Saturday, June 25, 2016

Beware: Shortcuts of reading the Bible

We are a society that loves shortcuts, but they can be dangerous. So you can be warned, this is not all original material by myself... In fact, most of the basic information is not mine at all but from the book The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight (which I recommend you read). In it, he challenges readers to rethink how they read the Bible... One particularly interesting chapter titled "Inkblots and Puzzles" discusses five different shortcuts people take in reading the Bible. I decided to offer my thoughts on these, as I have been guilty of all of them at one time or another and thought others could benefit from these as well. Hopefully you will read the book as well as my thoughts, but I hope my thoughts can be beneficial to you as well.

The way McKnight lays these shortcuts out has helped me to grow in my relationship with God. When I have used these in the past, I have focused more on using the Bible as a tool for debate, condensing what it contains to suit my needs, and even using it to divide me from other people who love God. The scary thing is, I DIDN'T REALIZE I WAS DOING IT. I was not trying to use these shortcuts, they just happened because I was not guarding myself against them. They are all around us from books we read, sermons we hear, and conversations we have. It scared me to look at how I had taken something as precious as God's Story, The Bible, and reduced it to something so much less because I focused it on myself and what I wanted and was focused on rather than letting God work through me with all the Bible is.

Before I get into the shortcuts, I first need to let you know that McKnight challenges the readers to view the Bible as a story, God's story, told by different authors in different times in different ways based on the different authors and their contexts. Read his book for more information on that; he does a very good job laying it out and applying what that means for how we read the Bible. In the meantime, I want to look at ways people read the Bible that keep them from getting the most from it.

Shortcut 1: Morsels of the Law

The Bible has sections that are laws, there is no way around it.  However, some people view the Bible as a collection of laws, from which they pull from to make their arguments on why they do or do not do something.  From this thinking, in order to have a relationship with God, you have to follow the commands.  Rabbis found 613 in the Old Testament alone, and people today pick and choose what they want to follow from both the Old Testament and the New... Do not mistake what I am saying to mean that Christians should not consider laws and commands... 1 John 5:3 says to Love God is to keep his commands, and Psalm 119 talks about delighting in God's laws... However, passages like Romans 8 discuss how we have been set free from the Law... There are laws in the Bible, but as Jesus's reprimand to the Pharisees reminds us, there is much more to religion and a relationship with God than following laws. Focusing too much on laws (old or new testament) leads to people drawing lines and having to see everyone outside their lines as enemies. The greatest commands of loving God and loving others frees us to view the Bible as a story from different places, times, and people to expand our thinking from viewing the Bible as a collection of rules and therefore fighting with others on trying to get everything right.

Adding some more of my thoughts to this, I fully believe the Pharisees were trying to do the right thing by adding on additional laws and trying to clarify rules God has set up, but God is more interested in setting people free than restraining them. I look at the people of Israel being freed from captivity in Egypt, freed from rule of neighboring nations, freed from captivity, and how Paul discusses the freedom that is in Christ from the Old Law. This freedom God gives allows people to express themselves, love God/others, and serve in whatever way God calls them to. God is the creator of the rules and thus calls people to do things that fit in with those rules, even if it does seem rebellious, heretical, or strange to the people they are around.

Shortcut 2: Morsels of blessings and promises

It is very tempting to take the parts of the Bible people want (or that you in particular want) and apply it to yourself.  To say to yourself on Monday "Do not be anxious", remind yourself God "knew you in your mother's womb" on Tuesday, and to quote "my God my God why have you forsaken me?" on Wednesday when things do not go well leads to a hollow faith.  Not that those verses are not useful—they are—but when the Bible is reduced to those one-liners, it becomes easy to take things out of context and to keep yourself from experiencing all the Bible has to offer us as God's story. This also makes it easier to cut and paste what we want from the Bible as well as to ignore the rough edges of the Bible or the "blue parakeet passages" that people do not know what to do with because they do not fit neatly into our views of the Bible or religion. Ignoring these because we are focused on taking the things we want from the Bible keep us from fully experiencing God through the Bible...

I am reminded of a journal I own that has a different Bible verse on the bottom of each page. I have had times where I would flip through the pages in order to find one that fits my situation. It has occurred to me that I have treated the Bible the same way. I try to bring out of the Bible what I think I need for my situation rather than letting the Bible speak to me and change me, challenge me, or chastise me. It feels safer to just let one verse, paragraph, section, or even book of the Bible work to encourage me, but safety is not what the Bible is for. We will encounter things we like and things that will test our views and actions in ways we did not know were possible before when the Bible opens up our views rather than condensing what what want form it.

Shortcut 3: Mirrors and Inkblots

The next shortcut people take is trying to find patterns in the Bible... People seem to find patterns by seeing the Bible as a mirror. They look at Paul's patterns on what he says a church should be and apply what they see in their lives and churches. They see patterns in Jesus's behavior as Republican, Democrat, or Socialist. McKnight discussed an experiment of sorts he does every semester in one of his classes. He has a test where people answer on a scale questions about how they view Jesus. At the end is a test they take (slightly changed) on how they view themselves. “The amazing result, and the test has been field-tested by some professionals, is that everyone thinks Jesus is like them!” (p.49) Rather than letting Jesus's words and story transform us to be more like Him, we try to transform Jesus into us! To one degree or another, we all read the Bible like a Rorschach test, sweeping the Bible up into our own story rather than the other way around! We look for ways the shapes fit together to prove our points about what we want to pull out of the Bible. “Instead of becoming an opportunity for for redemption, the Bible becomes an opportunity for narcissism.” We need to work to humble ourselves to let the Bible take full control of us rather than letting our own lives, churches, traditions, wants, viewpoints, and laziness make the decisions for us.

When I was growing up, I was told what to find in the Bible. I was told to be like one thing or another based on what the Bible said. Sermons directed my attention to specific passages and characters of the Bible that told me what I should be like... I did not realize then that the reason different preachers projected different ideas from the same story was how often they put into the text what they wanted to get out of it. They are wanting to talk about what makes their marriage great (or what they are currently working on in their marriage) and find a passage to tell everyone else to do the same thing. They look at what they believe is the best idea for a church and pull passages from Paul to support that, discrediting other churches. I have seen people do the same thing on mission trips, projecting their American church through the Bible passages they choose onto people from Africa or Central/South America. Their societies are different from ours, just like ours is different from the early church's society. Pretending we are even able to do church like they did (and therefore telling other people to do it just like us) shows that we do project our views into the Bible to see it as a mirror.

Shortcut 4: Puzzling Together the Pieces to Map God's Mind.

This shortcut treats the Bible as a map God cut into pieces and placed throughout the Bible. People decide they have what God wants figured out, so they stop working. They try to make out a foundation from the Bible that will leave out things that do not fit into their puzzle, the “blue parakeets” McKnight discusses. If we believe God is a god of love, then we gloss over or ignore anything that does not seem loving (such as having the Israelites destroy entire nations, including women, children, and livestock). The biggest problem is people find pieces that seem to fit, but we have no way of knowing if the puzzle is our puzzle or God's. We want things to fit, and if they seem to, we build around those rather than seeing all the Bible has to offer, often rejecting how other people piece together parts. Instead of trying to master the Bible and make it into what we want, we need to let the Bible be the Bible: allow the Bible to give everything it has to offer.

Growing up, there were plenty of passages in the Bible that did not fit to what I had been taught or looked at myself... I did not know what to do about them so we mostly made them a joke. Paul said not to engage with inappropriate talk which fits in with many other passages so we were not supposed to talk about sex, but in Ezekiel and Song of Solomon are expressions that go against that puzzle we had pieced together. Also, avoiding talking about sex does not seem to be beneficial for people concerning sexual sin, so maybe we need more discernment on how to talk about it. We have to be willing to change our views on things as the Bible dictates or we get engrained into things that are not the Bible but our own puzzles.

Shortcut 5: Maestros

This is where people look to “experts” of the Bible to interpret it for us. We go to Paul's views for how a church should be set up, ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?”, and then try to put ourselves in their contexts. However, none of us are called to live exactly like Jesus lived (and if we are, we are not doing a very good job of it). Neither are we called to live in a church in the Roman empire of 2000 years ago. The Bible speaks through different authors in their ways and times, and we need to apply what we can learn to our ways and our times. There is not one book, author, or figure with all of the answers needed. Oversimplifying things is dangerous and leaves out important information.

I have had my times of looking to Maestros. Jesus, of course, being the main one. He is God incarnate, but as John's gospel points out, they were not able to record all He said and did. That's why God has given us more to the story than just Jesus: there is more to it. I have focused at the maestro of John, calling everyone to love. I have been fixated on passages in Acts about what the church should be, using that as a maestro. In reality, any time you focus on one or two aspects, something else will slip through the cracks. My experience has taught me that I need to be diligent to always continue to search in everything God has to offer in the Bible because, although I may have read it before, I can still reach new understanding based on what else I have learned through reading and through life.

The problem with any of these shortcuts, is that we pick and choose what we think is important in the Bible. Like I stated before, I have been guilty of all of these shortcuts. I wanted to share this to help you reflect on how you read the Bible. Reading it as God's story told from different viewpoints in different times by different people. These shortcuts, although very tempting, lead us to be more “absolute” in our teachings, leading to more divisions among Christians. When people then notice a shortcut someone else has taken, like a pendulum, they swing as far to the other side in order to focus on what they believe to be important (in turn using their own shortcut). Instead, we need to see the different viewpoints and allow God to continue his story through us: The Church. The story is for us to read and continually live out with God still being a very active participant.

I have struggled to get connected to churches since being in high school. I have had churches I was a part of, but it was usually due to the work/service/ministry that I was doing. I certainly cared for the people I worked with (and still do). Although everyone I have met does not fit into these categories, I have noticed unity missing in the Church due to it being divided into three groups of people: those who want to tell others the correct way to do things, those who are looking down on others for what they think, and those trying to stand back and not step on anyone's toes. All of these can keep church from being safe and keep growth from happening. We need to be willing to listen to each others' experiences and open our minds and ears to what else God has to offer to us (since using shortcuts can lead us to stop listening once we have if figured out). I do not write this because I have everything figured out: I write because I have found a new way of looking at things that makes sense when so many other things in the past did not. I am on a spiritual journey, and I am not sure where it leads, but I would love for you to come on a journey, too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Narrow path

This is a path in El Salvador.  It is actually water drainage used as a path.  It  runs about 400 feet from the house to the street where it hits a ditch.  Until a week ago, this house was just adobe with mud floors.  Now, there are two rooms that no longer leak water from underneath and have concrete floors for the family to feel secure in the integrity of their home.

To put in this concrete floor, we had to carry bags/buckets of gravel, rock, and cement up this path.

400 Feet uphill in a path that is not really a path

This was the first task I had on my trip to El Salvador.  All the while, I was working on one of my lessons for the youth there on "How can God use me now?"  God demonstrates great things with opportunities to simply live for Him.  Doing the things that He calls us to do, we can be His light to the world around us.  It is not about having to wait until what seems like a great opportunity comes along... Love God and the people you are around daily to make a difference.  

Regardless of who you are or the background you come from, build upon this.  Do the things He calls you to do and let it grow from there.  There are many ways He can work in you if you allow Him to.  Serve people.  Pray.  Share with others what God has done for you.  Study His Word.  Live life in pursuit of what He calls us to: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (for starters).  Oh, the difference that can be made by simply letting yourself be who God created you to be.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


I don't know where I'm going with this post.

Just so you know.  I am writing this post without going back to rewrite things or thinking ahead of where I'm going with it because I am processing what I'm writing while writing it.

I have been focused on writing papers the last few days straight for school.  I am in the library at my school, and a few minutes ago, I decided to step outside to get some air.  Things were feeling crowded in my space.

I sat on a bench and noticed the wind blowing in the trees.  Then I noticed that not all of the leaves and branches were moving.  Just then, the wind picked up, and the same spots were not moving, even though everything else began to move more violently.  I began to think about how that could be related into life.

The Spirit moves and is at work in so many ways.  More than we can imagine.  However, it doesn't always feel like it.  There are gaps.  There are times where I don't know what I am being called toward.  And rather than say the Spirit isn't working or even that the Spirit isn't working around me, I am going to say that the Spirit's work is a calling to be.

Just being is a high calling that we do not take on ourselves.  "Be still and know that I am God" said the Lord.  Be.  Not "Work hard to know that I am God" or "Evangelize to know that I am God" or "Read the Bible to know that I am God."  Do not get me wrong, there are benefits and commands for working, evangelizing, and studying.  But there is also a call to "Be".

"To be or not to be?" is a quote from Shakespeare, but it is a question that we ask ourselves all the time, mostly leaning toward not simply being but doing.  Stop doing so much.  Sabbath and rest and trust are important.  Jesus took time away from crowds to simply be with God.  If that was so important to Him, why are we so prone to call people "lazy" or question their ethics or motivation when we don't see specific things being produced.  Being and knowing that He is God doesn't have measurable fruit other than it will saturate our lives in other areas so that we can produce more fruit.

This is a reminder to myself, especially at a stressful time, to simply be.  The Spirit is at work, but if all we did was move, we couldn't know what we are aiming for.  Leaves blowing back and forth all the time don't have rest or an identity of what exactly they are to be.  It is exhausting.  Seeing where they are simply being allows for people to see the ways the Spirit is actually at work.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Matthew 11:28-30
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I read these words and cannot help but believe that we make things out to be harder than they really are. We have so much stress, so many sorrows, so many worries... Where is the rest?

This world is incomplete. There will be difficulties as long as we are here, but I can't believe here that Jesus is only talking about the perfection that we will have when He returns. Otherwise, what would we be learning?

We are not called to be idle. We are all called to submit, to learn, to grow... But we are also called to be unified, peaceful, and restful... Jesus is gentle and humbled Himself. Who are we to not take that upon ourselves? Should we aim to humble ourselves less than the Son who is seated at the right hand of the Father? Should we not seek to be as gentle as possible?

He has offered us rest from the world, peace that surpasses understanding, joy in all situations... His yoke is not about walking on eggshells in order to not mess up: it is about love. We aren't called to be anything beyond what we were created to be: a life of peace and love in community with God and people.

Somehow, we have gotten the mindset that if we work hard enough, we can have rest: if we work so many hours, we can take a break; if we save enough money, we can take a vacation; if we invest properly, we can retire. None of these are permanent or what rest Jesus is talking about. We take on Jesus, He relieves us of burdens. We don't have to worry about being good enough because we can't earn it. We have died to our old selves that could not find rest. We are now raised as children of God whose future is secured in Jesus.

We can find rest while in Jesus that this world cannot offer. If we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the oppressed... Share the love that has been shown to us... Tell others what the Lord has done for us...
Our hope is secure. God knows what we need physically. God has cleansed our sins. God desires fellowship with us. What burdens do we have left to bear? The things of this world that weigh us down can be dropped so we can rest in Jesus.

Do I find it a coincidence that Matthew records this just before talking about the Sabbath to Pharisees? Of course not! Rest was built into our nature because we were created in God's image and He rested. We physically need rest, but Jesus makes a point of distinguishing the rest that involves some physical activity in order to accomplish what we need to (eat in this case, helping people in other places) compared to ways we psychologically keep ourselves from resting. Sabbathing is fantastic when you actually use it to rest from what we need rest from. Jesus provides true rest: not you, working hard enough, or even a day of the week (this is not an exhaustive list by any means). What haven't you handed over to Jesus?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


If you haven't read the book of Jonah recently, do so. It is only four chapters, and this post should still be here when you finish... Go ahead; this will wait.

It is easy to miss who is the main character of this book is. It seems like it would be Jonah. His name is the title, and he is the one who the narrative follows. He has a great prayer and learns a great lesson about God's calling that we should take to heart. But it isn't about him. We don't even know what happens with him at the end of the story. The book ends with God explaining the point to him, not with Jonah's response.

It is a love story. God and people. The people of Nineveh were not from Israel: they were not supposed to be "God's people". They were not of the covenant. But guess what: God still loved them. He cared for them. He did not want to destroy them.

Jonah's sermon was "40 days and Nineveh will be destroyed." That was still enough for God to use it. God was able to turn hearts to Him. Jonah did not understand God's love was for all people, including those who don't even know how wrong they are living.

I pray we can understand what Jonah did not in the book: people are worth caring about. People who do not know their right hand from their left are truly loved by God. God wants something MORE for them. He does not want people stuck without direction. He wants to provide them a way to Himself. He wants us to reach out to them so that He can carry out His narrative: a love story for people.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


In the sermon on the mount, Jesus states "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet." (Matthew 5:13)

Two interesting ideas behind this.  The first idea I want to touch is what it means to be the salt of the earth. Well, the people who he would be talking to would know a lot about salt.  It was used as a preservative, a seasoning for food, and in burnt offerings to God.  Salt was important to them, and it is important to us.  Your body cannot function without salt.  You have taste buds specifically for salt.

So what does this mean?

We are important to the earth.  It needs our flavor, our ability to preserve the good, and to be an offering to God.

What is the seasoning that you bring?

Jesus said, "Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."  (Mark 9:50)

We are also called to be salt in a way that brings peace.  Preserve, season, sacrifice... in a way that brings peace to those around you.  Not that you can't stand up for what you believe or ever disagree, but do so in love, joy, PEACE, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

What gifts has God given you to be His salt?

::Reflection time::

The other part that Jesus mentions is about losing saltiness.  Here's the deal: salt does not ever break down.  Salt does not in itself stop becoming salty.  However, salt will take on the things around it and become polluted.  Once salt has become polluted, it will not taste or preserve like salt; instead, it will be like what polluted it.

We have to add to the world without taking in so much of the world in that it changes who God created us to be.

What is polluting you? What do you need to turn over to God? Are you willing to listen to what He calls you to do with it?

Be the salt of the earth in a way that allows God to work through you and bring peace to the Earth.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


I wanted to start this blog with a thought that has been on my mind for quite some time (2-3 years).  This post will consist of consistency, but it may not be entirely consistent in the presentation because these thoughts have been moving around in my head for quite some time.  It is like trying to pick up jell-o with your fingers: some pieces come out nicely while others fall apart entire.  However, I will try my best.  Here we go!

People view consistency differently:
"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative." -Oscar Wilde

"Leadership can't be fabricated.  If it is fabricated and rehearsed, you can't fool the guys in the locker room.  So when you talk about leadership, it comes with performance.  Leadership comes with consistency." -Junior Seau
Reading quotes of people on the topic, I have concluded that people are inconsistent on their stances on the subject.  On one hand, people need to branch out from where they are, to test new waters, to grow, which would seem terribly inconsistent... but the more things change, the more they stay the same.  You can be consistent in growth.

On the other hand, if you are not consistent in character, people that are close to you will not be deceived.  To be someone people close to you can trust long term, you have to be consistent.  Otherwise, people will only grow to consistently not trust you.

For the sake of this post, what I refer with the term "consistency" is our ability to hold fast to the same actions/words/messages that are in congruence with what we would hold as the ideal.  An example is that if you hold the idea that family is more important than watching sports, but you spend all day Saturday watching football and ignoring your family, you are not being congruent in your actions and words.  If you do this and claim watching college football is more important, then you are at least being consistent, but I hope you change your perspective soon.  Consistency can be bad, but I want to focus on holding good and high standards as the ideal.  Hopefully, a person is consistent in believing family is important and making time for them.

One may ask, "Where does he get these ideas?" to which I will respond, "Many places.  I have multiple experiences in my life that lead me to have all sorts of ideas.  Often times, things happen to reinforce these ideas.  However, this idea started with God."

For those of you with a concordance (or access to the internet... meaning everyone who can go online to read my blog), you can look up "consistency", "consistent", and "consistently" if you would like, but it isn't in the Bible I use (or any other popular translation that I checked other than The Message which is not really a translation, more of a running commentary on the Bible: useful for getting a new perspective on passages, not so much standing alone. I almost quoted one of them here because I agree with part of it, but the rest of that passage drastically changes the meaning from the original words to the extent that it takes away from the actual theme of the book of Hebrews... so for me to quote it would also have to include two paragraphs of explaining what the problem was... so this parenthetical statement will have to do).

So why am I so passionate about a topic that isn't specifically mentioned in the Bible?   So glad that I inferred you would ask me that.

Hebrews 13:8 (ESV) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
As stated previously, the Bible is full of the consistencies of God.  He does not change.  He is love; He is holy; He is one.  His character is set.  We were made in His image.  We added in sin which completely changed how we are and how we view things.  But if we search for God's ideals in our lives, we can be closer to what He created us to be.

Search the Bible for this.  Do not just take my word for it.  I'm constantly growing myself.  Be constant in seeking the Lord.  If you are not active in going toward Him, you are moving further away from Him (that is my experience, anyway). 

A man came to Jesus (Luke 10) asking what he should do for eternal life.  Jesus asked the man how he read the scriptures to which he responded correctly according to Jesus saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  However, the man did not stop there.  He chose to ask, "Who is my neighbor?"  The man NEEDED JUSTIFICATION for his actions.  Jesus tells a parable of a JEWISH MAN who is beaten and left on the side of the road.  A priest and Levite walk by on the other side of the road.  The SAMARITAN, a traitor, a half-breed, a defiler of who God is (in the sight of the Jews) helps him.  Jesus tells the story from the perspective of "Who would you want to help you?"  Be consistent.  If you would accept help when you are dying from someone, why wouldn't you help them?  Your neighbor that you are to love is whoever you would accept love from when every other option is broken down.  When no one else is merciful.  Consistency of loving everyone because deep down you want their love.  Deep down, God loves you both.  He consistently loves you, regardless of your shortcomings.  We are to do the same, consistently. Not simply to the people it is easy to love.  Not when there are no other options, but we are called to love as the greatest command.  Love is our ideal.  God is love.  Be consistent. Love everyone.

1 Corinthians 10:31 "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  

Consistently give glory to God.  Do not let yourself slip into the idea that we are to sometimes give glory to God.  Everything we do, consistently, give glory to God.  God set the example of consistency.  Be consistent in glorifying God.
At another time, I may follow up with this in the idea of consistency in systems and relationships, but for now, consistently give God the glory. Consistently love.