The Gates Are Open

March 2017

Reading the Bible in the Spirit – Part 4

Posted on March 31, 2017

Read Part 1 here:

Part 2:

Part 3:

If a respected teacher and leader warned you about something twelve times in two separate emails, would you get the impression he needs you to pay attention? This is what the Apostle Paul does with his disciple Timothy in the two letters he writes him.

Twelve times, he warns this young missionary/pastor to avoid endless disputes over words, quarreling over the meaning of Scripture and fights over doctrine. Twelve times, he lays out a mentor’s course change for his young disciple. I hope Timothy got the message. I hope we do as well.

The Flesh loves to get its own way, and nothing feels more satisfying than using the Bible to beat another person. Though I can see the value in playing games with kids and the Bible—such as Sword Drills where kids compete in who can look up a reference the fastest, and Bible Quizzing where teens memorize Scripture and then jump off electronic seats to answer questions about those verses—perhaps we are creating little Flesh warriors who use the Bible as their weapon.

We are not wise to use the metaphor of the Bible as a sword too often.

Though it is legitimate to stand up against heretics and swindlers who want to use the Bible to make money or enslave people, most disputes over the Bible are really not about that at all. Speaking as one who has over-used the Bible to destroy other people, I can tell you the real goal is the glee of being right, not correcting error.

Years ago, I had two members of a group most people call a cult come into my home to discuss the Bible. They did not know of my background in Theology, or that I had received high honors for that degree. I could debate the original Greek and Hebrew, and I suspected I knew their doctrine better than they did. I was right. They didn’t stand a chance against my blistering barrage of Bible, doctrine and logic. After a while, they couldn’t even look me in the eye, for I had countered everything they tried to tell me and made it look ridiculous.

At one point, I stopped and said, “Why don’t you just leave these foolish errors and join us? Why would you want to even stay with such a laughable group who believes these things?”

One gal looked up with a fierce gaze and said, “Because they show me love all the time – and all you did today was make me feel stupid.” There it was; Even though I had proven their doctrine was false and their way was wrong, my actions lacked the basic ingredient of love, and this disqualified me.

There is a difference between using the Bible to correct, to train and to guide people, and using it to skewer them and win an argument. It is the difference between the surgeon’s scalpel and the switchblade. It is the difference between the ambulance driver and the drag racers on the Quarter Mile.

It is the difference between Flesh and Spirit.

On Monday, I will finish this series of articles by laying out the three principles we should follow if we truly want to read the Bible by the power and leading of the Spirit of God. As a way of introduction to this, the Bible shows us how to read it by giving us these three ideas:

  1. The Bible is like the Manna of the Old Testament
  2. The Bible is full of examples of spiritual living – both negative and positive
  3. The Bible points us to Jesus, our starting and ending.

 

Join me on Monday as I lay these three principles out.

Reading the Bible in the Spirit – Part 3

Posted on March 30, 2017

Part 1 can be read here:

Part 2 here:

Early one evening, I received a frantic call from a leader in our church. He had been meeting with a couple in the church who had asked him to come over to answer some of their questions.

First, some background. I had only been part of that church for a few weeks. The woman in question had been a spiritist and palm-reader before becoming a follower of God. When she became a Christian, the evangelist working with her cast several demonic powers out of her. Yes, demons do exist. I don’t like to give them much credit, but they are real and do trouble people even today.

This woman had been a Christian for two years when I met her that night. The leader who called me explained something of her place in that church. Because she had come out of a dynamic spiritual experience before salvation, she remained finely tuned to spiritual things after becoming a Christian. She could see spiritual battles the same way you and I can see a television program. On one person she might see a demon badgering them. On another, she saw lust gripping their hearts.

A side note: This was not necessarily a spiritual gift. As I later learned, the Spirit of God was not giving her this ability, and she certainly didn’t use this ability to the glory of God. She was simply more sensitive to spiritual things than most people and this, unfortunately, impressed some. It was a church that had been starved for spiritual realities, and they were eager to embrace anything that touched on the supernatural. When I joined my friend in talking with her, she explained how frustrated she was with the Bible and God. Specifically, she wanted to know how you could “fold the Spirit.” Baffled, I looked at the church leader for help. He just shrugged his shoulders. So I asked her to explain what she meant, and she turned to the book of Revelation.

Early in the book, it speaks of the Sevenfold Spirit of God. Most Bible commentators feel this refers to seven attributes of the Holy Spirit’s work among the churches. Others feel it refers to the seven messages the Holy Spirit was sending to the Seven Churches of Asia. But when this woman read the verse, she saw a picture of the Spirit of God being folded seven ways. To this, she added something so bizarre, it makes me giggle when I think of it. A few weeks before, she had read a magazine article about properties of mathematics. It said that no paper could be folded more than six times. (Just to satisfy your curiosity, the article is wrong. A woman has now folded a paper 12 times). So when she began reading through Revelation and saw that it spoke of the “sevenfold Spirit of God” she assumed this meant people were supposed to learn how to fold the Spirit inside of them.

How did she arrive at such a bad conclusion? I can list a dozen mistakes she made in interpretation, but the simplest explanation is she let her Flesh take over. Anyone who has even a simple relationship with God’s Spirit would know instinctively this was wrong. She erred because she went by her past experience and rudimentary languages skills, and applied these to a very difficult verse. This is how many heresies start.

For those who need closure, here’s how I explained things to her. First, I advised her to let someone disciple her in how to study the Bible inductively, verse by verse, so she didn’t take things out of context. Second, I offered to give her a more modern translation, where word meanings were closer to our modern usage. I explained that the word “fold” here does not mean to actually fold something. It means ‘to distribute’ or ‘to multiply’. She made me explain it several times, after which I had a three-fold headache.

But more than anything, I began working with her on the errors involving her soul. Too many people in that church had encouraged her to walk in something that wasn’t a gift of the Spirit. Her practice of identifying spiritual forces ingrained the habit of independence from God and dependence on her Flesh. She wasn’t an evil person, but this habit caused her to leave the Spirit out of her Bible Study. This often results in heresy.

That’s a mild example, but one I see often with Christians. They develop spurious interpretations because they do not rely on God’s Holy Spirit to help them. They may rely on their own understanding—as this lady did—or on the teachings of others. Some people read the Bible out of context and assume the Bible says what they want it to say. Entire cults and cult-like movements are started this way.

One pastor in the Pacific Northwest affected tens of thousands by interpreting the Bible in the Flesh. And many who should have caught his errors were sucked in because what he taught appealed to their Flesh. I want to be careful not to glorify his heretical teachings or make light of them. He ruined people’s lives and did so in an obnoxious way.

It started simply. He was teaching that in heaven the people of God will not marry. This is an accurate teaching from the Gospel of Matthew. However, because we know so little about the Afterlife, there aren’t many implications we can draw from that. From that flimsy base, he built a foundation of error. First, he noticed that the Kingdom of heaven begins now, which is also a bible truth. He noted that the Church is a radically designed group that is told to throw off many of the strictures of the Old Testament Law. That is somewhat true, but I won’t quibble. Let’s say it is also true. Here is when he looped the drawstring of his error. Since in heaven we won’t be married, and since the Kingdom of heaven begins now, and since we are to be radically different than traditional Jewish beliefs, he began to teach that traditional marriage vows were not valid in the New Covenant.

Rather, he encouraged Christians to make “deep connections” with one another in order to be the Chosen Generation of the Last Days. He encouraged multiple “connections”. To be fair, he never explicitly said to go have sex with all those in your home group, but how could he not know that would happen? His particular church had thousands of members, and they had also planted many daughter churches in several states. Leaders of those churches came to his conferences and he kept teaching this heresy.

I know all of this and its after-effects by harsh experience. Many of the devastated parties of adultery, divorce and broken homes came to me for counseling to rebuild their broken worlds. God allowed me to help them dig out of the morass their souls were left in.

What brought on this disaster? When people heard the teaching, it is possible they were fooled by his smooth delivery and polished logic. But if they spent ten seconds with the Spirit of God, they would have realized how his teaching was false. Church members making out in the back corner with someone they’re not married to will never turn out well.

Not everyone was sucked into this false doctrine. I met a number of couples who had been part of that church who did not ultimately buy into this heresy. They left the church and refused to give in to their Flesh. These are the ones who saved their marriages.

The Flesh loves to be novel and new, to stand out above the crowd. The Flesh loves to have its own way. Unfortunately, even the Bible can be form-fitted to meet those goals if one is not careful. But there are other ways besides heresy that we can use the Bible in the Flesh.

 

Legalism

 

Chapter five of John also describes another way the Flesh can rule the Bible. Jesus healed a crippled man who began to walk for the first time in years. As he walked home with new legs, he carried the small mat he had laid upon. This violated a rule of the Sabbath about carrying certain objects. According to the Pharisees, this man was guilty of not waiting until sundown to go tell his friends and family about his new legs.

We mock out such behavior because it isn’t our favorite legalistic tendency. We would be mortified if someone mocked our legalistic crutches.

The Bible contains many laws, but the Flesh has a different goal for laws than the Spirit of God. The Spirit lays down Laws as boundaries of health. If one stays within these boundaries, it will go well with our lives as far as those laws can define health from a physical or soulish perspective. The Laws are also designed to show us two other things: First, how much we need God’s help in living healthy; and second, the character of God who proposed these laws.

But the Flesh has a different goal for laws. Laws create pecking orders. Those who keep certain laws are better than those who don’t. The Flesh likes to define status by what a person does or does not do. The old adage, “I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls that do” was invoked to separate people so a group could identify who fit in and who did not.

Some groups do this by telling others what day of the week they should worship. Others create pecking orders with food laws. Still others define the in-group by what version of the Bible you prefer, how you dress in church, what music you listen to, how much you give to the Church and how many meetings you show up to.

A friend of mine in high school was one of the only other God-followers I knew. Two years after our graduation, he began dating a girl he worked with. Within six months they were married and within the first year were expecting a baby.

After the birth of their second child, only a year after the first, his wife began to suffer post-partum depression. She decided to self-medicate, going back to her old marijuana habit. In addition to this, she admitted to her husband she had been having an affair with an old boyfriend off and on the entire time they had been married. Four years into their marriage, she became verbally abusive. My friend finally had enough and filed for divorce.

His church removed him from membership because he was getting a divorce. He told them about her drug use, adultery and violence, but they didn’t care about all that. The leaders told him that divorce was the ultimate sin and he had no place in their church if he chose to sever from his wife.

Legalism is the Flesh’s way of saying, “Here is how I am better than you.” Legalism spends Bible Study time looking at ways of separating people into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.

 

Sloppy Grace

 

A woman came up to Dr. A.W. Tozer after a lecture series he gave. He had been teaching on the marvelous virtues of Grace, the choice God makes to forgive us and cleanse us through no effort of our own.

She approached him with a huge grin. “Oh Dr. Tozer, isn’t it marvelous. I sin, and he forgives, I sin and he forgives, I sin and he forgives.”

He looked her right in the eye and said, “Young lady, it’s time to stop sinning.”

The Flesh looks for opportunities to get its own way. If Legalism is not appealing, then perhaps Sloppy Grace will work better. Sloppy Grace is the outlook that says nothing can really harm us because God forgives all sins. In order to back that up, proponents of Sloppy Grace like to use the Bible to rationalize their behavior. Instead of developing heretical systems from the Scriptures, they simply pick and choose the verses they like when anyone confronts them on the dangers of their behavior.

More than once I have sat with Christians who have drinking or drug problems and they have quoted this verse to me: “it is not what goes into a man that harms him but what comes out of a man.” This is a convenient plum to pick off the Bible Tree for the enrichment of the Flesh. That verse is not speaking of alcohol or drug use at all: It is addressing the dangers of legalism, of assuming that one is “in” with God because certain food was not eaten at certain times, in certain ways. But as the Flesh is expert at doing, it uses a verse of correction to avoid correcting a deeper problem.

I was counseling a pastor several years ago about his lust problems. He liked to ogle the young women in his congregation and fantasize about having sex with them. He asked me to hold him accountable for keeping his mind pure, which I did.

One morning, he came to me and told me he had solved the problem. Fascinated, I asked him to explain himself.

“It all hit me this morning as I was reading my Bible.” (I had a weird feeling about this: I don’t think any bible verse can bring instant deliverance). “In Acts 10, Peter is told by God that he shouldn’t call clean anything God has called unclean. God made my sex drive and I am not committing adultery. Therefore, I am clean and I shouldn’t accept the condemnation of the enemy like I have been. Doesn’t it say in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”?

“So, bro, what are you saying?”

“I’m saying, I don’t have a problem. The Bible is showing me I don’t have to worry about appreciating the beauty around me and the “clean” girls that God has redeemed.”

Oh dear! His Flesh constructed such a convenient platform to practice Lust from, and used the Bible as the brick and mortar. In all fairness, I am worried that even if he has not committed adultery already, he is heading down that road. But even if he doesn’t, my real contention with him is that he is practicing Sloppy Grace, using the Bible as his source of rationalization.

Reading the Bible in the Spirit – Part 2

Posted on March 29, 2017

(You can read Part 1 in the series here)

I have never met an entire group of people who were all bad. As Corrie Ten Boom writes in the Hiding Place, there were even compassionate guards in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp where she and her sister were interred during World War 2. If a German death camp worker can have a degree of goodness about him, I’m sure there were some wonderful, kind and gracious Pharisees. But the measure of a group is usually how they acted as a whole, not how each individual lived their lives. And the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were his primary target for criticism.

On the surface, the average Pharisee had a lot to commend him to a religious observer. We don’t know exactly what qualifications one had to have to be a Pharisee, but the consensus is they had to know the Old Testament thoroughly. Some scholars have suggested they had the Torah—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—committed to memory. Others have said they probably knew large portions of the Prophets, Psalms and historical books and had committed those to memory as well. Each Pharisee wore phylacteries, which were boxes attached to their wrists and foreheads, containing Scriptures to memorize. Some of the more learned Pharisees would commit large portions of the Talmud to memory—a commentary on the Torah—and others memorized the Mishnah, another rabbinical commentary.

They loved their Bibles. Too bad it didn’t do them much good.

John’s Gospel is laid out very deliberately in an outline of various confrontations. As with the other Gospels, Jesus travels around from place to place, but the real crux of John’s writings is to show the major battles between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day. Perhaps his most frequent and memorable debates featured the Pharisees.

In John 5, Jesus instigated one confrontation by healing a man on the Sabbath. This provoked anger from the Pharisees, who had hundreds of regulations regarding what may and may not be done on the Sabbath. They claimed biblical authority for all their rules, and they liberally gave their opinion and censure concerning anyone who broke one of these laws or encouraged others to do so.

I think Jesus deliberately did proscribed things on the Sabbath just to make them think about what they believed. I can’t say definitively, but it fits with his program of starting fights for effect.

In John 5:36-38, he explains more about his nature, calling and legitimate right to call himself the Messiah. He begins by building on John the Baptist’s endorsement and then takes the teaching in an entirely new direction:

But I have a greater testimony than John’s, for the works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.

Moreover, the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his appearance, nor do you have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he sent.

In these short declarations, he lays out the evidence for his credentials:

The greatest prophet of our day – John the Baptist – endorsed me.

The works (i.e. miracles, healings, exorcisms) are proof that God is working through me in unique ways.

God spoke audibly in front of many people and told them that I am his Son.

In a Jewish court, these three “witnesses” would stand up as credible and overwhelming. But he isn’t done with his teaching. Now he takes out his big gun and pops them all between their spiritual eyes. “You have never heard his voice…” he begins. He speaks to these veritable champions of Bible Memory Month. He speaks to these Keepers of the Laws, the real “Bible Answer Men”. No one knew the Bible like they knew it. Yet in all that biblical memorization, something was missing: The Voice of God. That strikes me as almost impossible to fathom. How can someone read that much of the Bible, study that much of holy writ, and yet miss the voice of the one who wrote it? I have my favorite authors and even if I had never heard their voice before, it wouldn’t be that difficult to tell it was them in a lecture. A person lets their character flow out in their writing, if they write with integrity. God wrote the Bible, so how could they miss the author as they perused the pages?

Verse 38 explains the problem quite clearly:

…nor do you have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he sent.

That’s an odd thing for Jesus to tell them. I thought the Bible was the Word of God. He never claims they ignored the Bible or deliberately misinterpreted. He says that the ‘word’ never abided with them because they didn’t believe in the one God sent to them. He is saying that if they really abided in the word, then they would instantly recognize that God had become a human being and was living among them.

Years ago, I was in a used book store and picked up a hymnal about 100 years old. It contained songs I had never heard before. Tucked away near the back was a hymn with this title, “Holy Bible, Book Divine.” The writer of the hymn was referring to the Bible as a Divine Book, meaning it ascribed Godhood to a book; in my mind, that was false teaching of the highest order. Someone had made their Bible an idol, and had the audacity to write a song about it.

The purpose of the Bible has always been to guide us to the God who inspired it to be written. It was never meant to replace God or to shove God and his works into a corner. The ‘word’ spoken of by Jesus is so much more than the paper, ink and concepts found in the Scriptures. It includes the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the daily guidance we need to survive another round of walking in a fallen and broken world. “Word” includes the personal voice of God as he takes the eternal truths of the Bible and shows us where, when, how and with whom to apply those truths.

The word “great” is in the Bible. The word “falls” is also there. But if God wants me to go to Great Falls, Montana, I would be hard pressed to read that direction on any page. If I used my Bible as some kind of GPS system, I could only find out God’s will if I agreed to play what my wife calls “lucky Bible”. That consists of asking God a question and then dropping the Bible randomly and just going with whatever verse it falls open to.

What Jesus has already said to the Pharisees would have been scandalous for them to hear. But now, he pushes this confrontation to its climax, with a verbal knife between the ribs:

 You diligently study the Scriptures because you suppose that in them you have eternal life. Yet they testify about me. But you are not willing to come to me to have life.

  Apparently, Jesus is not criticizing their religious work ethic; he admits they study the Scriptures “diligently”. They don’t play “lucky Bible”, they “study” it. He criticizes their overarching supposition; that through studying the Bible they will find some God-life (i.e. Eternal Life) flowing into them. Jesus gives them proof this hasn’t happened because they didn’t use the impetus of the Scriptures to come to him for eternal life.

They read the Bible in the Flesh and because of this, they missed out on the wondrous life of Spiritwalking and following Jesus.

In the next two articles we will discuss other ways people read the Bible in the Flesh and then how to read it in the Spirit.

Reading the Bible in the Spirit – Part 1

Posted on March 28, 2017

I knocked on the door again and again, but no one was home. Glen and I were supposed to play golf that morning but I had no idea where he’d gone. He wasn’t answering his cell phone, so all I could do was wait. Fortunately, I had entertainment.

Glen lived next door to the Bible Sign Guy. On his front lawn, he had over 200 hand-painted yard signs with Scripture verses on them. The first time I came over there, I thought this might be his personal Bible memory verse system. I assumed he was either using the signs as some kind of evangelism/teach-the-world-God’s-Word program, or he just felt comforted having the Truth fill every corner of his property. I was wrong on both accounts. This was his personal inventory showroom. He sold these signs to anyone who’d buy them, and over time I saw that many people in town did purchase his signs and put them on their lawns.

Full disclosure: I have no problem with any of that. There could be a thousand worse ways to decorate your yard and influence your neighbors. What comes to mind are lawn jockeys and political placards.

As I was reading some of his verses, the owner of the property came out with his lawn mower. Before starting it up, he began removing every one of the signs from the grass. This was going to take him a long time to accomplish, so I walked over with every intention of helping him get the job done.

“Good morning… I’m Glen’s friend and I’m waiting for him. You haven’t seen him around have you?”

He looked me over several times and then pleasantly shook his head. “Nope. But I’ve been in the shop all morning. Are you a friend of Glen’s?”

“I am. We are going to play golf this morning and he isn’t here. He’s probably afraid I’m going to beat him again.”

The pleasantness from before vanished. “Golf…phe!” was what he said. Lacking the Gift of Interpretation, I have no idea what “phe” meant, so I moved the conversation along.

“I noticed you were going to mow the lawn. Would you like some help pulling out those signs?”

“Yeah, I guess that would be good.” I could tell he was unclear about my moral standing now that I had revealed I play golf.  In relative silence, we pulled the signs like weeds from his lawn. It took about 20 minutes, but we finally accomplished it, and he began pulling the cord to start up the mower. Apparently, he flooded it and it didn’t start. He had to let it sit for a few minutes before trying again. I pointed at stuff on the mower engine to give the best advice I could, but when he told me he had rebuilt this particular engine three times in the 18 years he owned it, and knew every bolt and wire personally, I scratched around for another conversation topic.

“So, can I ask an obvious question? What’s with these signs?

“It’s God’s Word.” I was supposed to read volumes in that statement, I guess, but I’m a little thick at times.

“Uh, huh. So what’s with all these signs?”

“Sir, do you know the Bible?” I thought about dropping the existence of my Theology degree on him, but that seemed unfair and excessive.

“I read it regularly” I answered.

“Then you’ll recognize my reason for all these signs.” Then he quoted the Bible to me:  “My Word, which goeth forth from my mouth, shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” So you see why I make these signs?”

“No, I’m still lost. But that was Isaiah 55, right?”

“Yes sir. I paint these signs and people buy them. They put them on their lawns and people driving by read them. God uses these Scriptures on lawns to change lives. “…it shall accomplish that which I please” is a promise from God.

I rushed in where many would have skulked away. “So what you’re saying is that somebody driving by at 45 miles per hour, glances at an obscure King James reference, on a sign stuck by an elm tree fifty feet away, and that will make him go back to his wife or sell all his possessions and move to India as a missionary?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody puts these signs that far back on their property”. I guess the part about India was correct. At that moment, he pulled the mower cord violently and it roared to life. As if we had achieved some kind of perfect cosmic alignment, Glen drove into the driveway at that moment and hopped out of his truck. I waved goodbye at sign guy who barely acknowledged my departure with a slight nod of the head.

“Where were you?” I asked Glen.

“Darrel forgot his lunch at home. I was bringing it to him at school. I see you met my neighbor.”

“Interesting man. He has this superstitious belief in the power of signs.”

“He’s a nut job. Let’s go play golf.”

There are millions who would never believe these signs could produce anything of value. But these same people are superstitious enough that they might even try it themselves at some point. They wonder if perhaps the guy with the John 3:16 sign in the end zone of the Rose Bowl produces converts with his reference. What if a tract left on a Light Rail seat is read by a suicidal teen and it turns his life around? What if one guy in a million is driving off to meet with his mistress, sees “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery” on a sign around the corner from her apartment, and decides to go home and be faithful to his wife? The superstitious are among us and sometimes they buy and place signs.

I am not being critical of Bible Sign Guy and his lawn ornaments. As I said, there are worse ways to clutter up your yard, and he certainly isn’t doing any harm. I want to address the harmful concepts behind his signs. These are the false ideals that teach others to approach the Bible in the Flesh, an approach that can limit the ability to be touched by the Spirit of God through the Bible

All this week, we will explore how to read the Bible by the power of God’s Spirit instead of reading them any other way.

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