The Whole Story

I watched a TV documentary a couple of weeks ago about Thomas Jefferson’s bible, entitled – The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. He took the bible and physically cut it apart to assemble the New Testament in chronical order leaving out parts that show Jesus was true man and true God – the miracles and the resurrection for example. It was another glimpse into Jefferson’s world view which is not my point. For me, the idea of cutting up the bible into a shorter version is just one way that people are trying to make sense of, “what does it mean?”

Many non-denominational churches don’t want to talk about our sinful nature and our need for redemption. They’d rather focus on the help we can get from God if we are faithful in prayer and performing good works. We miss a big part of the teachings of God, through Jesus and His disciples, if we selectively pick and choose parts of the bible – we miss the whole story! My attention is drawn to the verses below since they speak to the bigger “story” of the meaning of our faith. Please read these slowly and listen to what they are saying to you. The majesty of the bible is that you can read it over and over and come away with something new each time. If you cut away pieces and parts, you will miss God speaking directly to you.

Romans 8:22-30

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

JOHN 14:23-29

 23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

I do believe!

Today marks the start of Holy Week as we await the solemnness of Jesus’ crucifixion and His glorious resurrection three days later. This week should be about Jesus. There are a number of verses in the Bible that discuss what Jesus was saying and doing in His last week. It is amazing to read that His disciples did not know what He has been talking about until it was too late. It made me think about how I read the bible and what I might be missing. As I considered what to write for this important week, I wondered about the people who know Jesus but like the disciples, do not understand what is happening around them. I’ve heard people say “Sure I believe in God and that Jesus was His son but I don’t get into the rest of the bible”. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “I go to church and that’s enough for God to know that I believe in Him”.

I’m not warmed by either of these phrases but I will hold judgment because that’s God’s call not mine. However, I really do know what Jesus did for us and continues to do on our behalf.  St Paul in a letter to the Philippians said 12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”(Philippians 2:12-13). St Paul is suggesting that we obey God’s word whether we feel His presence or not. This is such a profound statement that I can also hear Jesus saying this to me. Re-read the verse again but think of Jesus saying it instead. This verse means much more now doesn’t it?

We owe our salvation to Jesus, who intervened on our behalf, but we owe our eternal lives to God, who through His grace and mercy sent His Son to be punished for our sins. We can do nothing more at this point but believe in the word of God that assures us that we are saved through Jesus. Mark verse 9:24 says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus taught us how to live our lives, what is important in this world and what we can do to enjoy eternal life with Him. If you have ever doubted, simply read the verses about Holy Week and give thanks for ALL that God has done for you. You will overcome any “unbelief” in no time.

Words mean something

Last week I mentioned the exercise that I participated in. Each year that we do one of these, a theme emerges that can be funny or simply defines our overall emotions but it is always what keeps us going through the long days. This year’s theme was “words mean something”. In life and death situations, words really do mean something; even the order in which they are said. “Cut the red wire. Before doing so, cut the white one” This is a simple example of timing. A friend of mine is working on program in response to the question “what is the value of a firefighter?” The context of the program is based on the premise suggested by NPR, that firefighters are sometimes too expensive to keep around. Others will see that statement and try to answer the “value” part by showing how important they are to a community. Words mean something. Misunderstandings and miscommunications are all around us at home and at work. People reply with “that’s not what I meant!” but the hurt feelings are already there, so it really doesn’t matter what they meant to say. I’m seeing younger people today who have a hard time verbally expressing themselves. Their sentences are short and void of emotion, if it can’t be said in a text or e-mail, they just aren’t saying it. How are we to supposed to deal with them? When we speak with them we can ask them to repeat back to us what they “think” we said. We can ask them how they want to be communicated with. One thing is for sure; we must choose our words carefully knowing that each one has the possibility of meaning more than one thing to a new generation of young people. This generation may have a slightly different dictionary version than we do. We must be flexible and patient, our role is to continue to lead them.

“because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”  1 Thessalonians 1:5

The bible is such a great book but it too can be filled opportunities for misinterpretation. Look at the various churches that claim to offer insight into God’s word and then proceed to tell you how to live your life. The gospel did come to us with great power; we can impact people’s lives by following the words given to us. We are not the judges of other people’s lives, the bible tells us that. The Holy Spirit is present in our lives but so is the devil, and they are constantly fighting for our attention. It is the deep conviction that we have in our faith that keeps the devil in check. Our words mean something; they are the light into our heart. Do you openly profess your love and belief in Jesus Christ? When given the chance to gossip about someone, do you jump on it? Do you lie about things in your life or take advantage of your boss who isn’t paying attention? These are all windows into your heart. The bible is more than just words; it is the WORD of God, given to us through the Holy Spirit who inspired its writers. The words and stories are told in such a way to bring meaning to each word. These words mean something. At the end of the day, we must watch our words and our actions because as they say, actions speak louder than words. The bible is our guide. No matter what we’ve done or said, we are forgiven by the grace of God and Jesus taking our sins onto Himself so we may have eternal life. Now that is plain and simple no matter how you say it.

Happy Easter!

Yesterday, we celebrated Easter with Easter baskets, Easter egg hunts and Sunrise services. It is a wonderful time of the year! Spring is just getting started (for most of us anyway), the year is rising from the dormant winter much like Christ rose on the third day. A couple of weeks ago I was having coffee with a friend of mine when he started to talk about religion and his faith in God and our savior Jesus Christ. We talked about the various denominations out there and how people are searching for the “right church to belong to” as if it mattered whether you were a Catholic or a Lutheran. We both agreed that it wasn’t the denomination that was important but that they all had underlying belief in Jesus Christ as our savior. He then said something that really hit the nail on the head – “the importance bible of the bible can be summed up in two verses John 1:1 and John 3:16”.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

When you read these two verses, you realize that he was right. Take away the differences between denominations, the doctrinal teachings and the “special rules” of each “church” and it all boils down to “the Word was with God and the Word was God.” God gave us His divine Word through the writings of the bible. He ensured that the messages He wanted sent were done so through the pages of the bible. As sinners, we continued to follow our own hearts and minds doing what we believed to be right. Knowing that we were not capable of doing what was in our own best interest, God intervened again. He sent His one and only Son to us. Not to just help us but to save us. God’s word tells us “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. An eternal life that we will share with God our Father, Jesus His Son and all of the other believers. As my friend said, “what else is more important?” Knowing that you will have eternal life for your faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest gift at this time of restoration. Go out today, this Easter Monday, and every day remembering that you are saved not by your own doing or your own works but by the grace of God.