42 Days…study questions

42 Days Announce Slide(For those of you outside my church family, here’s a note of explanation:  We are currently doing men’s groups called 42 Days.  It’s a six-week commitment of meeting together, daily Bible reading, and reading a book.  During this time of 42 Days, we are reading an old classic, Improving Your Serve, by Chuck Swindoll.  I will be posting our weekly study questions here on my blog.  Feel free to buy the book and study along with us!)

Reading assignment and questions for week of May 13-20.

Chapter ten

What are some of the “perils” of your work?

What are some ways your ego gets over-inflated?

Why do we have such an unwillingness to admit we struggle?

Does God really protect us from bad things?  How?

Serving is often thankless.  How can that lead to bitterness and depression?

Do you still compare yourself to others?  Why?

Why is it so hard to confront the sin of others?  Why is it a cop out to hide behind our own imperfection?

Why is it important to do things for free?

What are the risks in loving and serving?

What is your motive for serving…really?

Chapter eleven

How would you describe yourself?

How would others describe you?

Are you a gentle person?  Why or why not?

Can servanthood be learned?

What does humility actually look like?

Do you receive as graciously as you give?

Why is it important to receive well and let others serve you?

What do we value about servanthood in the church?

How does serving bring joy?

Chapter twelve

What are some examples of suffering for doing right?

What is your response to the stories of “real life” persecution?  (How does it make you feel?)

How does stress affect you?

How did you score on the stress test?  (pgs. 183-185)

What is the purpose in struggle?  

Why doesn’t God eliminate bad things?

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42 Days…study questions

42 Days Announce Slide(For those of you outside my church family, here’s a note of explanation:  We are currently doing men’s groups called 42 Days.  It’s a six-week commitment of meeting together, daily Bible reading, and reading a book.  During this time of 42 Days, we are reading an old classic, Improving Your Serve, by Chuck Swindoll.  I will be posting our weekly study questions here on my blog.  Feel free to buy the book and study along with us!)

Reading assignment and questions for week of April 29-May 6.

Chapter Four

What is the connection between forgiveness and servanthood?

What are some of your takeaways from the story of the man who requested to take the punishment of the men who wronged him?

What have you been taught about the “wrath of God”?

How does God forgiving you, make it possible for you to forgive others?

A true servant doesn’t keep score.  Agree or disagree? Why?

What’s the difference between asking for forgiveness and offering your apology?

What’s the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?

Is there ever a time to stop offering forgiveness?

How is refusing to forgive hypocritical?

Chapter Five

Is it really possible to forget the offense of another?

What’s the difference between forgetting and overlooking?

Are you confident you have not yet arrived?

Have you forgotten what is behind?

Are you actively moving on to what is ahead?

Is there someone or something you are refusing to forget?  What is the cost?

Are you a victim of self-pity?  What is the cost?

Chapter six

Have you ever been a victim of wrong or unhealthy teaching in a church or small group?

How has your thinking been molded or “squeezed” by the world’s way of thinking?

What are some walls or fortresses that have changed in the ways you think?

Are you ever guilty of blaming others or justifying your actions?  What has been the fallout?

What does it mean (practically) to take every thought captive?

What does it mean for Jesus Christ to take charge of our minds?

Do you find your mind being renewed these days?  How? In what ways?

How are you experiencing the power of God in your life?  What evidence do you see?

What masks of hypocrisy are you wearing?  What kind of help do you need to take them off?

Be careful.

studyYou know, people are free to believe all kinds of stuff.  It’s a free country.  We all have a certain amount of education.  We all have our own life experiences to confirm what we want to believe is true.  

For Christians in our country, we have as many church smorgasbord options as you can find at a Golden Corral.  We can pick and choose which preachers we like…which commentaries we want to read…which authors we consider superior…which bloggers we want to bow to.

On top of that, we all have our own copies of the Bible.  I can interpret it for myself.  I can come to my own conclusions.  I can decide which parts to emphasize and which parts to soften.  And which parts to completely ignore.  I can even use the Bible to defend my own opinions…even if the Bible doesn’t exactly say what I want it to say.

It’s almost as if I can mold the Bible in my own philosophical and ideological image.  Yikes.

And so can you.

Free will is a tough thing.  It is a sacred privilege.  It also carries massive responsibility…with eternal consequences.  We need to tread carefully.  Especially when we are studying the Bible.

One of the mistakes we are prone to make (either because of inexperience or laziness) is taking Bible statements out of context and then drawing skewed or completely wrong conclusions.  Here are a few examples:

Passage:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13

Lazy conclusion:  Christ will give me the strength to do anything I set my mind to do.  This is a favorite verse of athletes to use as motivation in their competitive pursuits.

Context:  Because we know the secret of being content in any and every situation, we can be confident that Jesus will give us the strength to face any struggle or circumstance, no matter how difficult.  IMO.

Passage:  “You will always have the poor with you.”  Matthew 26:11

Lazy conclusion:  Since we will always have poor people, poverty will never be erased.  This passage is used to undermine efforts to prioritize the elimination of poverty by the church and humanitarian organizations.

Context:  Jesus was actually quoting from Deuteronomy 15, and it says quite the opposite.  IMO.  “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”  Deuteronomy 15:11  

Passage:  “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”  Luke 22:36

Lazy conclusion:  For some, these words of Jesus (delivered to his disciples the night He was arrested by the Roman guards) are not just permission for Christians to own guns and other weapons for self-defense, but actually a command to do so.

Context:  In the following verse (37), Jesus explains that there was an Old Testament prophesy stating the Messiah would be “counted among the lawless and thieves”, and he wanted to make sure this prophesy came to pass by having his disciples have swords.  The passage has nothing to do with self-defense.  IMO.

Passage:  “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.”  1 Corinthians 6:19

Lazy conclusion:  Christians love to use this verse to condemn the use of drugs, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, cigarette smoking and the drinking of alcohol…and use it to promote healthy lifestyles.

Context:  Specifically, the context is about sexual sin.  The general teaching is that Christ died to redeem us back to God. Therefore, we belong to God…completely and totally…and He has taken up residence inside of us.  We are his temple, his dwelling place.  IMO.

This list could go on and on.

Be diligent in your study.  Be careful in your interpretations.  Be slow to speak.  Be quick to listen.  Be faithful to the text.

And beware of being snookered.

Theology for the rest of us

one percentersWhen I started in the business of being a minister 42 years ago, I entered into the world of theology…the study of God, religious beliefs, and the Bible.  Years of my life have been dedicated to reading and studying what others have written.

That’s what you do as a would-be theologian.

But through the years, there has been a slow shift.  In my young adulthood, I devoured books.  I was thoroughly impressed and deeply influenced by the writings of pastors, commentators, and Bible scholars who didn’t just wade out into the deep end of the sacred book, but mined it.

I have spent untold hours re-reading interpretations and explanations and commentaries, with my head spinning, as I tried to make sense of their complicated theories and weighty analysis of the pages of Scripture.

Even though they all spoke of the Bible as God’s word for everyone, I have grown to see it has been turned into a textbook, designed to be dissected, analyzed, and illuminated for the masses…by the hyper-educated and masters of theological academia.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I get it.  Most of the time, I can debate and argue religious concepts, interpretations of the Bible, and the whole of church history, with the best of the ecclesiastical eggheads.

Here, you want to be impressed?  I know about arcing, mirror reading, and redaction criticism.  Yup.  I can tell you the difference  between prevenient  grace, irresistible grace, and common grace.  You want to know about mongerism, modalism, molinism, inclusivism, text criticism, cessationism, open theism, or penal substitution?  I’m your guy.

My point?  Pleeeeez don’t be impressed.

In recent years, the term “one-percenter” has become popular, as it relates to the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest people and the control they have over the world’s finances and the power it wields.

I’ve concluded there are also the theological one-percenters...that super small group of highly educated, religious elite, who spend their lives studying and teaching theology, for the benefit of the 99%.

That group loves to write.  They love to speak and produce conferences that other theological one-percenters attend, in order to listen to each other.  They read each other’s books.  They subscribe to each other’s blogs and troll the comment sections, looking for an opening to prove each other wrong.

They believe the other 99% need them, in order to fully understand what God’s book is saying.  But the truth is, most people don’t have a clue what they’re talking or writing about.

And it’s not because people are ignorant.  It’s because the theological one-percenters have made it soooooo confusing!

Apparently, they are impressed with each other, though.  They keep writing and selling.

I’m not naive.  Theological academia has its place and certainly serves its purpose.  The study of God’s word deserves solid scholarship and careful consideration.  I’m grateful there are people who have dedicated their lives to it.  But I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul didn’t intend for this level of academic surgery to be performed on his letters.

And I’m definitely sure Jesus didn’t intend for libraries of books to be written to explain everything he did and said…by people who always seem to appear way smarter than He ever was.

It just isn’t that complicated, is it?

Life-changers…#4

Number4(this is a recurring weekly series on the fifty events that shaped the course of my life and the person i’ve become along the way.  welcome to my therapy.)

when i was in high school, i was not particularly serious about my faith.  as a matter of fact, i was pretty good at keeping it concealed during the week…and then breaking it out just in time for church on sunday morning.  truth is, i was working really hard to be cool (around people who really were cool), and whatever “style” points i was accumulating, i didn’t want to risk losing by admitting i was the nerdy church guy.

anyway, after i graduated, two things happened.  first, i was out of the high school scene and the non-stop pursuit of teenage popularity.  second, wanda and i started to get really serious…and she was a young mother teresa in my book.  she lived on some lofty spiritual mountaintop that i had only read about.

i desperately needed to get my spiritual act together, if there was ever a chance of her keeping me.  i started to get serious…at least on the outside.  i took a bold leap of faith.

i bought a christian bumper sticker and put it on my car.  yeah.  talk about the cost of discipleship …bonhoeffer would have been proud.jesus one way

it was the summer after my senior year in high school and i was washing my car in the driveway and there’s this dude walking down the sidewalk in front of my house.  he was a hippy-looking guy…probably a vietnam war vet…looking pretty ragged.  he stopped and stared at the back of my car while i was bent over washing my front bumper.

when i stood up, he looked right at me and said some words that had never been pointed in my direction before:

“you don’t believe that sh*t, do you?”

to be honest, i don’t remember exactly what i said, but i guarantee you, i was not profound.  i did my best to say that i believed in jesus and that his way was the right way…but this guy was ready for battle.  he attacked every attempt i made to defend my faith with a logic and secular philosophy i had never encountered.

when he saw that i was no match for his worldly wisdom, he laughed at me and moved on down the road.  i was left standing there with a dripping sponge.  a hopeless mess.

the philosophies of the university campuses i was getting ready to step foot on in the early 1970’s were going to swallow me alive.

i was only 18 at the time, but my life was changed.  i either needed to walk away from this whole “religion” thing…or start studying to figure out what i really believed.

i decided to study.

We don’t see the Bible alike…

as a pastor/teacher, i understand that not everybody will see the bible as i see it.   not everyone will interpret scripture the way i do…or come to the same conclusions i do on a variety of doctrinal issues.   i am grateful there is freedom to study and think and reason and that we are not spiritual robots when it comes to seeking and embracing the truth.

people seem to have a huge need to be right.

churches almost pride themselves in being the right ones.

certain churches and faith groups and pastors  seem to adopt an attitude of theological superiority over those who don’t hold  to their tradition or biblical interpretation.   honestly,  those people bug me.

they might be right,  but they don’t have to act so smug.

on the other hand,  they might not be right at all.   it seems to me that there is a lot of room at the table for different understandings and interpretations.   is there always one right way of interpreting and understanding every passage in the bible?   in theory,  i would probably have to say yes.

in reality,  it might not be that simple.

i’m grateful we have the word of god…and both the freedom and responsibility that come with being a disciple of jesus and a student of the word.

do you join me in this gratitude?

the need to be right

after yesterday’s sermon, i’ve been thinking a lot about the need to be right.

in our study of 1 john, i came to the verse that said:

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. (5:16)

it really bugged me for a while because i couldn’t figure out what it meant.  i studied the greek.  i looked at commentaries.  i compared texts.  i read some on-line sermons and study helps.  no consensus.  but i wanted to know what it meant.  truth be told, i wanted to know what it meant so i could tell you what it meant.  i wanted to have the right answer.

why is it so important to be right? why is it so important to have the corner on the truth?  preachers and teachers and other opinionated followers of jesus are quick to point out truth.  truth, as they see it.  worse yet, they are often quick to tell you that you’re wrong, if you disagree with them.

don’t get me wrong.  i don’t think that truth is relative.  i don’t think everyone gets to interpret the bible on their own…in their own way…coming to their own conclusions and their own interpretation of the truth.  there is objective truth.  there has to be.

i assume that if jesus were sitting there with me as i studied that passage, he probably would have chuckled and said, “dude, you’re making this much too complicated.  all it means is…”  (pardon me for thinking that jesus would have called me dude, but it just seems like what he would say…).  i can’t imagine him saying that there were three or four possible interpretations.

i will press on to do my best to interpret the mind of god through the holy scripture.  i will speak my mind when i am confident.  i will be honest when i am not sure.  i will work hard to extend grace to those who come to different interpretations and conclusions than i do.

god save me from the arrogance of needing to be right.