Equipping the Saints: The Totality of Knowing God Begins Here


I was called a “religious totalitarian” yesterday by a commenter on the Facebook page of my former pastor.

Anyone want to venture a guess why?

I’ll wait here for a second—

{“Final Jeopardy!” music plays while Dan hums the tune—}

Okay, time’s up.

I’ll preface the answer by saying that people can call me whatever they wish. I’m not zealous for my name but for the name of Jesus. And it’s for His name that I am shaken to the core by the reason why I got labeled a religious totalitarian.

My crime? I had the nerve to suggest that perhaps we need to work harder to teach Christians the Bible.

Yeah, my jaw dropped too.

There’s a growing trend in the Church that on the surface is a wonderful direction. More and more people are saying that when it comes down to it, knowing Jesus is what it’s really all about. If you’ve read my recent post on how to become a Christian, you’ll know that I end it with that same admonition. Eternal life is knowing Jesus.

Which is why I’m troubled by folks who go on and on about knowing Jesus yet have this perverse idea that they can get there by bypassing the Bible. By the word of God...You’ve got to wonder what it is about the Bible that makes them so reticent to want to know it or have it taught. Even more so, you’ve got to wonder what is going on inside them that the mere mention of knowing the Bible throws them into hysterics.

I believe this reticence about knowing the Bible well enough to understand the overarching story, the major themes, and particulars about who Jesus is, why He came, how the Church should act, and how Christians should live is a frightening trend. People who are supposedly the People of the Book seem to not want to have anything to do with the Book itself.

But we can’t tell God how we want to grow. He’s already shown us in the Bible. Just three simple verses encapsulate it:

“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
—Joshua 1:7-9

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
—Psalms 119:9-11

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17

Many of you know these passages. In fact, if you have ever memorized Scripture according to the Navigator’s Topical Memory System, they are key.

What cannot be escaped in these three is the power of the words of God. Power for courage and strength. Power for the avoidance of sin. Power for doing good works for the Lord.

People don’t give the 2 Timothy passage, as familiar as it is, enough power. Want to serve God? Know the Bible. Even if it’s the lowliest service there is, know the Bible. Did Stephen, who waited on tables in service to his Lord, give that profound testimony during his stoning based on ideas he pulled out of nowhere? No! He knew the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit set fire to that knowledge even as the stones fell down upon that saint!

If God asks that of a waiter, how can we possibly say that we, who too often consider ourselves above that position, are exempt from knowing the Bible? And if we don’t know the words of God in the Bible, what kind of strength and courage do we expect to summon when the mob comes, rocks in hand, for us?

The fiasco at Lakeland, Florida, that happened last year (anyone still remember the hoopla?) centered around a man who claimed he could take people to the third heaven.

Want to go to the third heaven? I can tell anyone exactly how to get there (and beyond) and I don’t need a circus around me to do it. Start by building a foundation on the word of God. Know it. Live it. Breathe it. Then when we’ve mastered the fundamental core of it, we”ll see we’ve built a ladder to the very bosom of God Himself. And that’s a whole lot higher than any third heaven.

The context in which I got called a religious totalitarian was evangelism. The idea that had been floated was that evangelism is a mindset/paradigm and not a program.

Evangelism is a mindset, to a point, but the reason we have people in the Church who are scared to death to evangelize others is primarily because they don’t know the Bible.

If I claimed to be a nuclear physicist and was subsequently asked, based on the credentials I claimed for myself, to speak at a conference on the topic of string theory, do you think I’d be a little panicked if I knew nothing about that basic topic? Yet that is the case with most Christians. We have no ease in talking about the Faith because the most obvious revelation of that Faith, the Bible, remains a mystery to us.

How much easier would it be for us to talk about being a Christian if we better knew the Book that outlines the entirety of our Faith?

We can’t know God if we don’t know what He has said to us through the Bible.

We can’t know Jesus if we don’t know what the Bible says about Him.

We can’t discern right from wrong if we don’t know the Bible.

We can’t know how to live as a Christian if we don’t know the Bible.

We can’t know how to determine which spirits are truthful and which are liars if we don’t know the Bible.

We can’t know the voice of God if we don’t know the Bible.

We can’t make any progress in the Faith if we don’t know the Bible.

God has graciously given us His words because He has ordained that our growth toward knowing Him comes through those life-giving words He Himself spoke.

If you and I want to know Christ and to come to a place of deeper revelation, we simply can’t skip over the most clear document presented to us on how to begin that journey of knowing. That totality of knowing rests on growing in knowledge of God through the Bible. It’s the springboard for every aspect of growth we Christians may achieve.

So something is seriously wrong when Christians go on and on about their deep relationship with Jesus, yet they have a strange reluctance to embrace disciplined study of Scripture. You simply can’t have one without the other.

Several years ago at the church pastored by the pastor whose Facebook forum started all this, we started Wednesday night classes for adults. I offered to teach a course in the basic truths of the Bible. I had originally called it “Theology 101,” but I was told the word Theology was too loaded, so it was changed to something less high falutin’. Other classes were taught that night, about four or five, so people could choose which to attend.

I covered the basics in my class, like the nature of God, why Jesus is the sole way to salvation, and core doctrinal theology. Though scores of people in the church were new to the Faith, I had only a half dozen in my class. The class that got 95 percent of the many adults who attended Wednesday nights was “How to Move in the Power of the Spirit.”

When the three months of classes were over, I had one student left who had not jumped to the “Power of the Spirit” class. She was very grateful and blessed me mightily. When I confessed to her that I had not seen her around church, she told me she attended a different church, but that a friend from my church had told her about the class.

I learned a great lesson that day. Every Christian wants to jump straight to the third heaven, everyone wants to move in power, everyone wants to be a great saint, but next to none want to lay the actual groundwork that will get them to that place. They’re sitting in “How to Move in the Power of the Spirit” class, yet they don’t even know what God has revealed to us about His Spirit in the Book that He gave us.

In a previous post in this series, I said that you can trace a lack of dying at the cross to the reason that so many Christians burn out, walk away from the Faith, or never achieve great things for the Lord. I have to add ignorance of the Bible to that post mortem also.

If I claim to move in great charismatic gifts, I can erect a tent and people will fill it; but if I say that I know the Bible inside and out, no one’s going to toss Franklins into an offering plate on my behalf and tell me how wonderful I am.

The genuine way of Christ isn’t flashy.  It happens in back rooms devoid of glory and acclaim, at kitchen tables wet with morning tears. It happens in the hearts of people who know there’s no way to cheat on God’s test to get that A+, so they study to show themselves a workman approved, even if that study demands some discipline and commitment.

So here’s to the so-called religious totalitarians who believe you can’t get to heaven on a roller skate. If that’s you, keep on keeping on, because your final reward will be incredible.

The One Who Left the Gate Ajar


I’m a bit late to the commentary on iMonk’s post “Another One Gets Off the Evangelical Bus: Thoughts on A De-Conversion,” which is a response to a post by the blogger known as theBEattitude, “Losing my religion. Why I recently walked away from Christianity.” But I have to comment because this issue of people walking away from the faith is something we Christians must address—even more as the days grow darker.

In reading iMonk’s commentary and theBEattitude’s post and its follow-up comments, the one thing that strikes me more than any other is the travesty that is the loss of even one sheep from the fold.

Jesus says this:

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
—Matthew 18:12-14

I believe one of the most hollow vows American Evangelicals take occurs during infant baptisms and dedications. In nearly every church I have been a part of, the congregation pledges to join the parents in the spiritual development of the child. God takes such vows seriously, yet I would guess that fewer than ten adults in any given church will have any meaningful spiritual impact on that child’s life, even through adulthood. (And I believe that number to be generous.) When you consider the size of some churches, that’s an abysmal number.

The fact is, the average person in the pew has very little spiritual impact on the lives of fellow believers. The compartmentalized island that we call My Life™ here in America doesn’t make a whole lot of room for other people, and one of the areas we make the least amount of time for is discipling the less mature in the faith.

When I read the pile-on that functions as comments to theBEattitude’s post, it’s a stunning indictment of the spiritual wasteland that passes for modern Evangelicalism. I read through at least a hundred comments and most consisted of individuals stating (a) it sure is freeing to cast off the chains of religion, or (b) now you’re going to burn in hell, and it’s your own damned fault.

Apart from atheists rejoicing in their folly (Psalm 14:1), what got me more than anything was that the Christians who responded placed all the responsibility on theBEattitude for wandering out of the fold. To that I ask one hard question, “Oh, yeah?Well, which one of us left the sheep pen gate ajar?”

In a Christian culture that has de-evolved into the same “every man for himself” mentality that afflicts the worldly, placing the entirety of the blame on theBEattitude for apostasizing should come as no surprise. gate_sheep.jpgWhile it is true that each of us must give an account before God, it is just as true that too many of us who claim to be Christians don’t give a hoot about our culpability when the  gate goes unlocked.

When I read theBEattitude’s tale of apostasizing after 33 years of being in the faith and the junior-high-school-level questions posted that form the backbone of his wandering through the open gate, I have to wonder, What mature Christians invested in theBEattitude’s discipleship? How blind were they to his building on sand?

Yet on reading the comments to his post, I did not see any that said, “We fellow Christians failed you.” Instead, we want to blame theBEattitude for his failure. Rather than wonder how his end might have been different if all those adults at his baptism had actually followed through on their pledge to raise him up firm in the faith, we want to blame him exclusively for wandering out the open gate when there never should have been an open gate to begin with.

How easy it is to point the finger of blame at the person who was wronged.

And theBEattitude was wronged. I wronged him and so did you. We didn’t keep up our end of the discipleship bargain. No, we hoped that someone else would. And all that hope led to nothing but apostasy.

In every church around this country, there are people like theBEattitude. He is representative of an enormous problem facing the Church in America, a massive failure that increases each year with little effort on our part to lay aside our own little kingdoms and do something to stop the flight from the unsecured sheep pen.

It is a failure of individuals to take time for others in genuine community.

It is a failure to see the necessity of solid, biblical teaching.

It is a failure to build a comprehensive Christian worldview in impressionable people.

It is a failure to address the issues of the day from an intellectually rigorous viewp0int.

It is a failure to understand the eternal life-and-death nature of raising up the next generation of believers.

It is a failure to take seriously the vows we make concerning our young people.

It is a failure to read the times and prepare for the future.

It is a failure to understand what is most important in life.

It is a failure on our parts to humbly accept part of the blame when those in our care wander away from the faith.

It is a failure to love our brothers and sisters and, most of all, to love Jesus.

What tears me up every day is that this most precious charge doesn’t have to end in failure. That it does is mostly a reflection of our smothering love for our own lives. The first casualty is people like theBEattitude. We are the second casualty (Mark 8:35).

Jesus says:

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
—Luke 12:48b-49

We have been entrusted with so much here in America. Yet how is it that we care so little for that trust that we so easily blame the weak for their own destruction!

The following is a well-known verse most often used in a completely different context, but it applies most fully here:

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?
—Proverbs 24:11-12

Instead, how easy it is to blame those who are wandering off to destruction and absolve ourselves of any responsibility for them. The sheep have left the pen. Oh well, guess they’ll get eaten by the wolves. That’ll teach ’em!

But our God neither sleeps nor slumbers, and He knows who left the gate ajar.

Musings for a Monday Morning


Many thoughts today…

Yesterday was  about the most beautiful day I can remember, one of those “It’s great to be alive” days. Wonderful morning in church,  a nice nap afterwards, some basic housecleaning, and then a fabulous afternoon and evening outside in absolutely perfect weather. Even spotted an Orchard Oriole on our property, a bird that in checking was not on my life list. How about that? Then my wife and I settled in to watch the second DVD of the Haibane Renmei anime series as part of a project for a friend. Even got to bed by 11:15. Just a superb day.

Which makes it all the more difficult to segue into current events…

While it may not have been the infamous History Eraser Button, Lee Grady of Charisma magazine claims “God Has Pushed a Great Big Reset Button.” In part, he says the charismatic movement is kaput.

You know it’s pretty bad when the Russians are claiming they’re now less Marxist than the United States. (For ultra-irony, the linked article was also featured in Pravda.) For further proof of the claim, perhaps we need look no further than this amazing bit of proposed legislation.

If you want to be really depressed, while also seeing how bad the economic situation is in our country (or your county), check out this animated, interactive map of spreading job losses.

Oxymoron of the week: A doctor who specialized in late-term abortions was gunned down in his Lutheran church yesterday as he handed out bulletins.  (So much for loving the sinner and hating the sin.)

Meanwhile, holding a Bible study in your home may now run afoul of local laws.

Risking brickbats and charges of heresy, the iMonk wonders if something is lost by being too God-centered. He also weighs in on the above San Diego Bible study issue.

CCM recording artist Shaun Groves postulates what the world would be like without the CCM business.

If you want to know how to write a compelling story, this serves as a perfect example of the craft.

Meanwhile, I watched 20 months of work on a novel I was writing, The Dying Day, go down the tubes thanks to J. J. Abrams.  Though I promised not to get dragged into an ongoing TV series again, having been a devoted follower of The X-Files for far too long, I got snared by the similar Fringe this year. To my horror, the final two episodes for the season mirrored the events in my novel’s plotline and the lives of my characters so thoroughly that the novel may be a complete loss. This is the second time this has happened, and this one is even worse than the first. A fellow writer tried to console me by saying that it shows that my ideas are marketable (online scuttlebutt was calling the Fringe finale “genius”), but that’s little comfort right now. Argh.

Did I mention that yesterday was just a stunningly perfect day?