“Unhitching” from a Misused Old Testament

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On Wednesday, The Christian Post ran an article about Pastor Andy Stanley’s recent sermon where he stated that, “Christians need to unhitch the Old Testament from their faith.” The Internet went crazy.

I’ve taken three days to think and process before I respond. Because, while I disagree with Pastor Stanley, I also agree. I believe that we do need to abandon the Old Testament in a way…just not the way he suggests.

Stanley expressed concern that the Old Testament has caused people to leave their faith, and he wanted people to reconsider a Jesus without all the baggage of the the “Jewish Scriptures.” Unfortunately, while that’s really sweet, it doesn’t exactly line up with 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Paul is talking to his young disciple, Timothy.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Since Timothy grew up while the New Testament was being written, all he had were the Old Testament Scriptures. He learned them from childhood and they gave him wisdom to understand salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Wait! Aren’t these the same Scriptures Andy Stanley is worried will push people away from faith?

Paul very clearly tells us that all Scripture has been breathed out by God. Peter confirms this in 2 Peter 1:20-21.

“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Again, since the New Testament was still being written, both Peter and Paul are referring to the “Hebrew Bible” as Pastor Stanley called it.

Can I make a bold statement?

The problem isn’t with the Old Testament itself. The problem is what Evangelical Christianity has been doing with it, often with the very best of intentions.

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Well meaning pastors, Sunday school teachers, and college professors teach the historical stories and add opinion and explanation that just isn’t in Scripture. It’s not always wrong, but that doesn’t make it right.

I’m reading Judges right now in my morning Coffee & Jesus time and I’m in shock. Half of what I assumed was in there just isn’t. There are no cute morals, or mysterious formulas, or detailed exposes. It’s just history. Stories of God and people. The thing that is hitting me the most is the utter lack of condemnation. The people are messed up, and God patiently uses them anyway with abundant grace. Maybe He’s always been like that.

Why do we feel the need to add a moral or a formula to every Bible story? Why do I have to find a way to apply them to my life? I don’t apply George Washington to my life! Can’t I just read these stories of real people, observe their successes and failures and be awestruck by God’s absolute faithfulness?

The Old Testament has also been horribly misused across Christianity. It gets distorted in an attempt to control people all the time. Where did my old cult leader get most of his ideas? By using the Old Testament out of context. In fact, just about every strange group or slightly-theologically-off person I’ve ever come in contact with was was basing their beliefs on the Old Testament.

We need to acknowledge a fact. The number of people who have been spiritually abused by a misapplication of the Old Testament is devastating. Which is why I agree with Andy Stanley that we need to unhitch ourselves from the Old Testament…just not from the real one.

Instead of unhitching from the Old Testament, let’s ditch the one we think we know and start over. Let’s read it correctly and in context.

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  • If it’s a history book, then enjoy the stories of God interacting with His precious creation. Watch for the hints that a Savior is coming, and marvel at the appearances of the pre-incarnate Jesus.
  • If it’s a law book, then stand in awe of the fact that it was never actually about those laws. It was always pointing us to Christ and our need for a Savior. Remember that Jesus came and fulfilled every bit of that law for us.
  • If it’s a book of prophecy,  then be struck by awe and slight terror as God describes Himself. Rejoice at the fact that Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies when he came to earth. (Side note: we have GOT to stop trying to apply those prophecies personally. Most prophecies are specific to Israel and have already been fulfilled.)
  • If it is a book of songs, then experience the beautiful, raw emotion of an intimate relationship between a human being and their Creator.

And if we are confused or have a problem with something as we read the Old Testament, let’s wrestle with it. Dive into Biblical culture and the customs of the day. Dig, seek, and ask questions. But please don’t read someone else’s blog (even this one) and just believe their opinion.

We need the whole Bible to get a accurate picture of God, ourselves, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We can’t trash parts because they are confusing or uncomfortable. But we can take the time to wrestle through them for ourselves. That wrestling will bring us face to face with an unexpected God who is patiently waiting to reveal Himself to those who seek.

The real Jesus is worth it! But don’t take my word for it. 🙂

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” John 4:42.

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But God is Not a Vending Machine…

Reblogged with a few tweeks from last year because I needed to hear this again!

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It’s easy to say that we believe God is all-powerful and that He has the ability to intervene on our behalf. But what about when He doesn’t?

When a young couple, serving on the mission field, looses their healthy, newborn son to unforeseen complications, after two previous miscarriages… When a wonderful, loving pastor’s wife suddenly dies… When a family battling cancer with their teenage son finds out their second son also has cancer…

Really, God? If you are really in control and absolutely powerful, why would these things happen?

If we are honest, we will admit that we have all been there. Something falls apart, or a prayer doesn’t get answered, or a tragedy happens, and we start wondering: Is God really real? Is He really in control? Is He really good? Am I believing a lie?

vendingmachine_lead1 There are plenty of examples of miracles in the Bible, and we hear modern-day stories. There is a “good” outcome we want, and we know that God could do it. Our desires are possible too. But, how do we get God to agree? Will He cooperate? How do we “twist His arm”? Which combination of buttons do we push on His heavenly vending machine?

You don’t talk like that? Me either, at least not out loud, but that’s how we act!

We don’t understand God, we can’t! He is way too big. So, we tend to create a version of God that we can understand, a god made in our own image. We can manipulate people, why not God? How do Christians do this?

We Create Formulas

I was raised under the shadow of the king of formulas. If you can get your hands on any of Bill Gothard’s materials, you will see 3 steps to this and 5 steps to that, always promising blessing and success. A perfect example is the book Gothard wrote called “The Power of Crying Out”. He basically shows verses (mostly out of context of course) where people “called out” or “cried out”. Then he turns around and promises that if we pray loudly God hears us and will respond better than if we pray quietly. What?

It’s not just my old cult leader who does this! I’ve read formulaic thinking on blogs, and in books, and heard it from the mouths of Christians across the range of Evangelicalism.

I have seen people take Bible stories and turn them into formulas. So-and-so did x, y, and got z, therefore, if we also do x, and y, we will get our z. Sorry, it would be nice, but I don’t think it works this way! God is not a vending machine! We cannot enter A5 and B10 and get a Snickers bar and bag of Doritos every time.

We Claim “Promises”

Ever heard this verse used as a promise for physical healing? It’s pretty popular. “By His stripes we are healed.” It amazes me how many people quote this verse and are clueless about the context. First of all, it’s not even a whole verse; it’s a phrase at the end of one. Read the whole thing and see if you can figure out the context.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to see that this verse is a prophecy about the coming Savior and how we would be rescued by his death. Jesus’ wounds healed us, but it wasn’t a physical healing, it was a supernatural, spiritual one!

How about this? “We walk by faith and not by sight.” People use this verse to claim all kinds of things. But don’t forget context! We cannot rip verses out of the Bible and make them mean whatever we want. This phrase comes from 2 Corinthians 5, ironically a chapter about heaven and one day being with Christ. It is not talking about getting physically healed. Here is verse 7, sandwiched between verses 6 and 8 for context sake.

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV)

Claiming “promises” like these (even if they WERE in context) is still at their root a formulaic approach. We are still trying to find a way to guarantee a specific outcome, to push the right buttons on God’s vending machine.

We Take the Blame (or put it on others)

“I guess I didn’t have enough faith.”

“We didn’t have enough faith.”

“Their faith was lacking.”

These are all real responses that I have heard from people when their prayers weren’t answered the way they hoped. Right. Because there is a specific amount of faith that will twist God’s arm and make Him give us what we want. I don’t think so. It’s formulaic thinking again!

Where do we get this idea that our lack of faith is to blame? From the Bible. There are tons of verses talking about having faith, and asking for things in faith. Here are just two of them.

“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7

If these were the only verses I read, then I could easily believe that I am at fault because of my lack of faith. However, when I take a closer look, I realize that James is talking about asking God for wisdom (James 1:5). The specific promise is that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it to us.

Unfortunately, there are no verses (used in context) that guarantee any and every outcome based on our faith. While it is important to have faith as we pray, we need to ask ourselves this question: what is the object of our faith? Is our faith in our ability to move a mulberry tree (or a mountain), or in the God who made them?

So, in this broken world full of hurt and disappointment, what does God actually promise us? 

Check back Monday for part 2.

 

Is God Your Heavenly Vending Machine? (Pt 1)

 

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We say we believe God is all-powerful and that He has the ability to intervene on our behalf. But what about when He doesn’t? I had a mini “crisis of faith” this week that has made me reevaluate what I believe about God, His promises, and how to get what I want.

It started before I got sick. A couple we knew in Bible College lost their healthy, newborn son to unforeseen complications, after two miscarriages, while on the mission field. Then a wonderful, sweet, loving woman, who was also a pastor’s wife, suddenly died. Really, God? So I was already questioning, already doubting, and then I got sick.

I hadn’t been this sick in over 20 years, not since I was a kid! It dragged on and on!! I was supposed to have a lovely day to work on my book proposal while my mother-in-law watched the kiddos. She still watched my children, but I laid on the couch while they were gone and tried not to die. I was supposed to go with my husband (a youth pastor) and the teens to an exciting conference this weekend while my parents kept the kids. They went without me. My parents still kept the kids, and I laid on the couch. I couldn’t even keep my thoughts straight, let alone write a coherent sentence. I’d prayed for healing, lots of people were praying, and I was still sick. Sick and filled with doubts.

We have all been there. Something falls apart, or a prayer doesn’t get answered, or a tragedy happens, and we start wondering: Is God really real? Is He really in control? Is He really good? Am I believing a lie?

My feverish brain had four days to wrestle with these questions in-between naps and excessive amounts of Netflix.

vendingmachine_lead1We see a “good” outcome we want, and we know that God could do it. There are plenty of examples of miracles in the Bible, and we hear modern-day stories. We know our desires are possible too. How do we get God to agree? Cooperate? How do we “twist His arm”? Which combination of buttons do we push on His vending machine?

You don’t talk like that? Me either, at least not out loud, but that’s how we act!

We don’t understand God, we can’t! He is way too big. So, we tend to create a version of God that we can understand, a god made in our own image. We can manipulate people, why not God? I see this happening in at least three ways.

  1. We Create Formulas.

I was raised under the shadow of the king of formulas. If you can get your hands on any of Bill Gothard’s materials, you will see 3 steps to this and 5 steps to that, always promising blessing and success. A perfect example is the book Gothard wrote called “The Power of Crying Out”. He basically shows verses (mostly out of context of course) where people “called out” or “cried out”. Then he turns around and promises that if we pray loudly God hears us and will respond better than if we pray quietly. What?

It’s not just my old cult leader who does this! I’ve read formulaic thinking on blogs, and in books, and heard it from the mouths of Christians across the range of Evangelicalism.

I have seen people take Bible stories and turn them into formulas. So-and-so did x, y, and got z, therefore, if we also do x, and y, we will get our z. Sorry, it would be nice, but I don’t think it works this way! God is not a vending machine! We cannot enter A5 and B10 and get a Snickers bar and bag of Doritos every time.

  1. We Claim “Promises”

Ever heard this verse used as a promise for physical healing? It’s pretty popular. “By His stripes we are healed.” It amazes me how many people use this verse and are clueless about the context. First of all, it’s not even a whole verse; it’s a phrase at the end of one. Read the whole thing and see if you can figure out the context and whether or not it’s appropriate to say it promises physical healing.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to see that this verse is a prophecy about the coming Savior and how we would be rescued by his death. Jesus’ wounds healed us, but it wasn’t a physical healing, it was a supernatural, spiritual one!

How about this? “We walk by faith and not by sight.” People use this verse to claim physical healing. You know what I’m going to say: Context! The verse comes from 2 Corinthians 5, ironically a chapter about heaven and one day being with Christ. It is not talking about getting physically healed either! Here is verse 7, sandwiched between verses 6 and 8 for context sake.

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV)

Claiming “promises” like these (even if they WERE in context) and others, is still at their root a formulaic approach. We are still trying to find a way to guarantee a specific outcome, to push the right buttons.

  1. We Take the Blame (or put it on others):

“I guess I didn’t have enough faith.”

“We didn’t have enough faith.”

“Their faith was lacking.”

These are all real responses that I have heard from people when their prayers weren’t answered the way they hoped. Right. Because there is a specific amount of faith that will twist God’s arm and make Him give us what we want. I don’t think so. It’s formulaic thinking again!

Where do we get this idea that our lack of faith is to blame? From the Bible. There are tons of verses talking about having faith, and asking for things in faith. Here are just two of them.

“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7

If these were the only verses I read, then I could easily believe that I am at fault because of my lack of faith. However, when I take a closer look, I realize that James is talking about asking God for wisdom (vs 5). The specific promise is that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it to us. And while it is important to have faith as we pray, what is the object of our faith? Our ability to move a mulberry tree (or a mountain), or the God that made it? There are no verses that (used in context) guarantee any and every outcome based on our faith.

So, what does God actually promise us?

Stay tuned! Part 2 is coming tomorrow…

That Dang Proverbs 31 Woman!

This is, if you couldn’t tell from the title, a rant. Fair warning!

I thought I was over her, had moved past, and was able to let it go. Guess not! Last night I came across a blog post written by two young, single, childless women about motherhood, and being a “godly” mother, and the evils of day care or working outside the home… (First off, sorry girls, but you don’t get an opinion on being a mother until you are one! Not to mention, people in their late teens, early 20’s (Especially home-schoolers. I can say this because I was one.) always think they know everything and have every answer (I did), but they don’t. Not by a long shot!!) Of course they cited my least favorite passage as one of their proofs, Proverbs 31.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Proverbs 31 in itself, especially if you read it in a version other that the King James. But that dang woman was held up as the epitome of womanhood All. The. Freakin. Time. growing up in my conservative, homeschooling “cult”. It was this impossible goal to try and attain. We heard about her every Mother’s Day at least, maybe more. The “Proverbs 31 Woman” home-schooled, and gardened, and made all her own clothes, and baked fresh ground whole wheat bread, all while running a home based business, and having 12+ children, and being super submissive to her husband. She wore skirts only, maybe even a head-covering, and always spoke in a soft, quiet voice (to demonstrate her quiet and gentle spirit). Sound like anyone you’ve ever seen before? *coughMichelleDuggar*

Okay, it’s possible that I might be exaggerating a very, little bit… Don’t get me wrong, I am not against gender roles (in a relaxed and casual fashion). I am a mostly stay-at-home mother of two little children and have been for the past 5+ years. I even started gardening a couple of summers ago. But, the teachings I was raised with, almost destroyed me as a mother. More on that in a bit.

I AM against re92570055strictive gender roles! I’m against the idea that women can’t or shouldn’t get educated or have a job. I’m totally against the idea that somehow women staying home and living like its the 1800s (or even the 1950s) is more godly! I absolutely HATE how some conservative groups still treat women as inferior. Have you read about Jesus Christ and his radical interactions with women??

If you want to stay home and bake whole wheat bread because You Want To, great! Fabulous! But if you want to go to college and have a career, that’s also great and fabulous! Our personal choices as a family shouldn’t be automatically viewed as a representation of our “godliness”. Can you say Pharisee?!

If you actually read Proverbs 31 (my version is ESV) you will notice a couple of things.

  1. It’s really more about a business woman than anyone else. She’s working hard, buying and selling, and making things.
  2. The lady has maidservants. MAIDSERVANTS!! Plural!!! So someone else is doing all her cleaning, cooking, and possibly caring for her children! Which is how she has time to be a business woman. (This was NEVER talked about in my fundy days!)
  3. Her children aren’t even mentioned until vs 28 and all they do is “rise up and call her blessed”.

So there! Ha! Go take your out of context Scriptures and insinuated opinions and stuff it!

By the time I had children, I was well out of my “cult” days. But the teachings I grew up with followed me. Somehow I still believed that motherhood was the ultimate calling of woman, and that I should be totally fulfilled by being a mom. But it was WAY harder than I ever imagined… Honestly, I really struggled the first few years with babies. I didn’t even like being a mom most days and the guilt of those feelings nearly destroyed me. Until…one day I realized the truth. God never said I had to be fulfilled being a mother. God never said being a mother was the ultimate pinnacle of being female. My feelings were validated! Surprisingly, that knowledge actually freed me to enjoy being a mom.

I am a woman, mom, wife, daughter, friend, blogger, hopeful author, pastor’s wife, lover of nature, substitute teacher, part time jewelry artisan, camp health officer, restorer of old furniture, etc. But most of all, I am a child of God, loved and valued, redeemed, able to have a relationship with my Creator because of my amazing Savior, Jesus Christ. Actually, I might even be a Proverbs 31 woman…someone who is working hard, using her gifts, and seeking to love and serve her family.

Striving to be meet certain “criteria” will never bring us fulfillment, whether we are staying at home or not. Only a real relationship with Jesus satisfies us, and that should be our ultimate goal no matter what else we do.

“….a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30