No, it’s not a naughty word, nor is it the title of a film about the life of Nelson Mandela 😉
It’s the 3rd book of the Bible. It’s one of the bits with all the gory sacrifices and (seemingly!) obsolete laws and rituals.
This time of year, many Christians make resolutions and plans to read through the Bible in the coming year. It’s a commendable goal and regular bible reading (& study, in context, history and genre etc) is part of the life of anyone who is serious about knowing, believing in, trusting and living for God. However in an average reading plan, of a few chapters a day (8-15min) many people come unstuck somewhere around the end of January.
Re-posted from 2011: Charles Stone introduces his book, ‘Five Ministry Killers and How to Kill Them‘ with a story of how a Church fired their Pastor. As I started the first paragraph, I thought it was a fictional parable used to kick off the main topic of the book.
I read a little further and started to feel a little awkward. Some of the issues were a little too close to home for me. Then, the surprise (for me anyway!). The pastor is a real person and Stone is talking about real struggles that defeat many men and women who are in Christian Ministry.
The pastor in question, faced difficulties with power struggles, salary controversies and questions about his leadership style. His visitation policy was considered questionable and he was accused of “not loving the people.” Why? Because he made a decision to concentrate on his strengths and gifts in preaching and teaching instead of following a routine visiting program.
After some time, one particular man lead a bullying campaign that would eventually see the pastor fired from his job. The pastor made a decision to introduce changes in the Church policy about the expectations of the character of those that wanted to become Church members. He was called to question for this stance. He was threatened with losing his job. He stood his ground and they fired him.
Stone closes off this account of the pastor, “Jonathan”, as follows:
Ten years later, because Jonathan had so graciously responded to his critics and his dismissal, one of his main detractors admitted that pride, self-sufficiency, ambition, and vanity had caused the contention. The pastor’s handling of his ministry crisis left such and impression that eventually the church publicly repented of their actions, exactly 150 years after they sent him packing.
Dear Pastor friend, if it happened to Edwards, chances are you will face similar challenges. Are you ready to meet them with a godly, gospel oriented approach?
Dear Church Member friend, if you have a Pastor that has different ideas about leadership style and ministry emphasis are you able to model gospel oriented flexibility and serve alongside him for God’s glory?
There is a type of thinking that is popular among Christians that says you become a Christian simply by repeating the words of a prayer to God. This prayer varies in exact wording among different denominations and branches of the Christian Church, however the basic elements are all the same. Say the prayer, and hey presto you’re now a Christian. If you ever struggle with your faith in the future or fall away completely, that’s OK, because once upon a time, you prayed a prayer so you have a spiritual insurance policy against fire damage.
One of the problems with that idea is there are no examples of it in the Bible. Another is that it is not a common practice throughout Church history until very recently (last century). But, the biggest problem is when you base your spiritual confidence in something you do instead of something God has done in the person of Jesus then you are “placing all bets” on your own personal worth and accomplishments. If that’s the case, you had better make sure your record is completely, 100%, perfect.
I prayed a prayer, therefore I am going to heaven. In other words, I’ve paid my dues, so God owes me one.
Christianity is never presented this way in the Bible. Instead what we see is Jesus calling people to repent of self-confidence and self accomplishment and instead trust in his accomplishment on their behalf. i.e. to trust in his completely, 100%, perfect record and perfect offering of himself to satisfy the justice of God on your behalf.
My self-confidence and sense of personal peace or enjoyment of my faith will vary all the time, but the accomplishment of Jesus stands and remains consistent. If I doubt my sincerity when I prayed such and such a prayer, my confidence could waver. But, if I doubt, or am discouraged, defeated, depressed or disillusioned in myself Jesus has called me to look away from myself and look to him. I am not a Christian because of something I have done or haven’t done. Rather I am a Christian because I am relying and trusting in what the Bible says Jesus has done on my behalf.
J.D. Greear has written a little book called “Stop asking Jesus into your heart”. He explains the difference between relying upon Jesus and “praying a special prayer”.
“Repentance and faith are heart postures you take toward the finished work of Christ. You might express the beginning of that posture in a prayer. But don’t make the mistake of equating that prayer with the posture. The sinner’s prayer is not a magic incantation or a recipe you follow to get a salvation cake. The real stuff—the stuff that matters—is the posture of repentance and faith behind the words you speak. The prayer is good only insofar as it verbalizes the posture.
we might express our assumption of that new posture in a “sinner’s prayer”—or by “asking Jesus into our hearts,” or some equivalent thereof—but just because we’ve prayed that prayer doesn’t necessarily mean we have repented and believed. The flip side is also true: just because we haven’t prayed that prayer (or can’t remember praying it) doesn’t mean we haven’t repented and believed. “Repentance and belief” and “asking Jesus into our hearts” are not always interchangeable.”
~ Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved by J.D. Greear
Are you repenting of your sin and trusting in Jesus or are you trusting in some words you once recited as a prayer?
When responding to a proposal to distribute Bibles to school children in the UK as a way of marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible translation a couple of years ago, Professor Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford, said: “A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian.”
Reading the Bible is one thing. Obtaining something valuable as a result of the reading is another. In Dawkins opinion, reading it would “disabuse [the reader] of the pernicious falsehood” that the Bible is a moral book.
I agree with his statement. The Bible is not about morals, nor is it an polemic on how to be more moral. It simply is not so. However, if you have never read it before, it can baffle you considerably. Yet, so many who do read (some of) it, still insist it is a moral story. This ignores the authors intent because the Bible is not a moral book teaching a behavioural code. It is God revealing himself.
as it is written:
“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. ~ 1 Corinthians 2:9-11
Because he is revealing himself, he is the one that gets to decide the meaning of what he says. Without God setting the agenda for what the Bible means, you become a bit like a sighted person trying to tell a blind person what colour looks like. You have no frame of reference. God gives us his frame of reference in the Bible.
I certainly have not received everything I have ever asked for. Sometimes that has been a good thing, especially when my mother used to say, “You’re asking for it kid!”
What about the times, when I sincerely, politely, humbly, even altruistically, asked for something and still did not receive it. What was the deal there?
Have I not received it “yet“? Is it a case of timing or delayed gratification?
Have I received it in some other form I am unable or unwilling to recognise?
Perhaps the premise or the promise is flawed. Merely a delusional distraction of some kind?
What on earth was Jesus going on about when he said, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” in Matthew 7:8?
I read it again the other day and it jumped out as a dogmatic statement. When I flicked back a couple of pages I noticed that “asking” and “seeking” featured regularly in the section of scripture, commonly referred to in Matthews Gospel as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, where this verse is found.
At the start of the Sermon, Jesus said,
“”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and
“”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” – Matthew 5:3,6
If, as seems to be the case, he is using a poetical form of rhetoric to make his point, this would show that those who are the poor, the impoverished, the ones who lack in some way, thus their hunger and thirst, are the ones who will be on the receiving end of God’s grace, mercy and generosity. There is a sense in which they do not need to ask or seek because they will be pre-emptively supplied by God in some way.
This seems to be reenforced in Matthew 6:8, where Jesus said,
“your Father knows what you need before you ask him”.
However he then goes on to teach the Lord’s Prayer, which has a series of requests in which the petitioner first asks for God’s kingdom.
Later in Matthew 6:33, he tells them to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. Previously when I’ve read that verse, I took it as a sort of reassurance that Jesus was referring to my temporal comforts. i.e. there was some sort of theistic bargain taking place. If I “seek” his kingdom, I will taken care of in the food and clothing department, ignoring the full context of the sermon.
The verbs and participles in Matthew 7:8 are all in the present tense (except for “will be opened”), so it could be read as;
“For all those who are asking are receiving and all those seeking are finding and to all those knocking it will be opened”
Putting this together with the preëmptive statements in Chapter 5 and 6 and the imperatives of the Lord’s Prayer (“pray like this…”) and Matthew 6:33 (“seek first the kingdom…”) God is using the means of prayer (asking, seeking, knocking) to carry out his goal of giving us his kingdom, his righteousness etc. It is not a case of bargaining; “If you bow down and worship me then I will give you these riches” – that offer came from someone else. Instead it is more the sense of; “God is giving you new life, and a new world view, as you worship him, apart from self interest, self justification, self vindication, and realise your own radical spiritual depravity.”
This is the only way “your righteousness exceeds that of (the self-appointed religious élite of their day) the scribes and pharisees.” When it is derived, or better understood as, received from God through Jesus. The difference between the first century application and today is merely context and politics. Then it was nominally religious posturing in defiance of an incumbent foreign government to look more self righteous before ones peers. Today, the posturing still happens, but its in the form of token environmental salvage or political endorsement of a minority whim both of which are fashioned to appear as gracious and tolerant and yet, like the scribes and pharisees of old, is dresses up in elaborate, eloquent, scolding arrogance towards any who buck the trend.
It may be said of them, as it was of me in my belligerence, “they’re asking for it.” Jesus assures them, they’ll “get it.” We all will. The question is not, are you getting what you asked for, but, what are you asking for?