Tag Archives: spiritual transformation

Bible Study is not about Passing a Quiz

Open BibleWhen I was nine years old, my church gave me a Bible for my very own. A whole Bible. Just for me. Talk about proud! Up to that time, my only Bible was a New Testament my grandmother gave me when I was five. I loved it, but it was only part of the Bible. I was so excited about that new Bible that I almost floated away.

In the years after that moment, I pretty much wore out that Bible. I learned to say all the books in order. I learned every memory verse assigned for Sunday School. I could find a Bible verse in my new Bible faster than just about anybody could. I “knew” my Bible.

Unfortunately, Bible “knowledge” did not really translate into Bible behavior for a long time. I was really good at answering Bible questions. Where does the Jordan River end? Whose name was Saul before it was Paul? What amazing thing did Elijah do on Mount Carmel? I “knew” those answers, but I studied the Bible the same way I studied science; I wanted to learn the facts.

Do you have that problem? Do you perhaps think that it is not worthwhile for you to read the Bible, because you need to look in the table of contents to find the first page of Isaiah? Do you think that you do not know enough “about” the Bible to understand it?

Do not let this problem keep you from reading and learning from the Bible. God did not inspire and preserve the Bible in order for us to become professorial about it. God gave us the Bible as a guide for faith and life, and if you can read, you can learn from the Bible. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, you have access to the finest Bible teacher available, and you do not need an internet account. God provided the Bible, and God provided the best teacher, too—the Holy Spirit.

This is why prayer and Bible study go hand in hand. When you read the Bible, you do not need to read it alone. You can read it with understanding, as the Holy Spirit guides you. Jesus promised us this guidance on the night before his crucifixion.  He knew the horror that lay ahead of him that night and the next day, but before he endured it, he spent the evening with his disciples, comforting them and reassuring them in advance. He promised them that the Holy Spirit would come and that the Holy Spirit would teach them everything they needed to know. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth… the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things” (John 14:16-17, 26 ESV). Every believer who asks the Holy Spirit for help will receive the help he needs in order to understand what he reads in the Bible.

This does not mean that you should scorn Bible teacher, pastors, commentaries, maps and books on biblical backgrounds. The more informed your mind is, the more the Holy Spirit has to work with when you read the Bible. You will be blessed repeatedly as you participate in group studies, read devotions by faithful fellow Christians, worship and study in formal classes. All these forms of education are excellent, and you will grow as you engage in these studies. However, do not confuse them with the work God wants to do in your life when you read the Bible. It is the leadership of the Holy Spirit as you read that actually has the power to transform your life. “Book learning” does not transform you; answering all the questions in a Bible quiz does not transform you; the Holy Spirit transforms you.

You can make time to read the Bible.

You can understand the Bible.

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you can be transformed.

The daily chaos of life is stressful and maddening. The world often looks upside down. What is happening, and what can you do about it? You can make time to pray and read the Bible, and let the Holy Spirit transform you. That is what you can do.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Open Bible
Source:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOpen_Bible.jp
Attribution:  By Wnorbutas (Own work)
License:CC BY-SA 3.0 

Does Anybody Know that I am a Christian?

Recently, Barna Group completed a study of self-identified Christians with a view to discovering whether or not they are Christ-like, a quality that presumably is at the root of the persecution the church endures around the world. I found it quite interesting, and I recommend that every Christian read the results. Some may agree with me that a study of people who self-identify as Christians and then self-assess themselves in regard to Christ-like behavior is flawed from the outset, but it is hard to imagine who could conduct such a study until Christ returns. Pending that great event, Barna offers a lot of food for thought.

                It was worth noting some of the items in the study that supposedly looked like Christ. For example, to listen and learn about others before talking about oneself seems very Christ-like. To influence others to follow Christ sounds Christ-like. Even taking the initiative to get to know people who are not Christians sounds Christ-like. On the other hand, I would have trouble saying that this item describes me: “I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.” Unlike Christ, I do have a place to lay my head, and I do have a family. I don’t seek out meals with anyone but my family on any regular basis, considering that my family is my most precious earthly relationship, one I won’t casually displace in my priorities. When I do eat anywhere else than home, I find myself in the company of all sorts of people. When I meet people, I never screen them for moral or social or even political agreement with me. I think the willingness to enjoy people the way Christ did is at the heart of the item, but its wording focuses on a practice I actually disparage as unChrist-like, the notion of breaking into family meals with regularity. In my humble opinion, this item does not measure the Christ-like openness to all people appropriately.  What do you think?

                The study looks at attitudes as well as actions, and there again, not everyone will see the test items as the Barna Group does. Most Christians could agree that to see God at work everywhere in all people without regard to their status as believers is Christ-like, but some might pause to think twice about the item that says: “It is more important to help people know that God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.” In my understanding of the faith, these two considerations have exactly equal importance. I talk with lots of people who believe that sin is an antiquated idea. They can easily believe that God, whatever they think that is, loves them, because they don’t think they have ever done anything wrong. It isn’t possible to tell the truth about the Gospel without telling people they are sinners. At least, I cannot find any way to do it. What do you think?

                The study also looked at self-righteous attitudes and actions – the hallmarks of the Pharisees. We will all agree that the Pharisees spent an inordinate amount of time telling other people, and even God, how righteous they were. If they knew they ever did wrong, they never admitted it. They were quick to point out the tiniest infraction of what they thought was immutable law, and they focused a great deal of attention on building social barriers between themselves and less righteous individuals.

                However, It was hard for me to read that the Barna Group considered it Pharisaical to say, “I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.” To classify this statement as Pharisaical is to imply that Christ sought out opportunities to spend time with gay and lesbian persons. He didn’t. Neither do I. I don’t interview or filter the people I meet on that basis with a view to seeking time with them or avoiding them. I am deeply convicted that homosexuality is in complete opposition to God’s plan for people, but I feel sorry for homosexuals. I don’t filter them out of my life, but I don’t try to find them. I think each of us has a calling and a work to do. Outreach to homosexuals is not my calling. My calling as a cultural observer often involves commentary and analysis of the political and social agenda of homosexualism, but to reject the agendas is not to refuse to love the people. Christ calls each of us to love all people, and I can only feel compassion for someone ensnared by the satanic lie of homosexuality. Still, my life goes in a different direction than seeking and finding homosexuals. I don’t feel guilty or unChrist-like because of it.

                Even though I take issue with some aspects of the study, and I take a little more issue with some of the statistical manipulation, the fact is that as a baptized child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever, I know that I need to be regularly reminded that claiming Christ’s name is only the beginning of being a disciple. Ruminations over this Barna study should probably be coupled with the results of a study done a couple of years ago. That study asked if people who claimed to be Christians actually have any spiritual depth. Rightly recognizing that being Christ’s disciple evokes an expectation of spiritual transformation, Barna Group in 2011 asked self-identified Christians to answer questions that rated them on issues of commitment, repentance, activity (including sharing the faith) and participation in spiritual community. That study revealed the sad truth that many Christians are not living evidence of transformation by the Holy Spirit.

                It is possible that many people who heard Barack Obama talk when he was running for president in 2008 did not pay any attention to his statement that he thought the USA needed to be fundamentally transformed. However, nobody needs to have heard that statement in order to know that this is what he believes, because the evidence of that commitment is everywhere in the cultural and political landscape of the USA. After five years under his leadership, the country is unrecognizable when compared to its cultural and political contours as recently as that campaign year of 2008. The country is undergoing a transformation, and it is obvious.

                The spiritual transformation of a Christian from self-centered, self-serving slave of emotion and appetites into a selfless, Christ-like servant to God and man should be just as obvious.  We don’t really need the Barna Group to tell us that too many Christians claim Christ’s name without ever undergoing any sort of transformation. That isn’t judgment; it is observation. We who claim that Christ is our Savior and our all in all ought to stand out. There are times when I can see that somebody did exactly that. When someone who denies the existence of God and uses Christ’s name solely for invective screams that Christians are pressuring his space by expecting to live their faith, then we have the evidence that some people are demonstrating the transformation that is a hallmark of our faith. In Iran, people are snatched off the streets and rushed into brutal, cruel imprisonment for showing the evidence of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to experience that kind of identification, but I pray that I might deserve it if I were there. If we expect our culture to be more Christ-like, then we who bear his name must show the same evidence of Christ’s transforming power. Transformation is its own best testimony. I know what Barack Obama believes because I can see what he does. Does anybody who watches me know what I believe?

You Cannot Legislate Love

America is a great and good nation that has not achieved all the objectives people of good will have set for it. For example, it is easy to see the working out of God’s threat to Israelites that he would judge wrongdoing to the third and fourth generation of sinners in our country. The consequences of the very existence of slavery in the nation are still wreaking cultural and social havoc. Laws have made discrimination illegal, but hearts are not transformed by laws.  Affirmative action has advanced the careers of people of races and ethnicities that are minorities in the population and put them in jobs and positions of power. Even as all this positive change has occurred, discrimination has not disappeared. The descendants of slaves, and the descendants of black people who were never slaves mix with the descendants of slave owners and the descendants of those who never owned slaves, but the mix is not universally eradicating stereotypes and anger and bad attitudes.

What could fix this problem? Why is it that the problem is not fixed even though it has been more than fifty years since the law supposedly fixed everything. Why is it that even with a good law that requires people to show respect for each other, they still don’t do it?

The reason is that law does not transform people. A law can act to constrain people who do not want the consequences of breaking the law, but it cannot lead people to change inside and do what is right when no law enforcement power can reach them. This problem persists in people in every part of this problem.

This is what we learn from the Bible. In the Old Testament, the emphasis in Israel was God’s Law. The people sometimes took the Law seriously and sometimes they didn’t, but whether they did or didn’t, they were not transformed by it. This is the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount. Every time Jesus said, “You have heard it said …” he was pointing out the difference between legal compliance and a transformed life. In fact, the reason Jesus had to come and die for all people is that there was no other way to transform us. We could never really obey, and we could never really want to obey with our whole hearts. David, the man after God’s own heart, was often fervent and profound in his faith. The book of Psalms is a testimony to the depth of his commitment to God. Nevertheless, fervent as he was, he was not transformed by obedience and fervent worship. That kind of transformation can only happen when the Holy Spirit lives in someone’s heart.

People who suffer discrimination think they want instant change: compliance. They actually want transformation: complete makeover. The attempt to shortcut cultural change by enforcing compliance with laws that mandate behavior results in phenomena such as “politically correct speech.” This is a cultural stress on language that papers over the truth that the hearts of some men still feel fear, distrust, anger, and maybe real hatred toward certain other men. It also creates a new and equally disreputable group that assigns itself the position of language monitor. These people build themselves up by finding and even creating opportunities to slander other people over their choice of words. The attempt to enforce speech by calling those who transgress “racist” does not improve anything. After sixty years, the nation is divided more deeply over race than it ever was in the sixties.

The real problem is that the culture has not been transformed. The culture with its mix of “races” and “ethnicities” does not have any way to make people love each other, and the best that has been achieved is an uneasy non-aggression pact that nobody honors whole-heartedly. All parties to the non-conflict distrust each other and each worries that others have somehow achieved some miserable advantage over the others. It feels a lot like the uneasy truce that has never been peace between North and South Korea

Why is this happening? 

  1. The offended parties are not able to forgive those who offend. 
  2. The offending parties cannot see any good reason that one word is better than some other. 
  3. No power is being brought to bear on the culture which will transform the hearts of either the offenders or the offendees

At the bottom line, it is all about an inability to love the enemy. Those who use language deemed offensive do it, because they don’t love those they really want to put in their place with aggressive language. Those who take offense at every possible opportunity and who look for opportunities to take offense do not love the people they want to put in their place for offenses they cannot really name. There is no love lost between the two groups. Those who take offense want the moral high ground because nobody should be insulted this way. Those who continue to use the offensive language have had it up the HERE with word games and special rights for some . Every party to this poison cultural stew is full of unwillingness to love the other side – the enemy – or forgive anything.

To achieve change by the power of love, forgiveness and grace takes time. Some people never come around. There is a biblical model for that, too. Judas lived in the mix of the Twelve for the same three years as everyone else, and he was not transformed. Not because it couldn’t be done, but rather, because he chose not to be changed. If we who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit give of ourselves sacrificially in the culture in an attempt to promote love for all neighbors on both sides of the “racial” divide, fifty years from now things could be somewhat different, but if we were to predict that “racism” would be eradicated, then we would be guilty of wishful thinking instead of faith.

There used to be a little saying that people used to deflect name-calling: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” (Today’s children are not taught this saying, because today’s children are taught to take offense at every culturally unacceptable semantic construction.) Parents and teachers taught children this aphorism as a starting point toward forgiveness. By deflecting the natural human reaction to become physically aggressive over words, people could be poised for the beginnings of forgiveness and reconciliation. They could start learning to be gracious and to put the best possible interpretation on the words rather than the worst. They could start making the words ineffective by not responding to the venomous intent of the words. Some children were actually taught to pray for the people who said the hateful words, prayers that those people would be healed by God of their need to hurt others. We need some of this kind of salt and light sprinkled around in our culture right now. We need fewer people to parse every word and accent and innuendo and more people to remember that God loves all of us. We need more people to pray for those who are so hurt or so filled with demonic rage that they can’t speak with a civil tongue (bet you haven’t heard that phrase for a while). We who know the Lord Jesus need to do a better job of sharing his love with the people around us, praying to inspire loving words and forgiving hearts rather than better legal compliance with politically correct speech.

A culture cannot be changed into a welcoming place for all people without love, the love God expressed in Christ Jesus who died for us all. We who know Christ must share him with everyone we meet. Too many people are relying on law to fix what only Christ’s love can transform.

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollIf anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  2 Corinthians 5:17 

  • What does it mean to be “in Christ?”
  • What is the “new creation” that is a consequence of being  “in Christ?”
  • Do you remember the old things that went away when you met Christ?
  • Do you take new problems to Christ when the old things pop up in your path?
  • What new thing is in your life because of Christ?