Tag Archives: Belief

The Book of James–Part III “Who Are You?

The theme song from the original CSI always captured my attention. With poor hearing I expect it was a few years before I figured out exactly what all the words were…but the lead in; “Who are you…” always sucked me in—“Tell  me, who you are…I really want to know”.  Of course, almost predictably, they found out who the “who” was by end of show.

It’s not quite that easy with the Book of James. Continue reading

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Walk Away With Wonder and Wondering

After some rather significant discussion about the last few verses of 2 Peter chapter 2, one of the ladies in our Sunday Bible Study class asked me “Why are you going here? There are plenty of other churches out there.”   Naturally, I had a reply to her question. Once my reply was offered the discussion continued. At the end of the class she came up and attempted to explain her question and asked again, “why are you going here.”  I looked at her and simply pointed to the teacher and said, “Because of him.” 

I enjoy our class leader. He’s smart, well rounded in the full context of scripture and not afraid to tackle tough questions. That aside, the interesting part of the ladies question and its implication got me thinking. Is it necessary for us all to believe alike in order to study and worship together?  If we all thought the same thing and saw scripture through the same eyes, what value is there in that? Who gains anything by pooling like-mindedness? Is there nothing more to learn from the biblical text? Has it all been mined?  If so, why do theologians continue to write books? Why are new commentaries being printed and old ones revised?  Is it necessary that we all drink from the same well when it comes to some of the thorny issues of the biblical text?

It’s important that lively and pointed discussion take place when it comes to scripture. My beliefs today are not at all what they were ten or fifteen years ago, nor should they be – If I’m not growing than shame on me.  I’m reading a book now that’s stretching my understanding of the Gospels. I’m not in agreement with everything the author says, but I can appreciate his position and it causes me to think as I read the four Gospels and seek to understand their message. To me, that’s what growth is all about. 

If we look at the ministry of Jesus we can see significant changes in how his ministry unfolded and not always for the better, I might add. When first starting out, it seemed all would flock to his teaching and when he called the Twelve they responded without the least hesitation. However, as the hands of time moved along, his ministry became more and more controversial. Not in his message, but in how his message was received. For many of the religious leaders it was negative. For the Twelve it was often bewilderment turning to “now we believe.” That’s how we are at times. In the beginning of our faith we soak it all up like a sponge and then we begin hearing different applications of the text, read different authors, maybe take a seminary class or two and find that the fields are fertile with challenging ideas and they push us to come to terms with our original belief system. We should not question things because we don’t believe; we should question things because we want to believe. We want our faith to be just that our faith. Let’s not be interested in going along to get along. Let’s seek to be challenged and to come to terms with the message of the text ourselves.

When we read scripture and attend Bible studies, we should want to think, to noodle, to ponder the text and dissect it so we not only understand it, but find out how to apply it to our life. There are times when we will look but don’t see, hear the words but don’t hear the message. There are those moments when, like the Twelve, we can hear Jesus saying, “Where is your faith?” or “Do you not understand that I was not talking about bread but about the leaven of the Pharisees?” Yes, let’s choose to have our mind engaged as well as our heart. To have the text pierce not only our emotions but our understanding so we walk away from the text with both wonder and wondering.

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Belief and Faith

There was a short discussion this past week in our Bible study class about “faith” and “belief.”   I was squirming in my seat as they had the discussion and after not being able to contain myself I leaned over to my wife and whispered…”faith and belief come from the same root word in Greek.”  I’m not certain what I intended to convey to her with my vast knowledge of the Greek language (wink, wink), but I at least wanted her to understand it’s very hard to convey a difference between to the two words.  At a minimum it’s inadequate to think one can have faith without first having a certain level of belief. The other side of that coin is the necessity of belief in someone or something in order to exercise faith.  Try as one might, separating the two can be a recipe for frustration.

Now I’m most likely not the one to put the meat on the bones when it comes to a discussion of this magnitude, nevertheless, from my own thinking, it’s important for me to understand some very elemental principles. First, that the words “faith” and “belief” do indeed stem from the same Greek word “pistis.”  It’s important we understand that. (There, I’ve just conveyed my “vast knowledge” of the Greek language.)  🙂    I could say that I believe in Jesus Messiah but in order to act on that belief I must have a certain faith that Jesus is who he said he was and his teachings are true.   I can have faith that Jesus is who he said he was and his teachings are true, but that acknowledgement means little if I don’t practice what he taught. (We’ll talk about Abraham in a minute, but he typifies this idea.)

If we look up “belief” in the ISBE (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) it refers us immediately to “Faith.”  The point, when you read the article, is mainly this – faith is an issue of reliance or trust.  If I believe in God I trust/rely on God to be who He said He would be and to do what He said He would do.  The opposite of this can be seen most clearly with the habits of Israel and their lack of reliance on God to do what He said He would do. Furthermore, if we trace that understanding far enough we end up at the doorstep of Adam and Eve.  Not believing God and not having total reliance on Him was what really prompted the apple to fall into the wrong hands.  It wasn’t so much that God didn’t want them to know “good and evil” it was that He wanted them to learn that lesson His way, in His timing, at His instruction.  Another example that both James and Paul cite is Abraham: “…He believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.”   Actually, if you are familiar with the story, Abraham had great difficulty in relying on God to fulfill His covenant promise.  As the years ticked by both Abraham and Sarah were finding themselves wondering about the delay and more than willing to take matters in their own hands.  Not exactly a pure picture of reliance regardless of how deep Abraham’s belief might have been or would become.

We can believe in God all we want but unless we are willing to rely (have faith) on Him and follow His instructions we have what James calls an empty faith. We may believe in God and yet wonder why we struggle with certain sins or behaviors that are not pleasing to Him. It’s rather simple really – we’re not relying on God for the tools we need to conquer. We’re hoping we can do it on our own.  Well, how’s that working out for you?   For me, not so well.   If we can just remember the words of the wisdom writer —- “Trust in the LORD with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding  and He will direct your paths.”  To put it another way – believe and rely, trust and obey. Never apart, always equal in intention.

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The Nuance of Theology

Our church held a seminar on “Basic Theology” that was led my a couple of our pastors.  It was designed, based on what was  described, as a seminar to go over some basic tenants of theology; salvation, the Trinity, Heaven, etc. Here’s what bothers me a bit about the whole thing.  Why don’t they simply state specifically what may be implied. The seminar is on basic theology as held by our church. Not a theology that is applicable to all churches, mainly our church which – without reservation – is ultra conservative and dispensational in their belief system.

A part of this whole issue of theology is the basic principle that what is biblical is biblical mostly as it relates to a person or church’s specific belief system.  If someone disagrees with the basic tenants of “the faith” as laid out by a particular person or church they are often accused of not being biblical in their approach to scripture.  Is this a correct way to approach the biblical text?  Is there ever a time when we let the text speak for itself without trying to water it down, nuance the words, or try and uncover other texts that might balance out what one verse or series of verses might say compared to another?  When does “all” mean all?  When do if/then statements really present conditionality?  When does endurance really mean endurance?

In John 15 Jesus said he had “called” and “chosen” those who followed him (the Twelve). Does that mean they were predestined to be the twelve or that he simply selected them over others?  Jesus said that the Father is greater than him. Does that mean their is a hierarchy in the heavenly realm? Jacob seemed to indicate that if God would meet his needs then YHWH would be his God. All of these are challenging verses that can often be interpreted differently depending on an individual’s biblical perspective. Does that make these texts, or any others for that matter, non-specific either in context or application? I suspect not.

In a blog post I read the other day, Mark Galli – senior managing editor of Christianity Today – made this comment:

Like the longing for authority. One of the most frustrating things about being Protestant, and especially evangelical, is that there is really no place to turn when you are ready to end a conversation on a controversial point. There is no authority figure or institution that can silence heterodoxy. No one has your back—well, except the Holy Spirit (we’ll come back to this in a moment). The more Protestants there are, the more churches and theologies are birthed. As soon as we say, “The Christian church believes …” we hear someone say, “Well, I’m a Christian, and I don’t believe that!” To be an evangelical used to mean one stood for certain theological convictions—penal substitution, inerrancy, and so forth—but now many evangelicals take delight in defining themselves over and against one of these formerly cardinal doctrines, while insisting on the right to be called evangelicals.**

The point that struck me most was, “Well, I’m Christian and I don’t believe that!”  The rub there is simply this, many people are uncomfortable moving off center when it comes to their theology. Once you move past accepted orthodoxy there is the struggle to re-define one’s faith principles. That’s both challenging and often on-going. Moving away from center can cause a certain level of angst especially if one senses they are in the minority, even though they may be right.  At least, right for a time.

Orthodox theology provides a foundation that many people find comfortable and reassuring. They can echo the words “the church believes” even though they may not fully understand that belief system or be able to explain it should someone ask. Nevertheless, they find comfort there. Much like we find comfort at home. We have our routine and habits that give us both solace and a sense of stability.  Theology is much the same. We reside within the walls of orthodoxy because it offers us both solace and a sense of stability. Even though we may find a particular portion of that orthodox faith uncomfortable in both our heart and mind we push those feelings aside in favor of stability.

I suppose I could say “I’m orthodox to a point.” Of course, that would and has gotten me in trouble. I like to push the edge of the envelope. I want to be challenged to understand why something should be considered orthodox.  At times theology can be both fascinating and frustrating. It can stretch the mind and heart in ways many people who do not study theology would not understand.  At the same time it can bring us to our knees.

**http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/11/17/magisterium-or-holy-spirit/

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What Does Jesus Mean to You?

My wife attends a career-change group at our local church. It’s basically folks who are unemployed, underemployed, or looking for a career change.  She learns a lot and enjoys the group.  Last week she came home and relayed a story about one of the speakers.  It was his mission every day to ask at least one person “What does Jesus mean to you?”  As you might imagine, he solicits a wide variety of responses – most of them are a deer-in-the-headlight-look as people try to process what it was this person just asked them.

When I asked my wife that question she responded with, “He’s my personal savior, Lord and friend.”   Of course, she returned the favor and asked me the same question. I replied, “He is the Son of God, the Messiah and the Savior of the world.”   What I wasn’t expecting was for her to wonder if that was all – as though my answer was not personal enough or intimate enough.  Naturally, that sparked a conversation.

Was my answer any less personal than hers?  Apparently so in her mind, but not in mine.  We may not have used the same words, but my answer – for me – was JUST as personal as hers. Of course, she is a loving, caring, giving, and supporting person. All of which speaks to the issue of intimacy and personal intent. A reflection of her answer.  For me, I’m loving, caring, giving and supporting, but do those things often in ways that are different. That doesn’t mean I’m discounted in those characteristics, it simply means I’m different.

One of the reasons we have trouble communicating the message of Christ is that we often expect everyone to use the same language. That our terms be similar and mean the same thing. But that’s just not the case. Much of the message of Christ has become complicated by the use of words that don’t always, if ever, mean the same thing to both the speaker and the hearer.  This was evident in something our Bible Study leader said in last Sunday’s class.  We were talking about the phrase “falling away” as used in the Book of Hebrews and whether it indicated an issue of apostasy or something else.  His point was that it was merely a “stumble” and not a falling away. He attempted to bolster that opinion by quoting other verses were different Greek words were used for the same idea but did not carry the weight of “falling away.”   Uhm…

My question to him was simple: “Are you telling us that because different writers of different books used different terms for falling away that somehow falling away meant something other than “falling away?”  

Words are specific by their very nature. However it’s important for us to understand that a variety of words can be used to communicate the same idea: talk, speak, preach are good examples.  “The pastor delivered a great talk this morning.”  “I really enjoyed hearing the pastor speak.”  “The pastor really preached a good one this morning.”  Different words all communicating the same thing from the person who heard the talk.    But not always heard in the same way by others.

What does Jesus mean to you?  What would you say if some one asked you that?  Would you have to think about it or would your answer be spontaneous?  Does your answer have to be the same as mine for it to have merit; or mine the same as yours?  If your answer is not couched in the same words as mine, does that make it less or more personal?

What Jesus means to me, is exactly that – what Jesus means to me.

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