KNOW THE DIFFERENCE

A couple of weeks ago I read an article based upon the Apostle Paul’s instruction to his protégé in II Timothy 4:2 to “Preach the word.” Even though the New Testament was not finalized at the time Paul wrote this letter, his intent was clear: preachers are to get the foundation of their teaching from the Bible.

A couple of weeks later I finished reading a short book entitled Practicing His Presence (Volume I of The Library of Spiritual Classics). I was instructed and motivated by what Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach wrote about maintaining an awareness of the presence of Christ throughout one’s day. As good as the book was, I reminded myself that what it contained was not on par with the Bible.

Recently in a Bible class I was leading, an attendee participated in our discussion by reading from a study Bible. Remembering what I had been thinking about the last month or so I reminded the entire class that the notes in any study Bible are not on par with the actual Bible. (I also reminded them that what I say in my teaching is not on par with the Bible.)

Now there is nothing wrong with study Bibles, devotional books, commentaries, and the many Christian books available to us today. I have two study Bibles, many commentaries, theological dictionaries, books of sermons, and books on specific topics about the Bible, the Christian life, the church, and a variety of theological subjects. I consult them regularly in my teaching and preaching.

Preachers, pastors, professors, Christian authors, theologians, and others have much to offer the Christian community as well as those exploring the Bible, the Christian life, the church, and theology. All of us can greatly benefit from the thinking and writing of others about these important topics. But none of these resources are on par with the Bible.

My point in this brief article is to remind readers of what I recently reminded myself of as well as my Bible class: sermons, Bible studies, Christian books, Bible commentaries, and study Bibles are not on the same level as the Bible itself. Most of them are helpful and we need them to help us understand and apply what the Bible teaches. We need those who have studied long and hard and given themselves to teaching the Bible.

At the same time, periodically we need to be reminded that what people think the Bible says and means is not always exactly what it means and says. And my sense is that there are parts of the Bible that no one can say definitively this is what it means. On the other hand, there is much in the Bible that we can definitively say this is what it means.

We need to know the difference between what the Bible says and what different people think and believe it says. They are not always the same.

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IMPRESSED, CONVICTED, AND CHALLENGED

A couple of weeks ago I read an introduction to the writings of the 16th century Catholic Francois Fenelon and a few of his writings. While I appreciated the samples I read, I was impressed, convicted, and challenged by the observation made by Robert J. Edmonson that “Fenelon won the hearts of the Protestants with his gentleness and moderation.”

I don’t know of too many leaders, writers, politicians, and other public figures in our day who would be described by the words gentle and moderate. But shouldn’t all Christians be noted for showing moderation and gentleness in their discourse?

As I thought about the idea of gentleness a couple of Bible references came to mind. I looked the word up on BibleGateway.com and think these three are especially pertinent:

Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Matthew 11:29, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”

Ephesians 4:2, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

The basic idea of moderation is prevalent in the Bible for followers of Jesus. An explanation of moderation is the avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behavior or political opinions and in a way that is reasonable and not excessive. It may not be exactly the same thing as self-control, but it is close. I find it interesting that the final two fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23 are gentleness and self-control.

Impressed by how Edmonson said Fenelon won the hearts of Protestants, I was also convicted. Edmonson’s characterization of how Fenelon won people’s hearts “with his gentleness and moderation” reminded me that those two words would probably not be used to describe me by those who have heard me discuss and debate a variety of issues.

I was not just impressed and convicted by Edmonson’s insight, I was also challenged to be more gentle and moderate in my teaching, discussions, and disagreements. Reflecting on both Jesus’ self-description in Matthew 11:29, and the Apostle Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4:2, I’m thinking a key to being gentler and more moderate is cultivating humility. My sense is that pride is the engine that drives a lot of us to be lacking in gentleness and moderation in our conversations.

Having written what I have so far, I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting being gentle and moderate requires people to compromise their convictions. I think it means we do what Paul urges in Ephesians 4:15 in terms of “speaking the truth in love.”

One more observation from Edmonson sheds light on the risk of showing gentleness and moderation. Defining gentleness and moderation with a new word, he notes “Fenelon’s restraint did not pass unnoticed among more extreme Catholic factions, who blocked his nomination as bishop.” Does that mean that those who are gentle and moderate and show restraint will pay a price from those are contentious? Possibly.

Again, I am impressed, convicted, and challenged. And I hope you are as well.

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WHAT’S ON YOUR DESK?

So much of our reading and writing is serious I wanted to write something today that was more fun. I’m borrowing from the TV commercial question “What’s In Your Wallet?” for the title.

Even though I am no longer working full time, I do have two part time jobs – Pastor of Senior Adults at our church and Bible Teacher at Amarillo High School. Therefore, I have an office in the smallest bedroom in our home with a computer, printer, bookshelves, and desk.

On my desk I have three items that our male cat knocks off once or twice a day. He doesn’t hurt them, he just knocks them to floor so I can put them back. I don’t think he realizes they are important to me or he wouldn’t knock them off. All three meaningful reminders to me.

For many years the Disney character Goofy has been my favorite. I don’t collect Goofy figures, but my favorite sweatshirt of many years has his picture on the front. Goofy reminds me that we are not perfect and that we make mistakes, but also that we can and should have fun. Goofy is also the nickname I gave to one of our most loved staff members at Discovery Christian Church and who is still a great friend of mine – Bryan Sands. I didn’t give Bryan the nickname because he made mistakes or was incompetent; I gave him the nickname because he was and still is fun and loves life.

The little gold chest was given to me secretly by someone in my Sunday School Class at the end of our study “Treasures in the Bible.” We looked at seven passages in the Bible that used the word treasure to remind ourselves of some things we should value. The treasure chest reminds me that the Bible (Job 23:12), memories, people (Luke 2:19 and51), and the Gospel (II Corinthians 4:7) are all treasures. It also reminds me that some treasures are ill-gotten (Proverbs 10:2) and that there will be treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19).

The Lego lion on my desk was a gift from my seven year old grandson who was and is really into Legos. One night he made three Lego figures and showed them to me. I asked him if I could have one for my desk. I told him that every time I saw it I would be reminded of him. He asked me which one I wanted and I immediately said the lion. Surprising to me, he smiled and gladly gave it to me. When he and his little brother come over I show it to him and he seems pleased.

I have a lot of others things on my desk and a lot of stuff in my office. I need my calendar, tissues, and scissors; and I use many of my files and books; but my goofy, my treasure chest, and my Lego lion are special!

What’s on your desk? Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook.

ONE NAME – MANY DESIGNATIONS

While some understandably think Jesus has two names, the reality is he has only one – Jesus. Christ is not his last name, but it is one of the most used of many designations the Bible gives to him. If we were to write down all the designations for Jesus in the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) it would be a long list.

Two of the more prominent designations for Jesus in the New Testament are Son of God and Son of Man. In going to church as a youngster I learned that Son of God underscored the divinity of Jesus and Son of Man his humanity. While one of the basic Christian teachings about  Jesus is that he was fully God and fully man at the same time, Son of Man does not necessarily point to his humanity.

In the Gospels Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite self-designation. At that time Son of Man was not automatically thought of as a term of divinity, but was rather open to interpretation. Jesus used the term so that through his teaching and actions he could fill it with meaning. By the end of his ministry is was clear that his usage of the term was a claim to a special relationship with God similar to Son of God.

As important as Son of God and Son of Man are as designations for Jesus in the New Testament in terms of his identity, there are three other designations that have become my favorites. To me these three need to be held together in one’s personal understanding of who Jesus is.

The least used in the New Testament of these three is friend. And it is interesting that the label was first given to Jesus by his critics. Reflecting on their dissatisfaction with both John the Baptist and himself Jesus said, “For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds” (Matthew 11:18 and 19).

In John 15:13-15 Jesus uses the word friends to describe his followers. In verse 13 he declares, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In verse 14 he adds a condition: “You are my friends if you do what I command.” The fullest explanation is in verse 15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

In addition to friend, savior is also one of my favorite three designations for Jesus. While the term is used elsewhere as well, savior is prominent in the Christmas story as told by both Matthew and Luke. Savior speaks to the mission and work Jesus came to accomplish by going to the cross. Our friend is also our savior, and our savior is also our friend.

The third of my favorite designations for Jesus is lord. As a title lord suggests respect, but also authority. In many respects lord is synonymous with master. What is unique about lord as a title for Jesus is that we choose and accept him as Lord, he does not force it on us. Not only that, as our lord he does not use or take advantage of us; he wants only what is best for us.

Is it possible to hold these three designations together in our understanding of Jesus? I think so. All three are important and each contributes much to our relationship with him.

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