16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (New Living Translation)
The tribe of the Body of Christ of which I have been a part of since my birth 60 years ago is the United Methodist Church. Of that 60 years, I have spent 42 of those years as a pastor in this tribe. But an ongoing trend and recent events are creating an uneasiness and what I believe to be yet another “calling” from God. And though I am currently on a Sabbath Rest (some call a vacation), the Holy Spirit prompts me to write this morning before I head out to the beach.
The ongoing trend that concerns me deeply is the decline of attendance in longstanding traditional tribes (called “denominations” by most). God has been stirring my heart and mind by reading other blogs and articles that focus on the local church. Two of my resources that the Spirit has led me to is Church Leaders and The Barna Group. Both of these sites offer insights into the two fastest rising subcultures in the United States known as the “Nones” and the “Dones”. As a footnote here, these two groups are found primarily in the United States but not elsewhere around the world. I cannot help but wonder what WE, the Christians of the United States, have done to the Good News that Jesus so passionately proclaimed and died for.
If you are unfamiliar with these terms, allow me to describe them to you. First, the “Nones” are those who when asked about their religious affiliation mark the box “none of the above.” It’s not that they deny the existence of God, but that they fail to experience Him through the traditional means of “organized religion”. The reality is that they are very hungry for God, but for a variety of reasons they cannot find Him through traditional churches. The other group known as the “Dones”. Unlike the Nones, these are the people who at one time were very active in local churches. They were teachers, children’s workers, youth leaders, volunteers and in key leadership roles in the local church. But because of the local church politics and the refusal of the power brokers desire to maintain the status quo, they have said, “I’m done!” This is the growing trend that concerns me.
The event that has troubled me to the core of my heart centers around the issue of homosexuality and the Kingdom. Recently at the Western Jurisdiction Conference an openly gay clergy was elected to the office of Bishop, the highest leadership office in our tribe. This election goes directly against our tribe’s standards and against the Bible by accepting the theory that God created Gay people and as such, should be embraced and accepted by the church. And this event of open disobedience to both church order and the Bible has been repeated in other Jurisdiction Conferences and Annual Conferences. Again, these events are happening in the United States only.
At the core of this movement called “Progressives” is the idea that there is no longer orthodox Biblical Authority. As it has been explained to me by a progressive, God created the, call it “gay DNA” in Adam and Eve. This “gay DNA” was then allowed to evolve and develop. As I reflected on this, I had an epiphany–this is a form of classical Deism, but progressives have added the Jesus of Love and acceptance. If you are unaware of the core of Deism allow me to explain. Deism believes in a “creating god” that made everything. But this creating god then stepped back and has not been involved in that creation. He is simple the “clock maker god” who set everything into motion and watches it unfold. There is no Trinity, no miracles and no Biblical Authority.
I had an epiphany moment about these 3 groups–the Nones, Dones and Progressives. What I am about to share I say with no malice toward any person or any group. These are simply my observations and I do not expect anyone to embrace these conclusions. I rather hope that it will invoke deep thought and further honest conversations. And here is my epiphany: These 3 groups have deep issues with the church and the Bible because of those who misuse the Bible.
As Paul writes his final thoughts to Timothy in this second letter, in his heart and mind was for Timothy to take that Journey to become all that God had created him to be. This passage was how Timothy was to use the Sacred Scriptures for his own spiritual growth. But today people have turned this passage around and use it to justify their own perspectives and views. I find here 3 things that the Sacred Scriptures are not and 7 things that the Sacred Scriptures are. First, what the Bible is not.
1. The Bible is not ours.
This book does not belong to us though many try to take ownership of it. It belongs to the One who inspired it and watched over it to make sure that we have an accurate record of His design and intention for our lives. Since it is His Book, we read and listen to it as a whole story. We are not to take bits and sound bites from it to give substance to our own beliefs. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we see the WHOLE Book and not just the parts that fits our cultural (I will write at another time about the damage done to the Bible by the “Americanizing” of the Gospel and the unhealthy obsession about the U.S. being a “Christian Nation”) or our abilities to reason.
Casual glances are insufficient. It requires time and even struggle to see the big picture of the Sacred Scriptures. This is not a super center of thoughts where we can pick and choose what we want and do not want. God has a message for us that is like a jig saw puzzle. It takes time to put it all together. Quoting verses to prove our points is a futile attempt to make the Bible ours, and it will never be “ours”.
2. The Bible is not a bully pulpit.
It is not designed nor given to us to be a platform for us to tell others how wrong and how sinful they are. Some use the Sacred Scriptures like a “spotter’s scope” to scan the horizon to find others who are not faithfully following God’s intended design and purpose. Once found, they often quote certain passages (that they believe backs up their point) and then proceeds to bully them into submission. Contrary to how some live, there is no spiritual gift called “pointing out the sins of others”.
When I went through my divorce I encountered some of these who quickly pointed out my failures and proceeded to quickly tell me how wrong and “sinful” I was. Jesus came to bring hope and restoration but the bully pulpit does neither. For some it simply turns them off to the hope and restoration that God offers. For the rest of us, it only deepens the wound and makes us feel unworthy of God’s grace.
3. It is not a billy club.
I consider this to be the largest group of those who misuse the Sacred Scriptures. They love to quote Ephesians 3:17, “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” They see this as a divine unction to go out wildly swinging this sword with much passion and zeal. I have a son and son-in-law who are both in the military and have been in combat. They will quickly tell you it’s not about putting rounds down range, but about using their weapons effectively.
Pounding people over the head with the Sacred Scriptures is not using the weapon effectively. Allow me to give you an example from my perspective. I love college football, especially the Crimson Tide. But if someone took an Alabama helmet and kept pounding me over the head with it, it is highly likely that I would develop an aversion to Crimson Tide football. I can understand a bit better the progressives in our tribe who insist that God created gay persons. They have rejected the authority of the Bible and turned to trust in reason because they see the Bible as a weapon designed to harm and hurt. For those of you who insist on beating sinners down into submission by using the Ephesians passage to justify your actions, I have 2 words for you. Stop it! Using the Bible as a billy club will not transform a person into who God intends for them to be. It only makes them bruised and bloodied.
Now, enough of what the Sacred Scriptures are not. Let’s look at what Paul told Timothy about the Sacred Scriptures and see if we can find the best way to use the Bible–to allow the Bible to be what God intended for it all along.
1. It Comes From The Heart Of God
And what does the heart of God look like? One of the sons of thunder put it like this in 1 John 4:16–“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” Paul describes the Sacred Scriptures as “inspired by God”. It literally means “God-breathed”. This God-breathed Word comes from God’s heart of love. God’s breath is gentle. When the prophet Elijah needed a word from God, he was sent to Mt. Sinai for that word. In 1 Kings 19:11 we read, “a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind.” When Elijah heard God’s voice, it was “a gentle whisper”. When we speak for the Sacred Scriptures, let’s make sure our voice for broken, bruised and bloodied people (which describes Elijah’s condition at that point) is a gentle voice. When Jesus walked on this earth in human form His harshest words were directed at the religious people who thought it was their holy duty to point out the sins of others and His kindest words were directed toward us sinners.
2. It has ultimate authority over us.
Look carefully at this part: “is useful to teach us what is true”. Human truth changes. The earth is flat. The sun revolves around the earth. Some diseases can be cured by the process of “bleeding” out that bad blood. We know how those human truths have changed. And we cannot rely on human feelings. Feelings change more than the weather. Yesterday’s best friend becomes someone we don’t like. The true love of our heart becomes an ex-lover. Feeling good in the morning changes to feeling tired.
We need a standard that becomes the foundation for tomorrow and the anchor for today’s storms. If we do not like a show on the television, we change channels to something we do like. If we do not like the news from once source, we have the option of choosing from multiple sources. Whether we like the truths of the Sacred Scriptures or not, they remain eternal truths. Even if we disagree with those eternal truths, they remain eternal truths. Eternal truth always has ultimate authority over us.
3. It is a mirror for us.
Paul tells Timothy that the Sacred Scriptures “make us realize what is wrong in our lives.” (Remember my thoughts about the bully pulpit and billy club?) These words from Paul to Timothy were about self-reflection. The Bible is the only way we can see ourselves as we really are. That mirror in your bathroom? It never lies. It does not have Photoshop® to clean us up and make us look better. It gives back to us what is actually there. It never lies to us. Do you remember the evil queen in the story of sleeping beauty? So it is with the Sacred Scriptures. It is here that we engage in that activity most of us would rather avoid–honest self-evaluation. Here we are to measure our lives by God’s measure and design. Paul wanted Timothy to become all that God designed him to be and the only way that could happen was to begin seeing himself in light of God’s eternal truth.
4. It challenges us!
Paul tells Timothy that the Sacred Scriptures “corrects us when we are wrong.” To be honest, none of us enjoys being corrected. I remember something I heard many years ago from Charles Swindoll: “Believing we are right, we can be wrong.” No human being is infallible. This means we need to listen and listen closely. When one of our granddaughters was around 3 years old, she and her Mom paid us a visit. We adults were carrying on a conversation. But 3-year-old Caroline was showing us how she could jump. We stopped talking for a moment to watch her and congratulate her and then continued with our conversations. But Caroline wasn’t through with us. Getting our attention she said, “You cannot be talking and pay attention to me!” I am confident she had heard her preschool teacher say that to her many times. When the Sacred Scriptures tell us we are wrong, we need to stop talking and pay attention. These words in the Bible are not for us to point the finger at others, but to correct the things wrong inside us. I believe Jesus said something about the need for us to get that beam of wood out of our eye before we worried about that speck of sawdust in our neighbor’s eye.
5. It is our road map to becoming who God wants us to be.
Listen carefully to these words: “teaches us to do what is right.” In the Sacred Scriptures we discover our God-Given purpose for life. Here is where we figure out how to get from Point A to Point B. Some people have an unhealthy appetite for knowledge about the Bible. Unhealthy, because it is all about the acquisition of knowledge without ever translating that knowledge into action. One of the great needs in the Body of Christ is for us to start doing what we know that God says is right. There are parts of the Bible I do not understand and I am sure there are parts of the Bible you do not understand. Instead of trying to figure out the parts we do not understand, we should simply apply what we already know. I heard this once in a small country church: “Right is right even if no one does it. And wrong is wrong even if everybody does it.” Instead of memorizing verses it would be so much better if we started living by the verses we already know.
6. It is to be our classroom.
A person simply does not simply decide they want to be a brain surgeon. They do not walk into an operating room and announce, “I’m the surgeon today.” No, they have to go through an extensive program that starts in the classroom. Paul reminded Timothy that “God uses it to prepare … his people”. I know I left part of that part out but it is what comes next. Sometimes we think we are ready to do great things for the Kingdom of God but we are unfruitful and it seems like God is holding us back. It seems like He is holding us back because He IS holding us back. It takes preparation time to be skilled at any job. Before a wonderful meal is eaten and enjoyed there is a preparation time. It is not instant but carefully prepared–our mission in the Kingdom, that is. We all need alone time with the Sacred Scriptures and we also need those small groups that God is using to prepare us BEFORE we go out into the harvest field.
7. It gives us the tools we need for the work of the Kingdom of God.
A surgeon doesn’t use the tools of a plumber. A mechanic doesn’t use the tools of a carpenter. A plumber doesn’t use the tools of a computer programmer. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Then why do we try to do this Spiritual Work of the Spiritual Kingdom of God with human tools? Paul tells Timothy, “God uses it to … equip his people” Within the Sacred Scriptures we find the tool box of God, the resources He knows will work for the Kingdom He is building. Not all of these tools are for every person. But here in the Bible, we can discover and uncover those gifts that God has given us for the work He is calling us into. And this work that He is doing through us has a clearly defined purpose. Jesus gave us a clear picture of it in John 9:10–“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” If the tools in your tool box are not giving people that rich and satisfying life, then you’re using the wrong tool box.
The Bible is God’s gift to us. Let’s use it the way the Gift is intended. You do not use a ceramic knife to chisel bricks.