What does the Bible mean (part 1 continued)

My friend, Joey Guido, and I are having a conversation about the Bible. This is a real life conversation between two men who approach theology and God from different perspectives (You can learn more about Joey in this blog introduction and then shoot over to his blog and check out some of his great resources). Our hope is that as we dialogue, we will show that it is possible for two thoughtful men who don’t always agree to have an intelligent, frank, and respectful conversation.

This is an ongoing conversation so you’ll want to read Part 1 and the Comments and then join the conversation here!

Joey says:

I have a few comments/questions in regard to your response:

I’m wondering why God would ask for innocent creatures to be sacrificed “so you can make atonement for your sins. It is the blood, representing life, that brings you atonement” (Leviticus 17:11). That doesn’t seem fair, let alone Godly. It’s like a killer going on trial for murder, being convicted, but then his DOG is killed while he’s allowed to go free.

What has he learned? Where’s the negative consequence for his actions? The poor dog! When an animal is sacrificed to atone for a person’s sins, that person is not taking responsibility for their actions. What do you think about sin being attoned for with death — especially the death of an innocent animal?

Paul says:

Hey Joey! Thanks for starting off with easy questions (cough, cough…).

The key here is that there is more involved than just killing an animal. Fundamentally the sacrifice has to do with the faith of the one sacrificing the animal. His/her faith that God would receive this sacrifice in a substitionary capacity was what saved the offender. The faith of the offender and his/her obedience to God’s sacrificial law was what “justified” (i.e. made the offender right before God) him/her. The offender learned NOTHING if there was not deep sorrow and repentance evidenced through sacrifice.  Here are a couple of verses that will bring better understanding to this point:

  • Proverbs 15:8  The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.
  • Proverbs 21:27  The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable– how much more so when brought with evil intent!

OK, you asked what I thought about an innocent animal being sacrificed as a result of my sin. I think it sucks, but I’d sure rather an animal die than me when I sin! God has said that the punishment for sin is death (Genesis 2:17; Romans 3:23). In the Old Testament era He created a sacrificial system in which an animal (a very specific type and quality) could stand as a substitute for the sinner. In the New Testament era (which continues today) He sent His Son, Jesus, to be that sacrifice. The whole point is that when someone sins something or someone has to die. He created a substitionary system. Again, it sucks, but I sure appreciate it.

The reality is that every wrong must be punished or the justice of God is compromised. He has created a system in which we do not have to be punished and therefore both His justice and love are satisfied. His justice is satisfied through atonement and His love is satisfied in relationship (made possible by the atonement).

Make sense?

Joey says:

As far as God getting angry, I simply don’t buy it. He’s God, not some immature 5th grader with anger issues. Anger is a human emotion. There is so much smoting going on in the Old Testament, it reads more like a mobster movie than a spiritual guide book. Maybe I’m looking for the wrong things. I was expecting good life lessons like Jesus gives, not a smote fest.

Paul says:

Well, when we think of anger we usually think of some dude in a beater on COPS. Anger is a human emotion BUT remember this… we were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and screwed up by the bad decision Adam and Eve made (Romans 5:15). Human anger is a distorted version of God’s anger. Anger is not always a bad thing. I’m sure you can think of times when anger is actually a good and justified response (e.g. the abuse of a child).

Scripture teaches that God is perfect (i.e. no sin & no flaws). His original creation was perfect like He is. Sin has messed that up! God is in the process of restoring us (through our faith in Christ and obedience to His teachings) and this world and is deeply angry with the sin that deters us! His desire is to restore us so we can enjoy Him and the life He makes possible for us both now and later!

As far as what you’re finding in your Scripture reading… it is like a mobster movie and it’s going to get worse the further you read! The beauty of all of these disturbing images and stories is that God is working in and through the most unlikely characters and events! He redeems broken people and uses them to create something beautiful! You can’t fully appreciate the beauty of the Bible and even history until you’ve waded through the ugliness.

For what it’s worth, I absolutely love the phrase you’ve coined, “Smote Fest”. Very nice Joey! Very nice!

Joey says:

OK, so God shows mercy on Cain, but then just three pages later we see Noah curse Canaan! (Genesis 9:25). When Noah’s son Ham “saw his father’s nakedness” (9:22), he wakes up from a drunken slumber and curses Ham’s son Canaan. In this case it’s not God doing the judging, but the message is right there in print — a 6,000 year (poor) legacy of punishing the innocent. Why does Cain get mercy and Ham go unpunished, while Canaan and those poor animals get screwed?

I get it when you say, “we are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.” But what about people who don’t believe in Jesus that are good people? Or people like me who believe that Jesus existed, but practice another religion? Is my lack of Christian faith punishable?

Paul says:

Why do the innocent get screwed? It’s the story of the formation of nations. Why are the students in Iran getting screwed? Their leaders are making choices that impact their nation. Leaders make decisions the results of which impact the people of that nation. So it is in this case. The good news is that though the nation may be cursed, the individuals in that nation may still find and be loved by God.

Now to the hardest question you’ve asked thus far…

what about people who don’t believe in Jesus that are good people? Or people like me who believe that Jesus existed, but practice another religion? Is my lack of Christian faith punishable?

I believe that there are a TON of people who don’t believe in Jesus that are incredibly good people.

I believe that there are a TON of people who believe that Jesus existed but practice another religion.

I also believe that Jesus was/is alive, and He said these words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). What do I do with these words Joey? What do you say to Jesus when He says these words?

Is your lack of Christian faith punishable? Answer the above question and let’s go from there.

Alright Joey… it’s your turn!

What does the Bible mean (part 1)

Alright guys, before we get started on this dialogue let me explain the format:

Alright, here we go! Joey’s first question:

Why in the heck did God put down Cain when he offered him his harvest of fruits & veggies? (see these verses if you need some background on this story)

On the surface, it looks like God is simply a meat lover, praising the “fat” animal offering of Abel. But I think it goes beyond that. I think it is a test of Cain’s merit, a “do the right thing,” moment. Of course he fails miserably. If there were back story on this fine tale, I’d suspect that Cain has a history of acting out in anger, and not taking criticism lightly. “Do the right thing and you will be accepted,” implies something deeper than an offering.

It’s just that in the story, there’s no set-up that offering fruit is bad. So it’s got to be about something else.

And what about the mark of Cain? Is God protecting Cain with the mark? Punishing him? Or setting an example for Cain’s countrymen to refrain from “the sin that is crouching at their doors?”

Cain goes on to have children and build a city. Which could be interpreted as God letting him slide for a most horrid crime.

Great questions Joey!

You demonstrated some great insight when you wrote, “On the surface, it looks like God is simply a meat lover, praising the “fat” animal offering of Abel. But I think it goes beyond that.” You’re right. It does go beyond that. God is not the “Cosmic Carnivore.” So why then does he seem indifferent to the “green” offering that Cain the farmer offered?

Later on in the Scriptures we read these words, “the life of any creature is in its blood. I have given you the blood so you can make atonement for your sins. It is the blood, representing life, that brings you atonement” (Leviticus 17:11).

Follow me on this…

After Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God they incurred God’s displeasure and the promised punishment (death  – see 2:15-17). People who study these things commonly believe that God’s anger was appeased by a sacrifice. Instead of carrying out His promise of death on Adam and Eve, He carried out His promise on an animal. This sacrifice was made on behalf of Adam and Eve and stood as their substitute in death. Where they deserved death, they received life (3:21f.) Where is that sacrifice? 3:21 says, “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Again, it is commonly thought that this animal was the first sacrifice for sin and therefore set a sacrificial precedent = atonement comes through the shedding of blood. In other words, where there is sin, there must be death.

So God was not so much “anti-green” as He was insistent upon the right sacrifice = blood. Cain brought his own idea of redemption to God and it was rejected. Though a “right way” was made available to him, he rejected it in place of his own “redemption” which clearly was not sufficient.

Make sense?

Regarding Cain’s “mark”, it points to the mercy of God. Cain deserved to be crushed. But God had mercy on him. How could this be? St. Paul, later in the Scriptures, answers this question:

Romans 3:24-26  God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.  25 For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times [for instance, Cain]. 26 And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus.

The bottom line in all of this, Joey, is that Cain, you, me, and everyone else is far from perfect. We are not crushed because God is merciful, and He can be merciful because He took out all of His wrath on the ultimate sacrifice… Jesus Christ. Check out these verses:

Romans 3:22-25  22 We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.  23 For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  24 Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.  25 For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.

Alright. It’s your turn. What do you think?

What does the Bible mean? (the intro)

neon-bibleSome time ago I met a really interesting guy through the blogosphere, Joey Guido. Joey and I have corresponded for a couple of years on a variety of subjects. Recently we’ve been twittering back and forth about the Bible. I asked him if he wanted to take this conversation public. He graciously said, “Yes.”

Before we get into the conversation I thought it would be cool to have Joey answer some questions. So with no further ado I give you Joey (check out his blog & follow him on Twitter)…

How did you and Paul connect?

I found Paul soon after I began writing my blog. I was looking for other daddy bloggers to connect with, and Paul had just posted an article about a date night with his daughter. At the time I didn’t know he was a religious man, I just admired him for his dedication to his family. I began commenting on his blog, and eventually we started longer dialogues via e-mail.

You are a blogger. What’s your blog about?

Dad stuff. The “guts” of being a modern-day dad. Exhaustion, discipline, goals, how we treat our kids and brain development to name a few topics. It gives me and other dads a place to be heard and to express what we’re experiencing.

I do my best to go beyond the basics and cover big picture aspects of a dads’ life – like how yelling at our kids can cause permanent brain damage.

Paul said you’re a very spiritual man. What did he mean by that?

Well first of all, I’d like to thank Paul for asking such easy questions (lol)! How to answer this…

I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school, but I was taught more about guilt and being a sinner than I was about spirit and love. I still remember being more interested in the girls at church than I was about what the priest had to say. It was all so regimented, ritualistic and stale at my church. It didn’t have any life in it.

I was pretty faithless for many years until I stumbled upon American Indian spirituality, which made a lot of sense to me. It spoke to my heart about family, loyalty, understanding and getting in touch with a higher power.

It’s knowing that there is something bigger than me that is supporting me in every way imaginable. Most importantly, spirituality is opening my heart. I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer, it’s so hard to put into words because it has become part of who I am, how I live — I don’t even notice it functioning.

I do believe there is one God (what I call Universe) and that we each define and speak to God in the way that works best for us. There is no right or wrong religion (as long as it’s peaceful and not harming anyone). This is God we’re talking about, and God is everything. There’s no reason why he can’t be Jesus AND Buddha. I don’t understand why people have to compete, and fight over who’s God is real. Why can’t we all be right and live peacefully?

When someone says, “I’m a Christian” what do you think?

That is both a simple and a loaded question. It totally depends on the context of the conversation and where we are. I know many people that are Christians and I respect them and their beliefs very much.

But when I think of Bible literalists, I get kind of uneasy. That’s when I find an oversimplification occurring with God and the Bible. Many people, not just Christians, fall into the trap of taking themselves out of the equation. They take away their interpretation and decision making and put everything into God’s words. Sure, “thou shalt not kill,” is a no-brainer, but The Bible was written thousands of years ago! Context and meaning has changed. We were given free will to make decisions for ourselves.

For instance, there are literally four lines in Proverbs about the rod as a form of disciplining children. Yet it has become an acceptable discipline used my millions of parents. Hitting, spanking, paddling – it’s just wrong.

One of my readers mentioned that a Shepherd never actually used the rod to hit his flock, but only to guide them and keep them from drifting off the path. This sounds like a much more human (not to mention productive) form of “discipline,” where our children are taught positive life lessons instead of fear. What if that’s what those lines in Proverbs meant?

Jesus was a man of peace and forgiveness. I don’t think he would strike a child, no matter what the child had done. So why should we?

Why are you asking Paul these questions about the Bible and why did you guys decide to go public with this discussion?

I find what I’m reading interesting and I am curious as to how much of it is “direct translation” from God, and how much of it has been manipulated by man for their own purposes. Remember, somebody had to write this stuff down, and they probably had issues.

I think the Bible, no matter what stance you may take on it, is a legendary book that deserves studying. So many people follow it, how could I not want to understand it and learn from it?

Speaking plainly, Paul is a professional and I respect him. When he speaks about God & Jesus, I feel that he is speaking in a way that creates a universal language – no matter what your religion. It doesn’t matter that I no longer practice Christianity. Paul’s words make sense and they don’t judge or offend. Talking about it publicly allows both of us to learn from others, as well as each other.

How much can you bench press?

Are we talking Nautilus or free weights? Have I had a restful sleep, or has it been interrupted by crying children? Either way, not much…

Paul speaking now…

Alrighty! Now you know Joey! He’s a good guy and even though he won’t hit a child, he can lay some smack down on theological trash talkers so let’s all be nice! I’m looking forward to these conversations and we invite you to jump in too!

The fun will continue until we answer all the questions, or Joey figures out we don’t have all the answers, or we just get tired of the series. We’ll see!

Question: How did you and Paul connect?

I found Paul soon after I began writing my blog. I was looking for other daddy bloggers to connect with, and Paul had just posted an article about a date night with his daughter. At the time I didn’t know he was a religious man, I just admired him for his dedication to his family. I began commenting on his blog, and eventually we started longer dialogues via e-mail.

Question: (You are a blogger.) What’s your blog about?

Dad stuff. The “guts” of being a modern-day dad. Exhaustion, discipline, goals, how we treat our kids and brain development to name a few topics. It gives me and other dads a place to be heard and to express what we’re experiencing.

I do my best to go beyond the basics and cover big picture aspects of a dads’ life – like how yelling at our kids can cause permanent brain damage.

Question: Paul said you’re a very spiritual man. What did he mean by that?
Well first of all, I’d like to thank Paul for asking such easy questions (lol)! How to answer this…

I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school, but I was taught more about guilt and being a sinner than I was about spirit and love. I still remember being more interested in the girls at church than I was about what the priest had to say. It was all so regimented, ritualistic and stale at my church. It didn’t have any life in it.

I was pretty faithless for many years until I stumbled upon American Indian spirituality, which made a lot of sense to me. It spoke to my heart about family, loyalty, understanding and getting in touch with a higher power.

It’s knowing that there is something bigger than me that is supporting me in every way imaginable. Most importantly, spirituality is opening my heart. I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer, it’s so hard to put into words because it has become part of who I am, how I live — I don’t even notice it functioning.

I do believe there is one God (what I call Universe) and that we each define and speak to God in the way that works best for us. There is no right or wrong religion (as long as it’s peaceful and not harming anyone). This is God we’re talking about, and God is everything. There’s no reason why he can’t be Jesus AND Buddha. I don’t understand why people have to compete, and fight over who’s God is real. Why can’t we all be right and live peacefully?

Question: When someone says, “I’m a Christian” what do you think?

That is both a simple and a loaded question. It totally depends on the context of the conversation and where we are. I know many people that are Christians and I respect them and their beliefs very much.

But when I think of Bible literalists, I get kind of uneasy. That’s when I find an oversimplification occurring with God and the Bible. Many people, not just Christians, fall into the trap of taking themselves out of the equation. They take away their interpretation and decision making and put everything into God’s words. Sure, “thou shalt not kill,” is a no-brainer, but The Bible was written thousands of years ago! Context and meaning has changed. We were given free will to make decisions for ourselves.

For instance, there are literally four lines in Proverbs about the rod as a form of disciplining children. Yet it has become an acceptable discipline used my millions of parents. Hitting, spanking, paddling – it’s just wrong.

One of my readers mentioned that a Shepard never actually used the rod to hit his flock, but only to guide them and keep them from drifting off the path. This sounds like a much more human (not to mention productive) form of “discipline,” where our children are taught positive life lessons instead of fear. What if that’s what those lines in Proverbs meant?

Jesus was a man of peace and forgiveness. I don’t think he would strike a child, no matter what the child had done. So why should we?

Question: Why are you asking Paul these questions about the Bible and why did you guys decide to go public with this discussion?

I find what I’m reading interesting and I am curious as to how much of it is “direct translation” from God, and how much of it has been manipulated my man for their own purposes. Remember, somebody had to write this stuff down, and they probably had issues.

I think the Bible, no matter what stance you may take on it, is a legendary book that deserves studying. So many people follow it, how could I not want to understand it and learn from it?

Speaking plainly, Paul is a professional and I respect him. When he speaks about God & Jesus, I feel that he is speaking in a way that creates a universal language – no matter what your religion. It doesn’t matter that I no longer practice Christianity. Paul’s words make sense and they don’t judge or offend. Talking about it publicly allows both of us to learn from others, as well as each other.

Question: How much can you bench press?

Are we talking Nautilus or free weights? Have I had a restful sleep, or has it been interrupted by crying children? Either way, not much…

Peace!

Does a pastor need a seminary degree?

“If you’re going to be a REAL pastor, you need to go to seminary.” I have several close friends who are doing effective ministry that have been told this by ineffective ministers. This begs the question, “If seminary makes me like you, why the heck would I want to go?” 8)

I’ve outlined my thoughts on seminary in a previous post (read it here). The bottom line is that I graduated from seminary with an M.Div. (Masters of Divinity), and I loved it. The other bottom line is that some of the best hires I’ve EVER made as a lead pastor have been people who did NOT go to seminary.

Recently I read these words from J. Oswald Sanders regarding Jesus’ “staff”:

When Jesus selected leaders, He ignored every popular idea of his day (and ours) about what kind of person could fit the role. Jesus’ band of disciples was untrained and without influence – a motley group for world change.

Any campaign for change today would have a star-studded cast of directors and advisers. In Jesus’ group, where was the prominent statesman, the financier, the athlete, professor, or acclaimed clergy? Instead, Jesus looked for a humbler sort of person, unspoiled by the sophistication of His day.

Jesus chose from the ranks of workers, not professional clergy. […] Jesus chose people with little education, but they soon displayed remarkable flair. He saw in them something no one else did, and under His skillful hand they emerged as leaders who would shock the world. To their latent talents were added fervent devotion and fierce loyalty, honed in the school of failure and fatigue.

The truth is that none of these guys were “ministry studs” when Jesus asked them to be on His team. They were just normal dudes… normal dudes who changed the world as they followed their Leader!

If you have a seminary degree, good for you. I celebrate the hard work you’ve done to earn that degree. Use what you’ve learned and don’t be ashamed of those letters behind your name. You earned them.

If you have a seminary degree, be careful that you don’t buy into the fallacy that it is necessary for every other pastor to have one too. It’s not. Don’t overlook the “mere fishermen” around you because they don’t have letters behind their names.

If you don’t have a seminary degree, do not allow this to stop you from pursuing ministry. If you’re called to ministry then get on with it! Find a mentor, a leader you trust and align yourself with him/her as much as possible. Read, study, do what you know and learn from your mistakes. One of the young, leading theological minds of today is Matt Chandler. Matt did not go to seminary and outlines his reason and respect for the institution in this blog post.

If you don’t have a seminary degree and want one, go for it. It’s a worthwhile investment. Know this though, going to seminary will only give you information. It will not take the place of a clear calling from God into ministry. It will not replace the anointing that God places on His called men and women. It will not replace a vibrant relationship with the Lord of the Church. A seminary degree will only give you tools. What you do with those tools depends on who you are, and that is largely determined before you enroll.

So, to all of you saying, “You’ve gotta have a seminary degree to be a pastor” – stop it.

To all of you saying, “I don’t need any degree… I’ve got a calling” – don’t write it off… you may find it useful.

And to all of you that have no “letters behind your name” that I’ve been privileged to serve with, thank you for ignoring the chatter of “lettered people”, following the heart of God, and changing lives through your passionate, committed, thoughtful leadership. I love you.

Re-engage old truths

A.W. Tozer, in his book The Divine Conquest, writes,

Neglected Christian truths can be revitalized only when by prayer and long meditation we isolate them from the mass of hazy ideas with which our minds are filled and hold them steadily and determinedly in the focus of the mind’s attention.

Tozer is right on particularly when it comes to what we know about God. For instance, we believe that He is omnipresent (i.e. He is completely present everywhere all the time); we believe that He is omniscient (i.e. He completely knows everything); and we believe that He is omnipotent (i.e. He has total power). We believe these truths about God, but how are they affecting our lives? My guess is that most of us, at least me, live our lives virtually unaffected by these three fundamental points of theology!

I guarantee you if my bride was always around, knew everything, and had all power that would have an impact on how I live! The reality is that someone even greater than Sherri IS always here and DOES know everything and CAN do anything! He is God!

Our lives will undergo an extreme makeover when we begin to latch on to these fundamental truths. How do we “latch on”? Tozer says it will happen through prayer and long meditation.

It’s time to do some mental/spiritual house cleaning! It’s time to take some crap to the dump and then pull out and dust off the old valuables we have sitting around on the shelves of our minds and hearts. It’s time to re-engage some old truths!

Women in ministry

My friend Shaun King asks this question, Conservatives: What passages of scripture does your church use to exclude women from ministry? Do you put those on hold for Sarah Palin?”

So what’s the answer gang?

By the way, Rindy is beginning her journey to become a pastor at Walls Down Church.

Oh, and Shaun takes a rather wimpy position on women in ministry in this post. 😉