God desires us to be transformed agents of His Work and Word!
Hebrews 3:12-13; 4:1-2; 5:11-6:3; James 1:22-25
From our research and experiences, we have discovered big problems in our churches, the sheepfold of God's chosen and precious creation. The sheep are getting skinnier and dumber (the people of God)! And, many of the shepherds (leaders and pastors) tend to be merely puffed-up, directionless, arrogant, imperceptive halfwits leading their flock away from the prime pasturelands of our Lord to rather feed on the garbage piles of the world and in turn, crafting obtuse sheep with inadequate nourishment and a lack of proper care. They are ignoring our great Shepherd and thus are relying on the way of the wolf and not on the way of our Lord!
The problems, as we have seen slowly creeping into the churches over the last one hundred years, are these: First, the mainline denominations were hit and sunk. Then, the Pentecostal communities (not all of course, but many) were hit and are like a listing ship, leaning into the ocean in a bad storm. Now, the torpedoes of worldliness, trend setting, misguided management styles, and pride have set their targets on the conservative churches too, replacing the good food of the Shepherd for cheap chow and showmanship. Therefore, the sheep have food poisoning and thus are too sick to move and do for our Lord. The main problem is not just the lack of Bible knowledge and understanding; it is the lack of even getting into the Bible. It is the refusal and laziness of not encountering our Lord and Savior through His primary communication platform: His Word, the Bible!
We are seeking anti-intellectualism at one end of our church spectrum and shallow seeker-ness at the other. We are becoming overly scholarly to the determent of any impact from God's Word, totally ignoring His precepts and replacing them with ours. Both spectrums give mere "sermonettes" that have no substance or effectual teaching. They give no kind of challenge or discipline that is necessary for authentic Christian growth, thus creating small-minded pew sitters who can't even find their way around the Bible or even know the difference between John the Baptist and John the Disciple. While other churches may say they are Bible and conservative orientated, they too have moved away from the Bible with a fixation on business and consumer models for ministry, seeking a consumer approach to church, relying on strategies for growth instead of the pursuit of love, trust, and obedience to our Lord. Or, they are, as James tells us, merely reading the Word, not doing as it says (James 1:22).
The Consequences of not Knowing the Bible
The Church, as well as the airways, is becoming more and more filled with bad, false teaching from faulty models of biblical interpretation! At the same time, more and more Christians are not delving into the Bible for their spiritual nourishment, rather swapping it for "feel good" books that do not properly instruct and/or turning on the TV for the false teacher crowd-or else doing nothing at all for their spiritual growth. Bible studies, Bible based small groups where God's Word is sought, delved into, discussed and used as challenge and talking points for a life that is transformed are shrinking and/or missing from most lives of Christians and absent from most church programs and happenings. Endeavors that remain are being attended less and are lacking value and promotion. Additionally, we have the problem of busyness; church leaders-even pastors-are too busy to bother with Bible reading, thus leading from pride and presumption. The people in the pew are so overwhelmed in life, work, family life, and even at church that the Bible, which could solve their problems by showing them their call and God's precepts, is the last place examined. In many American churches, we have lost our instruction book to the detriment of the Christian community's spiritual formation, as well as the ability to know and model Christ to the community and world at large, leaving the people in the pew spiritually bankrupt and the neighborhoods with bad models of Christ and thus unreached.
When we do not garner our spiritual nourishment from God's Word, the Bible, and instead trade it for our whims and mind-sets, we cheat ourselves and weaken our churches, holding back Christ's work in us and our church's life; we neuter God's potential work to those around us too. Thus, we swap what is good, legal tender for that which is counterfeit and thus leave nothing in our spiritual wallets but confederate notes that are worthless and thus of no spiritual or fruitful value to spend for life and ministry. To counteract these evils and stop Bible illiteracy, we must feed from God's glorious and wondrous buffet of precepts for our faith and knowledge.
This is actually easy; just take the time to read it through. It just takes minutes a day, less than half of a half-hour TV sitcom, to know our Lord and grow in Him for an effectual, transforming life and to dig out what He plainly and abundantly has for us so we have His spiritual spending power. Our reading of the Bible is not meant to merely learn its trivia; rather, we are to be rehabbed in Christ, be changed, renewed, and transformed. We must take this remarkable currency of His remarkable and astounding precepts and spend it for our spiritual improvement and then for kingdom building. But, what gets in the way of our good buffet and spiritual currency? Simply ignoring God by ignoring or misusing His Word.
What Bible Illiteracy Does
It creates false teaching! A pious, fraud, megalomaniac, Bible teacher can come in and say whatever he would like. And, because of his personality and charisma and our lack of knowledge, we believe whatever he says. Thus, Bible illiteracy prevents us from thinking, processing and applying to our lives what is actually in the Bible. Instead, we get our feet caught in the gopher holes of this dysfunctional, bad teaching. We have seen this with the "little gods" phenomena that has spread like cancer with the false teaching crowd. What about all the end times' books and speculations that led countless Christians no nowhere in faith or practice, or the overzealousness of a particular Bible translation and thus no biblical transformation results, or the rabbit holes on which we place our tent of faith that distracts us from God's true Truth. We may think our pursuits are good, but in fact, we are just distracted from what God has for us and our church!
It creates mindless speculations. Too many Christians get so captivated and fixated on speculations and things that Jesus told us not to, like the timing and arrangements of His second coming, that they miss the main point of Matthew 24. His coming again is not about when or how, but what we are doing to prepare for it. That preparation has to do with our faith formation more than anything else-not our ideas of when and how. It has nothing to do with a rapture or not a rapture; a pre-trib/post-trib/ no trib/pan trib, but through all the argumentations and conjectures, the Truth and point are missed. Christ wants us to be loyal and obedient to His Word in precepts and call. He is calling us, His people in His Church, to Him! What we do instead is take Bible passages out of their context, string them together to satisfy our whims, and fight to the death to make our obtuse points. How sad that is!
It creates shallow Christians and pretentious, incompetent leaders. The result? Shallow people and a faithless church, moving away from the Bible and embracing anything but Him and His Word. I am not talking about liberalism, although this is a problem too. Rather, I allude to conservative and Reformed churches moving away from the centrality of Scripture and the disciplines to learn and grow, substituting cheap stories without substance, shallow messages without challenge, and pride replacing love and fruit to be the icing on the cake of pretentiousness.
It creates emptiness and hurt because it keeps us away from God and the blessings and opportunities He has for us. The Bible contains God's voice; so, do you hear Him clearly or do you just hear your voice and think it is His? God spoke! God speaks to His Son and to His people through His Son. In Hebrews, we have the "prophetic revelations" such as Moses and Isaiah where His voice was heard and written down for us to hear too. This has become our Bible, which contains His Word, instructions, and call for us to heed. As great as this was when first heard, it was incomplete and waiting for a culmination and fruition; now, through Christ, His revelation is clear and complete and audible for us to hear. So, why do we not desire to hear it more (Acts 2:17; 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 10:1; 13:20; 1 John 2:18)?
We create an inability to learn from our lives, failures, and hurts. Sometimes, God has to get our attention though adversity; sometimes, we have a willingness to listen. He has to break our pride and call attention to our misplaced priorities. The key Jesus uses is His explanation to us of how we are able to receive Him. Are we able and willing to understand? Sometimes, that may not come until eternity as it was with Job. Our key to Exegesis (drawing out from the Bible) and Bible literacy is to trust and know that He is in control and He will be there with us carrying us through. It is not just about understanding ourselves; rather, it is our understanding Christ. Ask Him to show you His deep, hidden treasures and be willing to listen and grow.
What does Bible illiteracy give us? A failed church and a meaningless life. As our churches give what they think are eloquent and edifying discourses, they are, in fact, delivering empty words and the image of a divine bell hop, not the Holy LORD whom we worship, lean on, and learn from and with whom we discourse. So, shallowness and pretentiousness have taken our churches hostage, leaving our pews filled with ignorant, hurt, disconnected children of God who do not know His love or His ways and who make pathetic faith decisions and bad life choices, creating more dysfunction and stress in their lives and homes, and a church that is inept, dysfunctional, and impotent, with an incapacity to know and glorify the very Lord we are to be all about.
Reading in our Views and Ideas
We must be careful not to let our feelings and distractions lead us away from knowing our instructions. God is the "ultimate author" and as depicted in the Bible, uses many ways and means of communicating such as visions, direct speaking, angels, dreams, and people to bring His message of hope and salvation as well as His precepts, which throughout the ages of time were called "covenants." God speaks the personal revelation and the coming and precepts of Christ, echoing the prophecies, types, reverberations, and shadows of the Old Testament, which come to fruition with Christ and His Work. At the same time, God carefully and progressively gave humanity, piece by piece, His instructions, revelations, and precepts, which they could comprehend-culminating with Christ.
This means God has an important message for us and we must heed it. We can be changed, He does speak to us today; He wants to hear from you; He loves you and cares for you. So, why not clue yourself in to His plan and precepts by just spending some time in the Bible each day? Can there really be something better to do to grow your life and solve your problems? You are not going to find it in a cheap book or on TV; the best stuff comes from Him who has His directions readable and open to us now! What the Prophets of old could only imagine, dream, and hope for, we have now so we can comprehend and apply His message to our lives and pulpits (Num. 12:6-8; Heb. 3:5)!
Reading in our Feelings and Desires
In Matthew 21:18-32, Jesus gave a seemingly weird illustration and example to get our attention and get us out of our complacency and pride when He cursed a fig tree. Why did He do that? This has always perplexed me and as a youth pastor, I sometimes used it as a joke to make a point. But, in the ten years it took me to research and write an inductive commentary on Matthew, I delved into this fig tree and the answer was easy to find and quite simple and inspirational. This time of year, figs would be just forming leaves and have small, green, uneatable fruit. Apparently, this tree had nothing but leaves, displaying only self-interest. The readiness of the fruit was not the issue; it was the willingness to make the fruit, which is a very profound mirror to us and our churches. A tree that has leaves at that time of year should also have fruit, even though it would not be ready to eat. It was cursed because it refused to produce. This tree promised, but did not deliver; it was just a display having no real intention, impact, or worth.
In this passage, the emphasis is for us not to doubt or to hold back, lest we lose out on what is best for us and those around us! This is exactly what Jesus wants us to get for our lives; we must be fruitful; and we do this by immersing ourselves in His Word. Then, with what He gives, be transformed, and made relevant. We are to build our faith and fruit, which is what we are given when we grow in Him, what we add to, and what He then multiplies. Then, we will have more of the awareness of God and His will, which has more to do with our character and faith then what we do for a living! As Christians, we operate from heaven as God's ambassadors (Rom. 5:1-5; 1 Cor. 13; 2 Cor. 5:20).
Consider this: making leaves is essential for a tree, especially an evergreen; but, unless it also produces fruit, a fruit tree is useless. We are meant to be fruit trees for our Lord! The fig tree only cared about itself, whereas the other fig trees produced fruit before their leaves. We need to take a deep look into our lives and see ourselves as God sees us. Perhaps you can consider yourself as a tree; are your roots strong and healthy? That is, are you being fed, then carrying His nutrients to all the parts of your being? Is your trunk strong? That is, how is your relationship with Christ? Are your branches supporting the nests of birds? That is, are you nurturing and exhibiting good character, being useful to others? Are your leaves healthy and strong? That is, how is your personality and disposition? Do you attract people or are you revolting to them? And, are you producing fruit or just leaves? If you are not in the Word, none of this will work (Matt. 7:15-20; 1 Pet. 4: 1-11; 2 Pet. 1:1-11)!
Leaves are essential, but the leaves are only good for that plant, not for others. Fruit is to be harvested and shared. Is your faith real so it makes a difference to you and others around you? We must make sure that our lives are not just about the care of ourselves, but the care of others as well. If you think this is too hard, consider and take comfort in the fact that He will not give us anything we cannot handle! So, let us live with excellence, being our best for His glory! We can be a good tree or a bad one. Your church can produce fruit to nourish and impact others, or give out rotten fruit that will discourage and repulse all those in your neighborhood. Faith is the key to allow your determination and His call to move you. Be willing to be led by the truth of His Word, and by your faith and trust in Him (Phil 2:10-13; 4:8-9; Heb. 2:10; 11:1).
Are you having Troubles in Life?
Then it is probably due to the way you go with the Scripture and practice your faith. Run with your faith; put into practice His call and precepts and listen to God's Word. See what He is actually saying, not what you want Him to say! Try to live at peace with everyone; live a clean and holy life and you will have His serenity. If we do not lead holy lives, how can we be in Christ? Also, look after one another so we can collectively grow in Christ and not miss out on what Christ has for us. However, we must watch out for bitterness that rises from unfulfilled expectations when our focus is not on Christ. Just as Esau traded his birthright to satisfy a temporary hunger with soup, being foolish caused him to lose his blessing, and resulted in a life of bitterness. So come to God, to Jesus Christ who, as Savior and Lord, gives us a new Covenant! Obey Him, live for Him, serve Him, and be grateful. Do not ignore Him or misuse His Word; rather, embrace Him and His Word, the Bible head on, fast and hard. We have a God who is Most Holy and He will not be thwarted or misrepresented or disrespected. Therefore, let us put our faith and hope in Him. Remember your experience in His love and grace and feel His fellowship and empowerment as we are His people and He is our loving Lord. As Christians, let us all be appreciative for who we are in Christ and what He has done for us, so we can worship Him and live contented lives (Hebrews 12:14-29)!
If you are too busy or too preoccupied with life and the struggles thereof, how can you solve them with just adding more stress to them? If your faith is in Christ, then you must rest in Him, pore over His Word, glean the biblical knowledge and apply it to your life for success in life and in faith. If not, you will fail at everything! Keep in mind this very important point: when we engage the text of the Bible, we engage God! We experience His essence; we are enfolded not just within His precepts but also within His presence! We are with the living, eternal God of the universe. Thus, when we open up the Bible, we are opening up to Christ. If we really read the Bible, pay attention to not just the words but the essence, we receive not just our direction; we become transformational in our lives and work!
God desires us to be a transformed agent of His and this takes our being in transformative engagement with His Word, examining and paying attention to the Bible, so we can better trust and obey Him. He gives a warning about bad attitudes and shortsightedness. Bad attitudes cause us to reject God's Truth and we lose out because we forfeit our growing faith and righteousness. For example, when someone does something bad to you, your first human response is payback and revenge. But, God has a better idea-that of you as a peace maker. The author's point is: do not be like your bad ancestors who were bad influencers. Rather, be positive examples to encourage others. Pious Jews were embarrassed by Esau and their ancestors who wandered in the desert. We should be embarrassed by our lack of faith; we should be concerned that we might be worse than Esau and the generation of the Exodus (Heb. 12:14-29).
The qualities of our faith and Christian life are exhibited in the quality of our preparations and in discipline! Our receiving of His discipline from His Word, the Bible, and Holy Spirit is the entrance point to our spiritual formation which leads to our Christian maturity and a healthy church. Thus, when you are in a crisis or a troubling time, do not just ask for relief and divergence. Also seek Him by asking what do I learn and take away to build me up further in faith and maturity? God wants us to be squeezed so we produce wine and not whine. If we do not lean on Him, we will not learn and thus will not pass on our experiences to help others. Our trial will be a foolish waste of real suffering. But, if we learn and grow through that trial, it becomes the great classroom of life and educates us better than any university degree. Taking on His strength-not our conditions or unfulfilled desires-is what helps produce our joy (Neh. 8:10; Isa. 40:29; Matt. 11:30).
God does not force Himself or His Word upon us. His grace is offered; we have to accept it by faith alone which requires His precepts, a willingness to listen to His Word, to not read into it for the ability to practice real, authentic faith, to be willing to trust Him regardless of our circumstances, and our surrendered obedience. By these principles, we can seize the knowledge that Christ will prevail greatly; with a moment in His word, we can attain the vastness of His glory. Our abilities and qualifications fall short and it would be impossible for us to do anything grand; but in Him we can!
Meet God in His Word
The bottom line of why we are to study the Bible is so we may know God, His Way, and grow in our knowledge and faith in Him so we can then be better used by Him. We are called to spiritual growth-that is, the formation of the investment of faith Christ gives us that we give back to Him in dividends. This is a deep conviction of our faith, a practiced submission that shows our obedience, and a life of personal and relational maturity. We can't do this when we bring what we want into Scripture and not take out what God wants us to have! We have to listen to God; if not, we will not learn and then we will not grow and then we will not have a life of transformation. Instead, we will experience a storm-tossed sea of life, wayward in every perspective because our eyes and ears are not upon our Lord (James 1; Heb. 6:13-20).
We, humanity are the market for His Message and plan. He adopted us as His heirs, to receive His work and grace and blessings (Psalm 110:1; Matt. 14:33; Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; John 1:1-3; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:6-7; Eph. 1:21; Phil. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:20). He is the Eternal Creator; the glorious Lord of genuine Holiness. Since Jesus is our Rescuer and Redeemer, He took on our human nature but without our sinfulness, and remained pure to pay our dept for our sins. In the process, His human nature voluntarily became lower than the angels; but as Fully God, He is superior to them in essence, power, purpose, and distinction. The question is are we hearing this? If so, are we being transformed by this? If so, are we applying it in our lives so it also echoes to others around us (Rom. 1:4; Heb. 2: 7, 14-15)?
God desires us to be transformed agents of His Work, which means we must be in a transformative engagement with His Word! This is the essence of being a growing Christian and a vibrant church!
The main issue of Bible illiteracy is not that we should gain trivial knowledge so we can pass a pop test or impress our peers; rather, it is that we make the time and effort to get into His Word. We must not be content engaging the Bible in a cognitive format, just thinking and gleaning information, for this just creates another problem-fat, lazy sheep who know what to do but do not do it. Although thinking on the Bible is very important, the real value is measured in our transformation and renewal. This is the crux of our ministry-teaching people to get to know the Bible, to be transformed, and to be positively eventful in Christ. What is the point of desiring to be a musician if you never intend to learn music and/or practice your instrument? What is the point of doing church if we do not equip the people to learn what we are about and what we are to do from the Bible? What is the point of being a Christian if we never read the directions to know what we should be doing? What point is there to the Christian life without the life-changing transformational life we can have through His Word, Work, and Holy Spirit? The answer is simple: get into the Word! We have the tools to help you do this, such as Bible reading charts, plans, and insights for those just starting out to prepare sermons. You can indeed do it and remove Bible illiteracy from your life and church!