Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.”

“What does it tell you, Holmes?”

Holmes was silent for a minute, then spoke: “Watson, you idiot. Someone has stolen our tent!”

 

That story is a favorite of mine because it illustrates an important point. Sometimes we can be very profound in our explanations, but still miss what is right in front of us. Even the best and brightest of us all can, for all of our education, fail to explain or answer the deepest questions. When it comes to the Bible, our answers can be like that. We can ask a range of questions and give answers that would boggle even the greatest minds, but for all our perceptiveness we may completely fail to get to the heart of the question.

When we consider the question of “What is the Bible?” on a blog such as this, sticking to the basics will have to suffice. Many questions will be addressed here, but no doubt there will be plenty that could be asked. I only intend to start a conversation or pique your interest. Many of the names mentioned here were names that I became familiar with when I first began to look for answers. In fact, I still have sticky notes in both my Bible and many of the books I read during my freshmen year of college when I was exploring this issue.

One of the first names that deserves a mention is John Warwick Montgomery, who was a professor of Philosophy at Oxford, a highly acclaimed lawyer, and successful human rights advocate. As a lawyer, he notes that it is the lawyer’s job to distinguish between making claims (almost anyone can file a lawsuit) and proving the case (which is only done on the basis of good evidence). Lawyers, he notes, are in the business of investigating claims, and won’t accept any claim unless there is good reason. Montgomery Quote.pngMontgomery also notes the importance of the defendants claim. In any trial, the accused must make a claim for himself, and the prosecutors must present evidence against that claim. It is no use attacking a claim that the defendant never makes for himself, and as always, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. We take the testimony at face value until we have good evidence to the contrary.

Because of this, I will simply explore some of the chief claims that the Bible makes about itself. I hope that after reading you, whether Christian or not, will be challenged to think about and engage the book that has come to be known as the Bible.

The Bible as a book:

One thing that must be said at the outset is that the Bible is a book. It claims to be the Wordd of God, yes, but it was written down and collected in a single volume called the Bible. In this way, the Bible is a collection of writings, 66 in total. It is a testimony to men, and therefore is divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament, sometimes referred to as the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

As world-renowned professor and scholar from the University of Manchester FF Bruce noted, The Bible was written during a period of over 1500 years, as a collection of 66 books containing 7 or more different genres of literature, in three different languages onBible facts.jpg 3 different continents, telling one cohesive story. In the first book alone it contains prophecies, history, poetry, allegory, parables, philosophy, laws, romance, and songs. In Genesis, it begins with a romance in a garden, and ends with a wedding feast in the last book known as Revelation.

Could God have revealed himself in another way? He could, and He has. He reveals his brilliance as creator in the exact calculative design of nature, his goodness in the conscience of every human spirit, and his purposes in the progression of history. These are just some of the ways that God has revealed himself outside of the Scriptures. All of these are sufficient to show that there is something to believe in, yet none of these will be so fool-proof that they override our own will to believe.

The Scriptures are a different kind of revelation from these. They are more exact and less abstract revelation. Yet they show the same humility as the author of nature, conscience and history. Once again, there is just enough evidence to make belief a reasonable thing, but not so much evidence that it forces our minds to accept what our hearts don’t want to believe. You can choose to ignore a book if you want nothing to do with the author of that book. All you have to do is never open it. Or if you do choose to open it, read only those parts in it that affirm what you already think is true. The Bible does affirm all the above sources of revealed truth for us, and interprets those revelations so that we can understand them. Considering that the Christian God reveals himself as a Bridegroom wooing his bride, and not as an totalitarian dictator, it makes sense that Word of God would be recorded in a book. If it is helpful, think of the Bible as a love letter, but be warned that all metaphors have their limits.

The Bible as the Word of God:

No matter how much experience you have with the Bible, take a step back and consider what you think the Bible is for a minute.

Christians say that the Bible is the word of God. Have you ever considered what is actually being claimed? Consider what it would mean if God spoke directly to you; what would you be thinking, or feeling? How would you respond? I often face this issue when discussing religion across cultures, when I am fully aware that my friends feel similarlySacredTexts about the books they hold to be sacred. We may have good intentions, but sometimes, like Dr. Watson, we don’t always think about what we are actually saying. Because of this, it is important to consider what the Bible actually says about itself.

Many books have several authors, and the Bible is no different. Yet, according the Bible, the Scriptures that make up the Bible do not originate with men, but with God (2Peter1:20-21). Over 3,000 times, the Bible writers claimed to have received their messages from God, and it is for this reason that 2Timothy3:16 says that “all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” If we were to interpret this word for inspiration literally, it would mean that God breathed the text. In other words, throughout Scripture there is the assumption of its equivalency with the actual speech of God. If this is true, the logically the Bible, as the equivalent to God’s speech, is “authoritative.”

The Bible is authoritative because it tells the true story. It describes reality as it really is. However, we must not think of this authority as an austere, severe authoritarian. Jesus once said that wicked rulers lord their authority over their subjects, but that he was unlike the wicked rulers because he did not come to be served. Rather, he came to serve others, even to lay down his own life for many of them. In this way, Jesus used his authority for the benefit of others. Jesus quoted from the Bible, giving it the same authority as himself, and describes it as authoritative in the same way. Consider what N.T. Wright has to say, “The Bible is an authoritative instrument of what God accomplished through Jesus- particularly through his death and resurrection.” The books of the Bible are authoritative because they accurately record the Word of God. They are authoritative because they are true and good, and for this reason they were included in the Bible. Not the other way around.

The Bible and Coach Wooden

Many people find the idea of authority uncomfortable. Because of this, we sometimes confuse the Bible with a book of rules. But this is a gross oversimplification that both Christians and non-Christians often fall into for a variety of reasons. I like to make the analogy that the Bible is not so much like a rule book, but more like a good coach.

In basketball, the undisputed best of the best was Coach John Wooden of UCLA. When he died in 2010 at age 99, the New York Times described him as having built “An Incomparable Dynasty.” His winning record sits at 88 consecutive wins, and he led UCLA to 10 championship titles in 12 years, and he still holds those records. Yet his success was not attributed to the skill and knowledge the game, although he surely had more than most. Many players and sports commentators attribute his success to the wisdom and emphasis on character building that he imparted to each of his players.John Wooden Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of Wooden’s star players, said of him “It was his wisdom and the relationship that he built with his players. He considered himself a teacher, the kind that gets to know their players very well and shows them the best way to improve their talents to win the game.” Coach Wooden won the admiration of everyone, including other coaches, who gave him the name “The Wizard of Westwood.” He remained an influential figure on the sidelines long after his own retirement. Eventually, he was awarded the Reagan Distinguished American Reward in 1995 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. Although he died of natural causes in 2010, he has a legacy as one of the most beloved coaches in basketball history, having also written several books filled with wisdom that inspire thousands of players for life both on and off the court.

The Bible is like that. It is not a list of do’s and don’ts, but more like a good coach. In basketball, the coach is not a player, but he is still a key factor in the game. No matter how talented the team may be, without the vision of a good coach, they will never achieve their true potential. The coach is the one who helps them improve their shot, instills in them passion for the game, giving them direction through the bad games and celebrating their good ones. He does this, not to restrict the player, but so that through his coaching all of the player’s talents and dedication might come to fruition. The coach is a part of the game, even though he is not on the court. He stands above the game, guiding and providing vision for the players on the court, and it is his one mission in life to guarantee that his players succeed not just in the game, but in life as well.

In the same way, anyone who spends much time in prayerful meditation, or opens the Bible regularly finds in it direction and vision for their life like a good coach. They find in it’s pages bits of wisdom that help them improve their internal character, while also shaping them for the game of life. Yet also like a coach, the Bible is not merely another book in the game, but stands above the game as authoritative. The Bible is comprehensive in the same way that the coach is comprehensive, it is the eternal word that stands above reality and is therefore able to guide us through it to the end. Everyone who takes the Bible as their coach, and puts its wisdom into practice, discovers a more compelling way of living. They will achieve a greater passion for life, a sense of purpose, and direction. To them, reading the Bible is like a warm conversation with a faithful friend.

The Bible as a Story:

The Bible doesn’t tell just any story, it tells the story. It both reports the facts, and it also interprets those facts. It is the story about God, man, Jesus, good, evil, justice, and ultimately the story of how God is working through mankind to set the world right. Jesus is at the center of the book, like a stone cast into a lake, the concentric ripples are the stories surrounding His birth, life, death, and resurrection. All the stories either point to how God is planning to bring about peace and joy to the world through Jesus. It is a story similar to the one told by J.R.R. Tolkien, when he writes,

“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

“A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam once-upon-a-timethat he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”

The story of the Bible is like that. It is the story of God making a good world that ends up being ruined by us. Because we are all part of the problem, none of us can be the solution. So God, in the person of Jesus, comes to defeat evil by taking it head on. Jesus takes upon himself the death that was coming for us all, so that we may take up the life that He deserved. Now death is reversed. The very thing that was supposed to be our end, Christ uses for his ends. His death is our life, what was meant to kill him he turns to victory, and all those who bravely persevere in the story find true life.

C.S. Lewis, a literary professor at Oxford in the mid 20th century, notes that the stories in the Bible have much in common with the pagan myths, insofar as the pagan myths had something in common with reality itself. The inspirational myths of all mankind were a search for that great something to believe in, and in fact they do tell stories of dying and rising gods, of corn kings, acts of heroism, and great romances. They are the sum of all hopes and desires, and the Bible makes the staggering claim that Jesus is the fulfillment of the best of these stories. Jesus applies this logic to himself when he claims to be the fulfillment of the story of Jonah: “for as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and nights” (Matthew 12:39-40).

Jesus is the figure at the end of our philosophical search for truth, because He is the true myth, the real story. The ring of truth in all of the stories are ultimately shown to be echoes of the real thing, who is Jesus. The search for truth had to be a real, historical character as nobody had ever felt Adonis or Horus to be a real historical character. But as a historical character he had to be an ideal figure; and fulfill all those roles given to these other ideal figures, Jesus was and is that- the heavenly man, the Lord of the wine, Einstein fairytalesthe one that has come to save and not condemn, the son of God, the seed that must go down into the earth and rise again, the bridegroom rescuing his bride, the true vine, the real temple, the son of God, the victorious King. He was all of these things, and more.

As such, Jesus Christ is the embodiment of all those stories and legends that we had hoped could be true, but did not dare believe. When we tell great stories, we often tell them with a lack of seriousness. As if we don’t want to give away the fact that we really do wish there was an element of truth in them. We laugh them off because we wish them to be true and are uncomfortable with the creeping hope that they might be true. We don’t want to be disappointed, and so we call that feeling nostalgia or wishful thinking. We say, as if wonder and sophistication were mutually exclusive, “Oh, we are adults now, and we are sophistication, there’s no room for childlike wonder.” Yet Jesus stands between what is real and what we had hoped was real, and unites them together in himself. He meets our expectations, and then totally surpasses them. The Bible doesn’t just give us a story to believe in, it presents to us a person that is more real and compelling than anything our loftiest imaginations had ever dared to conceive, let alone believe. The story of the Bible is the story of God, in Jesus, making our wildest dreams come true.

The Bible and the Story of Us

It has become popular to talk about metanarratives and worldviews these days. A metanarrative being that grand, over-arching story that encompasses all of us. A worldview is how we see the world, and how we interpret history and our place in it. Each of us has a metanarrative that we believe in, and even if we differ on minor details, many metanarratives share common ground in key details. Each metanarrative has at least six parts, and each worldview answers a few basic questions:

  1. Setting – What is the world like?9hue11499117015.jpg
  2. Character- Who am I?
  3. Plot – What is my purpose?
  4. Conflict – What prevents me from achieving my purpose?
  5. Crescendo – How do I overcome my conflict?
  6. Resolution – What happens at the end of my life?

A few common Metanarratives and Worldviews are known as Christianity, Islam, Atheism, Hinduism, or Buddhism, as well as a host of other “isms.” Many people narrow these down even further to the Theistic, Atheistic, and Eastern metanarratives. These worldviews do not make up their own facts. They are an interpretation of the same facts we all have.

The Bible obviously portrays the Christian metanarrative, or the Christian story of the world. This story is important, because it includes all of us. The Christian story claims to be a true account of the facts, and an interpretation of those facts (Luke 1:1-4). It may not claim to be written to those of us in 21st century America, but it does claim to be applicable to all of us. It includes Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, John, and Paul, but it claims to be about us all, both westerners and easterners, Americans, your neighbor, and even you. It is a story that is either true or false. It demands all of our loyalty and will have us entirely or not at all. The one thing we cannot be is indifferent to it. The kind of story the Bible tells isn’t the kind of thing to be met with indifference. It doesn’t give us that option. It doesn’t even try to.

People often complain that the Bible is complicated. Well, if the Bible is complicated, it is complicated in all the ways that life itself is complicated. Yet it is only complicated to those that leave it’s teachings untried.Rich Mullins.jpg Those that put into practice what they do understand, soon make sense of those things that they can’t yet understand. The Bible only talks about complicated things to un-complicate them. Perhaps it could be easier if we had no facts to bother about, but thank God Christianity does deal with the facts. And it deals with them, by not hiding from them. The Biblical authors tell us the facts as they are, even if we don’t always like them. In this way, the Bible is exactly what we need, even when we don’t know of our need for it. Yet, this is good that the Bible deals with facts. It is good for the sake of progress.

Everyone knows that in order to make progress in anything, one must dedicate himself to a common goal and stick with it. No matter how enormous the task, it can be done, so long as we don’t change the goal. If a king were to tell his loyal subjects to paint all the grass on Grandfather Mountain blue because he was sad, they could do it given enough time and effort. Yet if he came back a week later and said he was feeling mad, therefore he wanted the mountain to be red, all progress made so far would have been for nothing. If we changed our minds as often as we changed our moods, no progress would ever be made.

Here is the marvelous truth about Christianity in general, and the Bile in particular. We don’t need a religion to be right as often as we agree with it. We need a guide that is right, especially when we are wrong.Ravi Quote The Bible tells a story, a remarkably coherent story, as no genius author has ever told before. As Leo Tolstoy once said, “Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.”

We love stories like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars because they draw us in to a story that is bigger than life. They tell us of galaxies far far away, only to remind us of the wonderful galaxy we call home. They talk about little boys becoming great wizards and fighting off dragons, not because dragons exist, but because some little boys do grow up to become heroes in their own way. We even delight in Elves and Dwarves because they remind us that what matters is our common goals, and not our individual differences. This last thing is what makes all stories wonderful. They provide a plot that makes human flourishing possible.

This is precisely the purpose of the Bible. When we pick it up, we must remember that it is not only the most famous book in the world, but one that has the power to change lives, build community, and ultimately shape the whole projection of human progress. It’s done it before, and it can do it again.

The Bible is living and active, Christians say. To borrow from N.T. Wright again, The Bible is a vital, central element in Christian living. We cannot do without it, even if many Christians aren’t quite sure what they are supposed to do with it. God has seen fit to delegate some of the plans he has in mind for this world to this book. It isn’t like God has written a will, but nearly. Perhaps it is more helpful to think of it like a composer writing a symphony for people to play, but that doesn’t quite cover it. It isn’t exactly like an author of a play, inviting characters to join in, although that is very close. It isn’t even that the Bible is “the story so far” in the beautiful cosmic narrative that God is still writing. It’s all of these things, and yet even more.

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So friends, I’m curious, whether you are more like Watson or Sherlock, what does the Bible mean to you?


Videos are a good thing, especially when they are short and full of good info like these, watch these and explore more of their awesome content:

These guys from Three Minute Theology answer some of your biggest questions quickly and creatively:

There’s also a more academic website you can get fantastic info on here: The Bible as Written Word of God and The Authority of the Bible

Finally, kick back and enjoy some cool quotes from John Wooden at addicted2success.com, this guy really was a legend.

Thanks for reading!

Why I Listen to, and Love, Propaganda’s Controversial Music

I’ve noticed an increasing skepticism towards anything claiming authenticity lately. It’s as if we all are so used to people pushing their own agendas and having ulterior motives that when somebody really is transparent, we suspect foul play and manipulation, immediately objecting to the person, even before we ever even begin to entertain what has just been said. We throw out people with their ideas. I’m afraid many of us don’t know the difference between entertaining an idea, believing an idea, and loving a person anymore. It’s not just critical thinking, but the art of thinking uncritically has become lost on us.

In our music it’s no different. We all know that many people write songs just to make a buck, or they sing songs that have been written by someone else for the same thing, money and fame. Yet, when it comes to one of my favorite artists, I listen a little more intently. For one thing, he always says what’s on his mind, and even though I don’t always agree, usually it is thought provoking. For another, he gives away his music for free, even though his music career is his living, meaning that he isn’t trying to please crowds with his music, he’s just calling it like he sees it. As he says, “I’m just shaping the conversations that will happen at my funeral.”

His name is Jason Petty, but he is better known by his stage name Propaganda. Recognized Propaganda2for mixing insightful poetry, rhetoric, and discussing the intersection between faith and politics, all in the form of good hip-hop, Propaganda is and always has been a conversation starter. He sees the irony in his work, and loves every minute of it.

His most recent album, Crooked, is no exception, and although it’s a little early for a full scale review, a few thoughts do come to mind almost immediately after listening to it for a few times and discussing it with friends.

As the name would suggest, this album is darker than his others. It is done in his usual style of punchy lines and pure authenticity, even while humbly admitting he doesn’t have everything figured out. From the title track “Crooked Ways” to “Cynical,” Propaganda seems to be very interested in raising questions. This album seems at first to be a tirade against many of the flaws that he sees in the American political landscape. This particularly appeals to the restless up-and-coming generation, who seem to lack no shyness in speaking their mind and raising questions also, even while this album dropped the same weekend as the fourth of July. It is currently popular to bash our Politicians and country, and although Propaganda doesn’t stoop low enough to take shots at individuals, anyone who listens to Crooked with an open mind will have quite a few things to think about. He finds a way to vent personal frustration, even while not making personal accusations.

Another marked difference from this album and his others is the lack of humor. In past albums, Propaganda has made jokes out of inconsistencies and through satire raised issues that were pertinent to the message of the album. This time, the inclusion of “I Hate Cats” starts off humorous enough, but soon listeners are introduced to the dark side of “innocent” prejudice that Propaganda exposes as being systemic. One is left to wonder if he hasn’t made a few errors in his broad-brush statements that are, ironically, what he adamantly opposes.

Several things said on this album will not sit well with affiliates of either political party. Propaganda repeatedly takes shots at our “sacred cows” of political schemas, raising the question of what we put our hopes in, and if what we are really trying to achieve is achievable through the means we are implementing. This album is in line with his previous record, Crimson Cord. Whereas the last seemed to focus on issues of racism in the private sector and discuss America on only one or two tracks, Crooked takes the reverse approach so that what was a minor on Crimson Cord is played in major tones, and in this way, Crooked is a sister album to Crimson Cord. Offering blistering criticisms that are the opposite face of the same coin. Yet, he reserves his most blistering criticisms for discussing his own private struggles. True to his own style and humility, Propaganda freely shares about his own inadequacy and inconsistency, enabling him to give freely to his listeners the lessons learned from wrestling with his own failings. Tracks such as “Made Straight” and “It’s Not Working” are full of introspection, and helpful insights. In these tracks he exposes the false hope of political idolatry, even as it runs through his own heart. The last verse of “It’s Not Working” may be one of my favorite verses Propaganda has written thus far:

It’s a frightening indictment

That even if all these world problems are solved

It still wouldn’t resolve what you are actually looking for

And it’s not like these problems, they don’t need to be addressed

But fixing systemic issues, it ain’t the source of your rest

Or satisfaction, and I know it’s your life’s work

But the work of a man’s hands, it has never quenched his thirst

You say I’m King of kings but son, I don’t get it how

You could trust me for eternity but can’t trust me for now

Hoping in a broken system to fix what’s broken in us

It’s not working, is it?

 

Finally, and the real reason I wanted to discuss this album is this, Propaganda gives a voice to the thoughts of a restless, disturbed, and desperate generation, powerfully speaking truth and raising awareness to promote a nation-wide conversation. Propaganda has a true talent for persuasively presenting viewpoints that may seem foreign to our own and giving us an understanding, not just in mind but at the level of heart where it really counts, enabling his listeners to walk away from his albums better prepared to helpfully engage their neighbors in a real way.

To make the analogy: I used to work in a bookstore and in my free time I would browse the joke books. We always had one that was a bestseller, it was called “A Manual For Men: Everything They Need to Know About Women.” It was nearly blank up until the last page that said, “Don’t read this, listen to your wife instead.”

The reason people pull that book off the shelf is because, let’s face it boys, we don’t understand women! Yet, if there was a chance, maybe just for one good piece of advice in the two-hundred and some-odd pages of “A Manual for Men” that would help us better love our wives, we’d have the whole book memorized. If any of us could write a book like that, we’d retire a billionaire.

Propaganda writes that book in his albums. Not for understanding women, but for understanding a plethora of counter-perspectives and challenging his listeners to consider it uncritically, and that is what understanding is all about. Before we find a solution, we have to agree on the problem. Propaganda pulls no punches in exposing many of the problems as he and many many others see them. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with him, you’ll walk away better prepared to put an arm around your neighbor and discuss their frustrations with them. I suspect that if we loved our neighbors as much as we love our wives, we would stop trying to find a manual for fixing them, and instead sit down and listen to them. Propaganda has talents that enable us to do just that.

Propaganda.jpegIf Propaganda was trying to start a conversation he has succeeded. I’m hoping that many will join in. Crooked is guaranteed to make you pause and give thought to the way you communicate some of the most pertinent issues of our time, and what you are doing about them, which is a good thing. In his own words, “The presence of good art will unconsciously refine a community.” Give it a listen, it is sure to shape many conversations throughout the upcoming year.

Dating: How Do I Find “The One?”

We all do it. We all recognize it. We watch as they leave, hand in hand, with wrinkled smiles as they sit quietly on some park bench watching the birds. Of course they can be comfortably silent, because they have been in conversation for 50 years of marriage or more. This lull in the conversation is only temporary, they are catching their breaths before the next part of their story. And the rest of us, well, we can’t help but applaud inside while the question burns in us: “Just how did you know you were so right for each other?” I know I’ve done this, and if my students are any indication, this is a question we all ask from time to time. Because I’ve had the pleasure of talking with a few of these couples that question, and because they usually love to share their stories, the next few paragraphs are just a modest attempt at collecting some of the best things told to me by those who have seemingly found “the one” and never looked back.

While for some people it certainly feels like every relationship could be “the one,” it doesn’t take long for others to almost immediately begin worrying about making the wrong decision. Questions of compatibility loom large in our minds, and suddenly small things become big things or we become unsure of the decisions we are making. “What if they aren’t right for me?” I myself used to think God was, or could be, preparing that “one person” for us and then, “what if I didn’t recognize her when I found her?” While it may make some sense at first, perhaps God is actually preparing us for a purpose, instead of a particular person, and in this purpose marriage is just a part. It may be a big part, but it is not an end in itself. The truth is when we get caught up in worrying about whether someone is or isn’t the one, we either let things slide that would never slide with anyone else, or we heap on ourselves undue stress that actually hinder us from enjoying the person for who they truly are. This can mean that sometimes we try to force the person we are with into the box we label “the one” and we never see them for who they truly are. People are neither a means nor an ends. Those are the two opposite extremes of using people. Instead, I encourage everyone to discover their purpose. God is good, and just maybe He is wiser than we are, and He would never let our happiness depend on something we may lose.

I’ve been told that marriage is both a wonderful gift, and hard work. One of my favorite teachers assures me: “Marriage will challenge you in every area of your life. It’s a commitment that will force you to make the most difficult choices you’ve ever had to make, decisions that make you deal with your lust, greed, selfishness, need to be in control, temper, and just about every other area of temptation.” It will call a maturity out of you and shape you unlike any other kind of earthly relationship. In fact, some Christians consider it to be one of the means of grace by which “heaven meets earth.” I think they may be right. We know that marriage is just a foretaste of the relationship between Christ and His church. Because of what Christ accomplished, we don’t have to settle for anything less than the real thing. The real thing is already here and available to us now.

If this is true, we shouldn’t be surprised that there is a lot written in the Bible about this question. The Bible begins with a romance in a garden between Adam and Eve, and through marriage after marriage and romance after romance, it ends in a wedding feast bigger and better than any wedding party you and I have ever been a part of. Once again, the former is still just a foreshadowing of the latter. The joining of man and woman in the garden is a picture for us how heaven and earth will one day be joined together through the fateful reunion of Christ and his people in the new heavens and new earth. Romance is a big deal in Scripture. The story of the Bible is, in fact, one long romance that not even John Legend or Nicholas Sparks could have dreamed up. It’s no surprise that along the way we find some insights about marriage and romance, here are four that I constantly go back to:

  • Are you actively pursuing a relationship with God on a daily basis? (Psalm 41:1, Luke 14:26, James 4)

Also, I know it should go without saying, but let me be clear: If you aren’t good at being alone with God, you’re looking for a partner because you’re lonely. If you don’t love yourself, you’ll become jealous of the love and energy you give to another person because you never gave it to yourself. You’ll only drag somebody into a relationship that they don’t deserve to be in, and neither do you. Don’t be part of the chain reaction of serial daters and rebounders. Instead, what would it look like to engage someone with a heart that’s already full?

  • Have you confirmed the vocation that God seems to be calling you towards, and are you doing it? (Genesis 2:22, 2 Samuel 11)

This one has two sides: On the one hand, men you can’t lead a lady anywhere you aren’t already going yourself. Ladies, if he doesn’t know where he’s going, don’t let him piggyback on your plans. A man without a plan, isn’t. On the other hand, marriage should be a cornerstone on which you build the rest of your life. It’s ok not to have every detail smoothed out, but realize that you two are both being called by God towards something that will glorify God. A good marriage is when two people can glorify God best, together.

  • Could they answer yes to both questions above? (2 Corinthians 6:14, Hosea-just read the whole book.)

Let’s leave the savior complexes where they belong. None of us have any business making choices off of charm and good looks. The Bible says to “fight the devil” but to “flee from lust.” I’m not sure we take that seriously enough. Ladies, these are moments when he will be at his kindest. If you don’t see good qualities in him now, if he is not already displaying them in the stressful situations as much as the peaceful ones, don’t waste any time looking for them. They aren’t there. Men, if you see in her a lack of respect for your boundaries, if she thinks it is funny to press your buttons, do not let a moment of fun become the foundation for a lifetime of regret. Your wife is a treasure, don’t trade a million-dollar future for a nickel “right now.” There’s a difference between a good choice, and the best choice. You’ll know it in the moment, and wish you had paid attention in hindsight.

  • Do you have trustworthy people that think you two would work well together, can instruct you, and can hold you accountable so that you two can be as happy as possible? (Genesis 24, Ruth 3)

Cultures that place consider marriage a family decision seem strange to us, but maybe the rest of the world is on to something. There is valuable input involved when you get your parent’s blessing, they care for you and can often see potential pitfalls and help you avoid the same mistakes they made. If Godly parents aren’t an option, find a pastor or mentor that knows you both well. You won’t regret their counsel. Later, a community of trustworthy counsel can be a source of relief and strength when life gets rough.

  • If the answer is yes to all of these, then go for it! Seriously, do it. How? Don’t be awkward, don’t be too serious, but respect one another- Just have fun!

But realize they are not “the one” until you promise yourself, all of your wishes and precautions, to that person for better or worse. Don’t say “I do” until you are ready to say “I do not” to everyone else. Not a moment sooner, and you aren’t obligated to do anything for that person until they are the person. When you have taken those vows, that’s when he or she becomes “the one.” God delights in filling a marriage with more of Himself to those who ask. These guidelines will help us know when the timing is right, as well as when the person is right.

Love, the real romance, is not merely a feeling. It’s a promise. When things get tough, it won’t be the feelings that get you through, it will be the promise that you made to one another. They say that love is blind, but nothing can be further from the truth. Love is not blind, it is bound. It is the nature of love to bind itself to another person. Binding yourself to one person is a small price to pay compared to the marvelous honor of sharing life together with anyone at all. When you are bound, in spite of their weaknesses, in spite of yours, that is when you have found true love. This is because true love is neither a promise built on your own merits, nor is it carried out in your own strengths. It is a promise built on the very nature of Christ himself. Until we understand the cross, we cannot understand why being committed to what is right must take priority over what we prefer. All those things that we see in Christ- forgiveness, self-sacrifice, patient wisdom, and submission- all of those things are what transforms a happy romance into a life-long marriage.

It takes both emotion and promise. Without the promise, there is anxiety, without emotion, it is a drudgery. If we pursue a person because we have deep feelings for them, those feelings will come and go- and if you have ever lost them, take heart because they will come again- but this is why we shouldn’t choose people based on how we feel. Instead, marry the person because they draw you deeper into Christ. The feeling of falling in love is wonderful. In one fell swoop you may very well find yourself able to fulfill the entirety off the law towards at least one person. Real love is a steady wish for the other person’s best, at whatever cost to yourself. Yes, that is an amazing experience for sure. It feels like freedom because it is, at least towards one person. Yet, there are many things below it, and there are many things above it. It has to be emphasized- those feelings do not last, and that’s a good thing. If “happily ever after” meant “and they went on feeling the same way about one another forever as they did the day they fell in love” what would become of them? Their jobs, their friendships, or even their health? We were made for love, but not to be in-love all the time forever. We were instead made for a kind of falling in love, together; where the love between the two lovers is not turned inward upon themselves, but outward, with a reach towards Heaven that therefore encompasses the whole earth with it. The object of this love is not solely about one another’s best, it is a love for all of life. This is the most selfless kind of love imaginable. If we do not listen to those precautions given above- especially to those voices that want the very best for us- we may find ourselves betrayed by those same feelings we had trusted, and instead of happiness we find only bitterness. Instead, we look and listen for the true love. It will be the quiet whisper of freedom, because the voice is more humble than temptation and yet more melodic than folly. That is the kind of true love that leads to joy. It is this quieter love on which the engine of marriage is run. Being in love was just the explosion that started it all.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think any of us can know if you are marrying the right person or marrying the wrong person. I don’t think we are commanded to love just one person. Instead, and this has been assured to me by many happily married old men, treat the wrong person like the right person. You may discover that they were the right person all along. In this way, it is far more important to be the right kind of person than it is to marry the right person.

So in the words of a wonderful couple I had the pleasure of meeting at a little park in an unassuming town called New Bern, if you find yourself wondering, “Just how did they know?” that’s the beginning of your answer, “We were ready.” I thank them for their advice.

 

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Hey single people, I’ve got good news for you too! Check out Sam Alberry’s brief article here, it’s been one of the best I’ve ever read on the subject. When people tell you that you can’t live a life of fulfillment as a single person, don’t believe em.

Ladies, thank you for reading, if you do nothing else, watch this video sent to me by a friend, it’s simply amazing.

For those of you that are as clueless as I am, or maybe you’re just getting started and could use some advice- here’s a cool website filled with good stuff on marriage, dating, and what makes it work.

For everyone else, as always, leave a comment, ask a question, have a conversation, and Thanks for reading!

The Bible: Why Bother? pt. 1

Some of my favorite stories in history are the ironic ones, and history is replete with irony. One of the most memorable is the ironic lesson of Voltaire, the famed French philosopher. Known for his sharp wit and writing abilities, he was in constant fear of being jailed for choosing to write against such topics as the justice system and religion with blistering prose. One such example is his famous statement “The Bible is that what fools have written and imbeciles command… Another century, and there will not be another Bible on Earth.” The irony is that fifty years after his life, half the time he predicted, Voltaire’s home in France was purchased by Colonel Henri Tronchin, who converted the home into a repository to distribute Bibles and religious literature. In this way one of the greatest skeptics of the 18th century left behind this enduring legacy: The Bible will always outlive its pall bearers.

Voltaire admired other great minds, such as Sir Isaac Newton. It has been said that upon receiving a copy of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, Voltaire knelt down in reverence, paying respect to the great scientist. Contrast Voltaire’s statement with that of his hero who boldly stated, “We account the Scriptures of God to be the most sublime philosophy, I find more marks of authenticity in the Bible than any profane (read, skeptical) history whatsoever.” Newton was no imbecile. His work in mathematics and physics revolutionized science, propelling him to near-legendary status. Yet Newton himself would deny such fame accredited to him, as he himself said, “If I see further than others, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” Such an admirable attitude is worth emulating, as even his detractors praised him for his humility.

The Bible is like that, it stands as an immovable monument in the history of mankind. As a fact, it has received more criticism than any other work, and yet the number of devoted followers only grows. It polarizes people who may, on any ordinary day, would be considered colleagues by any other measure. A modern example would be the world-famous atheist and scientist Richard Dawkins and another renowned scientist, Francis Collins. Dawkins, made famous for his vitriolic attacks on religion, has also written extensively in many academic journals in the field of biology. Collins, famous for leading the Human Genome project which revolutionized the way we do medicine, has frequently written on the intersection between faith and science, showing how modern science and faith are not competitors for truth.

In an interview, Dawkins, upon hearing that Collins was a Christian who took the Bible seriously, remarked, “Really? You must be joking. Well I had thought better of Francis. Are you sure?” The obvious assumption of men like Voltaire and Dawkins is that no educated man can take the Bible seriously.

Why this polarizing? At a time where tolerance and multiculturalism are touted as two unquestionable virtues, is this polarizing consistent with our collective ethos? The responses to such questions are varied, and unfortunately much confusion surrounds the topic. This is especially true at the popular level and the internet, where conversations are carried out in sound-byte quotes, cartoons, and a flurry of memes. Dawkins himself would disagree that these memes are the best way of dialogue, while also affirming that religious people who take the idea of God seriously should be mocked. Such a response is often untrue of skeptical thinkers, as even Voltaire would have agreed over 200 years ago, “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Many respected atheists took Dawkins to task over such a claim. In a world of civility, mocking a counter-perspective only closes the conversation, and halts any hope for progress in our dialogue. Instead, dialogue happens when you ask questions of a counter perspective without provoking the baser instincts in those who you find yourself disagreeing with.

With this in mind, I want to write a small series on this topic. It is important to have this conversation about the Bible. Even Dawkins admits that it is one of the most important contributions to western literature. One can forgive him for forgetting, like Christians often do, that the Bible is a book that was written in the east, not the west. It was merely adopted by Westerners. Still, this is a crucial conversation that needs to happen. In my experience, having reviewed books by men such as Dawkins and others like him, there are three conversations that are helpful to have, and two popular objections that deserve to be answered. Those three conversations are:

  • What is the Bible, and how did it come to be?
  • What is the purpose of the Bible and its importance to Christians?
  • Is it trustworthy?

Two popular objections are propounded by today’s skeptics in popular books such as The God Delusion or The Incredible Shrinking Jesus. These popular criticisms boil down to the view that in the Old Testament, God was a vicious, hateful bully not unlike many of the other pagan deities surrounding the Jews as they wrote the Old Testament. In this view Jesus is much nicer in the New Testament, but because there are so many parallels between himself and the surrounding pagan myths, he is either unremarkable, or a myth entirely. One side says Christians who take the Bible seriously are dangerous, the other says they are, whether intentionally or unintentionally, misguided. Both of these claims will be reviewed in light of original sources and scholarly opinions.

By seeking to understand and form valid answers to these questions, it is my hope that intelligent conversations will flourish. On the one hand, Christians ought to engage these important questions. On the other hand, my more skeptical friends already are asking these questions. It is my hope that my Christian friends will gain a better appreciation for the text they claim to be sacred, while my skeptical friends will be equipped to ask better questions. Both should be asking critical questions, and it is fair to say I am intentionally fostering an inquisitive attitude.

If we read the Bible, we will naturally form opinions about it. We have to. It’s a big book with a lot of claims about itself, about mankind, and about God. When we consider the kind of things the Bible claims about itself, we realize the Bible did not intend for us to be neutral. It is not the kind of thing we can afford to be neutral about.

So, whether you find yourself sympathizing with Voltaire, Newton, or somewhere in between, let’s have a conversation. Bring your questions here, and I’ll bring mine. Maybe there are more important questions you would like to have addressed, or perhaps you just want to research on your own before I write the next part of this series. That is fine, and welcomed. Curiosity is a good thing, it’s a virtue that, like all virtues, must be exercised or else you risk it being lost.

 

 

Find out some cool stuff about Voltaire here: http://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-should-know-about-voltaire

Why is the Bible important at all, does it mean anything for me? Here is a list of articles and videos from Explore God that are helpful and thought provoking: https://www.exploregod.com/is-the-bible-still-relevant

For those with a more scholarly bent, and are interested in understanding the Bible, but don’t have a lot of cash, here is one scholar’s free class on podcast for you to listen to: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-3-podcast/s2

What did I mean that the Bible is an eastern book? I mean that it has many allusions and customs in it that are best understood in their context. The Bible is able to get its point across, but there are many benefits of understanding the culture it was written in, a simple google search will bring up some websites, or you can watch a video series cause who doesn’t like watching TV? https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3EHkoowC1jk

 

God, People, and a Big Big Universe

People say the cosmos is vast, and therefore we are arrogant to think of ourselves as important. But for heaven’s sake, to what are they comparing the world when they say vast? The universe may seem quite large from our perspective on earth. But that is only a mere sentiment. Without anything to compare it to, the whole universe is neither vast nor large because it is the only of its kind. One might say “wow, this great big universe terrifies me.” Or they might say, “You know, this cozy little universe is just right for me.” Either feeling is nothing but a sentiment, a matter of perspective. Whichever you choose to hold is up to you.

Still, why should a man surrender his dignity to the cosmos? What has the cosmos ever done worthy of praise? The sun may revolve around the earth, but it does not love the earth. The stars may twinkle and shine in brilliant array, dressed in the finest black fabric dotted with diamonds that would make the finest tailor blush, but the tailor still knows this secret: he has a family, and as such he is a creator. The story of the tailor is written in small letters the same story that is writ large on the cosmos. The fact that atomic particles make up the tailor in the same way they make up the stars should not be surprising. That the tailor knows this and the stars do not, that is surprising.

If God does not exist and there is nothing behind the beauty of the universe, if there is nothing in us that is fierce and free, then what difference does the size of the universe matter? It is not a free universe, it is not even a beautiful one. It just is, and that is all. If there is nothing beyond the walls of this universe, then you might as well say we live in a glorified prison. “Yes, but it is large” is no different than saying “the prison now covers half the country.” The size of the prison doesn’t matter, because all the Warden could show the prisoner is miles of long stone corridors and endless barred cells. In fact, the prison would be windowless.

No, man is still unique among all that the universe has to offer. The fact that we are overawed by it’s beauty is proof. The size of the universe says nothing about the inherent dignity of man. As man has always been small compared to the nearest tree or elephant. Should we then say human life is no more important than say, the life of the elephant? I’m afraid that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have become overawed by the world because we quit looking for windows. There’s an elephant in the room, someone needs to open a window and let it out. It’s time for fresh air.

The chance of life happening by unguided processes just once is so small that for it to happen twice or even three times would push the question of God’s existence beyond reasonable doubt and into absolute certainty. If multiple civilizations exist, the question would not be, “did God create us all?” The question would be “Why did God create us all?”

All the discoveries in all the realm of science cannot give us an answer to this question, “Why?” Science can tell us much about the universe, but questions of why are completely out of the question for physicists and psychologists. To find an answer to the question of why you’ll have to turn to metaphysics. Even if everything could be explained, it would not do anything to satisfy the universal longing for a home. You might as well tell an orphan “it’s been confirmed, your family is dead. Nobody loves you.”

Happily, we know that we are not cosmic orphans. Rather, we are the culmination of God’s creativity. In Genesis, we read that God made the world good, but in the day he made human beings it reads, “and God beheld all that he had made, and it was very good.” Very good. That’s you! That’s me. We, all of us, are all special parts of God’s creativity. Far from an afterthought, we are the final product of God’s creativity. In fact,  I would be willing to bet that many of our problems are not because we think too much of ourselves, but because we think too little. Listen to what the Psalmist had to say:

What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. – Psalm 8:3-8

The beginning of that Psalm starts off, “When I see the heavens…” In other words, the Psalmist David was empathizing with this same sentiment behind this question! These questions can and should blow our minds. Because the response should be cause enough to pause and wonder. What is man that God would really care for him? The Psalmists answer, “You were made a little lower than God. Higher than the animals, lower than God. Royalty and honor are yours!” Every person you have ever met, and will meet, is highly valued-treasured in the mind of God. Let’s praise Him for that.

 

Click here for a three minute video about the size of the earth compared to the universe! It will blow your mind.

For a scientist’s take on this question, check out this answer!

7 Mind Blowing Facts About the Universe

As It Happens

As it happens, my friends were leading a group of us young men to help out at the Nashville Rescue Mission. I have to hand it to my friends for their compassionate leadership in that area.

On this particular night though, we were at the Men’s Mission, and our job was to provide a speaker for the Wednesday night speaker. Unfortunately our speaker came down sick and was unable to speak that night. Fortunately the team had many motivated speakers willing to fill in. I was not one of them, but when they asked I told them I would be happy to give a five minute testimony before the real speaker stepped up.

I love the feeling of being on a stage. The lights in my face obscures the crowd, but once you make eye contact you’re locked in, and admittedly I especially love to hear my voice over the mike. I like speaking at the Men’s mission in particular because of the mix of men there. Honest skeptics, desperate seekers, long-time followers, and half-asleep “parishioners” all dot the crowd. In short, I love the Men’s mission because there is always a response.

As I began to introduce myself and move into my testimony, I came to the part about being introduced to Islam and my wrestling with it. “I was faced with the question, who is God? Allah or Jesus?” But before I could continue, a gentlemen stood up and said “They are the same God!” That’s when it happens, the same feeling I get every single time this sort of thing happens. In that moment between hearing his objection, and meeting it with my own question. That moment when our eyes meet, and I feel a flood of conviction, compassion. It’s that moment when I know that nothing, anywhere, could possibly be more important. Breathing slows, heart rate doubles, and it’s all I can do to keep from reaching out and embracing this man. From one skeptic to another, we’re on the same journey together. The whole room fades, and I might as well be speaking as if he and I were the only people there.

From that point on my testimony moved from emphasizing the role the question of evil and God’s redemption played in my conversion, to the question of the uniqueness and power of Jesus and his resurrection. My testimony is like that, the journey of a skeptic with lots of questions. The questions I emphasize depend on the crowd to whom I am speaking. I never get tired of sharing it.

After I finished, I walked off the stage and over to the man. Extending my hand I said, “Well it seems you know all about me now, what’s your name, and what’s your story?” We walked out of the room together to talk a little more privately. There he shared some of his own thoughts, bluntly and honestly speaking about why he disagreed with Christianity and it’s exclusive claims. I listened intently, asking questions to clarify. When one of my friends came out to check on us (I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to leave the room), I was quoting parts of the Quran back to him to make sure I was understanding him. We discussed for a bit longer before we were called back into the room. I thanked him for his honesty, we prayed together, and I left.

It’s that experience I had on stage: the flood of emotions, the clarity of mind, the weight of responsibility, and the compassion for the questioner. I have it every so often with other things, but it never fails- answering questions gets me excited. It’s something like the feeling when you put your hand in an old pair of baseball gloves right before you go to bat for your team. Or when you pull a favorite book off the shelf, flip open to a page and know exactly where you are in the story. It’s the necessary joy in the messiness of gardening, the “aha!” moment when the final piece of the project finds it’s place, and it’s something like the moment when a new father does naturally what he was afraid to attempt before. It’s that feeling that somehow, in some way you were made for this moment. Or that this moment was part of a bigger picture and you are doing your part to drop the opacity, multiply the layers, and clarify the filter in God’s Photoshop.

As I look back, I see so many events and defining moments in my life that shaped me into this person who fits this role in this moment. When I look around me today, I am thankful for the Church body who is affirming me in the areas I need affirmation, steering me away from the areas that I’m simply not cut out for, and encouraging me when I fail. As I look ahead, I see so many doors opening up in this area where I believe God is asking me to go, expanding my horizons and making me reach for dreams far greater than anything I could have ever imagined. It has me all sitting back and thinking “How could this happen?” and then, in an almost inaudible voice I hear the answer “It’s grace.”

God, in his unending mercy gave us grace when we first believed, and you can’t take credit for the gift of God. As I look back on my life I realize that God was always working me, gradually calling me out of complacency into a life that matters. He made me new, so I can do the things he planned for us from eternity past. One of the reasons I know that this is something God has been calling me to do is because when I speak, people respond. He already prepared the work to be done, I just put my hand to shovel and join in. It is not by my own power, but God works through me. It’s an incredible experience that leaves me humbled, and awestruck at the same time.

God is using me to build community through the words I say. It’s funny because if you know me, I’m notorious for putting my foot in my mouth. Every time I rely on my own ability, that’s exactly what happens. But when that stage moment happens, as I described above, I know that God is on the move. If I resist or get in the way, things don’t go as well as they could or should. When I simply step aside and let God do the work, the results are simply amazing.

I say all this to ask you a question. What is your stage moment? Do you ever have that hand-in-glove feeling? Are you part of a church that is encouraging you? How does what you do impact the world and make it a better place? Ok, so maybe I’m asking several questions. But none of them are key as this one: Have you discovered what plan God is working out through you? It may not be anything like my own thing, I have met both a singer and a coffee shop owner that I know without a doubt are doing exactly what God has designed them to do. I don’t care if you are a teacher, preacher, garbage man, or mom- God’s got something planned, and wants you involved. I promise, with good research and theology both to back it up, that if you discover that thing you’ll find a contentment like no other.

So come along, let’s get to work. You’ll see exactly what I mean.

To find out how you can volunteer with the Nashville Rescue Mission, click here.

For more articles that aren’t as lengthy, check out this four part article seriesWhat are you called to do?

Do a little self-discovery to find out what kind of job you might be cut out for by taking this test!