Since moving from the Bible belt two and a half years ago, I’ve discovered a problem that is plaguing the people who claim Jesus as their personal savior.
This is something I bet all of us Jesus-followers have struggled with. We may have been made aware of it; perhaps we’ve ignored it. I actually didn’t even know it was happening all around and inside of me for so long. And I’m not yet immune to the problem.
Okay, okay. Here it is: We read the New International ME Version of the Bible.
We say, “I believe the Bible, except the parts I don’t like.”
We say, “I believe I should do this, so that must be what God wants for everyone.”
Or we say, “That part of the Bible is just a conspiracy against me. It must be wrong.”
If you get into too many Biblical discussions with people, you’ll eventually hear something along these lines. You’ll hear discontent with the Bible’s truth, the Bible’s authority. I mean, think about it: Do we want to be inferior to anything? No. We don’t. I like to be the most important thing in my life. I get a lot of help with this hope from Facebook and other social media outlets. Even this blog. I talk about myself a lot.
I’m not here to spark a debate, but I hope you’ll think about it. How often have you thought or heard someone say something along these lines? Here are some examples I can think of based on my own experiences:
- “You’ve got to test drive a car before you buy it, why not have sex before marriage to be sure the goods are desirable?” I hate this f-word: Fornication. It sounds so dirty to me, which is why people don’t use it in the mainstream, probably. I’ve heard many people disregard the Bible’s obvious direction to avoid fornication, including any and all sex outside of marriage, citing that it’s time to “update the Bible” or that the view is outdated. These ideas are running rampant, as I’m sure you’re aware. Even some Christians now hold this view, which just blows my mind.
- “God wants you to have lots of money!” We have a smiling preacher to thank for this prosperity gospel. But I heard the same concept growing up before this guy was popular. The thing is, most Christians aren’t financially rich, but we do have a savior who gives us everything we need: eternal life. Our goal as Christ-seekers is to seek Christ first, not monetary riches. Some of us will be wealthy, others of us will be in the middle class forever, and still many of us will be in poverty. And this has nothing to do with how much faith we have.
- “Jesus is just one way to heaven; there are others.” Seriously, Christians, why would you ever think this? Jesus, Himself, said that He is the only way. Only. As in, there is no other way to God. When I hear a Christian say this, I cringe. But I know this is likely a result of us trying to be politically correct. Oprah made it popular. But it’s just not true.
- “If it feels good, do it!” I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but a lot of things feel good but are sinful. Gorging myself on food can feel so good; but it’s gluttony. Lying to protect my mistakes can feel good; but it’s still just a lie. The Bible tells us to do a lot of things that are inconvenient and uncomfortable: save sex for marriage, break this world’s rules in favor of God’s direction, shut up when we have lots to say, respect a big fat jerk, etc. None of those things feel good but they please God.
I’d like to think that these and other examples are new to this world. That we’re the first generation in the world to feel like our ideas are superior to the words of God. But, of course, we have the Bible, which chronicles a lot of stupid things people did before God.
Let’s start with what might be obscure. An example in the Old Testament, which just so happens to be the context of my favorite verse.
The people of Israel had just asked Jeremiah, the prophet, to ask God what they should do. Jeremiah brought the word of God back to them and said,
…Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land. But if you say, “We will not remain in this land,” disobeying the voice of the Lord your God and saying, “No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,” then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your face to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die.” –Jeremiah 42.8-16
I mean, this sounds pretty clear to me. In short: Don’t go to Egypt or you’ll die. Dead. Like, all of you will not be alive anymore. No more breathing or eating or smiling or hugging or sunsets or vacations or birthdays or anniversaries or chocolate. That can only be bad, right?
But let’s look at what happened just before they requested Jeremiah to ask God for guidance and what happened after he told them what God had said.
Of course, there was some danger just before this request; Johanan and other leaders who had just fought against Ishmael and his army went to Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem and–this is important–they intended to go back to Egypt to run away from Ishmael and the king of Babylon. They already had this intention set in their hearts.
I bet they were hoping God would just confirm what they were hoping to do. I do that. Have you? I ask God for direction after I feel pretty good about my own decision. Ridiculous, I am.
Anyway, once they heard God’s word, here’s what Azariah and Johanan said:
…You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon. –Jeremiah 43.2, 3
This is like when we put the Bible in our crosshairs. “That part of the Bible doesn’t make sense. God must have just been speaking to the people of those times; this isn’t what He would say today. This is just a conspiracy against me because it just feels natural to want to do what is against this part of the Bible.” Um, natural should be trumped by God’s word every day and twice on Sundays.
For the people of Judah, after God had delivered more warnings against going to Egypt, they were insistent. In Jeremiah 44.16, the people gathered together and said to Jeremiah, “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you.” Wow. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. They were not going to listen to God. The one who created the whole world and had even expressed how sorry He was for their affliction.
Then, in verses 17 and 18, they say,
But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and famine.
Can they do anything more opposite than what God commanded? Pretty blatantly Anti-God.
And, of course, they went. And things went sideways. No fun.
It’s kind of like when a man decides to test drive the girlfriend and the condom breaks and she gets pregnant. That wasn’t the plan.
It’s kind of like when a wife blatantly disrespects her husband, which may lead to him reacting without love, which starts a crazy cycle where the two of them fight constantly, making children feel unsafe and damaging their marriage permanently. That stinks.
It’s kind of like when an employee bad-mouths the boss and he finds out. That professional relationship is ruined and so are reviews for a while. That hurts the pocket-book and the pride.
It’s kind of like when a guy decides that everyone will eventually go to heaven, despite their obvious distaste for God and His offer of grace. He writes a book about it, leading others falsely and damaging the relationship others have with Christ and misleading the millions of others who might come to Christ if they realized the importance thereof.
Seriously. I am not in charge. I am not. It is all God.
It’s been a somewhat popular verse, but it’s true and it fits this context. John 3.30 says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Lord, help me to always put You first. Help me to recognize when I have put myself in a place of superiority over You and Your will for my life. I want to follow You instead of me. I want to point to You and not to myself. And I want to do so sincerely–not just because I know it is right. But because I know that I am absolutely trash without You, Your grace, Your love, and Your mercy. You are glorious and wonderful and all-knowing and the source of all that is good. You, alone, are perfect. Thank you for being patient with my impatience. And loving despite my hateful attitudes. I pray all of this in your powerful name.